Washing machines regularly use water and sit in a moist environment, such as a laundry room or kitchen. This is why most modern appliance manufacturers produce their washing machines with stainless steel. Stainless steel is more resistant to rust and corrosion, but sometimes, even stainless steel develops rust over time for many reasons.
Washing machines rust due to the use of corrosive cleaners, corroded metallic foreign objects left in the machine, rusted water pipes, prolonged exposure to moisture, or due to the presence of mechanical faults.
Knowing why a washing machine rusts and what to do about it can help you catch and fix corrosion early on. Read on to learn more.
Signs of Rust in a Washing Machine
Before we discuss what causes rust in a washing machine, let’s talk about some of the signs of rust.
If you have any of these telltale signs of rust in your washing machine, it’s time to inspect it and get it repaired (which we’ll discuss later on in this post).
Some signs of rust in a washing machine include:
- Visible rust – Take a look around the exterior of the washing machine and inside of the drum. You may see visible corrosion in or on the machine. It might appear as red, orange, or brown streaks, stains, or a rough, “bubbly” surface. There may be one rust spot or multiple.
- Discoloration of clothing – When you run a load, you might notice your clothing coming out with rust stains. These rust particles mix in with the water and seep deep into fabrics. The stains are difficult, if not impossible, to remove completely.
- Brown flakes – If brown, orange, or red metal-looking chips appear in the drum, there is likely rust within the machine. It could be coming from the drum or the water pipes.
Now that you know some of the signs of rust in a washing machine, let’s discuss whywashing machines rust.
Causes of Rust in a Washer
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, metal makes up the majority of a washing machine.
Even though most consist of stainless steel, this metal is still susceptible to corrosion, especially if it’s an older washer — but what’s causing it?
Corrosive Materials and Cleaners
Rust forms when iron is exposed to oxygen and moisture.
Stainless steel consists mainly of iron and carbon, with a chromium layer to make it corrosion-resistant. Unfortunately, the chromium layer is sensitive to corrosive cleaners.
Regularly using high-concentrations of corrosive materials can damage the protective layer, allowing rust to form.
Many of us use bleach in our washers and bleach is a highly corrosive chemical.
With prolonged exposure to bleach, the metal in a washing machine may corrode over time.
Foreign Metallic Objects
Metal objects often end up lost in a washer if left in a pocket during a wash cycle.
These metal objects make their way to the bottom of the machine near the agitator, where they’re easy to miss.
Over time and with exposure to chemical detergents and water, these items begin to corrode, releasing rust throughout the system.
It doesn’t take much—even a tiny paper clip can cause rust stains throughout a washing machine.
In addition, metal items can cause mechanical abrasions to your stainless steel drum’s protective, corrosion-resistant layer. This opens up the door for the formation of rust.
Check for foreign objects by removing the agitator and use a flashlight to inspect the area.
Remove any objects that you come across.
Sometimes, it’s not a foreign object or moisture that’s causing rust in your washing machine—it could be your water pipes.
If you’ve unplugged, inspected, and cleaned the washer yet it continues to leave rust stains on your clothing, the water pipes may be to blame.
Galvanized iron pipes are more susceptible to rust than other pipes. Unfortunately, if rust or corrosion is present in the water pipes, they’ll need to be replaced.
This is usually expensive and requires a plumber.
Exposure to Moisture
Washing machines experience regular exposure to water and high humidity.
Because these machines typically sit in moist areas (i.e., kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, cramped hallway, utility closet, etc.), they are more susceptible to corrosion over time.
In some cases, washers may begin to corrode due to manufacturing defects.
For example, many consumers have reported Samsung washer models for rust and corrosion after two years.
It’s believed, but not confirmed, that the drums are off-balance. As a result, it causes excessive vibration on the machine’s spin cycle, leading to water penetrating areas it shouldn’t and causing rust.
Reach out to the manufacturer of your machine if you suspect it’s a defect.
How To Clean a Rusted Washing Machine
Rust stains on the exterior of a washer are typically a cosmetic issue—but they can spread to the interior, so it must be addressed.
Interior stains leach onto clothing and cause unsightly stains within the drum.
If your washing machine contains rust, you’ll need to take time to clean and repair it.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to do at home.
Removing Interior Rust in a Washing Machine
To remove rust from the drum or internal components of a washing machine:
- Remove the agitator (on top-loading systems).
- Inspect the area for foreign objects. Remove any that you find.
- Reattach the agitator.
- Pour two cups of distilled vinegar and ¼ cup of lemon juice into the detergent dispenser.
- Run an empty cycle using hot water. Fill the machine and then let it soak for an hour.
- Complete the wash cycle.
Vinegar and lemon juice are two acidic compounds that help break down iron oxide (rust).
Letting them soak in the machine should help dislodge any remaining rust particles.
If the rust is especially bad, opt for a rust remover instead.
I recommend WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak from Amazon. It’s an easy-to-use rust removing soak that’s also affordable and safe for your washing machine.
Follow the instructions on the product and run an empty cycle through the machine again with the vinegar and lemon juice solution.
Once you’ve cleaned the machine, inspect it again to ensure the rust is eliminated. If rust remains within the drum after using a rust dissolver, it likely needs to be replaced.
Exterior Rust on a Washing Machine
Remove rust on the exterior of the machine using the method below:
- Mix two cups of hot water with two cups of distilled vinegar and ¼ cup of lemon juice.
- Pour the solution into a spray bottle.
- Spray the mixture directly onto the surface of the rust.
- Allow it to sit for five minutes.
- Wipe away with a clean, soft cloth.
- Sand down the area using 150-grit wet and dry sandpaper.
- Apply a rust dissolver and follow the instructions for the product.
- Wipe it off and clean the area.
After you’ve cleaned and sanded down the area, it will look rather unsightly. Restore the look of your washing machine using the following instructions:
- Apply an auto body filler. like Evercoat Light Weight Body Filler.
- Mix the filler with the hardener.
- Apply the filler smoothly and as evenly as possible with a plastic putty knife.
- Sand down the area with sandpaper before it sets.
- Polish the area so that it’s nice and smooth.
- Apply an appliance primer (use one with rust-inhibiting properties) and allow it to dry.
- Paint the area with an appliance enamel that matches the current washer color.
Once you’ve removed the rust from the exterior of the machine, continue monitoring it for additional signs of rust.
Rust is easier to deal with if you catch it early.
Prevent a Washing Machine From Rusting
After removing rust and restoring the look of your washer, you’ll want to prevent future rust.
There are several ways to protect your appliance and extend its life.
- Avoid washing laundry that contains corroded metal fasteners, buttons, or zippers. Instead, hand wash these items. For bras, belts, or delicate items that have metal, use a laundry bag.
- Always check pockets before washing clothes. Remove any loose items.
- Immediately transfer clothes to the dryer after the washer finishes its cycle. Damp clothes can contribute to rust build-up on the drum.
- Wipe down the surface of the washer at least once a week with a dry cotton cloth. For stains, use a damp cloth and mild detergent, but dry it thoroughly.
- Apply an appliance polish to the washer. This protective wax coating can only be applied to the exterior of a machine and may protect it from rust. Be sure to check the warranty before applying polish.
- Use a dehumidifier in the laundry area. Keeping the relative humidity at 50 percent or lower will reduce the likelihood of rust in or on your machine if excessive moisture is the problem.
The average washing machine should have a life span of eight to twelve years.
These appliances regularly use water and experience frequent exposure to humidity, so rust may be a part of normal wear and tear after a decade or so.
Fortunately, you can keep your washing machine in tip-top shape by using the preventative methods mentioned in this article.
In addition, monitor the system for signs of rust to attack the problem head-on—the earlier, the better.