Thursday, January 6, 2011

Does your front-loading washer stink?

Advertising postcard, picture side, for the &q...Image via Wikipedia
Yes, I said "stink". And, I mean "stink" literally. If you don't own or use a consumer front-loading, high-efficiency (HE) washer, then you probably think I have lost my mind. But if you do use an HE washer, then there is a pretty good chance that you know what I am talking about.  

About a month ago, my oldest son was standing in my laundry room and he pointed out that there was a strange odor coming from my Frigidaire Full Size Tumble Action Washer (manufactured December 2006). Then he pointed to the mold or mildew that was growing on the "flexible gasket".  This was not a good bit of news, but I promised I would check it out. 

So my mission started. I Googled "front-loader washer smell" (I was being polite using the word smell as opposed to odor or stink). What do you know?  About 39,000 search engine results. Now I knew I had been living in the 'dark' (no pun intended) and apparently had 'grown' accustom to the odor, as all species will do over time.  

I now know that this problem is not unique to my brand of front-loading HE washer and this is not a new problem. It has been going on for many years. But what amazes me is that consumers are tolerating what can only be described as a design flaw. Yes, I have now learned there have been class-action suits that have come and gone and been settled for those who were lucky enough to be in the class. But still I want to know why are we not up in arms about this potential health danger lurking in our houses, apartments, dorms, etc?

Let's think about this: home kitchen appliances might include a refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, oven, microwave, washer, dryer, and garbage disposal. Of these, the refrigerator, dishwasher, front loading washing machine and garbage disposal each have some kind of rubber or plastic covered gasket.  Of these, how many of these gaskets do you routinely wipe down every day or after each use?  You get my point.

For the record, last month I immediately went to ACE Hardware and purchased Iron Out® Washer Magic ($6.99) and Smellywasher.com® Cleaner ($16.99). I read a lot of on-line articles that advised me to clean the washer with a cleaner, wipe the gasket dry after each use, and leave the door of the washing machine open when not in use!   

Here is what I know:
  1. In my lifetime I have owned three washing machines, two were top-loaders and my current one, which came with the house, is a front-loader.  
  2. I have been doing laundry for 40+ years, I have never had to leave the door or lid of a washing machine open when not in use, for any reason. 
  3. My Frigidaire Full Size Tumble Action Washer Use and Care Guide says: "Do NOT leave the washer door open. An open door could entice children to hang on the door or crawl inside the washer. Note: If there are no small children present, leave the door ajar to prevent odor build up and to improve venting of the unit."
  4. HE machines are typically more expensive than top-loaders. Frigidaire front-loaders range from $549-$1149, while Frigidaire top-loaders range from $499-$549.
  5. HE stands for High Efficiency and you must use HE products in a front-loader.
  6. HE products are typically more expensive than regular washing products.
  7. A new gasket costs about $300 installed.
  8. Tide now offers a new product Tide® Washing Machine Cleaner. Three pouches for $7.99, According to ACE Hardware's site this product "removes odor-causing residues that builds up in HE (High Efficiency) machines." 
  9. Routine and regular cleaning your HE machine will cost extra money: Hot water, empty load, cleaning product, your TIME.
  10. I live in the desert. Very dry climate, low humidity. Air conditioning pulls moisture out of the air.
This week people are convening in Las Vegas for the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show #CES and I believe that Samsung is there previewing their WF448 Front-loading Washing Machine. Maybe some of my Twitter friends will stop by the SAMSUNG booth and ask about how to avoid front-loading washing machine odor.

I would like to know what you think. Have you had experience with this problem? How did you resolve it?
View of mold growing in the washer gasket!

______________________________________________
I invite you to check out these sites/articles regarding Front-Loading Machines.
The Hidden Cost of Going Green - Wall Street Journal
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43 comments:

Deb Fischbein said...

I am going thru the same exact problem!!! I noticed it about a month or so ago, on our face cloths initially, then my clothes in addition to in the machine.I believe we have the same model and age. I have tried to keep the gasket clean by w...iping it out, but only because our little dog has red hair and it was very visable. Also wash the black goo off-difficult because you cannot effectively get inside the gasket! But machine itself stinks!!! I have run it thru with just bleach...doesn't work. And have looked for that new Tide product as recently as yesterday!!! Honestly thought it was my secret problem!!! So, what to do????

Judy Helfand said...

Deb,
I think if you read through all the links in my post (provided at the bottom), particularly the one from Consumer Reports, you will see that some people have resorted to having the repairman come to their house and clean the hoses, and also, something behind the front panel that seems to collect lint, coins, etc.
I think if you really push the manufacturer you might be able to get a new gasket and then just be really diligent. But my thought is this: WHY should we need to be diligent? Did you ever in your entire life see your mother or father wipe out the inside of the washing machine and deliberatly keep the lid open so that it would dry out? Think of the money we will spend just to do this "work around"? I will keep studying this problem. Let me know what you learn.
Judy

Nicole Rasbach said...

This rings true for me as well and I literally just replaced my towels as that washer smell adhered to my towels. I have tried all sorts of those products designed to de-gunk the washer to no avail. Mine is a top loading HE washer too so I don't think the position, top vs front, makes a difference.

Judy Helfand said...

Nicole,
I think if you read through all the links in my post (provided at the bottom), particularly the one from Consumer Reports, you will see that some people have resorted to having the repairman come to their house and clean the hoses, and also..., something behind the front panel that seems to collect lint, coins, etc.
I think if you really push the manufacturer you might be able to get a new gasket and then just be really diligent. But my thought is this: WHY should we need to be diligent? Did you ever in your entire life see your mother or father wipe out the inside of the washing machine and deliberatly keep the lid open so that it would dry out? Think of the money we will spend just to do this "work around"? I will keep studying this problem. Let me know what you learn.
I didn't even realize that there is an HE top loader. That is interesting...so is it cold water vs hot, not enough soap, too many other additives?

Deb Fischbein said...

This problem just gets nastier...thought I was washing the gasket (impossible to do effectively), then today Dan pulled the gasket away from the metal tumbler (easy, not attached) which I had not done. Talk about disgusting, black and gooey...obvious design flaw-everything will naturally collect here, with no way out. Also explains why cleaning solvents don't work, even the bleach....I never received any notice of a problem.....think we should join forces. I will post this to your blog Judy.

Judy Helfand said...

Deb,
Yes, I know exactly what you are describing. This weekend I am going go to Lowes or Home Depot and just look at how different models are designed. I am curious what the new models look like. I will keep you posted. Try calling the manufacture and just ask a few questions.
Judy

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I found this post! We just bought a house and the 2006 tumble action washer came with the house. We were so thankful to not have to invest money in a new washer and dryer, but now I'm wishing we had. There was so much mold and mildew in the rubber seal (gasket I guess) that I gloved up and dove in with straight bleach and a roll of paper towels. I think it was one of the grossest things I have ever cleaned (and I used to clean out college dorm fridges as a summer job in high school). I don't think the previous owners EVER cleaned it out. I dried it all out, wiped it down twice with straight bleach, and then ran a hot empty load with bleach and dried it out. I leave the door wide open after every load and have started wiping out the gasket after the last load of the day (ridiculous that I have to do this) and it STILL SMELLS HORRIBLE! We are about to have a baby and I DO NOT want to wash all his clothes in a nasty moldy washer. In our previous home I had a beautiful, red, Ht3 front loading washer and the gasket was designed much differently (no pocket for water to accumulate) and it had no mildew/mold issue at all - no place for stagnant water to fester. Anyway, thanks for posting. I'm not sure what else I'm willing to do besides what I've already tried... maybe I'll just go out and get a less expensive "old fashioned" top loader - one less thing to clean on a daily basis!

Judy Helfand said...

Hi,
Before replacing the washing machine you might call a authorized repair-person for your make and model. I finally did. The repairman came out and cleaned out the drain pump which was clogged with all kinds of debris: hair, lint, coins, paper...this debris became smelly and moldy. Once he cleaned it out, the smell went away.

Anonymous said...

My Sears washing machine smells so bad that we have to take a trip every 3 weeks for a day to try to forget the odor.
We need another class-action suit as I have had to pay Sears this enormous amount of money to get some cleaner that works only for awhile.
I have always trusted Sears..I have called them numerous times but no help was offered..just Buy this or Buy that!
I despise these Washing Machines and will never purchase another...especially from Sears!
What used to be the best appliance company on the face of this earth has now lowered its standards and trick the consumers day after day....so they think!

front load washer smell said...

Front load washers are great, but it has a little more maintenance. I would suggest to switch to a powder HE detergent, this works for some people to get rid of the odor.

Front load washer smells said...

Unfortunately front load washers are different from top loading machines. The main difference is in the build: the front loader's door has to close hermetically or it will flood your bathroom. I see an issue with Frigidaire's manual ... they should have warned you to leave the front load door open, not advise you to lock it. Of course children have to be supervised and not allowed to climb in. Click on the link to find out how to get rid of the smell for good.

bradykp said...

Older HE Front Loaders did have gaskets that were not designed properly. Newer models have corrected that (around 2006/07) - http://products.howstuffworks.com/front-loading-washing-machine-buying-guide.htm

anyways - my LG front loader manual says to leave the door open after doing laundry, and i also leave the detergent drawer open (there is usually a tiny bit of water there). i wipe the gasket down after each load with a microfiber towel.

i run the "tub clean" cycle once every 2-3 months, depending on use (there's a suggested timeframe in the manual). i use Affresh or Tide product instead of bleach, but it says you could use bleach also.

I really don't see this as a major deal. No, i never saw my mother or father leave the door open or wipe out the inside...but their machines used substantially more energy than mine does, so I'll accept this tradeoff of a 2 second wipe down and not closing the door.

Anonymous said...

Just did a DIY repair on my Frigidaire he washer which involved taking apart the entire washer drum. I replaced the tub bearings because my relatively new machine was getting VERY loud. I can only say there is stuff going on in there you don't want to know about ( yet should). The casing surrounding the stainless steel drum can become a real slime trap and source of the ongoing smell. Unfortunately, whatever you can see from the outside is but a hint of the true internal condition. After cleaning it out manually ( YUK!)I'm going to try TechnoFresh, (google it) although cannot endorse yet for lack of experience with it.. seems to make sense. Also start using less detergent. I saw firsthand there is a build up that happens over time- just a few years. FYI- When the water enters the drum it passes through the detergent dispenser making a very effective soapy brine. Using additional or large amounts of detergent is unnecessary and problematic.

Judy Helfand said...

Thanks for all the recent comments. I finally had to give up and buy new. The latest problem had to do with the cyle programs not working. Some issue in the front panel where all the programming is. Had the technician come out and he said to replace it would cost in excess of $300. It was November and there were some good sales going on...so we opted to buy a new set. This time it is an LG. So far, so good. A lot of annoying kinks have been thought out by LG. I will let you know if I have any problems. BTW - I don't use liquid detergent. Have been using the Purex sheets without problems, but now I am going to try the TIDE pods!
Judy

Anonymous said...

Mold problems with front load washers is a problem inherent in their basic design. The # of problems per manufacturer is probably attributed to their market share rather than the a particular unit.

Manufactures have attempted to mitigate the likelihood of you developing mold via sanitary cycles, sanitizing products, down to the simple suggestion of using hot water when washing whites.

Top loaders have rarely had this problem because, unlike front loaders, their lids are not required to provide an air tight seal. So although the lid may be "down" it still allows plenty of air to circulate inside.

If you're going to entertain the idea of a front loader I would primarly be concerned where in your house it's going to be installed.

In a basement or garage which get little air circulation is less than ideal so you're asking for trouble.

On a second floor in an older home could be a problem with regards to providing a level/stable surface.

Personally, I've avoided them because they're overpriced (Rebates have skewed the pricing upwards), riddled with electronic controls which have a high failure rate. These washers are built with lifecycle of 5-7 yrs.

Anonymous said...

One last thing. Any front loader MUST have a built-in water heater. These units use so little water that the washer could be almost "full" with just the cold water contained in the pipes leading from the water heater to the washer.

Judy Helfand said...

Anonymous---thank you for stopping by and for providing a lot of good suggestions when it comes to purchasing and installing the machine. Here in Tucson, we don't have to worry about a built-in water heater! The water coming out of the taps is almost always warm to hot!

Judy

Anonymous said...

We have been in our new house for a month and I KNEW the smell was coming from our Kenmore frontloading washing machine. Now that I have found these discussions online I don't know if I should clean this guy out or just get a new one!

Anonymous said...

I had the most disgusting odor coming from my lg front load. I thought the sewer line was backed up. After opening the cleanout and no odor, I knew it was the machine. I called the extended warranty company( had the machine for 3 years) and told them of my plight. 3 days later an lg tech came out.
3 factors had led to the problem.
1. Detergent - some contain animal fat that builds up and turns rancid
2. Gunk builds up in the rubber gasket. That needs to be wiped clean.
3. The machine uses less water than top load and the machine needs a little help with cleansing the system.
So, here is what we did and the tech said once a month for a normal family. I think once every 3 months should work.
1. if your mchine has a tub cleanse setting use it. if not use the longest wash setting you have with hot water.
2. Fill the bleach cup and add 16oz of bleach to the tub and start the cycle. You will see all kinds of suds and dirt, etc.
3. repeat 2
4. repeat 2 but use white vinegar.
You will thank me, trust me!!!

Anonymous said...

I had my first case of mildew in 5 years with my front-loader and scouring the Internet, I came across an amazing post by a gentleman in the UK. This is what he recommended...and it worked so well, I'm still amazed and I did this a couple of months ago!

Tear sheets of paper towels off the roll, fold in half and in half again. I sprayed them lightly with water to make them easier to work with. After you've folded enough to fit around the entire perimeter of the gasket (pulling it out and placing the paper towels inside so they are in contact with the mold/mildew,) take a bottle of Clorox gel bleach (it's in a container that looks like toilet bowl cleaner) and carefully apply the gel bleach to all of the paper towels you've put inside the gasket. Close the door, and let it sit for 1-2 hours. I think I did 2 hours. Carefully remove the paper towels (definitely wear gloves for this job) and be careful not to get any of the bleach on yourself or clothes. I took a clean microfiber towel and wet it, then used it to go around the inside of the gasket again to make sure there wasn't any paper towel left behind. I then used large pipe cleaners to get into the crevices all the way around. It honestly looks brand new. No kidding. It really did work, and I didn't think anything would.

Cheryl said...

in about 2007 or 2008, I signed up for a class action suit for my machine - I now can't find any info about that suit - guess I forgot to save info. anyone have any tips how I could find out if anything has come of any suits against the company?
I've called a zillion times, the last time last week - i was told that since I am not compliant with their recommendations (to leave the door open - I cited the presence of my grandkids as my reason for not leaving it open), they could help me no further (their "good will gesture" was to replace the gasket for me - it was supposed to have holes built into it to drain that water - but it's as nasty and mold ridden as the first one.

Cheryl said...

in about 2007 or 2008, I signed up for a class action suit for my machine - I now can't find any info about that suit - guess I forgot to save info. anyone have any tips how I could find out if anything has come of any suits against the company?
I've called a zillion times, the last time last week - i was told that since I am not compliant with their recommendations (to leave the door open - I cited the presence of my grandkids as my reason for not leaving it open), they could help me no further (their "good will gesture" was to replace the gasket for me - it was supposed to have holes built into it to drain that water - but it's as nasty and mold ridden as the first one.

Judy Helfand said...

Cheryl,
I am not sure what make or model machine that you have, but here is link to a story about Whirlpool, Sears, or LG class action http://www.lieffcabraser.com/news/1286/whirlpool-front-loading-washing-machine-litigation-may-proceed-as-a-class-action and here is another on the status http://www.lieffcabraser.com/defective-products/case/126/front-loading-washer-litigation here is one on Miele http://www.seegerweiss.com/law-practices/class-actions/product-liability-actions/miele-front-load-washers/ and more about Whirlpool http://www.topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/1840-whirlpool-front-loading-washing-machine-class-action-proceeds- hope this is helpful.
Judy

Judy Helfand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

thanks for the advise I also have the same problem and had to buy new towels couldn't stand the smell of mold when I dry my face....

Anonymous said...

I suffered for 10 years with stink in a Sears Kenmore TOP LOADING machine.I bought a new GE TOP LOADING washer less than a year ago. Before I purchased it from Lowes, I called customer service at GE and asked the representative if she could assure me that I would not have the same problem with the GE machine. She said that I absolutely would NOT have any problems with mold, mildew ,and bad smells---that they had remedied the problem. She said the problem was that in the new HE machines they had removed a filter, but that was no longer going to be a problem. So I purchased the machine, and it has now started to stink to high heaven!!I am furious that she bald-faced lied to me!! Maybe the answer is to sue Lowes as opposed to GE. If enough lawsuits are brought against the appliance stores, they will use their top dog lawyers to sue the makers of the appliances---they have the money and the lawyers to do so. Also, if Lowes,etc. refused to carry these faulty washers, I guarantee the problem would be fixed tomrrow!! I have never had anything but problems with all the new "green" energy stuff---if it says HE or anything else , from this point on, I will try to steer clear of it. Also, they supposedly took phosphates out of the washing detergent, because it wasn't"green"---alot of people have said THAT is the whole problem, because it was the phosphates that dissolved the suds, dirt , and grundge.It is the buildup of these that cause the eventual bacteria and mold.Pull the front off of an top-loading machine and see the horrible,slimey stuff in the plastic casement that surounds the tub---you will be horrified!! There is strength in numbers---we all need to be marching in front of the stores where we purchased the faulty machines----we need to boycott the stores. That will force them to use their expensive lawyers to sue the makers of these products and saveall of us trouble and legal fees.

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