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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Issues with your washer’s bleach dispenser?

By Dr. Laundry November 18, 2014

Q:  My washing machine has a bleach dispenser and I washed all of my whites and put in about ½ of a cup. They came out fine, but I had a load of towels to wash afterwards. They came out with bleach stains all over them.

So my question is, how do I use bleach for just one cycle and keep the bleach from ruining anything I wash after? And how will I make sure it is all gone for the next load I want to wash so that nothing gets destroyed?

A: Having a washer and dryer in your home is such a big life improvement—congratulations!  I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your towels—it sounds to me like the bleach dispenser malfunctioned. When you use a properly functioning bleach dispenser, all the bleach should be added to the load, and the dispenser flushed before the next load.  There should be no carryover, and you should never have to worry about what you wash next. Do you know what brand and model the washer is, and do you have any idea how old the washer is?  If it’s still pretty new, it could fall under the warranty so be sure to check.  While dispenser malfunctions are rare, there are different possibilities for ways they can fail depending on how they are designed. 

Older traditional deep fill washers with the bleach dispenser inside the lid sometimes have plastic tubing that simply directs the bleach in between the basket (where you load the washer) and the tub to the bottom.  This helps the consumer avoid pouring any bleach directly onto the clothes.  A big problem with this design, however, is if the consumer adds the bleach after the washer has filled.  The bleach will never actually be added to the washer during the wash cycle since the tubing will also be filled with water when the machine fills.  The dispenser only drains the bleach when the washer drains at the end of the washer, but it’s pumped out.  There is a limited chance of carryover from this type of dispenser to the next load, unless a consumer tries to add the bleach during the rinse cycle.  Then there could be some bleach remaining in the washer that would go into the next load.  This is fixed by adding the bleach to the dispenser before starting the washer.  You could also add the bleach manually 5 minutes after the washer has begun agitating; just be sure to dilute the bleach in a quart of water first, before pouring it into the washer.

Newer high efficiency washers have bleach dispensers that are actually flushed with water at a specific time during the wash cycle to add the bleach. If you can see the bleach in your dispenser after you have filled it, then you should be able to check at the end of the cycle to see if all the bleach was added.  Or, if you can’t see into the compartment, you hopefully can remove the entire dispenser (usually they come out to allow for cleaning) and check to see if any bleach remains that way.  The biggest problem is when a dispenser malfunctions only some of the time, which unfortunately does happen, making it harder to know for sure there’s a problem.  Adding bleach without using the bleach dispenser is much more difficult in these washers since they tend to lock the consumer out.  Fortunately some washers will unlock after a few minutes if you stop the washer mid cycle.  If you can access your washer this way, and you determine your dispenser definitely doesn’t work properly, then you can skip using the dispenser for bleach and instead try late wash cycle addition of bleach:

  • stop the washer about 2 minutes before the end of the wash cycle (before the washer drains and then refills for the first rinse) and wait for it to unlock
  • add ½ cup bleach to 1 quart of water, and add it to the tub with the wet and sudsy laundry
  • close the door or lid and restart the washer

And if your washer has an “extra rinse” option be sure to always select it, not just when you are washing a bleach load, because it’s always good to make sure every load of laundry is thoroughly rinsed.

I have a high efficiency washer from 1997 that I love—large capacity clothes basket, great mechanical action and rinsing, access to the washer mid cycle with only a 2 minute wait time after stopping the washer, extra rinse option, and complete access to all dispensers anytime during the cycle.  Oh and the bleach dispenser holds a whopping ¾ cup, which of course is a plus for the dog’s bedding…  And one more thing—the bleach dispenser stopped releasing the bleach ages ago, so I set a timer for when the bleach should normally add, and just do it myself at the right time.  It may be harder for you to figure out when that is without having used the washer when it worked properly, so feel free to send me some more information on the washer and hopefully I can help you out with more specifics.