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How long should your washing machine last?

Wrecked washing machine

How long your washing machine lasts is one of the main considerations when shopping for a new model – so how about putting expected lifetimes on washing machines?

According to research by WRAP, the average consumer expects a washing machine to last six years before it needs replacing.

It has also found that a product’s lifetime is one of the highest buying considerations, just behind reliability and quality, but more important than price. It’s something that the Which? Convo community has been discussing at length on this faulty washing machines debate.

Manufacturer warranties too short?

While washing machines do not currently come with lifetimes, they do have manufacturer warranties. However, these often cover just a one or two year period. Would you feel hard done by if your machine broke just outside this warranty period?

I would. Two years seems a much shorter time than a washing machine should last, even if I’d paid a relatively small amount of money for it, say less than £250.

Lifetimes for washing machines

One solution could be to decree that all washing machines should have a minimum lifetime, perhaps three or four years, ideally with a manufacturer warranty to match?

Or perhaps it would be better for manufacturers to apply expected minimum lifetimes to their own machines – and have the freedom to give different life expectancies to different machines?

That means if I’m in the shop, I might see a cheap washing machine for £250 that the manufacturer expects to last a minimum of two years. But next to it could be a near identical machine that costs £450 and has an expected minimum lifetime of five years. That would give me a clear basis to consider paying more for the pricier model, or to save some money but lower my expectation as to how long it will last.

Manufacturers on lifetimes

So why are lifetimes not already in place? We asked LG, Bosch, AEG, Miele and Indesit how long they would expect their own washing machines to last.

The responses vary but almost all mention the same problem – there are a lot of factors that affect the potential lifetime of a washing machine, making it very difficult to predict. Such factors include:

• Correct installation.
• Where in the house washing machine is installed (a machine may not last as long as it could do if placed in a garage without central heating).
• Over/under loading.
• Frequency of use.
• Detergent usage.

Of those that provided a figure, Miele came back with the strongest answer, saying that all their machines are tested to last 20 years. But Miele does not offer a free 20 year warranty. Instead, a small handful of models have a free 10 year warranty. Five year warranties are more common, but the remaining machines have the standard two year Miele warranty.

Indesit, which also owns Hotpoint, came back to say they’d expect their washing machines to last seven to eight years, with consumers looking to replace within five to six years to pre-empt the need to replace. The standard warranty for an Indesit/Hotpoint model is one year.

When I asked why the warranty length was so much shorter than the expected lifetime, a spokesperson from the company said that warranty length is an ongoing discussion, ‘but there are some retail outlets who like to sell their own extended warranty’. Of course, a documented expected lifetime will be very helpful when exercising your rights under the Sale of Goods Act once the warranty has expired.

Do you think that all washing machines should have a minimum lifespan, or that manufacturers should be able to set their own life expectancy? Or both?

Do you think manufacturers should give minimum lifespans to their washing machines?

Yes - manufacturers should provide minimum lifespans for their own machines (85%, 1,741 Votes)

All washing machines should have the same minimum lifespan (11%, 228 Votes)

No - manufacturers should not have to prescribe a product lifespan at all (3%, 70 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,039

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Durability and economic repairability are key attributes of a decent appliance in my view, and I’d like Which? to examine and report on these aspects when comparing them. Sustainability is becoming more and more important.


Economic repairability and availability of spares is certainly becoming worse. The obvious solution is to push for longer guarantees and sensibly priced extended warranties. An increasing number of products do offer these, and we could make more progress if Which? included information when reporting its product tests.

Sadly we have some products that are very cheaply made and unlikely to last much longer than the guarantee. On the other hand, paying more is not always rewarded by good reliability, but with a decent guarantee, then it is the responsibility of the retailer to deal with the problem.


I would like Which? to look again at extended warranties, including multi-appliance insurances. As Ken would no doubt remind us, many people want cheap appliances and are prepared for the consequences. That should not mean we all have to of course.

Collecting data on durability and repairability is something I think a consumers’ association should be doing as a matter of course. The sooner you start, the sooner you will get some useful results. BEUC (the European consumer group’s umbrella body) say they take sustainability durability and repairability seriously. A concerted voice in the EU’s ear might not go amiss.

But are there any votes in promoting consumers needs?


I’m not convinced that there is a place for cheap products that could let us down, but if we are coming out of Europe then we could insist on a minimum guarantee of 5 years for all larger or more expensive products with the exceptions of products such as phones which most people replace frequently because they become outdated.

If a product has a decent guarantee then it’s more likely to be repairable and for spare parts to remain available.

If we both cross our fingers, maybe consumer issues will be mentioned in the run up to the election. 🙂


I think its strange to regard £5-600 as not worthy of a decent lifetime. If it is essential to have the latest gizmos (why?) then the older phone can be passed on to another family member.


Got distracted! I meant a £5-600 device. 🙁


Which? list a lot of washing machines around the £200 mark – mostly with poor scores (no surprise). No mention of whether they are well built, likely to be durable, whether they can be repaired, or the guarantee. They are not cheap if they fail relatively quickly, must be thrown away, and don’t do a good job of washing.

We often talk of “honesty”. Is it “honest” to sell such products that don’t perform well and don’t last – without pointing this out?

One got 65% overall score – a Montpellier at £219. It’s price was orginally £319. Wonder just what it actually is worth?


If manufacturers were required to provide a decent guarantee, consumers would be protected from repair costs. It would not be economically viable for companies to sell machines if a significant proportion needed even one repair during the guarantee period.

Abuse is a common problem with washing machines. I wonder how many of the new £1 coins have put washing machines out of action. I wonder how many machines are replaced due to unintentional money laundering and other forms of carelessness.

I wonder how many people replace working products with new ones. Before Christmas, someone along the lane had a replacement kitchen fitted. All the white goods were sitting in the rain on the drive for more than a week before collection. My guess is that they were still in working order. Some people replace working products just because they would like new ones. One reason is that plastics can become yellowed after a few years, or shelves in fridges and freezers get damaged, either due to flimsy construction or abuse, or both. How many users fail to follow the manufacturers’ instructions regarding space around fridges and freezers? This is a factor in both reliability and running costs.

I would like each Which? report to prompt us to ask ourselves if products need to be replaced, in each product review. This would help counter the efforts of the marketing men who peddle their latest, greatest products.

I have not found much benefit in moving from a 34 year old washing machine to a new one. The new one does not rinse as well so I often choose the option to use extra water. The new one has a ‘dirt trap’ door seal that has to be cleaned and dried. Other brands have this feature and I hope there is a purpose, like trapping foreign objects. The first time I used the machine I watched as the laundry detergent capsule went into the dirt trap and remained there for most of the washing cycle, resulting in detergent being released during the rinses. It does not happen every time but I’ve had to do a second short wash after the spin cycle. I must try washing powder but with my old machine it tended to stick in the dispenser, resulting in detergent being added during the rinsing cycles.

If a manufacturer a of cheap product advertises it as durable(or a retailer does this) and that model proves not to be, they have made a dishonest claim. Which? focuses on brand reliability and often alerts us to products that perform poorly or there is some other problem.

If Which? was to focus on product guarantees and affordable extended warranties we might have a quick win.

I missed your earlier comment about mobile phones, Malcolm. The fact is that the majority of phone users replace their phones every couple of years and might not be interested in a five year guarantee. Mine is over three years old and I have not thought about replacing it.


I know of no requirement to give particular guarantees. They should become selling points, as have happened to some degree with cars, but if you buy a £200 washing machine that possibly cost £50 to make I doubt you’ll get a guarantee longer than a year.

As has been pointed out before, one obstacle is the greater or lesser use to which products are put, but this can be got over with length of time of use / cycle counters for example.

Which? could (and I think should) when it tests a product take it apart after testing and look at the quality of components, construction, repairabilty and give us much more useful information. Durability testing is done by the German consumer group; why not by Which? – or why not pass on their results. Protecting the consumer is not just about checking initial performance of a product but advising for how long we can expect it to work. Value for money. Is it too much trouble?


Spending £5-600 on a mobile phone is a considerable expense for many. To expect it to be redundant after a couple of years is very wasteful and perhaps typical of a consumer society that many of us do not want to support. There is no reason to tolerate such a short life, and there are plenty of people who would take on a used phone if the owner simply had to have all the latest gizmos.


” I would like each Which? report to prompt us to ask ourselves if products need to be replaced, in each product review. This would help counter the efforts of the marketing men who peddle their latest, greatest products.”

We do not have to do what the “marketing men” (many are in fact women) tell us, as we have the brains to make our own decisions. Companies advertise products to make us aware of their existence and will tell us all of the good points. I don’t know of any that balance these with any bad points – you wouldn’t expect them to give negative publicity, would you (with rare exceptions like Gerald Ratner of course). Giving a balanced assessment is one job of people like Which? but it does need doing fairly and properly to be of use.


I am pleasantly surprised with my new Siemens washing machine as I was not expecting to be satisfied with any machine since they are required to use less water.

It has the option of 3 extra rinses and an extra water feature and clothes are getting well-rinsed much to my surprise.

It has a very unnecessary feature of Wi-Fi so I can turn it on from my smartphone – something I will never do. ☹ More useful would have been a memory setting so I don’t have to go through the rigmarole of setting the rinses and spin speed every wash. It is automatically set to spin at 1400 rpm. I think 1200 rpm is adequate and will hopefully lengthen the life of the machine as less stress is placed on it.

For many years I have put a liquid detergent straight in the bottom of the drum as it stops the pipes getting mucky.


When liquid detergents first appeared the advice was not to put them in the drum because they can go straight into a sump below the drum and not be used. That’s why plastic dosing balls were introduced. I don’t know if this applies to modern washing machines.

I don’t use the maximum spin speed of 1400 on my machine to help avoid wear on the bearings and noise. 900 or 1200rpm removes sufficient water to allow immediate ironing. Strangely, my old machine achieved this at the maximum spin speed of 800rpm.

It’s a fair point that machines are required to use less water, Alfa, but in a country where we flush the loo with drinking water, perhaps our priorities are wrong. It’s surprising that there are many properties with no water meter.


Liquids can be used with colours and that’s it, useless for lights and whites as they cannot technically contain bleach. Instead they use optical brighteners.

This means that if you only use liquids, there is zero sterilisation other than heat and, as has been discussed here before, what is labelled as a 60 wash may not in fact be a 60˚C wash as assumed.

Using liquids all the time gives rise to bacteria build up in the drum and on the alloy drum spider that can be corrosive and cause that to crack, gives rise to bad smells/odours, poor wash results and so forth.

Basically, using liquids all the time is a very, very bad idea.



Malcolm – I think we are just going over old ground. If manufacturers told us how many cycles our hours their machines were designed to last we might move forward. I do want companies to be honest with me and if anyone deliberately lies to me will be politely but firmly put in their place.

It is often said that ‘you get what you pay for’. If only this was the case, life would be simple.


Kenneth – I certainly do not use liquids all the time, but I do use them for loads containing dark colours. My washing machine has a 60 and a 60˚C setting and it seems to be the 60 setting that reaches around 60˚C. 🙁

Effective washing action removes bacteria and other microorganisms, in the same way it removes dirt. When using low temperature washes it is essential to do regular maintenance washes to prevent the insides of the machine becoming coated with bugs, which could cause smells and corrosion – as you say. I would suggest doing this more frequently than the manufacturers suggest, unless you wash at 60˚C at least once a week.

I have no experience of using quick washes or temperatures below 40˚C but I’m not convinced that they are adequate.


Whether or not it is “old ground” does not stop it being relevant. I think Which? could do a better job in assessing products and providing information on warranties.

We will never get what we pay for, but i’d like to know just what we are getting when we do pay. If that tells me the bearings are good quality and replaceable – as an example – then I’d be better informed. If machine B ran X% more cycles than A before a problem then I’s also be better informed than i am now.


I don’t see the need to sterilise washing every time it is washed. We are getting too sterile which I believe is behind many allergies these days.

I might use powder on a very hot wash occasionally, but don’t like powders generally as they don’t always completely dissolve at lower temperatures.

I do a 90 degree hot water only cycle regularly to make sure the machine stays clean. My last machine still smelled ok after about 10 years so the ways I use it can’t be that bad.

I am allergic to many detergents so have used Fairy for many years. These days there are probably alternatives, but I still use what I know is ok for me.


It’s not about the need to sterilise every wash Alfa, it’s about keeping the machine clean and preventing a build up of un-removed grease, dirt etc from clothing.

I’d post a link to a full explanation as this is a lengthy topic that most users of washing machines have little idea how complex it is but apparently some people regard that as spamming.

The bottom line is this, you should always have to use at least two detergents or three detergents if you was wool/silk or other natural materials as they require something different again. Using one is, frankly, a recipe for disaster that will ruin clothing way before it should be “done”.

You need, basically:

— Bleach containing powder detergent for whites/lights

— Non-bleach containing powder or liquid for colours

— Additional for specialist washes.

If you don’t do that you risk damage to laundry and the machine. Some damage is immediate, some will take 10-20 washes to see as it’s incremental, hence the old “after ten washes” adverts you used to see.

That is it I’m afraid.

As to allergies… ehm, no. You’ve more chance of winning the lottery ever week for year than a detergent causing any problem and, that’s not just from the detergent guys but also the medical community. It’s a myth.

Doing the maintenance wash though, well done, that’s a really good practice.



Cotton 60.

You’d think it was a 60C cotton wash wouldn’t you?

It ain’t!

It will often use a lower temperature than that, extends the wash time and “mimic” the wash of a proper 60C wash.


Because people are led to believe that the machine somehow defies the laws of physics and uses massively lower amounts of energy, deluded (tricked?) by marketing to thinking that buying a spanking new “efficient” machine will save loads of cash on electricity.

Which is obviously a fallacy perpetrated by marketers that want to sell people stuff and in this case by fudging the numbers.

And as it’s a very important selling point to many it’s important that it’s “sold” to people.

So if a manufacturer can claim that they can do a cotton 60 with 1 unit as opposed to 1.5 for others then you are on a winner in the marketing arms race. Whether that proves true or not, of course assuming it’s ever challenged, isn’t really an issue. They get to claim, uses 50% less energy.

People swallow it hook, line and sinker.

But it gets worse as they can do that or, they can use the load capacity and divide the theoretical kg load weight by energy used and get a random figure that way that, looks great but you’ve not a hope of ever achieving in real world use.

There’s all manners of tricks to fool people on energy use and why that the seemingly small change for 60 degrees centigrade to Cotton 60 might not seem all that important but, it really is.

Take for example NHS staff that launder their own uniforms, if the machine doesn’t hit 60C then it won’t kill MRSA stuff so, they reinfect as it’s still in the clothing. The users, completely oblivious to this and under the belief that they’ve done everything correct which on the face of it they have.

Detergent use, understanding washing laundry and sanitisation which is a major part of that process, are important.

But what people think they’re getting opposed to what they’re actually getting are very often worlds apart.



The introduction of new European standards for washing performance was the reason why we have moved to longer washing cycles and lower temperatures. That posed an immediate problem for manufacturers, but some machines no longer mention temperature. It’s high time that all manufacturers did this because it is more than misleading to show temperatures that are not achieved.

Nurses working with infected patients should not be bringing their uniforms home for laundering. They should go to the hospital laundry, as in the past. My guess is that some administrators charged with saving money decided on home laundry.

There is nothing magic about a temperature of 60˚C. It will not kill Clostridium difficile, a well known problem in hospitals, but effective washing will certainly help remove this and other bacteria.

Lower temperature washing causes less damage to washing and I have little doubt that it is here to stay. If someone has soiled clothing then nappy sanitiser (or bleach for whites) should be used before washing.

It’s best to keep up with maintenance washes and help people understand that different laundry detergents have different uses – as Kenneth says.

Edit: Here is what the CDC has to say about laundry and MRSA: https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/environment/laundry.html


Kenneth, I can assure you I am not “sold” any of the things you mention. I couldn’t care less what claims are made on energy as I assume EU laws take care of that for me.

As to washing temperatures, if I get a new garment, I will check the label for instructions and will probably follow them accordingly.

Towels and jeans say 40 degrees but I give them 60. 40 doesn’t always get them clean especially the kitchen towel.

Dark items that say 40 will probably get the lowest temp if it gets them clean as dark colours run and will last longer.

You seem to forget many of us go by our own experiences having done washing for maybe decades. The degrees could be marked 1-10 and after all these years we would know which number worked best.


I agree, Alfa. It’s best to experiment and find out what works best for us. However, I have not experimented with a quick wash at low temperature.


Malcolm wrote: “Spending £5-600 on a mobile phone is a considerable expense for many. To expect it to be redundant after a couple of years is very wasteful and perhaps typical of a consumer society that many of us do not want to support. There is no reason to tolerate such a short life, and there are plenty of people who would take on a used phone if the owner simply had to have all the latest gizmos.”

The fact is that most people do change their phone regularly, often updating when their two year contract expires. I recently heard an advert promoting new phones after one year and there are plenty of references to this online.

A neighbour’s granddaughter uses her grandmother’s old iPhone minus the SIM for a variety of purposes via the home WiFi and granddads iPad too. She might as well because he hardly uses it. Many sell or give away working mobile phones.

I’m very keen on people keeping products longer but I don’t try with mobile phones because I don’t want the be a patron saint of lost causes. Mine is telling me that the memory is nearly full but I can think of a better solution than a new phone.


Malcolm. We seem to have a couple of parallel conversations, so to take up one of your points: “We will never get what we pay for, but i’d like to know just what we are getting when we do pay. If that tells me the bearings are good quality and replaceable – as an example – then I’d be better informed. If machine B ran X% more cycles than A before a problem then I’s also be better informed than i am now.”

Kenneth has told us that few modern washing machines have replaceable bearings and I think Which? mentioned this in the article that also said that Bosch has moved to sealed door assemblies. The lifetime of bearings,even good ones, is rather unpredictable. I have signed enough purchase orders for bearings when I was working. I don’t know why people use machines on the maximum spin speed. There can be an enormous variation in the time products last before failure, so having information that machine B will on average last longer that machine A will not help if you buy one that fails. Household products are quite complex these days and failure of a single component may be enough to render them unusable. However, a decent guarantee would protect the owner from unexpected expense. Guarantees and warranties have become an important factor in choice of car.


I have said several times I want longer warranties – these will of course be paid for one way or another – but I also want the ability to be able to choose better quality products if it suits me, and I need information to help with that. I’d hope a consumer’s association would feel it one of their jobs,

Better quality components, whether bearings or anything else, will last longer than poorer quality ones. We need to know what we are buying to make properly considered decisions.


Kenneth wrote: “As to allergies… ehm, no. You’ve more chance of winning the lottery ever week for year than a detergent causing any problem and, that’s not just from the detergent guys but also the medical community. It’s a myth.”

That’s a rather sweeping statement, especially since ingredients of laundry detergents vary and there is no requirement to declare their composition. Allergy and skin irritation are often confused, but to suggest that the problem is a myth is not reasonable.


Not really.

Multiple sources have said there’s no link can be proven between laundry detergent and skin irritation but the one that I’ve lost the link for was a study by the British Association of Dermatologists that basically boiled down to saying it was a complete nonsense to think there was a link.

The basic compontnentts of almost all detergents are the same or similar, after all they all do the same job more or less.

The only real difference I guess, if you can call it that, is in the perfume used and the volume of each component. Perfume may be a cause of irritation but, if memory serves me, you’ve about a .00001% or less chance of it.

There’s also the use of clay based substance in one with conditioner built in but, aside that, more or less the same fundamental thing.

Unless of course you want to believe the marketers rather than science and evidence.

But then, the UK in this regard is the weirdest country in the world.

We have non-bio detergents. Largely due to fears about skin irritation and bad advice dating back to the 1960’s or so or, as I like to say, complete codswallop.

The UK is the only country in the world where non-bio is sold as far as I am aware.

So, either UK citizens have got skin that’s different from the rest of the world population or, UK citizens have been getting bad advice for a really long time and really haven’t a clue about this stuff.

Guess which is more likely to prove true.

Many people blame detergents for skin irritation but I suspect poor washing habits are way more likely a cause. Without a *proper skin test* by a doctor to determine the exact cause of the issue it is not possible to say what causes it definitively and, mileage may vary as each case will stand on its own evidence.

I am told doctors are not keen to do this. It costs money or something… NHS… etc.

Easier and cheaper just to tell people to change their detergent and get them out the door. If that’s true, I don’t know as it’s not my field, but what I can say is that if a medical professional does that, I’d think it incorrect.

To randomly blame detergents or indeed washing machines with zero evidence they are even remotely to blame when there’s plenty evidence to say they’re not an issue seems to me foolhardy at best. And as you and others here know all too well about me, no evidence and no prove means there’s only an opinion with nothing to support it.



Kenneth, I have had allergies as long as I can remember.

My first recollection is puffed, itchy, watery, 2 slits for eyes being allergic to pollen, not great living in the countryside and by the time I was in my late teens, immune to the treatment.

I had allergy tests at my doctors when I was about 20 and was allergic to almost everything they tested me for although the only three I was aware of was pollen, cats and sheep, the last 2 fairly easy to avoid. I know I am allergic to some metals and perfumes, a watch buckle gives me a rash, a cheap necklace gives me a rash, earrings that have a nickel post makes my ears itch and weep, perfumes can give me a rash, even good old cold cream I can’t use.

Years ago, when I stayed at my parents, I awoke looking like I had slept in a bed of stinging nettles. My mother had changed to Persil and her twin-tub rinsing left a lot to be desired. This happened again a year or two later when she bought it again when it was on special offer so I am pretty sure the connection is there. It was quite a long time ago and the ingredients might have changed but I would not chance using it again. Ariel makes me itch. A couple of years ago when staying with friends, in the morning it was noticed I had a rash on my arms, I asked what the sheets were washed in and the answer was Ariel and no conditioner. That will do it I said !!! My mother also never used fabric conditioner.

I always had itchy skin and seemed to itch more than everyone else. Fairy was advertised as being suitable for babies, I tried it and my skin improved, so don’t tell me I am ‘buying’ into anything. I shower every morning so don’t tell me I have poor washing habits. Most soap also makes me itch or gives me a rash by the way. Even Fairy will make me itch if it is not rinsed thoroughly.

Nobody has told me what to do, I haven’t bought into any hype, all my opinions are based on my own experiences with a lot of trial and error and a lot of money wasted on stuff I can’t use.

In the last few years, I now have food intolerances to contend with… but that’s another story.


I have read many stories similar to yours, Alfa. It’s highly likely that the problem with nickel is a separate problem. Many suffer from allergic contact dermatitis caused by nickel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_allergy

Some chemicals can stick to fabrics and are not rinsed away, the extreme example being dyes. Fabric conditioners will certainly remain because they are added after rinsing.


Thanks for the link wavechange….
Taking to The Lobby


Yes, fabric conditioner and perfume are the only two things that are designed to remain on clothing.

Perfume varies obviously but it’s not regarded as an irritant at all.

Conditioner is optional, there is absolutely no need to use it whatsoever although many have bought into the idea but it’s in effect an unnecessary add on designed to part people with their money in my opinion.

Alfa I’ve come across many people with issues that have been blamed on machines or detergents such as you describe, a good friend suffers from sever eczema as do two family members let alone anything else, like the hundreds or thousands of people I’ve advised over the years o this topic.

To avoid any irritation laundry related there’s some things I can advise you and others of that may help prevent any problems.

First is to ensure that the laundry is being properly cleaned (you’d be amazed how many people get it wrong out the traps) by separating the clothing correctly, selecting the correct wash cycles and using the correct detergent in the correct amount.

If you have skin issues forget using quick washes, that will cause you problems as they do not clean correctly, they’re refresh programs only dressed up by marketers as something else.

At the very least separate white/darks and cotton/synthetic and wash accordingly.

Using the correct dose will ensure dirt is removed and there’s no residues left on the laundry.

Don’t use conditioner.

If like a most people seem to, you just slam stuff into the machine with a random dose on one or two programs only etc then yeah, you’re gonna have issues with irritation as basically, your laundry is not being properly cleaned.

It is not even remotely uncommon for me to be told people know what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it for years yada, yada and yet I know for sure, 100% no doubt about it, they’re doing it wrong.

But for those that have easily irritated skin or whatever, not taking care to do all this stuff correctly all the time will lead to problems without question. Often, I strongly suspect, as skin grease, flakes, urine and other body excretions that are present on all laundry are not removed properly let alone whatever is picked up, much of it not visible to the naked eye is not properly cleaned off. That can over time build on clothes and in machines and be redeposited as well so, for those with skin problems, doing it right is vital.



This has me interested because I do have the link to the study to which you refer, Kenneth. Taking your statement point by point:

The basic compontnentts of almost all detergents are the same or similar, after all they all do the same job more or less.

More or less, perhaps, but some use enzymes and they’re known allergens. Also, the precise combinations of substances are likely to vary, and any chemist will tell you mixtures and compounds can produce some startlingly different effects. Let’s face it, adding a highly reactive metal and a deadly poisonous gas to your chips can be quite satisfying – providing they’re combined carefully.

To randomly blame detergents or indeed washing machines with zero evidence they are even remotely to blame when there’s plenty evidence to say they’re not an issue

But you can’t prove a negative, can you? So in truth there can’t be “plenty of evidence to say they’re not an issue.

There’s also a difference between an allergy and allergic contact dermatitis. It’s the latter most seem to complain of. Now, if you subscribe to New Scientist and Nature there are some interesting findings.

In 2008 a team including Dr David Basketter and colleagues from St Thomas’ Hospital, Nottingham University and St Mary’s Hospital released a study claiming to “demonstrate convincingly that enzymes were not responsible” for allergic contact dermatitis which is, I suspect, the study to which you were referring, Kenneth. Now, the thing with studies like this is that for them to have any validity you need to know several things, including the methodology employed and – perhaps most importantly – who provided the funding.

Interestingly, much came from Unilever, so no undue bias there, then, and in methodological terms it was a non-systematic review article. The authors referenced 44 papers that were relevant to the debate about whether enzymes added to detergent washing powders can cause skin reactions but did not describe how they searched for relevant scientific literature or the criteria they used to select them.

Now, with that approach there are significant weaknesses. Non-systematic reviews, those that have not described their searching methods, may fail to detect some publications which could influence the overall conclusion. It is not certain that all studies have shown no effect of these biological powders.
The quality of the individual studies in the article has not been assessed so the reader is unable to judge how reliable the individual study results are. The ability of researchers to control for hidden bias from the placebo effect or from the unequal selection of participants who took part in these trials would be particularly relevant for an appraisal.

So far from this study being the confirmation you suggest it seems not only was it funded by the soap powder manufacturers with possible other influences, as yet undisclosed, but it seems the methodology was insufficiently rigorous to provide any meaningful evidence about anything, other than soap powder manufacturers are keen to stay clean.

To be completely honest, this is redolent of the smoking studies that “proved” cigarettes were good for you, largely funded by the Tobacco companies.

I’m not saying soap powders can cause allergic contact dermatitis; but what I am saying is that we don’t appear to have sufficient high-quality research on the matter to be definitive either way.


That was the one about enzymes, there are more Ian and a quick Google will find you that study along with the associated conspiracy theories surrounding it.

In the end enzymes were introduced badly in the 1960’s by P&G, very poor marketing that led to the belief that they were an issue and, perhaps they were at one point on that I can’t say but it’s become an “accepted wisdom” in culture here in the UK is appears. What I do know is that now and for the past decade or three, the enzymes used are not harmful at all, most are naturally occurring and found in humans anyway.

What magic is done to make them work is a bit secretive of course by the detergent manufacturers but, on the whole there’s very little to no hard evidence that’s ever been put forward to prove any issue with them.

Sure, loads of anecdotal stuff about one detergent versus another and so forth but it’s all speculative at best.

Here’s the kicker in that.

The *only* difference between bio and non-bio is the use of enzymes in bio that are not present in non-bio. That’s it.

So, given non-bio is only sold in the UK and nowhere else and yet it’s only the UK that this seems to be any sort of issue of any note says a lot to me.

The whole enzyme use argument is to me, a false path leading to a dead end that holds no water given that, no other nation on the planet seems to have a similar problem.

Unless of course there are studies that say we UK citizens are somehow different to everyone else?



Kenneth – I don’t share your confidence that laundry detergents do not cause problems for users.

I assume that the article you are referring to is this review: Enzymes, detergents and skin: facts and fantasies D.A. Basketter,* J.S.C. English, S.H. Wakelin and I.R. White (2008) The principal author worked for Unilever and another has acted as a consultant from the company. Now Unilever don’t just make Marmite and mayonnaise, do they?

I suffer from allergic asthma and have been interested in biological detergents since Procter and Gamble launched Ariel. I don’t think there is any doubt that the enzymes used in biological detergents have caused problems with occupational exposure. To quote from the introduction to Basketter’s review: “However, it has long been recognized that the enzymes used in these products have the potential to produce respiratory allergy during manufacture, thus requiring very strict exposure control for the workforce.” P&G had to change their production method in the UK to control exposure of workers to dusts containing enzymes. These industrial enzymes are very crude materials likely to be contaminated with other proteins. Working in a packaging plant is very different from normal handling of biological detergents in the home. While I believe that much of the concern is unfounded, it would be unwise to assume that these detergents do not cause a problem.

Edit: Sorry Ian, I had not seen your post.


We are not entirely off topic discussing laundry detergents because washing machines are now designed with low washing temperatures and biological detergents in mind. 🙂

The mechanism of action of enzymes used in laundry detergents is quite straightforward. The enzymes accelerate the breakdown of dirt etc. to small molecules that are soluble. The first biological detergents included a protease to break down proteins. Lipase is used to break down oil/fat/grease. Amylase and cellulase can be included to break down carbohydrates. We are not told which enzymes are used in which products.


“We are not told which enzymes are used in which products.”

You are. At least in respect to laundry detergents.

Non bio = no enzymes.

Everything else does or may contain them but, it should be stated on the label.

It cracks me up that people, lots of them, go buy Vanish and all manners of add-ons to “boost” the performance of their wash, use non-bio and add this stuff when all it is really is a tub of weak bleach with enzymes in it. So, they put right back in what they made a choice, consciously or not to take out.

You see this stuff all the time out on the road, you open the cupboard next to the washing machine and it’s like an amateur chemistry set of stuff, much of it a total unnecessary waste of money and all too often contradictory!

What is required is clear simple instruction for people, not an Nth degree investigation on much of it as, clearly people do not understand and this causes harm to laundry, machines and probably people as well. I’d suggest getting the basics right was an obvious first step.

A few years ago I was working with a film crew shooting in a busy Asda store in London and the crew were briefed on detergents who of course needed educating as most do but went out to ask people what sort of detergent they were buying and why.

This might shock but, from hundreds of people that day they asked not one person could tell them correctly what detergent they were buying, not single person.

I think one or two knew a couple of wash symbols.

The level of ignorance on this stuff is staggering.

Is it any wonder people get it wrong?



You refuted my comment: “We are not told which enzymes are used in which products.”

Please tell me which enzymes are used in some of the common biological detergents. I’ve had a look at a few examples and it just says ‘enzymes’.

I am not familiar with Vanish etc. but any immediate effect is most likely to be due to a peroxide bleach.


Oh sorry, that was my bad I read that wrongly wavechange, my apologies. I missed the word “which” in that line.

No you’re right on that score as that’s a bit of a trade secret. To give that information out would be akin to manufacturers giving away their formula so that ain’t gonna ever happen.

That’s like asking McDonalds, KFC, Cola etc to openly publish their recipes… not a hope of it ever.



No problem. Routine analytical methods have made it easy to find out the the ingredients of commercial products, though estimating the amounts is of each component is more difficult. One of our contributors mentioned analysing competitors’ fragrances in an earlier Conversation. Cola and toilet limescale remover have something in common.


Oh Kenneth, you seem to have a very poor opinion of people.

I never said I was allergic to enzymes. Detergents and other products are full of chemicals and I have no idea what affects me. I did once try and keep a spread sheet of things I used and ingredients listed but there were so many long names that needed a magnifying glass to read, I gave up.

And yes, I probably have some of the chemicals that crack you up in my cupboard too. And sometimes they are required, but I never put them in my washing machine. If curry, grass, oil, blood, etc, gets onto clothes and will need extra help to remove, it gets treated before going in the machine. Not only that, it will get rinsed under the tap and given a bit of a Fairy hand wash to make sure the cleaning agent is thoroughly removed before going in the machine.

As to a delicates, the quickest way to ruin them is to put them in a machine, so they get hand-washed in Fairy.


People can do whatever they like Alfa, it’s not for me to tell anyone what to be doing.

I can tell people what’s correct to the extent of my knowledge. Can’t force them to do it.

But you need to understand my perspective as, when I see this stuff and I must have a good current working knowledge of it for service, there’s a problem being raised by a user.

In 99.9999% of cases, it’s a use issue. Not a detergent or machine issue.

Where it’s all done correctly I have yet to really see any issue at all and I’m not on the payroll of anyone so, that’s a completely impartial and independent view as I could care less if anyone was to blame or not for any problems. All I care about is people getting the correct information.

What people do with at information is not my concern.



A bit of “Fairy Magic ” Alfa ? beats any machine “hands down ” Kenneth- enzymes in washing powder – Amylase -Lipase-Proteases . I have much more “secret info ” on this .The one mentioned by Alfa -blood relates to Proteases . A secret is only a secret if you cant find out/dont know about it , I know a lot of secrets. Tests for allergy are best carried out in a hospital with the full range of tests just like my wife got , you can be allergic to only one or many , my wife was allergic to many.


Kenneth – One of the annoying features of my present washing machine is what I referred to earlier as a dirt trap. The door seal retains a fair amount of water, which is not a problem, but when a gel capsule finds its way into the cavity and some of the gel is not released until the rinsing cycles then it is annoying. I have noticed that other modern machines have the same type of door seal, but I don’t know if the same thing happens.

Obviously if the gel is added at the wrong time, washing may be impaired and rinsing may not be effective as it should be. Sometimes (not very often) I see some foam remaining round the door towards the end of the spin cycles and I know it’s because the capsule has found its way into the door seal. I have tried a couple of times to make a video but of course it did not happen.

My ancient washing machine did not have a dirt trap and the door seal was fine when I retired it after many years of service. I’d love to know why the door seal of my new machine is designed in this way.


Duncan – I wish you would just provide links rather than saying you know secrets. 🙂 It’s bad enough having the commercial world denying us information that could be helpful.

When I have had skin tests done I have been told that they are useful but not always accurate because allergies are very specific. In my case I’m badly affected by some dogs but others hardly affect me. I wish people would not tell me that their dog does not cause problems because it does not shed hair. I believe it’s the dander that’s the problem, not the hair. With cats, salivary proteins can cause problems, or so I have read.