Loading a washing machine

You can easily either overload or underload a washing machine. Ideally you should just put the right amount of laundry in the drum but it’s easy to get it wrong. Overloading or under loading will cause different problems, which are discussed in this article.

Overloading – or overfilling 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 overfill the drum.

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 80% 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.


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..

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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 (Won’t spin single items or small loads).


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 jammed full it was and I had to break off the door lock 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.

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34 thoughts on “Loading a washing machine”

  1. Christine Ashley

    Hello, my washing machines only ever last 3-5 years, I usually load the washer depending on colour, I put everything including towels in together, could this be why my machine always bangs on a full load, I always load about 3/4 full, is it best to wash towels separate to everything else or would the towels only load be too heavy.

  2. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Yes Christine, if you can wash towels together but only if you can do a full load. A small load of towels may be unbalanced. You can put towels in with other laundry but if there are only one or two towels they can cause out of balance so try to put a lot in at once. Filling the drum to about 80% capacity should not cause out of balance, out of balanced loads are usually smaller loads or loads with just one or two bulky items mixed in with light ones.

  3. We have a Hotpoint WMBF963PUK 9KG Washing Machine and it’s been a nightmare ever since we got it a year ago, thinking it may be just down to the size of the drum but it’s a lottery whether it will spin or not even after mixing large loads, adding removing items. Sometimes it will spin but then we can play about with it for a day trying to get one load of washing spun because it’s soaking wet when it finishes the wash cycle. Tried all sorts of tests, even found when it’s playing up if we try an empty spin cycle it still won’t spin? Is this normal, because we’ve been at loggerheads with our supplier for a while. Our argument is the machine just isn’t fit for purpose but they are not willing to expect this. We’ve had numerous Hotpoint Engineer visits and every time they test it using their diagnostic equipment they say the machine has been reporting multiple “Unbalanced Loads” so there is nothing wrong with the machine.
    Feel like if you purchase a washing machine it should wash and spin your laundry not waste days trying to wash the families clothes.

  4. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Martin. Personally I think a 9 kg washing machine drum capacity is far too big for most people. I would only get such a large capacity washing machine if I had excessive loads of washing to do such as washing football kit, or maybe washing for a family of five or six. The problem with the extra-large drums is that many people buy them because they like the idea have having the extra capacity for washing the odd large item but mostly just wash as normal. The problem is that a normal average wash load is only about 4 to 5 kg which is too small for such a large drum. I would expect a lot of problems with under loading, which causes unbalanced loads. So unless there is a fault on your washing machine, which obviously I can’t rule out you need to try and fill it as much as possible. The idea of a large capacity drum is to save money by washing twice as much as you would normally do therefore cutting its use in half. This would need adjustments to washing habits and of course it can be quite impractical for many people who need certain items washing and can’t just wait until you have a massive load.

    This problem is described in more detail on my article here – washing machine won’t spin small loads

  5. Thanks Andy. I’m starting to believe that the 9Kg is the issue but what I don’t understand is if we test it with an empty drum and it doesn’t spin, wouldn’t that suggest there is a fault? Just so you know, we have tried full loads and still having the issue where 7/10 times it doesn’t spin.

  6. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Martin. Yes there is always a chance that there is an intermittent fault on the washing machine. I just got the strong impression from your description that the problem was related to the type of load that you had in the drum. Also the apparent reports of constant out of balance loads that the engineer found ties in with that theory. However, if it doesn’t spin when there is no laundry in at all then unless by any chance the washing machine is clever enough to notice that there is no laundry in and therefore doesn’t waste its time spinning then that would be a different fault.

    If a load is not spinning because it is out of balance (or more accurately can’t be balanced) you should find that the drum turns slowly for a few minutes trying to settle the laundry into a balanced state, and when when it finds that it can’t it will often stop and try again. This process can go on and on until it times out. Unfortunately a lot of washing machines don’t have the decency to report to customers that the laundry didn’t spin because it couldn’t balance it. A ridiculous amount of them will just give up and stop, leaving the laundry wet through, which is completely unnecessary.

    You do need to try and decide in your own mind if the fault is related to the load or not. And using the advice in this and the other article I linked to try to ensure that you put good sized loads in and particularly avoid putting one or two very heavy items like jeans or towels and sheets etc with a lot of lighter items. If you try to fill the drum at the very least over half capacity and preferably up to about 80% you shouldn’t really have anything other than the odd occasion when it doesn’t spin due to an uneven load.

  7. Thanks Andy, this is all really useful information and most of it we’ve already tried or am starting believe that there is a fault, it’s more the no washing in the drum and it doesn’t spin that concerns me. When I say it doesn’t spin, I mean it never get’s up to the expected spin speed it just spins slowly like it’s trying to readjust a none existant load, here is a video we took that demonstrates what happens – https://twitter.com/Lankymart/status/1270363816229027841?s=20. To me what is shown there doesn’t seem right, but Hotpoint will not conceded there is a fault because when they run there diagnostic equipment against it, the drum spins up to 1600 rpm straight away. My issue with that test is it’s a controlled test in the software, is that the same as running functions from the machine itself?

  8. Hi Andy. Yes. We have had it spin before using the Spin cycle without any laundry in the drum but if for whatever reason it doesn’t spin with a full load we usually try removing heavy items in a bid to get it to spin but failing that we try no laundry and it’s usually then that it just won’t spin. Case in point, yesterday it ran a duvet cover in it, it worked fine and span. My wife then tried to run a full wash load and it would not spin. She tried the Spin cycle three times and give up but came back to it this morning without adjusting the load ran it again and it span. It’s the intermittant behaviour that makes me think there is a fault.

  9. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Yes it’s a difficult one. The only thing I can suggest is that you try to video the last spin and catch it not actually spinning, and then open the drum and show the laundry that is inside. Even take it out and spread it out so they can see. If you could do that with at least two separate loads then you can at least show the engineer and he can see whether or not the load looked like one that should have spun or not. It’s not an exact science, and it’s a fair bit of messing about but it might be worth a try. Feel free to send such video to me if you want my opinion first.

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