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Do washing machines live longer with Calgon?

Washing machine with limescale

The heap of pointless products grows: we can’t find any persuasive proof that ‘washing machines live longer with Calgon’. Why are we sucked into buying products from manufacturers that won’t back up their claims?

Advertisers love exploiting fears. A key brand positioning tactic is to magnify a problem and then present your product as the solution. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening here.

The limescale science

Calgon claims that limescale makes washing machines break down and die early, and that its tablets make them ‘live longer’ by preventing this alleged cause of premature death. But this hinges on a shaky premise: does limescale really shorten the life of your washing machine?

After simulating three years of washing in hard water, but otherwise normal conditions of three loads a week at 40°C, we asked an expert with 17 years’ experience to inspect our washing machines for damage. Calgon kept the inner parts spotless, but the thin layer of limescale that had built up without it wasn’t enough to affect performance.

Our expert believes that it would take six to eight years of washing in particularly hard water before a machine would need attention for limescale build up. Plus, not even this would necessarily lead to the washing machine breaking down. And by this point you’d have spent £295 on Calgon tablets – enough to buy yourself a new machine.

Our ASA complaint

We’ve submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about Calgon’s claims, but there’s a wider issue. Why do we willingly accept the claims made by brands and manufacturers? And why do we think they’re doing us a favour by selling us their products?

Calgon may well have watertight evidence that one tablet per wash somehow extends the life of your machine. But no such evidence exists in the public domain, and the ‘research’ held by Calgon won’t be released to us for reasons of commercial sensitivity.

According to Calgon’s press office, the studies conducted were for internal use only – the results were never meant to be seen by current or potential customers. So how can Calgon possibly justify the claim that its product is solving a problem if it won’t prove that the problem exists? And with no evidence made available, why do we pay money for a product that can’t be justified to us by its own manufacturer?

Norman says:
5 September 2012

My washing machine is about 12 years old and I am in a hard water area. Following Calgon’s TV advertising I bought a box and started using the tablets in every wash. 2 -3 weeks later the washing machine packed up and I called in an engineer who cleared a large amount of limescale from the filter and he said it was the Calgon tablets that caused all the limescale to break away from the machine and caused the fault.
I contacted Calgon and explained what happened and in a nutshell, I sent the tablets and the limescale deposits back to them for ‘testing’. Four months later I am now told by Customer Services that they tested the tablets and they are fine and the deposits are not limescale and they will only offer me £15 for the tablets and phone calls.
I said that the machine was fine until I used there product but they said that Calgon does not break down limescale it simply keeps the machine clean. I cannot get it through to them that their product caused my machine to break down. I would not recommend the tablets to anyone with an old wasing machine

I think your washing machine engineer may be guessing, unless it is a known problem that treatment of a scaled-up machine will cause limescale to break away. Limescale breaks away naturally, especially from heaters. The engineer should have politely told you that you should have inspected and cleaned the filter regularly.

I live in a hard water area and my washing machine is 30 years old, but I have never used Calgon or any similar product.

townmouse53 says:
1 August 2013

We started with our new washer by using calgon (or similar) tablets. Then, after reading about how they are not needed, we stopped. We are in an area of very hard water with lots of limescale. About a month later, the machine stopped heating water. We called for service and were quoted £90+parts+labour. We declined and bought a proprietary limescale remover and used it. Instantly, the heater started working again! Now we use the limescale remover every month and after 4 years, the washer remains in good condition.

This may be coincidence. Limescale could cause a heater to overheat and burn out, but it would not start working again when it was descaled. I suspect a poor connection or faulty switch.

Denis says:
11 October 2012

I’ve often wondered about Calgon and its advertising. The implication from the adverts is that it does break down the deposits as it shows machine parts that are coated then the same part that is shiny clean. But, according to their statement to Norman, it doesn’t break down the deposits. Surely, their advert is thoroughly misleading and misrepresents the facts and, as such, should be banned.

It would be good if all misleading adverts were banned, but there might not be many left. 🙂

When I was a kid I was told that adverts are a load of lies and should not be believed.

Nigel says:
26 November 2012

Interesting to see comments re Calgon as an engineer advised us that the product does nothing to prevent or remove limescale. This followed his visit following problems with our washing machine due to the formation of limescale in various parts of the machine. (e.g. Filter and heating element.)
We have never used Calgon but have used Sainsbury’s product that is called “limescale preventer”. Obviously, it does not do what it says on the box(tin)! Although I imagine Sainsburys would claim that the machine has not given us a problem due to their product. (We haven’t had any contact with them on this subject.) Has Which? ever queried this product with Sainsburys as we feel strongly that we should register a complaint with them?
(Membership No: C400851110).

I’m surprised to read you’ve had problems with limescale in the washing machine. I live in a hard water area and I’ve not had any trouble with limescale in the washing machines I have owned.

All I use is Ariel powder and a tablespoon of soda crystals, using more soda crystals if items are greasy or very dirty.

If you want to be really sure there’s no scale, buy the manufacturer’s limescale remover for the washing machine online and run it through (with nothing else in the drum) twice a year.

Does Calgon make detergent work better?

Chris Jones says:
15 July 2019

I really don’t think they should be allowed to advertise such utter rubbish on TV, telling people your washing machine will look like this if you don’t use our Product. I’ve taken our washing machines apart after issue with mains filter, the are 15+ years old and the Heater Element still looks like near new, they have never needed to use any product to keep it in good working order, still using our Hoover machines after this many years and work fine. I would class it as Fraud, or as bad as those people that feature on Watchdog Rouge Traders, maybe they should do a feature on Calgon and get them to prove their claims and now they add to it, it will stop a build up of gunge in the door seal, if you don’t use Calgon will have this HUGE pile of GUNK in your door seal, another absolute ridiculous claim, I’ve never seen anything more than a tiny slither of dirt in the door seal and again the Drum looks like new after 15 years and they say you’ll have half a Kilo of this in your machine, should be shut down

Perhaps you are in a soft water area, Chris. Scale is a problem in many parts of the country. But you are right, such claims should be justified and the evidence made publicly available. It’s a free country and people can choose whether or not to use such products and there are cheaper alternatives to Calgon that might be just as effective [or ineffective, of course].