Liquid Fabric Softeners gunking machines?

jerrod6January 5, 2008

I have read posts on this forum referring the use of liquid fabric softeners and how they can gunk up washers. I am wondering if this is universal to fabric softeners or is only occurring with FS that are sold in the U.S.A. or perhaps this is not true of all brands.

Does anyone who lives outside of the U.S.A. or anyone who uses a fabric softener made for other countries experience crud from their softeners? What brands are responsible? Anyone have information about this?

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FWIW...I've been using plain old Downy in my Duet9400 since it was new three years ago. (Downy is one of those that people complain about.) All different temps. All different cycles. All different load sizes. I have never had gunk build-up anywhere. I don't know why other people do. I just read the manual and did what it said.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 4:52PM
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The problem is the gunk isn't where you can see it, unless you tear into your machine. We had gunk in our drain pump when we had to replace it and I would have sworn that we didn't have a drop of buildup anywhere before that. At least I caught ours early enough -- before there were any problems. I attribute mine to liquid laundry detergent as much as to liquid fabric softener!

Out of curiousity, my hubby checked ours again a little bit ago and there wasn't a bit of gunk any more!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 7:01PM
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Well, must confess I haven't torn it apart. However, have examined rather closely down into the outer drum where the heater and drain are and all around in there. Shiney and clean everywhere. No residue of any kind.

Also confess those holes in the inner drum are pretty small but with a good intense flashlight, there's nothing that can't be seen on the outer one.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 7:25PM
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It really depends entirely on the machine .... our Whirpool toploader has needed intensive cleaning of the dispenser every year .... it just doesn't dispense it properly and gums up. Vinegar is a better choice for it.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 7:52PM
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They are tallow and wax. You better believe they gunk up machines.

Top loaders can be cleaned because you can fill the machines with hot water and every crack and crevice (in both the inner and outer tubs) will be reached and cleaned out.

Front loaders spray the gunky fabric softener on to the outer drum during the final spin. The outer drum is never filled with water and can't be cleaned without taking the machine apart.

If you've ever used a washing machine that empties into a wash tub you can easily see the build up it causes.

I would NEVER use traditional fabric softener in a front are just asking for trouble.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 8:05PM
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So what kind of fabric softener would you use in a front loader? Powdered?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 11:45PM
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It DOES build up in a top loader in places that CANNOT be cleaned without tearing it apart. A neighbor had to have a transmission put in her Kenmore T/L and she said she was so ashamed of the mess that was in the outside tub of her washer. The servicer told her "ah dont think anything of this, they are all like that". She said that when the softener is in the dispenser and it starts spinning it slings some of it out and it sticks to the top of the tub(outer) and stays there cause the water doesn;t get there. She said that she took a putty knife and scraped a lot off hers. She said it was like crisco. In the bottom part she said it was just built up hard gunky stuff like undissolved powder(she used Tide w/bleach). The servicer told her if she would use Wisk all the time she wouldn't have any of that in there?? So softener can stick and stay in places on T/L also.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 12:05AM
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So is this a problem with fabric softeners sold in the USA only, or is this a problem with softeners sold in Europe and other parts of the world?

Someone mentioned Downy as a possible problem..what about Snuggle?

    Bookmark   January 6, 2008 at 3:12PM
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I use ECOS laundry detergent, which has a built in soy softener, and white vinegar instead of fabric softener. One of the reasons vinegar is a good fabric softener is because it cuts grease, or soap, residue. Excess soap in your laundry is what makes the clothes feel rough. And no, I don't mean it's because you use too much detergent, the soap just doesn't completely rinse out. Since I've switched to natural products I never use fabric softeners. I do use natural dryer sheets for loads that have a lot of polyester because of the static.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 7:25PM
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Do you think the soy is soybean oil?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 11:42PM
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Hi Jerrod!

Well, it's not only a problem related to the US softeners - have had similar experiences with different brands of washers and softeners over here.

When I returned home for x-mas vacation, I cleaned the detergent drawer on our E-Lux front loader - as part of my "Okay, I've been abroad for three months - my mom doesn't care about appliance maintenance - so let's see what I can still rescue!" cleaning regime. But seriously now: sure enough there was black mold inside the softener section of the drawer. It wasn't obvious - you had to remove the dispenser to see it. And besides... there was grayish sludge in the door boot thanks to warm-only washes followed by low-level rinses. First thing I did was turn that cycle dial to 95°C to clean the washer.

Of course, nothing compares to the disastrous Speed Queen washers here at my dorm. It's just this evil mixture of detergent, softener and students, who are absolutely unable to use a washing machine. Whenever I do laundry here, I first have to pull out the drawer and scrub it under hot water with and old tooth brush of mine to get rid of the waxy/slimy softener/detergent built-up. Ugh...

At home, I almost exclusively use Lenor which is made by P&G but have not had any problems with built-up - that is IF one cleans the dispenser on a regular (monthly or so) basis. Here in the UK, I'm currently trying Comfort by Unilever. It's as thick as Lenor, so I think it would cause the same waxy built-up if allowed to dry or if it's not flushed into the washer with enough water.

Have tried the vinegar thing but don't see the real benefit: doesn't soften my laundry, doesn't add fragrance and I can't see how the small amount I can fill into the FS dispenser has any effect if diluted with several gallons during the final rinse.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 3:42PM
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I dilute my fabric softener with vinegar 50/50. Still does the job, and no spots on the clothing. Lately I have been using Sears HE liquid detergent with added fabric softener, and it works fine.

During my dreaded Calypso days, a repairman told me that Tide liquid was the worst for gunking up machines. I haven't used it since.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 12:43PM
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FWIW, I switched about a month ago to Charlie's Powder detergent, Charlie's Soap All-Purpose Spray Cleaner as a pre-spot, and plain store-brand white vinegar added to the softener dispenser in my Duet 9400 and I've never been happier.

Previously used Sears HE Ultra powder detergent (have a little over half a bucket to get rid of), Shout and Wish pre-treats, liquid Downy for almost every load.

I was getting spots on some of my laundry, which had me perplexed. They no longer happen. Whether they were due to the Downy, or a build-up of "gunk" that the Charlie's Soap got rid of, I don't know or care.

My reason for this switch was my son's eczema, which seems to be improving, although until it is fully healed it is hard to say it was due to the detergent or softener.

At first, I didn't use any vinegar and I noticed a LOT more static, especially with fleece items, and my jeans loads were very wrinkled coming out of the washer and they were still a bit stiff out of the dryer.

I decided to try vinegar in the rinse after reading a thread on this forum. After adding vinegar to every load, static is virtually nil, except with fleece, and I seriously can not quite believe how soft my jeans loads are coming out of the dryer! And vinegar is practically FREE compared to the cost of machine-gunking softeners!

My clothing smells like nothing, but like it says on the Charlie's Soap bucket, if you want to smell flowers, pick some!

Another strange new thing I've noticed. The area between the drum and my FL's door gasket is gathering lots of dog hair when it never used to; it always ended up in the dryer lint trap. Peculiar.

(Tip, always check and wipe down that area every few washes. It is notorious for trapping socks, small washcloths, and now, dog hair.)

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 5:50PM
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Smarge, I have an allergic family member (laundry product perfumes make him itch) and I've had similar results using vinegar to get a cleaner rinse in my FL. The cleaner the rinse, the softer the laundry.

I just hang up fleece items to dry; they dry so quickly (after taking them out of the FL) there's almost no point in putting them in the dryer.

Also, I use the lowest dryer heat settings on most loads. I dry jeans on the Delicate setting on my dryer (lowest heat setting) and the jeans are softer and nearly wrinkle free. Lower dryer heat settings contribute to softer laundry, too.

Clothes treated with liquid fabric softener feel slick and greasy to me. My laundry feels plenty soft enough to me. Granted, it's what I'm used to (compared to LFS), but I find nothing objectionable about the softness of my laundry, even the jeans.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 7:07PM
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I am wondering and I would like to know if anyone has tried "method" or "seventh generation" fabric softener? I currently use vinegar as a fabric softener. I do use "method" detergent and it works well. Both companies say they do not use animal by-products or waxes in any of their fabric softener, and use essential oils as fragrance, I was wondering if using it would have the same effect on my machine as commercial fabric softener?
I am also wondering if anyone has used the "method wet" dryer sheets? I can't pick flowers in the winter, and I can't hang my comforters out side during the winter. I'd like to have them smell like it once in a while during the colder months. Thank you.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 11:17PM
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Hi Alex!

I have a stash of UK Comfort that I use sometime and even though it is thick I haven't noticed any problems. One of the reasons I asked this question is because I use comfort and some other softeners and haven't had any issue, yet others report gunking I am wondering if it is formula related and if different formulas are used throughout the world.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 11:45PM
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I can't pick flowers in the winter, and I can't hang my comforters out side during the winter. I'd like to have them smell like it once in a while during the colder months.

I do not know where you reside, but if you have a Trader Joe's nearby they sell lavender packets that you can throw into the dryer. My wife loves them. I am sure you can find lavender packets elsewhere too. Now the question will be whether you like the smell of lavender?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2008 at 11:46PM
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fahrenheit 451, Thank you. Yes I do like the smell of lavender, very much. Yes I do have a Trader Joe's near me. I'm going shopping!

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:22AM
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I've been using Downy Free & Sensitive for years in my Asko and haven't had any issues. I typically use half a capful, so I don't overdose, and clothes come out soft, odorless, and the washer has no gunk.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 9:50AM
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Regarding fabric softeners that don't use animal by products or waxes: they use vegetable oils of some kind, instead. If the oiliness of FS is the problem, where the oil comes from won't make much difference.

According to the Method website, their LFS contains "plant-derived softeners" (and a BUNCH of other stuff I would rather not leave on my clothing). Other FS web sites I've checked will claim their main ingredient is "softening agents" (to avoid mentioning beef tallow).

I actually have no ethical problem with using beef tallow in a laundry product, but I prefer non-greasy feeling clothes, no matter where the oil comes from.

YMMV, of course; just my preference.


Here is a link that might be useful: What's in Method LFS?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 1:23PM
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thank you for the link about method FS. I like the "fat free" note on it where it says that they use "naturally derived oils" as if that wasn't still FAT. I do like the idea of vegetable oils better than tallow, but reagrding the feel of the laundry or the gunking up of the washer I don't think it makes much of a difference. I will keep using FS in small amounts and just when I feel it is necessary for that load. I do prefer the vinegar method and in combination with the dryer balls it keeps my laundry nice and soft.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 2:13PM
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I tried Method softener a few years ago. I liked it because it didn't have a strong sweet smell that made me think I was frolicking in a field of flowers or in a tropical rain forest. But it was so thick that some would remain in the dispenser and I had to scrub the dispenser out after every wash day. Eventually the cap became encrusted with this thick waxy oily stuff that looked like hardened corn oil. I stopped using it. A while ago I picked up a bottle in the store and shook it. Seems thinner now. Maybe the formula has been changed.

I tired Ecover a few years ago. I liked it, nice clean fragrance, but then I let the bottle sit for a few months and the liquid became so thick that even hot water could not keep it diluted so I had to trash the remaining amount.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 3:26PM
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Sorry it's taken so long for me to write back, been a busy week! I checked the ingredients on my ECOS bottle and it just says "soy based softener" so I'm not exactly sure what that means. My clothes never feel oily though, just soft and clean.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 1:21AM
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I'm the person who reports that LFS treated clothes feel greasy to me. I haven't used LFS in at least 15 years, so the "no LFS feel" is what I'm accustomed to and is what I prefer. Also, I use fragrance-free laundry products so I'm also accustomed to the "no smell" experience. The effects of LFS are especially noticeable to me. If you are accustomed to using LFS, I assume that soft, slick feel and the fragrance are the results you are trying to achieve. Lots of people seem to like it, but itÂs not what I prefer (YMMV).

When we have house guests and I do some laundry for them or someone "hands me down" a garment, that's when I notice the slick, sort of greasy feel and the perfume. I have no way to know if LFS has been OVER used in these cases. By comparison to what I'm used to, the garments feel slick and greasy (although there's nothing that rubs off on my hands) and they have a strong fragrance.

From the "no LFS, no perfume" side of the fence, I have to report that the slick, greasy (soft) LFS feel does not wash out in one washing, it takes many washings. If you like LFS, you probably havenÂt attempted to remove it from clothing, as I have. The perfume is even harder to get rid of than the slick feeling. It usually takes at least 10 washings before the smell isn't very noticeable, but itÂs often still there, but much reduced. One previously LFS-treated garment in a wash load can lightly perfume an entire load of clothing, even after washing, several rinses, finishing up with distilled white vinegar in the rinse.

So whatever is in the LFS products, the oils ("softening agents") and the perfumes really STICK to your clothes for a LONG TIME. They are difficult to remove. I have clean second-hand jeans I bought for a craft project. I washed them several times when I got them home, all fragrance-free detergent, no LFS. Whenever I open the box where they are stored, I can still smell the fabric softener, several YEARS later.

My point (and I do have one!) is that if you are using LFS, you can probably use a very, very small amount of LFS, much less than the manufacturer recommends, and still get noticeable results, both in terms of softening and the fragrances.

I would assume ECOS "soy based softener" is based on soy oil.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 5:14PM
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Thank you for the information on "method". I guess I should look closer at "seventh generation". I am trying all the suggestions that I have been given.
I really want my clothes and linens to be just a tad softer coming out of the dryer and less static in them.
I am not sure why, but the vinegar is just not getting the static out. I have been using it like you would normal FS, it's just not cutting it. Thank you

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 6:33PM
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Mountain Green ( makes an all natural dryer sheet. Some of the Linens & Things are carrying them on a trial basis, you would have to check with your local store or you can order online. I use them more in the winter because of all the polyester in our winter clothes. It's the only dryer sheet I've found that lists all of the ingredients rather than saying what it "contains". To me "contains" means that they only tell you some of the ingredients and leave off the ones we're actually trying to avoid.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 8:35PM
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Thank you ebear1271. I do not think I have a Linen & Things near me, is there another place I can look?


    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 7:52PM
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You can go to their website,
They have a place for you to put in your zip code and they will tell you the closest stores or you can order online.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 1:09AM
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Thanks ebear. I'll check it out.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2008 at 7:01PM
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Youhave to wonder though- in using LFS, are your clothes really clean? I mean- when you wash your child- you don't count them as clean only *after* you have slathered them with lotions and such. They were clean as soon as they got out of the bath and dried off. So why would we only consider a thing clean when we have slathered a lotion type substance on it? Clean smells like....well nothing. I know when my kids are clean- they don't stink. They also don't smell like flowers because well-they're not flowers.

For the record- I'm a no FS type of gal. We use homemade laundry soap and vinegar on occasion if I know I have to use the dryer. Otherwise we hang the laundry when we can.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:58PM
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mamab34r How do you make your laundry soap? Do you do the Fels with borax and washing soda?? How much do you use per load?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 12:48AM
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I've recently started using liquid fab softener again. I've had a small bottle of Snuggle in my laundry room for four years!!! It's still almost full. Anyway I have always added vinegar into the fab softener dispenser (DUET) and one day I just felt like I would put like a half teaspoon (literally) of Snuggle diluted in with the vinegar. WOW.......I could tell a HUGE difference in how soft my clothes were compared to using just vinegar. The clothes were never really rough. I hate dryer sheets and won't ever use them though.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 2:58AM
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Isn't Linens 'n Things out of business now?

Or am I getting them mixed up with another store?

I use LFS, about half of the suggested dosage, in some of my laundry.

I use vinegar in other loads. I try to do a 'vinegar' load last each washday. That way I figure the dispenser gets washed out.

I have a Maytag TL HE washer.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 4:48AM
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Seventh Generation's LFS is very nice. It's not too viscous, has a light lavender scent, is natural, and fabrics are soft and pleasant to the touch. This is a good product.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:49PM
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Well I'm surprised the "clean washer cycle" doesn't get rid of the gunk. My particular machine doesn't have a clean washer cycle but judging from some of the vids of that cycle on youtube, it should do an excellent job of cleaning the machine. It gives LOTS of water, heats it, spins the drum at high speeds back and forth with water splashing all over the place and heating the water as it does so.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 11:15PM
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I noticed that there hasn't been too much activity on this topic recently. I am wondering if those of you who are used to diluting FS half-and-half with vinegar for a front loader (I have a Kenmore) are having trouble with the new ultra-concentrated fabric softeners? Even the Method brand has gone ultra-conc, and it just doesn't mix with vinegar; it clogged my drawer. I'm starting to notice more lint on my socks, and wonder if this is the reason

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 4:07PM
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I am a die hard Downy Fabric Softener user. I LOVE it. I use ONE cap per load of laundry. What I due, is add one cap in the FS compartment, and then I add almost a cap of plain water. I have no issues. I have gunk nowhere, and the few times over the many years with a front loader, the few times my Miele has required service, that "looks" into the machine, the Technician always has told me my machine looks as clean and shiny as the day it left the factory!

I NEVER wash with just cold water. 99% of my laundry gets washed on Warm (which is 105F in the Miele). Since I have NOT piece of anything white, I rarely used the Extra White cycle, but I have a set of quite old, and VERY light blue sheets, that once a month or so I will use the Extra White Cycle. I run a Clean Machine cycle with bleach or Tide Machine Cleanser at least once a month. Before I had the Clean Machine cycle, I would run a Sanitize Cycle with Bleach. MY machines are gunk free, smell amazing, not a speck of mold or buildup!!

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 10:03AM
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I used Gain or snuggle FB now since the new Downy stinks to high hell. One capful goes in my dispenser and I do not delute it. I let the machine do that when it dispenses it. I wash mainly in warm or hot water. Sanitary cycle is no stranger to me for use, usually once or twice a week. I have looked in my machine at the heating element, no build up of any kind or bad smells. I dont have a clean cycle, nor do I use the sanitary cycle as one, and I dont leave the door open when I am finished. Gain and suggle are ok FS, but I guess I will try the downy scent free and see how that works.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 9:26AM
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I tend to use detergent from Trader Joe's. I found the Target brand of FS, Up&Up, isn't thick goo and dilutes well with vinegar. I've had my front loader for seven years, and it only recently needed a strut replaced. It smells fine, the belts are fine. I do leave the door and drawer open when it's not in use.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 6:53PM
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Even though it's cold, I hang my comforters out for airing at least twice a week. I recommend it, as even without washing they come back in smelling very fresh, particularly if it's a sunny, dry, windy day. (Use lots and lots of clothes pins to keep them safely on the line.)

I live in northern NY, so in January it would take weeks to actually dry my down comforters outside. But airing them makes a huge improvement, all by itself. Of course I use launder-able duvet covers to protect against dirt, so with luck, and no cats getting sick on my bed, I don't have to face trying to get a water-washed down comforter clean and dry in the winter.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 1:56AM
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