American vs. European FL Technology -- Please Help.

ludy-2009July 29, 2011

I am hoping that those of you who are familiar with this issue will give helpful, constructive feedback.

First, the FL mold issue. Many on this forum argue that Europeans do not have mold and therefore the issue is not the machine. People who have had the mold are trying to understand why they (and so many others) have had the mold. I have read that there are three main differences between the "American" FLs and the "European" FLs --European FLs 1)have built in heaters; 2)longer wash cycles -- most two hours; and 3)smaller machines.

Many of the current "American" FL have heaters, but this was not always the case. (The household water supply does not get hot enough nor does the water stay hot during the wash cycle. Water must reach and maintain temperatures of 150-212 F to kill bacteria -- some can be killed with soap -- but otherwise hot water is a key ingredient.) In addition, even with those current FLs that have heaters, the user has to choose certain cycles to activate the heaters and often these wash cycles take longer (the wash water is heated in the drum and this takes time). I understand that TLs can also have mold issues, but the mold is not as visible because it is around the outside of the drum rather than the inside of the door.

The mold issue is separate and apart from other reliability issues. It seems that the introduction of the digital board has been problematical -- many fail and it is a very expensive fix. Also, the use of plastic parts combined with increased load capacity and increased spin speeds has been another problem -- the machines cannot handle the combination of increased weight (especially once water is added), increased spin speeds, and inferior parts.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Americans cannot have the bigger, faster, cheaper (compromising heat and metal parts) machines they want -- it compromises the technology behind the European FL.

For those of you who are familiar with these issues, I would love your feedback -- but please be nice. I have read a lot -- but maybe some of these conclusions are incorrect -- if so, I apologize in advance and welcome your corrections. Most of us do not live in the "appliance world" and we are trying to come up to speed and understand the FL issues so we can find the right machine and use it properly. Thank you in advance for your help.

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ludy-2009, I think you've got it right. I would also add that overloading on detergent and fabric softener may be a contributing factor to the mold issues - many Americans do not change their laundry habits when switching from a standard TL to a HE FL washer.

Based on my experience, we can have the "bigger and cheaper" but not faster. I think the machines can handle what they were designed for but they cannot handle overloading. If you stuff your FL drum full and tight of stuff and expect it to work, you will be disappointed and you risk damaging your machine. If you follow the loading instructions in the manual, your washer will work as advertised.
I don't have any negative comments on reliability - I am on my 4th FL over the last 12 or so years, but that was due to moving and upgrades and not defective machines breaking down.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 11:10AM
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izeve, yes, I did not address the detergent/softener issue, but maybe I should have done so. My understanding is that it is true that detergents and softeners can act as food for mold. However, there are those who claim they have followed manufacturer directions and still have mold. I believe them. There are people whose job it is to study the bacteria found in our laundry. Their findings are on the web. Certain bacteria found in all laundry can also act as food for mold. Some bacteria is not killed by chemicals, it is killed only by hot water. So my understanding is that it's possible that someone could be following directed soap/softener usage, but still have mold if they do not have a built in heater OR never or rarely wash on the longer, hotter cycles. Just my understanding.

In short, it seems that we should look for a front load with a heater, figure out which cylces use the heater, make sure it heats the water to a temp above 150 - 160 F, and use that cycle (not always, but regularly) -- even if it takes more time. Avoid digital boards (unless the warranty is great and customer service top notch) and be content with smaller capacities and somewhat slower speeds on the spin cycle. Also, look for machines with metal, not plastic parts.

Comments anyone?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 11:41AM
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I think you may be onto something. We use warm/hot/sanitize in our FL's and leave the door and dispenser cups open so they can dry. We also use fabric softener (Downy or Snuggle) and never had a mold issue in 6 years.

I also don't get the hatred for the "new fangled electronics". All of our appliances (stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer) have them and there has never been an issue. Certain models have had issues but I think they tend to be overblown on the Internet. I don't think I'd ever go back to a machine with dials and knobs. It just seems too primitive and something that won't adjust as well to changing conditions (Say, ATC - the computer can sense the water temp and adjust better than something that is programmed 1/3 hot to 1 cold.)

I think you may be over analyzing things. Pick the unit that fits your requirements, use and enjoy it.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2011 at 1:18PM
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itguy08 writes, in response to ludy-2009: "I think you may be onto something. ... I think you may be over analyzing things."

Correct about the over analysis, not about the "onto something." We have used front-loaders for 74 years: all but the 1995 to 2011 machines were American (Bendix and Westinghouse). (The 1995 to 2011 machine was a Frigidaire Gallery, which has an American name but is an Electrolux.) None of those machines had heaters, and so the hottest water available was at the setting of the water heater -- about 120 degrees F. None of those machines showed mold; no smell.

People who have mold and smell issues all seem to share two characteristics: they wax their clothes with fabric softeners, thereby waxing the insides of their washers at the same time, and they are compulsive-obsessive about closing their washer doors until the doors click -- why?

In short, ludy-2009 is focusing on irrelevant factors. Skip the wax and leave the door unclicked -- it need not be fully open to allow sufficient air circulation to inhibit mold growth -- and perhaps use borax (an inexpensive flux) to enhance the performance of your laundry detergent, and mold or smells will not be a problem.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 12:45AM
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herring maven, thank you for your kind words.

Don't use fabric softeners. Allergies. Others do, however, without a problem. Keep the door ajar after use. No clicks.

Don't think my time was a total waste however as according to what I have read, bleach, borax and pine oil are the chemical equivalents to hot water. Didn't mention that part because I was focused on European technology. Europeans don't use the chemicals, they use hot water. IMVHO your success is due to your use of chemicals. I'm curious, are your strong conclusions based on personal experience or something more?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 6:49AM
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My parents had a Kenmore top loader for many years when I was growing up. We always used Fresh Start powdered detergent and Bounce dryer sheets (no FS in the wash). We never, ever had any mold, odor, or build-up problems of any kind. After 10 years, the machines still looked as good as new thanks to my mom.

I am starting to believe that most of this business has to do with insufficient detergent use. When FL machines first hit the market in the US, there were very few HE detergents and they were significantly more expensive than their non-HE counterparts. People continued using their regular detergents, just in much smaller quantities. Many reports of mold/mildew/odor fall into this usage category. Detergent contains surfactants and other ingredients to remove soil and suspend it in the wash solution to prevent it from being re-deposited onto the fabrics and washer parts. If you don't use enough detergent, you lack a sufficient quantity of these ingredients causing your clothes to get dingy and stiff over time. The soil from your laundry (including body oils) will build-up inside of your machine.

Use of hot water and/or internal heaters may mitigate this issue, as hot water alone can do a decent job of removing any scrud or buildup you may have in your machine. This is why machine cleaning cycles utilize the hottest water available. It's my view that internal heaters and hot water washes can mask the larger problem of not using enough detergent, but eventually the problem will catch up to you.

There are quite a few contributors to these forums that use very little HE detergent - some use quantities in the teaspoons, some use 1-2 tablespoons, etc. My feeling about this is as follows - if that quantity of detergent is enough to make the water feel slimy/slippery, then it may be enough. But in my case, with a whole house water softener, using 1-2 tablespoons did nothing to change the feel of the water. It was like washing in plain water. Once I started using the recommended doses on the package - for example, 4.5 TBSP of Persil Megaperls or line 1 on the Tide HE cap for medium sized, normally soiled loads - I could feel the water was slippery. At these quantities, the sudsing was negligible under 120F. However, at hotter temps I would not recommend the use of most liquids due to sudsing.

My view is certainly not the prevailing or popular view. Many people equate mold and odor to using too much detergent and fabric softener. Detergent is highly alkaline, so any deposited detergent "residue" in the machine will also have a very high alkalinity. This in itself should severely limit mold growth on the residue itself. This is why I don't believe detergent build-up to be the issue - it is simply not an inviting place for bacteria and mold. However, body oils, food soils, and whatever else washes off of our clothes and deposits onto the wash tub when we are not using enough detergent seems like a much better food source and growth substrate for mold.

That's my opinion, anyway.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 12:32PM
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S, thanks, nice summary. When I was young, I remember the steam coming from the washer tub as it filled. The water was hot. I remember having to mix the hot and cold or risk burning hot tap water. With the water heaters set at the lower temps, I can easily use only the hot water tap and the temp is perfectly comfortable. I'm curious what your experience was -- because I know my mom was washing with much hotter temps than we do today. Maybe not hotter than the machines with the built in heaters, but definately hotter than those who rely simply on the household water heater. With all the money that the companies spend on R & D, I wonder if this issue has been answered, but with gov't regs, can't be resolved -- yet. One person opined that it was the use of less water. I am curious about the science behind this and wonder if more water even if at lower temps would help solve the problem. I think less water at higher temps is okay, but wonder about the science of more water at a lower temp as an alternative. Thanks for your input.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 12:53PM
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One more thing. If you read the reviews, people are all over the board in terms of soap, softener, door open or closed. Instead of looking at people's practices, I decided to look at what kills bacteria in the laundry. According to the information I was able to find on the web -- there are two things that kill bacteria in laundry: 1)hot water; and 2) certain chemicals like bleach and Borax. It's interesting to me that GE just released a TL washer with a built in heater. Perhaps it is coincidence -- or maybe not.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 1:09PM
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There is one more thing that kills bacteria in laundry -- hanging the laundry in the sun. Maybe we just need to place washer/dryers in sunrooms instead of in closets. :)

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 1:18PM
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sshrivastava writes: "When FL machines first hit the market in the US, there were very few HE detergents ..."

Correct. There were -NO- HE detergents in the 1930s when front loading automatics first hit the market in the United States. In fact, there were no petroleum-based laundry detergents at all. My mother used soap, not a synthetic detergent, in her front-loading Bendix automatic.

I cannot help but laugh at the idea that top loaders are "traditional" or "conventional." Those who think that top loaders are more traditional than front-loaders take a very short view of history. Front-loading automatic washing machines were the only automatic washing machines for a decade or so before the first top loading automatic machines were introduced. When I was a young child, "top loader" meant a wringer washer, one that had a mangle (counter-rotating rollers) on an arm above the tub to squeeze the water out of the clothes after they were lifted out of the washer tub.

Front loading washers never went away after automatic top-loaders were introduced; the front-loaders were just lost in a cacaphony of advertising for the new machines produced by American factories that were seeking to retool for production of domestic goods after the WWII armament contracts dried up. The whole raison d'etre of top loading was advertising driven, like tail fins on cars, aimed primarily at selling a difference as an improvement. Although I have no statistics to cite as back up, I am sure that many more front loading automatic washers have been manufactured and used worldwide over the last three-quarters century than automatic top loaders.

ludy-2009 asks: "I'm curious, are your strong conclusions based on personal experience or something more?"

Personal experience. My mother was given one of the very first automatic washers when they first were introduced in the late 1930s, before I was born. I grew up with the Bendix; back then, people used "Bendix" as a synonym for "automatic washer" just as they used "Coke" as a synonym for a cola beverage or as later generations used "Xerox" as a synonym for "photocopy" or "TiVo" as a synonym for "DVR." When we got married, we bought a front-loading Westinghouse that lasted us until the mid-1990s. When we replaced the Westinghouse with a Frigidaire Gallery (front loading) in 1995, we tended to run a short cycle without detergent in the Frigidaire after the main wash cycle to get more complete rinsing of the detergent out of our clothes, and that was when we started to use borax, as, with borax as a rinsing agent, we did not need to run the second cycle.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 4:23PM
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Herring_Maven is correct. The first automatic washer sold on the U.S. market was the Bendix brand frontloader.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2011 at 7:43PM
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I wasn't around in 1930 so I can't speak to what happened back then. But I can tell you that when I bought my first front loader back in 2000, I was hard pressed to find a good selection of HE detergents. In fact, the one most widely carried was Tide HE powder. There is much more selection available today, so I can see why early adopters suffered from mold and odor issues. I don't really blame the machines.

@ ludy-2009

My mom washed mostly in warm and hot. I don't ever remember her washing in cold. She also was born and raised in Europe...

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 1:38PM
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When I bought my first new FL (an Asko), in 1992, there were no HE detergents available at all. You just had to choose a low-sudsing product. I finally settled on Cheer powder and have been using it ever since.

Early FL adopters didn't universally have mold or mildew. I never did, and still don't. Some early US machines (Duets, IIRC) were notorious for that problem which, unfortunately, started the bad rap on all Fls as a class. People are still confused and prejudiced against Fls as a result. What a pity!

Plus many folks seemed to personally resent needing to review and perhaps slightly alter their existing wash-time regimes to adapt to the different kind of machines. So they took their displeasure out on the whole genre.

FLs (as a general class) are very satisfactory laundry machines. Some brands are better than others (fewer problems, better build quality, improverd washing performance). But if you're determined to find fault, you'll find it, somehow. Dissatisfied people will post on the net to settle their picque. But what could possibly be the motivation of people here on this forum stating clearly that they are quite happy with their particular machines? We've nothing to gain, and it's unlikely we're all clandestine FL-industry publicists. It's simple, we like Fls (in general) and we (mostly) love our specific machines.

As to the temps needed to kill bacteria: keep in mind that in addition to temp (assuming actual sterilization is not needed), water, agitation, and washing products all combine to kill bacteria (and molds, yeasts, and some viruses) as well. If not we wouldn't be advised to simply wash our hands all the time as a "germ" fighting tool.

As for killing bacteria that might infest the innards of the machine, well, unless you plan to steam/pressure sterilize the machine (as in autoclave it) or use very strong, non-laundry-type, chemicals), you will always have some residual beasties. Most are not pathogenic, just simply bacteria and yeasts, some even may gradually become more thermophillic over the long haul. Which is why airing the machine may confound them, or occasionally running a load with a little bleach may help.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 3:10AM
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@liriodendron - Well said.

I had planned to avoid FLs because of all the negative press. After doing my homework (a large investment of my time), I chose a FL with internal heater this year when the old TL was on its last leg. Whether FL or TL, I knew anything I would buy was going to be high efficiency. I felt better with the FL in that it would be a little gentler to our clothing, which I take good care of and normally lasts us up to ten years or more per garment. Seriously. In addition, I was willing to change my habits and ride out the "learning curve."

I don't freak out about bacteria because it is all around us in our world. In all my years(decades) we have never gotten sick from our kitchen towels, dishrags, dog beds, etc., that were washed in a TL with less than boiling hot water. Appropriate hand washing does more good than anything else, and antibacterial soap is not necessary IMO unless caring for someone with a deadly communicable infection or disease.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 9:52AM
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dadoes writes: "Herring_Maven is correct. The first automatic washer sold on the U.S. market was the Bendix brand frontloader."

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 12:27AM
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herring maven, are you sure that thing doesn't have a serious case of mold and mildew? ;-)

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 6:46AM
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Heh. I think that the discoloration is mainly iron oxide: rust. And, as the machine is probably some years older than I am -- though not that many years older -- I can fully sympathize.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 1:15PM
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I dare ANYONE to wash their laundry in that thing! LOL

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 3:51PM
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