Moldy FL Washer: Should we throw in the towel?

captsmethwickMarch 26, 2011

Sorry for the pun, adapting this question from my post in the appliance forum...

We see ourselves in the market for a new laundry set - particularly the washing machine. We had a Kenmore HE3t set and hated dealing with the frequent reoccurence of mold (and the resultant smelly towels, etc.) and so my wife is very wary of front load machines.

Within the next month, we're prepared to pull the trigger on a good quality top load set and price isn't really an issue but would prefer to spend less than $3k for the set.

Our challenge is that we both prefer the advantages of front load (capacity, energy/water use, and gentleness on clothes) and would definitely consider one provided that we were certain that it was significantly better at dealing with mold than the Kenmore set was.

We're open to all recommendations of top and front load machines - provided that there was a reasonable expectation that the FL models would be better dealing with mold. Also, our laundry room is on the 2nd floor so vibration control is a must. We're also partial to Miele and note that Miele Canada is having a $1000 off promotion for a W4802/T9802 FL pair but we have nothing independent about how its design would be better at preventing mold buildup than others.

Grateful in advance.

PS - in the early days of our FL, we weren't diligent about mold prevention techniques and are certain that this was most of the problem - but, after a few years, it's become a PITA. We're also aware that there's a class action suit underway related to this problem with Kenmore FL machines - which we have no intention of joining. IOW, we're definitely looking in the mirror here but my wife just has lost confidence in FLs.

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Capts, can you tell me more about this class action lawsuit? We have Kenmore HE3's as well and have some 'staining' on the grey rubber ring in the washer (this occurred before we learned to leave the door ajar).

We also used to have problems with smelly clothes. I used to complain bitterly to my wife about my gym wear (that Dri-Fit stuff) which seemed to really retain odours after washing. Drove me nuts. Before you chuck out a perfectly functioning washer/dryer, though, try switching laundry detergents to Nellie's Laundry Soda (link below).

We stumbled upon Nellie's at a home show. They gave an interesting pitch and we gave it a shot. It doesn't actually mask the odours with other scents, but really does just eliminate it. The best compliment I can provide is that my wife asked me what I thought of my gym wear a few weeks after she switched and I honestly had to reply that I hadn't thought of it -- because I just didn't smell anything! It's very neutral and, as I understand it, all natural.

It's not the cheapest, but then we found it being sold at in typical costco format -- 1100 loads worth! On a per wash basis, it worked out to be cheaper than the mainstream stuff. I'd suggest, though, that you find a local retailer to buy a smaller container and try it out first. Good luck!

BTW, I'd still like to learn about the class action. Wouldn't mind having my rubber ring replaced for free. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to Nellie's Laundry Soda website

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:34AM
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We just replaced our 10 yr old Kenmore FL machines with the large capacity Mieles and we couldn't be more pleased. We purchased ours last month with the Miele Canada "free" 10 yr warranty promotion.

They are on the 2nd floor of our house and there are no vibration issues whatsoever for us. Mind you, this is a solidly built house and the machines sit on slate over 1-1/2" of sub floor. You can see the washer vibrate a little on the final high speed spin but you can't feel it in the floor.

As far a mold is concerned, we didn't have a problem with our Kenmores. Occasionally there was a slight musty smell but that never transferred to our clothes or towels. Researching our new machines on Gardenweb made me aware of the issue and a little nervous about the Mieles (no worse than other machines but I thought we might just have been lucky with our old Kenmores). We asked the techs when they came out to set up our machines if we should worry. I said I had no intention of leaving the door open all the time. He said (fwiw) with our laundry habits (3 little kids, at least one load a day) we wouldn't have a problem. I did leave the door open over March break though. How much laundry do you do? I can see if someone has a once a week laundry day that they could have mold problems.

Hope that helps a bit.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:34AM
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Regardless of machine, I would be looking at 1) wash temp 2) water quality 3) product type and quantity used.

I've had FL (Whirlpool Duet -- nominal 3.8cf capacity) for more than six years with none of these issues. Soft water; occasional hot washes (130F); Tide HE powder -- about 1/4 cup for full dirty load. I leave the door open a crack when not in use.

Be advised many (most?) of the new machines have their own ideas about what "hot" "warm" and "cold" mean. Be sure you know what those words actually mean for whatever machine you buy. And buy a machine with a built-in heater that will give you the temps you want.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:45AM
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I had a HE3T for over 9 years, never had a mold problem with mine. I washed in hot water a lot and on the sanitary cycle as well. A serious cleaning is all your washer needs. If you wash a lot in cold water thats a problem for any front loader

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:50AM
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First of all, machine brand is no iron-clad protection from the possibility of mold, at least as far as I can tell reading here and in general conversation.

FWIW, I recently bought a used Meile (very cheap!) that was being abandonned by its owners because the machine was (to them) hopelessly grotty. I am in the process of rehabilitating it and have every expectation of success.

If you aren't prepared to wash with hot water pretty regularly; aren't willing to modify your product dosage to the minimum needed; and won't keep your machine at least partly open -even just pulling the detergent hatch out a bit would help, then I think the possibility of mold problems is always there.

Of all of these, I think regular use of hot washes is probably the simplest, and most effective, tactic. Besides several categories of wash: sheets, towels, pet bedding, gardening gear, kitchen and household cleaning cloths, all need hot water to stay fresh and nice, or recover from ground-in dirt.

FWIW, I have been washing in FLs for nearly two decades and have never had a moldy build-up. I frequently use very hot water and always pretty sparse product dosage (never liquids, HE, nor softener, however). I usually keep the machine doors open, but once inadvertently left one machine sealed up with water in it for many months, (an Asko) with nary a mold problem.

Hot water is the key. Instead of running machine-sanitization cycles monthly, I use hot water while washing stuff. Seems to work best for me.

BTW, in my confabs with Miele over my current repair project, they were not surprised to hear of mold build-up in one of their machines. It can happen to anyone who doesn't use the machines correctly.

If your concern about having the doors not quite latched is children, you should know that there are child-proof lock-out settings on many machines that would prevent the machine from being started.

Asolo's point about considering what the designated hot/warm/cold temps actually are is apt. Hot, to me is anything over about 150F; hot is not 120-140F. The saddest thing about my little rescue-machine is that it is not one of the newer, lower-wattage Mieles where "hot" is scarcely more than warm in my opinion; it's an older 1986, 220V, machine capable of producing nearly boiling temps. Oh, well, it's found a better home now!


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 5:19PM
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Trust me on this ... toploaders are NOT insurance against mold/residue. I picked up a Kenmore toploader for free a few weeks ago (apparently has a bad transmission, sometimes agitates during spin and/or doesn't spin properly). It reeks of detergent and/or softener scent of some ilk and I'm curious to see upon disassembly what kind of residue has built-up. May post pics here when I get to it.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Thanks for your replies. Frankly, this fits with our deep suspicions. We have indeed cleaned out the gasket thoroughly a few times over the 7 years we've had our Kenmore set but the problem doesn't stay away for long. And we suspect that we're to blame

Our situation:
-Launder regularly - a few times a week
-Clothes don't tend to set wet for very long
-Only use HE3 soap and always use less than recommended - will consider Nellies
-Have not religiously left door open until fairly recently
-Well water source with water softener - water has been tested and quality is quite good (heavy iron, though...)
-Recent renovation required a thermostatic mixer at the hot water tank (required by code in Ontario) - dramatically reduces the temperature of our water
-Our FL does not have a heater to boost temp of water

So, yesterday, I went to our Miele dealer (we've dropped about $20k there in the last year, so they like us) and he definitely wasn't pushing a replacement. His view matched our suspicion that the problem might be either our habits or water temp or quality. He suggested a thorough remedial cleaning and careful observation of the mold-prevention rules for a few months. And, if that didn't work, he'd be happy to sell us that Miele set. As much as their current $1000 promotion is tempting, we'd still be out of pocket over $3000 and maybe not that much further ahead in the long run.

So, as of today, it looks like we're going to stick. Thanks for the replies - they've really helped solidify our thinking.

As for the class action suit, I don't really want to promote it but a Google search will locate it quickly enough.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 7:34AM
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Reality is none of us really seems to know what is keeping our machines mold free. As a fellow Ontario resident I have to say my survey of colleagues and friends indicates that not many are washing in hot with the frequency of people on here (and none had mold). My very basic machine (without an on board heater) is odour free after 15 months. Is it the natural powder detergent, city water, keeping the door open or the very occasional hot wash? The combo? Who knows? Good luck, I hope you find a strategy that works for you and isn't a complete hassle.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 8:33AM
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- Clean the trap out. Mine (WP Duet location, front, behind kick plate).

- Wipe down front gasket with White Vinegar or soap and water

- Run one load, empty with white vinegar, hot water.

- Run one load with Borax powder soap, hot water.

That worked for me on WP Duet. I don't use the cold water option and always leave the door open.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 9:59AM
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I had a Frigidaire FL for 10 years prior to getting my new Miele pair in February of this year. No on board heater. I too live in Ontario although on city water.

I never had a mold problem but know people who have (FL and top load). It's not just a front load problem but I think it's easier to happen in a FL if you're not careful.

I always left the door open (I think that is a really BIG point). Unlike top loaders, front loaders are air tight. It's common sense that if you close the door completely you are locking in any residual moisture. Mold loves a dark, damp place to grow.

Add to that not using truly hot washes to remove any residue (like body oils) and you have a biofilm growing in the tub for mold to feed on.

I know two people who had very good results using Smelly Washer to remedy the mold issue. You need to clean it with something that will remove any biofilm - something like bleach will only kill surface mold.

If you can't remedy it, I would replace it. Everything you wash in there gets mold spore in it. This is why towels always smell when washed in a moldy washer. They won't smell when dry but as soon as they get wet ... "pee yew". That's the mold spores getting wet.

If you have trouble achieving truly hot water from your water tank the Miele would be great. The on board heater works fantastic. It gets quite hot in there. I run the "clean machine" program every few weeks with some Smelly Washer just to keep it nice and clean. I notice a big difference having the on board heater now.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Smelly Washer

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 11:08AM
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Our Electrolux FL has a Clean Tub cycle that pops up every 50 loads. You pour bleach directly into the tub and push start. (My only gripe is that it pops up when you go to select your wash cycle-AFTER I've already added the clothes I want to wash)

I've also bought the Tide washing machine cleaner. Seems to work well. No more smelly towels.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 12:07PM
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"Recent renovation required a thermostatic mixer at the hot water tank (required by code in Ontario) - dramatically reduces the temperature of our water
-Our FL does not have a heater to boost temp of water"

I think you may have identified the issue.

Have you measured the actual water temp inside the machine when it's running?

For example, my machine has buttons for "hot/warm/cold" like they all do. When I set the machine on "hot" (but without choosing a cycle that uses the onboard heater boost) and run a nearby faucet so 130F water flows into the machine from the first drop, my actual wash temperature is between 100-105F. That's how much heat the room-temperature clothes and big stainless drum take out of the low-fill-volume of the incoming water. If I don't run the water hot first, that actual wash temperature is more like mid-high 80's in winter and mid-nineties in summer. Without an on-board heater and selection of a cycle that uses it, that's as hot as my machine would ever get.

I live in the dessert southwest US. If you say you live in Ontario, I suspect your incoming water is colder than mine. I'm suspecting cooler wash temperatures -- even when you choose "hot" -- are a likely component of your mold troubles.

You didn't say what your actual tap-hot temperature is or how long a pipe you have between water-heater and machine or what temperature setting you use on your machine. These would also be contributing factors. I suspect that you're washing in cooler water than you may know.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:08PM
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We are, at this very moment, taking hoses and such out of our Kenmore HE3 FL, and giving them a thorough cleaning because I can't take the smell any longer! Thankfully it's not hard, just takes time and patience. Hopefully it will all go back together and there will be no leaks!! Or smells!!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:15PM
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totsuka - thanks for the info. Very helpful
livebetter - good point about the need to remove the bio film. I suppose that's what most of these washing machine cleaners do - will have to get us some...
asolo - there's no question that our hot water at the tap is initially cool and it remains so for a few Litres at intake.

I do not know what the Kenmore's water intake is at the start of a wash cycle but I would suppose that it's taking in 3-4 Litres of tepid water before it starts to take in hot. If the initial cycle only requires 15-20L, the water really won't be "hot". And, in any case, "hot" is limited at 120F because of that thermostatic valve at our hot water tank. I'll have to measure the actual temp at the tap but I know that it's a lot cooler since that valve was installed.

It has occured to me to remove that valve...

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 6:30AM
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Removing that valve won't help your washer issue enough to make removal worthwhile.

If too-cool wash temps are part of your problem, the only way you're going to solve it is get a machine with an on-board heater and controls that allow you to select various wash temperatures inside the machine.

I say "if" because I still don't know whether or not too-cool wash temps are actually part of the mold problem you've described. Just suspicion.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 8:55AM
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If you don't want to order the Smelly Washer, I know that Canadian Tire sells a product called Lemi Shine.

I can't vouch for it as I've never used it but I would think it would work on the same principle.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Canadian Tire - Lemi Shine

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 9:21AM
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I believe the problem lies with not using hot water enough to kill germs that are in our clothes as well as using all of these fancy detergents with "scents" and "softeners" in them.
I have 5 kids so obviously i wash a lot using my 7 year old HE4T Kenmore.....I almost NEVER leave the door open, but what I DO is to use white vinegar in every load of whites or any other load that I wash using hot water ( whites, towels, and sheets mostly)

I also use vinegar in the rinse cycle for many, if not, most loads regardless of water temp....
I hardly ever use the sanitary cycle.

I have 3 boys, one plays baseball, another basketball and another football... I wash their undies and socks using a cap of concentrated Lysol and follow with a rinse cycle of White Vinegar

I have NEVER had a smelly load ( unless you count the horrific smell concentrated Lysol ( brown bottle) leaves if you use too much) nor have I ever had a mold problem in my machine.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 9:38AM
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Please use the new AFRESH tablet available at all major appliance retailers! They cost CAD 6.99 for a pack of three and get rid of all the odors, the lint and the moldy (stale) smell that is coming from your dryer! After you do this, get into the habit of keeping your washer open after you have finished washer your loads. This gives the outer drum (yes washers have a drum you cannot see) an opportunity to dry out! For the first time user, with a mold or stale smell problem, you might have to do the tablet run twice!

Good luck and let me know what you think! :D

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 7:39PM
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Update: I tested the temp of the water at the tap and it was nowhere near 120 deg. I was able to adjust that thermostatic valve (I had to figure out how to do this - thanks to Google) and now the water comes out in the 125-135 range. My next step is a thorough cleaning of the machine and, with some habit reinforcement, we should be fine.

Thanks all!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 5:26PM
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ravencajun Zone 8b TX

Smelly washing machine?

great series of youtube tutorials on maintaining FL's

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 1:12AM
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Today was the thorough cleaning of the HE3T and, frankly, it wasn't that bad. That being said, the trap had not been cleaned out since we bought the machine 7 years ago and, um... well, there was some "stuff" there. Still, considering that anything there is on its way to being flushed, I wasn't too worried about what I found. Nevertheless, I cleaned it out thoroughly. I also used a proper mold cleaner for the gasket and the detergent drawer. And, when I was done, I ran a cycle of Affresh. Okay, probably overkill...

So, we'll be more diligent about leaving the door open and we'll see if "smelly towels" return...

Thanks for all the advice - it may have saved us a few thousand!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 6:40PM
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We switched from liquid to powder and the mold/musty odor issue was immediately resolved. It appears the liquid soap was building up in the machine/hoses.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:15PM
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ravencajun Zone 8b TX

That is why I have started out with only powders in my new Samsungs. I had read in many places that the liquid detergents and softeners were part of the problem. I do use bleach in the bleach area but no other liquids.
I also keep one of the pop up containers of clorox wipes on my washer and use one to clean the gasket and door after finishing the final wash.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:32PM
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liriodendron said...
If you aren't prepared to wash with hot water pretty regularly; aren't willing to modify your product dosage to the minimum needed; and won't keep your machine at least partly open -even just pulling the detergent hatch out a bit would help, then I think the possibility of mold problems is always there.Regarding the above, I believe it is a common misconception to advise folks to use as little detergent as possible. Good detergents are formulated to hold soils in suspension and to keep those soils from redepositing onto clothing and washer parts. Without sufficient detergent, you risk suffering from stiff/scratchy clothes or towels, dingy whites and redeposition of dirt and grime onto the inside of your machine.

Start with the manufacturer's recommended dose and adjust up or down as needed depending on whether you are experiencing sudsing issues. I personally believe that a lot of mold and odor issues are caused by using insufficient detergent. Many people also use non-HE detergent in teaspoon or tablespoon quantities. Those people are asking for trouble in my opinion.

The SDA (Soap and Detergent Association) makes a big deal about dosing detergent according to the amount and soiling level of clothes, not according to the amount of water being used by the machine. The reasoning is that you still need the same quantity of cleaning and redeposition agents for a fixed amount of clothing whether washing in 20 gallons or 5 gallons. Would you wash an entire load of laundry in a top loader using only 1-2 TBSP of detergent? If the answer is no, why would it be any different for a front loader?

Look at it this way. You use a full scoop of detergent in your top loader. Now transfer the entire load of laundry and only 1/4 of the detergent water into a front loader. Would you expect your clothes to get clean and your washer to stay clean? I wouldn't.

I have a whole house water softener using potassium pellets. I am able to use a full dose of Tide HE liquid (line 3), Vaska (1ý capfuls), and Persil Megaperls (6 TBSP) without any sudsing issues. With the exception of Tide, these are all recommended doses for soft water. Unless I were a conspiracy theorist, which I'm not, I would not use less than what is recommended for my water type and load size. Doing so is just asking for trouble.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 1:51PM
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Come on, I didn't say use any particular minimum, I said use the minimum needed, and no more.

The minimum amount required varies according to load size, product, water chem. and temp, and soil load. No matter how much you use, if you get in the habit of over-dosing for your situation, you'll get into difficulties.

I happen to use a very small dose of regular (non-HE) Cheer powder in my 5kg Euro FLs: just about 1 1/2 tablespoons (slightly less than one of those green Charlie's scoops - I like the scoops better than the product, but that's another story). I use somewhat more when my stuff is particularly grungy (animal, garden or woodlot dirt). My water is naturally quite soft (spring water). My cleaning is excellent, otherwise I would use whatever additional level of product needed to achieve the results I require.

I am certainly not prescribing this level of product for anyone else. All I am trying to do is point out that for some people radical reductions in the "normal" dosage may be perfectly acceptable.

Cleaning results always depend on the interaction among soil load, product selection and quantity, time, temperature of wash water and vigor of agitation. I do tend to use hotter water than many people do, partly because I can, but mostly because most of my fabrics can withstand hotter temps. My older Miele and Asko are default long-cycle machines, so my time is longer than many people would have and my water is particularly fine. Perhaps those are the major keys to my success.

YMMV, but I've had my FLs for going on two decades with this regimen. I would have noticed, by now, if it was creating problems. The detergent questions often comes up with new FL users who are having trouble adjusting from their old habits. Top loaders are much more forgiving of too much product, in my experience. (The reason for that is that TLs use so much more water, any excess is diluted out of harmfulness.) Many people are pretty casual about dumping stuff in and figure if a little is good, then more is better. You'll get in big trouble with most FLs if you continue on that path, no matter which product you choose.

Apparently I am getting near-perfect suspension of the dirt in the wash liquor since I always get soft, clean clothes and have no build-up in my washers.

I think everybody should start with set dosing (package suggested dosing is a fine place to start) and evaluate in situ. If you get good results, then see what somewhat less will do. If results degrade, increase back up. If it's still fine, then try another drop. You have to measure consistently for this plan to work. The less detergent we use, the better for the Earth. And you may find you can save some bucks, as well.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 9:03PM
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We have had a Samsung 337 front loader for about 2 years. Every time we finish washing for the day, we turn off the water taps and grab the rag we keep there and wipe off the door the top of the gasket; the first fold of the gasket and then pull the gasket from the tub front and wipe behind the gasket and the area around the tub front. There is a lot of water in crannies there so it takes time to draw it all out into the rag. This takea a minute or two to do, but we have never had any mold. Our machine has no trap to clean, and we sometimes use the sanitary cycle when we wash white clothes. We always leave the door ajar until the interior is dryed out where we can see before we close it. Sometimes it is closed for a couple days that way. No special soaps or cleaners. Have used bleach only if whites look like they need it. Still never had any smells of any kind.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 7:53AM
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