Washing machines are one of the great modern conveniences, allowing us to wash our clothes more effectively and with far less effort than by hand.
However, they are not entirely trouble-free machines. And many people report that over time their washing machine starts to develop these ‘black flakes’ which, apart from looking unsightly, are a sign that the machine needs a good cleaning.
These black flakes are essentially the accumulation of dirt, grease, bacteria, and mold. It needs to be kept under control as it not only looks unsightly, but it can contribute heavily to wearing down components inside the washing machine.
If you’ve discovered these black flakes in your washing machine, don’t worry! We’ll explain where they come from and how to eliminate them.
What causes black flakes in the washing machine?
Washing machines require a degree of upkeep to maintain good operation and health. After all, they extract a lot of dirt, oils, and stains from our clothing. It’s only natural that they might accumulate inside the machine.
The ‘black flakes’ that appear in the washing machine are where the dirt, mold, and bacteria have combined with washing powder/detergent and become stuck inside the machine.
Because of their sticky and oily nature, they don’t wash away with regular water and can bung up the washing machine and stick to all your clothing.
Not ideal! It is unsightly and can also contribute to component degradation inside the machine, aging things like gaskets and hoses, so they will need to be replaced much sooner than normal.
So we need to take steps to keep our washing machine maintained to get rid of the black flakes and prevent them from coming back in the future.
But first, let’s take a deeper look at what contributes to the accumulation of black flakes:
1. Fabric softener
There is nothing better than getting a fresh load of clean laundry out of the washing machine using a good fabric softener.
But many fabric softeners can leave residue after the wash cycle has finished. This residue can combine with other things, such as lint, dirt, and bacteria, manifesting as black flakes.
Most washing machines use many stainless steel components to circumvent the accumulation of rust. But inevitably, as the machine ages, specific components can turn rusty, which then flakes off and works its way into the machine.
These rust flakes combine with other elements, such as washing powder, soap scum, and detergent, which accumulate into black flakes. If you notice that the flakes have a brownish hue, it’s usually an indicator that rust plays a factor in their formation.
You will need to inspect the machine for rusty components and replace anything that’s going bad.
Lint is a natural thing to have come off of clothing, especially if you like fluffy cotton, wool, or linen sweaters with a lot of natural fibers.
It’s the accumulation of these tiny clothing fibers which bind and bundle together to create little balls of clothing fibers.
This can easily combine with clothing or washing powder oils and turn into black flakes.
While preventing lint accumulation is impossible, as it’s a natural part of washing clothing, we can counteract their contribution to black flakes by keeping the lint filter clean.
4. Hard water/mineral deposits
Washing machines don’t have their dedicated water supply. Instead, they siphon off the water that’s supplied to your home.
So if you often have to deal with hard water and calcium deposits in your home, those deposits can slowly build up inside your machine.
While it is possible to use a water softener in your plumbing to help remove some of these deposits, the machine will still need regular upkeep, regardless.
5. Detergent deposits
The detergent we use in everyday washing contains many chemicals that give them their scent and cleaning ability.
But unfortunately, these chemicals can leave a residue that sticks to things. This residue then combines with other dirty elements to make black flakes.
6. Excessive detergent use
While detergent itself can contribute to the accumulation of black flakes, one of the more significant factors is users putting in excessive detergent, exponentially increasing how fast those black flakes build up.
The general idea that more detergent = cleaner clothes are not true. You only need to use enough to perform the wash cycle. Anything above that just gets flushed straight out of the machine.
If you like to use extra detergent, you can dramatically decrease the formation of black flakes by only using the amount specified on the bottle.
7. Mold and bacteria
Warm and moist places are the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. A washing machine provides just such an environment.
As this mold breeds, it combines with other things like lint, soap scum, and detergent to create black flakes. It’s often the mold itself that causes their color to be so black.
8. Dirt and oils from clothing
The washing machine cleans the clothes and pulls out all the accumulated oils and stains. At the same time, it can wash most of it away during the cycle. Inevitably some remains, which then combine with the other elements to create black flakes.
How to get rid of black flakes in the washing machine
Because so many small contributing factors combine to create black flakes, we must maintain a good cleaning and maintenance routine to keep the washing machine in working order.
These are all nice and easy to follow and don’t need to be performed that often. But keeping up with these cleaning steps from time to time will prevent the black flakes from forming.
1. Regular cleaning of the machine
General cleaning of the washing machine is one of the simplest and easiest ways to remove and prevent the future formation of black flakes.
All it involves is wiping down the outside and inside of the machine, cleaning the rubber gasket (the big rubber seal around the door), and wiping down the detergent dispenser.
These simple steps can help keep mold and detergent accumulation down to a minimum.
2. Running an empty cycle
Wiping down the machine works great for the exposed and visible parts you can access, but what about the internals?
For that, we use a simple vinegar solution of 2 parts white vinegar and 1 cup of water, which you can add to the detergent dispenser.
Then run a complete cycle with the machine being empty. This will flush the vinegar all around the machine breaking down many of the built-up oil and detergent deposits and leaving it nice and clean.
Once the cycle is finished, you don’t want to wash your clothes immediately as they will smell vinegary. Instead, you should run one more cycle on the hottest setting with just water and one-half cup of baking soda.
Once that second cycle is finished, wipe the inside of the drum down with a cloth, and it’ll be like new!
3. Clean the lint filter
Lint is a big enough problem for washing machines that most models have their dedicated lint filter, which is designed to catch as much loose lint as possible so it can’t get stuck in the machine and turn into black flakes.
Over time the lint filter can get bunged up with so much excess lint that it stops doing its job, so we need to clean it out so it can work again manually.
- The lint filter is usually located on the rim of the washer drum. Or if it’s a top loader, it might be located inside the agitator.
- Remove the lint filter and place it in a sink filled with hot soapy water.
- Let it sit for 10-15 minutes to loosen and break the lint.
- Please remove it from the water, gently scrub it with a brush, and then rinse it.
Some washing machines have a non-removable lint filter which is more difficult to clean. The best method to clean them is by scrubbing them with a soft brush or a clean rag to wipe away as much lint as possible.
4. Use Clorox cleaner
A slightly more aggressive approach if your black flake problem is already quite severe.
Fill the drum up about halfway with water, and then add Clorox to the water. Let it sit for a couple of hours, rotating the drum 180 degrees every once in a while so everything gets coated.
This breaks down much of the accumulated oil and residue. Once it’s finished, run an empty cycle using the hottest setting to flush the solution out of the machine.
5. Use lemon juice
This is a slightly less aggressive method to clean your washing machine, leaving it smelling lemony and fresh, too!
The natural acids in lemon can help break down built-up oils and grime. Add lemon juice to the washing machine drum and let it sit for a few minutes to break down that built-up washing powder and detergent.
Then run an empty hot water cycle to flush everything through.