I’ve had my front-loading washing machine for about four years, and it has some great advantages – it’s quiet, fast, uses less water and detergent, and gently tumbles (rather than yanking) my clothes. In general, I’ve been so pleased with it that I was shocked one day when I opened the door and was nearly knocked unconscious by a fetid blast of moldy-smelling air!
How could a machine that’s so wonderful, suddenly turn so horribly smelly?
The answer is in the way the machine is designed. Front-loading washing machines have watertight, airtight doors that seal with a rubber gasket. That rubber seal traps moisture in the machine and also provides the perfect nooks and crannies for mold and mildew to grow.
Top-loading washing machines, on the other hand, have a rather loose-fitting metal door that easily allows the tank to dry out between loads.
The problem isn’t helped by our laundry preferences. High-sudsing detergents and liquid fabric softeners leave behind residues and films that invite mold growth. Cold-water cycles and mild, eco-friendly detergents don’t quite blast away residues like their environmentally-unfriendly counterparts.
So, to keep mold at bay, front-load washers need just a bit more maintenance than top-loading machines.
How to Get Rid of Mold and Smells in Top-Load Washers
If you’ve got a stinky front-load washing machine, here’s how to get it smelling fresh again:
- Clean Gasket: Use a rag or towel to clean the rubber door gasket on a front-loading washer with either hot soapy water or a spritz of mildew cleaner. Make sure to wipe underneath and around it as well. Be prepared for some slime and gunk, and possibly a stray sock or two!
- Clean Dispensers: Remove the detergent dispensers and give them a good scrubbing. If they don’t come out, clean them as best you can, using a bottle or pipe cleaner to reach back into the crevices.
- Run Cleaning Cycle: Next, run an empty wash cycle on the longest, hottest water setting (or a tub-cleaning cycle, if you have it). Add one of the following directly to the washtub:
- 1 cup of bleach.
- 1 cup of baking soda.
- 1/2 cup of powdered enzymatic dishwasher detergent (such as Cascade Complete).
- A commercial residue-busting washer cleaner (such as Affresh or Smelly Washer).
- Repeat Cleaning Cycle: If the problem persists, repeat the cleaning cycle and consider trying a different additive. It might take several cycles to get the smell out.
- Professional Help: If you’ve tried every way to clean your front-load washer and it still smells, you may have mold growing back behind the drum, or possibly a clogged drain or filter. A qualified repair person can dismantle the machine and clean it for you, or you can unplug the machine and carefully explore and clean it yourself.
Once your machine is clean, follow these tips to keep it that way:
- Air It Out: If possible, leave the door of the front-load washer cracked open to allow it to dry thoroughly between cycles. However, you shouldn’t do this if you have children or pets who could be tempted to climb (and possibly become trapped) inside the machine.
- Remove Loads Promptly: Be sure to remove wet clothes as soon as the cycle is finished. Set your washer to beep when it’s done, so you don’t forget.
- Choose Detergent Wisely: Choose low-sudsing detergents specifically made for high-efficiency (HE) machines. When possible, choose powder over liquid; liquid detergents are usually higher in suds.
- Use Less Detergent: Read the labels and use no more than the amount recommended for each load. Experiment with using less detergent, until you find the minimum amount necessary (sometimes just a spoonful) to get your clothes clean.
- Avoid Fabric Softener: Liquid fabric softeners leave residue that contributes to mold in front-load washers. Instead, use dryer sheets or dryer balls to soften your clothes.
- Dry Gaskets: Use an old towel to wipe around and underneath the door gaskets and the inside of the door on front-loading washers. Ideally, you should so this after every cycle, but at the very least it needs a periodic wipe down to remove any water or mildew trapped in the folds.
- Use Bleach: About once a month, run a hot water bleach cycle. I usually take the opportunity to throw in work towels, fabric shower curtains, and muddy gardening clothes, along with that nasty gasket-cleaning towel.
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