You can overload or underload a washing machine. Each will cause different problems which are discussed in this article.
Overfilling – or overloading the drum
If you overload a washing machine it can cause physical problems, but it will also affect the efficiency of the wash. An overfilled washing machine results in the laundry moving round in one large mass. The clothes will not agitate against each other and the washing machine detergent won't be able to circulate or dissolve properly. The washing will not be washed properly. With some liquid detergents there can also be potential serious consequences – Baby badly burned by washing machine detergent.
Overfilling the drum could potentially even cause the door glass to shatter according to manufacturers although as far as I know none of them warn about this directly to customers. There have been over 90 cases reported to Whitegoodshelp over the last several years – Washing machine exploding door glass danger so make sure you don’t ram the drum full.
However, you do need to fill the drum in order to get the most economical use from your machine and to prevent under-loading, which is also bad . Under-loading the machine causes problems by making the weight of clothes more likely to accumulate on one side of the drum. This can make the load out of balance and cause violent banging on spin. (see below)
How much laundry should I put in the drum when loading a washing machine?
Try to fill the drum for economy, but pat the clothes down lightly and make sure you can feel a good gap between the top of the clothes and the top of the drum. Bear in mind that the drum may look really full, but once water comes in and the drum turns, many items will shrink in bulk. I would try to fill the drum around 3 quarters full so that there is plenty of room for the laundry to move around. The laundry needs space to fall into when the drum revolves. Check your instruction manual to see if there are good instructions for your machine.
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Under loading the washing machine
Under loading the washing machine can also cause problems. In the old days it often resulted in violent out of balanced loads causing damage to the washing machine. These days under-loading is more likely to result in the washer simply refusing to spin so you end up with a finished cycle but wet laundry. If you have experienced some loads reaching the end of the cycle and not going into fast spin, then one possible explanation could be if you have under loaded it or are trying to wash and spin just one or two items.
The best way to avoid unbalanced loads in a washing machine
If you try to wash a bulky item that is heavy and absorbent the washing machine is unlikely to be able to balance the drum. Or if you put just a few large towels or a heavy item in amongst some very light fabrics. The heavy items can bunch to one side of the drum and the lighter ones won't be able to counter-balance their weight effectively. There should be enough items to fit all around the drum. If there’s only enough to fill most of the drum, but a section is empty, then it can get out of balance on spin. If the items are all light that may not cause a problem. However, if some items are heavy they may cause violent banging on spin. Or the washing machine’s out of balance detection system may just refuse to allow a spin.
Make sure you fill the drum well. Counter to expectations, the worst violent spins are caused by under-loading – not overloading. Heavy bath mats are notoriously difficult to balance and should ideally be washed with other items. If they gather on one side of the drum it will upset the balance of the load. However, some people (understandably) don't want to mix the bath mats in with normal washing. If this is the case and you do get problems with the bath mats getting out of balance I suggest you use old towels or sheets to even the load up. With most modern machines though a heavy bath mat is more likely to just not get spun rather than be allowed to spin out of control and wreck the machine.
Sometimes you can get an unbalanced load by sheer chance, with loads you have successfully washed many times before. The occasional bad load is inevitable but constant bad loads and violent banging on spin should be looked into.
People can seriously overload washing machines
I once went to a customer who had rammed a sleeping bag into her washing machine. She then found it didn’t work and she couldn’t open the door to retrieve it. I couldn’t believe how full jammed full it was and I had to break off the door interlock to get the door open. I even had a struggle pulling the sleeping bag out which was well rammed in place.
When I asked her how she had even managed to get the door closed she admitted she’d used her backside and full weight to force the door shut! That’s a very extreme case of overloading but many people do put too much washing in, which can cause various problems, not least poor wash results. Check out the related links below for more information.
- Laundry comes out of washing machine badly creased? (includes maximum weight loadings for types of laundry)
- Compare how a duvet fits into a 5kg drum to how it fits into a 7kg or 8Kg drum