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Front-Loading Washers Prone to Mold

by John Gomez | Last Updated: November 20, 2009

November 20, 2009 – When you buy a new washing machine, you don’t expect it to stink up your house. But that seems to be a common problem for people who own high-efficiency front-loading washers.

Rae Lembersky of Seattle likes her front-loader. It saves water and electricity and gets the family’s clothes clean. But she hated the smell.

“Imagine that you’re in one of those movies where there’s a swamp monster and it’s that kind of swampy, musty, sort of yucky smell.”

Lembersky could see what was causing the stink. She found “black, gooey, slimy stuff” growing inside the rubber gasket which goes around the glass window on the washer door. That was quite a surprise because she regularly cleans the machine and runs loads with bleach and hot water.

“It just gives me the willies,” she says. “I don’t like the thought of mold in my washer.”

Desperate for relief, she hired technician Scott Wiseman to remove and replace the disgusting rubber gasket. O nce he took the washer apart, Wiseman found mold inside the machine, too. The job cost $300.

“It’s a very common problem,” Wiseman tells me. “I get calls about this all the time.”

What’s going on here?

After a while, all washing machines can have some odor caused by mold, mildew or bacteria.  But the problem seems to be worse with front-loaders because they are designed differently from top-loaders.

Front-loaders are tightly sealed. Close the door after removing the laundry and any moisture inside the machine will be trapped inside. With a top-loader the water is more likely to evaporate.

Having the tub on its side, rather than up-and-down, can also create problems.

“Even after it spins everything out, there’s still going to be some water that ends up landing on the gasket. And water sitting on rubber is not a particularly good situation,” explains Consumer Reports deputy home editor Celia Kuperschmid Lehrman.

Consumer Reports subscribers from across the country have complained about smelly front-loaders. In fact, the editors have received so many complaints, they now warn about the problem when they review washers.

In a statement, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers suggested one more contributing factor:

“Over time, changes have occurred in consumer laundry habits including the use of less bleach, more fabric softener, and more frequent cold water wash cycles. These habits may impact the accumulation of bio-film and other residues, increasing the potential odor, mold and mildew.”

To help prevent odor problems:

– Use only high-efficiency detergent in the recommended amount.

– Remove wet wash right away.

– Keep the door open a bit after removing wash to let the washer dry out. Of course, that creates a potential safety hazard if you have kids in the house.

– And follow the manufacturer’s washer care instructions in your owner’s manual. If you don’t find specific cleaning instructions, run a cleaning cycle once a month. Don’t add any clothes; just use hot water and a cup of bleach.

Some manufacturers recommend using a washer freshener. Consumer Reports tested a few of these products and found they don’t make much of a difference. And you can do all of this and still have a problem.

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