HE washer laundry smells, not the machine

CSAPhoenixDecember 13, 2011

Hello, all, I've used this forum in the past and have gotten good information from it. Now I am hoping for some ideas for getting my clothes clean.

My HE washer history is:

10 years ago we bought our home, and a new washer and dryer. We looked at front-loaders but, the laundry area is a narrow hallway, with the water hook-ups on the right, so we felt that a top-load was a better fit. We purchased a Calypso. That machine was amazing! After reading all the problems it had, and the recall, I think I had the only one that actually worked. I had 4 small children, and one was a particularly aggressive peanut butter swiper. Grease! All across his shirt front. All the time. I never had a problem getting that out, even if I missed pre-treating. No one's clothes smelled anything but clean after washing, and I used a free and clear detergent.

After 6 1/2 years, the U-joints? on the machine finally went and I was quoted over $800 dollars to repair. We decided to purchase a new new washer instead. We thought that surely they've worked out the problems with this type of machine by now? Enter the Oasis.

What a nightmare. Right from the start there was a difference in the laundry. Whites were dull, anything oily/greasy (even pre-treated) did not come out, and the smell...the stench from my husband's t-shirt drawer could have been used as a weapon. I tried different soaps, including Charlie's, more soap, less soap, nothing worked. I called for repair service, and the tech told me to use less soap, and that I should be "mixing" my loads (i.e. underwear and jeans in the same load.) I did not use fabric softener in this machine, I used vinegar in the rinse. It was awful. I was finally able to speak to someone in Sears "Executive" customer service department. I was given a credit for a new machine.

I now have a Samsung FL. It is better, but I still have the smelly laundry, greasy/oily stains do not come out unless pre-treated, and sometimes not even then. I am careful not to over-load. I wipe down the gasket every night. I bleach clean the washer periodically. I leave the door ajar. I now use the heavy duty cycle for most routine loads, which is 2 hours including the pre-wash and extra rinse. I do an extra rinse and spin after that cycle is complete. I see from reading the posts, that many say it is the machine that needs cleaning, but in this case it is NOT the machine. The dirty laundry smell is not as strong as it was when we had the Oasis , but it is still noticeable. And I know it is not the machine, because my youngest children's clothing do not have that smell. They don't have adult physiology, and their things do not smell like that. My husband's clothing is the worst. I think the problem is removing oil-based dirt/stains, like skin/body oils, cooking spatter, peanut butter. I do not use fabric softener, only vinegar. I am currently using Biokleen liquid with enzymes, a little Oxy-Clean powder and vinegar. I've noticed that the Bio-Kleen rinses off my hands, after I pre-treat, easier then other detergents that I've tried. I believe we have very alkaline, but heavily mineraled water, if that makes any sense. I think that the water quality, in addition to the quantity, is where my problem lies.

For really smelly things, I've soaked them in my utility sink, with various combinations of detergent, oxy-clean, baking soda and vingar. This does work, but it takes a very long time.

I am very frustrated, and I'm not sure what else to try. Any suggestions?

Thanks very much.


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CSAPhoenix, what model washer did you get? Does it have an internal heater? What temperature are you washing at? Does you washer have an option that allows you to increase the water level in your wash?

Keep in mind that oil based stains are very difficult to get out, no matter what. And smells retained in fabrics are a tough one too. But we may be able to offer some suggestions once we have a bit more information.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 1:04PM
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I can't offer specific suggestions on your Samsung FL ... but just to say that Calypsos DO wash and rinse very well. Your machine likely could have been repaired for less than $800 ... IF you could DIY. U-joint kits are available, have skyrocketed to $180 to $210 (whew!), but that's not $800. In some cases the basket hub corrodes which requires replacement of the basket which is $190 to $250, but Whirlpool has a "lifetime" warranty on it (presumably the qualified lifetime has not yet ended being as the part is available).

The Oasis is an HE toploader but it has completely different washing action than the Calypso.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 2:15PM
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I have a Samsung 419. I believe it has an internal heater. I generally wash in warm for most clothing, hot for towels and bedding and extra hot for dish towels. No options to increase water levels that I know of. It also has steam capability, although I have not used much, maybe with really skanky dishtowels. It also has "Active-Fresh", which I use regularly.

The Calypso and the Oasis are both long gone. At the time of the Calypso's demise, I went with the recommendation of the tech, and with it's unfortunate history at that time, I made what I thought was the best decision. We really aren't that handy.

What I haven't been able to determine is if part of the difference in performance had to do with water quantity. The tech, and any salesperson I've asked have all sworn up and down that they all use/used the same amount of water.
If that is so, then why is the performance so different?
Even my kids notice that the laundry smells.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 8:21PM
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It sounds like your washer has an internal heater and you are doing things right. I would suggest rewashing your husbands clothes in Hot (make sure the wash time is extended - not sure if your machine has a soil selection level but if so, use heavy) and add an extra rinse. Try to see which one of your cycles uses most water and use that (in my machine Perm Press seems to use most water). As to detergent, I have better results with smells and stains when I use powder detergent. I think Tide with Bleach powder works wonderfully and is safe for colors, but Sears powder is also very good. Also for smells, adding Borax to the wash helps a lot.
Having said all of that, you may not be able to get rid of that musty un-fresh smell completely no matter what. I have this issue with my husbands PJs. Even when washed on extra hot sanitary cycle they tend to smell when they sit folded in a drawer (especially the older sets) and after a few years they just have to be tossed. You won't notice that with kids clothes because as you said their body chemistry is different and also because they outgrow their clothes and are not likely to wear them beyond a year.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 10:06PM
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izeve and all, Thanks Very Much! I've been feeling like a crazy person, when I speak to people and they tell me how clean their HE machine gets their clothes.
I almost always use the "heavy" dirt selection.
How do I find out which cycle uses the most water?
I'm almost finished with the liquid Biokleen, I'll grab a powder next time and see if that helps. Everything else I use is powder, except the vinegar.
I just started adding borax yesterday. I did a load of dishtowels on extra hot/sanitize today, did my usual pre-wash, and extra rinse and then another rinse and spin. That takes almost 4 hours but, they came out of the dryer really clean.
I've been afraid to wash things, like his polos and tees in very hot water, but I'll try a hot load with all the trimmings. While I don't look forward to longer cycles, with 6 not so small people, it's hard enough to keep up on Mount Washmore. But if it means actual clean laundry, it'll be worth it.
I also think my machine may not be level anymore, so I'll have to check on that, too.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 11:50PM
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I, too, live in Phoenix but haven't had a problem with smelly laundry. We're on city water and I have a Whirlpool Duet set, about 3-4 years old.

Borax would certainly help with odors. Have you tried something like Surf or Arm & Hammer - detergents that say they're made for clean-smelling laundry? I alternate between Tide and Oxydol liquids and vinegar and 1/4-strength Downy in the rinse cycle. I don't have a lot of grease in my loads but do have pet fur and garden dirt. A co-workers husband was a mechanic and she had an old washer/dryer set just for his laundry.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 12:29AM
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CSAPhoenix: "I do not use fabric softener, only vinegar. I am currently using Biokleen liquid with enzymes, a little Oxy-Clean powder and vinegar. I've noticed that the Bio-Kleen rinses off my hands, after I pre-treat, easier then other detergents that I've tried. I believe we have very alkaline, but heavily mineraled water, if that makes any sense. I think that the water quality, in addition to the quantity, is where my problem lies. ... I have a Samsung 419. I believe it has an internal heater. I generally wash in warm for most clothing .... No options to increase water levels that I know of. It also has steam capability, although I have not used much, maybe with really skanky dishtowels. It also has "Active-Fresh", which I use regularly."

Your washing details are very close to ours; we also have a Samsung WF419AAW (you are correct that it has an internal heater), and we also use Biokleen liquid (but we use the non-enzyme All-Temperature version) for most of our washing. We also do most loads of colored items with warm wash, cold rinse, usually with silver-ion "Active Care" activated; we do not use the pre-wash cycle, but we always have the Extra Rinse option active. We usually run all-whites loads (those are the ones that include our dish towels, incidentally) using the Sanitize cycle, and we also activate the Steam option when we run that cycle. We do not use fabric softeners, ever. Our situations are close enough that we can serve as a proxy control test for you.

We have not experienced any smells at all.

So we can narrow down the factors that might contribute to your problem. As you note, the most likely culprit is the water in your part of Phoenix differs from the water in Portland (Oregon). But there are some other differences: although we do not use vinegar, you may need the vinegar to offset the alkalinity of your water.

We do not use Oxy-Clean (but for all-white loads -- the ones where we also use the Sanitize cycle -- we do use Ecover 95% sodium percarbonate (oxygen bleach), which, lacking Oxy-Clean's fillers, is effectively concentrated Oxy-Clean.

Another difference: we use a scoop of borax per load -- both all-whites loads and colored loads -- and (apparently) you do not. You may want to experiment with borax to see if it makes any difference in your situation.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 6:36PM
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Do you know the hardness of your water?

You might want to try something with a wide range of enzymes. I do not know which enzymes Bio-Kleen has in it, but their HE Cold Water did not score well in testing done by CR magazine.

If you don't want all the perfumed stuff, maybe try the Tide Cold Water 'Free' HE liquid. I have had very good luck with this detergent getting out dried blood stains from kitchen towels, etc., so it's pretty good at protein stains. My guess is the laundry has 'body odor' and I think that might be protein related?

I wonder if adding STPP might help.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2011 at 8:15PM
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I don't have Samsung so I can't help with settings. My advise is trying different detergents until you find what really works with your water. Biokleen has a product called bacout that has been amazing for me in regard to odors. Also, rinsing is essential. If the detergent isn't fully removed, either is the dirt. Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 22, 2011 at 8:32AM
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I'm actually in central Illinois. We are on a municipal well. I know the water is alkaline, at least 8.8 ph (from h20 tests when I was trying to get the fish tank up and running.). I am going to test for hardness. We get mineral build-up all over the place. I have to use the Ecover lime remover or vinegar on the kitchen faucet regularly or it won't move.

I am using borax in each load. Using hot water in most loads. Going to try the Ecover bleach. Yesterday washed a load of hubby's polos and tees, at least 4 times in a row, used various cycles with borax and vinegar and sometimes detergent. They came out of the dryer pretty much ok. Today I am beginning the soaking project. Took ALL of his tees out of the drawers, and am soaking them a few at a time. I'm hoping it will cut back on the time in the machine.
Keeping my fingers crossed.
Thanks again for all the help!

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 1:44PM
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I use the Tide washer machine cleaner every two months and it keeps things smelling very fresh. Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 2:11AM
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wow! I have a Samsung WF520 and just yesterday I was amazed at how awesomely clean and fresh FILTHY DIRTY OILY rags came out. I used several rags to clean our vehicles, including the tires. the rags were black with silicone and tire grundge.

Keep in mine I did some plumbing "cheats" to provide maximum hot water. I put in a bleed line to purge the hoses of cold water, leading up to the HOT inlet. I also installed a wye to blend hot and cold, at the COLD inlet for certain wash cycles. THIS HELPS A LOT! Cost was about $100 in stainless braided hoses, 3 wyes, two faucets and some adapter fittings (brass). Improvement in hot/warm wash cycles is remarkable.

Now back to the grease stains. I pretreated this particular load with Shout, threw in a bit of oxiclean powder, and used free and clear All. I also put some All in the PreWash dispenser. Everything came out as clean as if they were just bath towels or clothes, rather than nasty, oily black rags.

YOU NEED HEAT AND YOU NEED THE RIGHT CLEANING PRODUCTS for stubborn stuff. Don't blame the washer model.... :)

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 1:08PM
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My washer didn't smell either. But I had a problem with my cloth diapers smelling - I had this problem when cloth diapering my older child but it happened once every 9 months or so, and I just did a "stripping" (aka super wash) process and it was fine for another 9-ish months. But this time it was happening after just a few weeks, every time!

Then **************TMI********* I noticed my underwear was smelling BAD. I could have it on for 6 hours, go to use the bathroom and simply pulling it down I could smell it. It was GROSS - it was as if I'd been wearing the same pair for DAYS.

Finally I made the connection and realized that it might be my actual washing machine. So I did a little reading. Sure enough - high efficiency washers may be efficient in saving water per load, but not so much when you have to run extra loads just to get it all clean!! I did a "self clean" cycle with the special tablets and the underwear from the first load of laundry post-cleaning was like it SHOULD be - I could wear it all day with no ickiness (as opposed to changing it 3-4 times a day). I also stripped the diapers and, so far, they seem to be doing just fine - but it's only been a couple weeks so we'll see how it goes.

Honestly, when I get a new house I think I will get an older top loader and put it in the garage and keep that for my cloth diapers and especially grungy stuff..it may use extra water and stuff per wash, but it's a whole lot easier and more efficient in the long run!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 9:27PM
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I don't see how running a clean machine cycle once a month is a lot of work? I've done it for 11 years with out a problem.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 10:36PM
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@ CSAPhoenix

Bi-O-Kleen laundry products are near the bottom of Consumer Reports ratings. You may want to switch to a more powerful laundry detergent until your odor issues disappear. I would also suggest adding baking soda to the first rinse to neutralize any odors.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 12:52PM
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CSAPhoenix--have you tried the Charlie's Soap Laundry Booster? I actually live in NC & we have a Charlie's Soap outlet in the town it is made in. I went in just for detergent & asked what the Booster was for. They said it was for hard water situations (high mineral content). I asked how I would know if I needed a booster besides having the water tested--she said you would notice a smell on the clothes that you couldn't get rid of--it's the minerals from the water that are left in your clothes. The booster helps pull those out & rinse them away with the water. As I didn't have the smell, I skipped the booster, but it may help your situation.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 9:58AM
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sshrivastava: "Bi-O-Kleen laundry products are near the bottom of Consumer Reports ratings. You may want to switch to a more powerful laundry detergent until your odor issues disappear."

The two sentences are unrelated, and the first is irrelevant, anyway.

Taking the latter first, Consumer Reports places a higher priority on following its specific test routine than it does on devising a test routine that will produce relevant real-world results. We all understand the problem: good science requires standardized test procedures. But good science requires that the standardized test procedures conform to what is being tested. So -- in order to conform to a standard test -- Consumers Union ignores the specific instructions of the makers of specific detergents under test, and instead uses the detergents in the way that fits CU's own (and perhaps ill-conceived) test routine, a routine that may be better suited for some of the products under test than it is for others.

If each detergent had been used according to the detergent maker's specifications rather than according to CU's standardized test procedure, the "powerful" status of the detergents might be different than the Ratings order.

As to the other aspect, the CU Ratings are based only on how well the products cleaned very specific stains. Consumers Union did NOT test for odor in the clothes or washing machine after the clothes had been removed from the washing machine. There is no necessary correlation between stain-removal ability (using the CU standardized test) and residual odor.

On this matter, just ignore the Ratings in Consumer Reports.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 9:09PM
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CSA - The mineral buildup makes me wonder about a possible bicarb issue with your water. I grew up in Chicago and it was an issue. A tsp or so of stpp would cure that completely. If u add anything like baking soda to your wash you would be making the problem worse. Is your mineral buildup kinda powdery or hard to remove? Hard water is a a very vague diagnosis really.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 11:40AM
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@ herring_maven

Nobody is expecting CR to be the end-all, be-all. However, it's a great place to start and does offer solid guidance. I don't know which test procedures you are referring to - can you let us know what these test procedures actually are so that we can decide for ourselves? Of course when you test things, you have to follow a standardized test procedure and you will use specific stain swatches to control the variables. This isn't a scientific study, this is a consumer product test. Those are two very different things.

The fact that Bi-O-Kleen did a lousy job cleaning swatches while Tide did a much better job would be indicative of the fact that those stains cannot be cleaned effectively using Bi-O-Kleen detergent. What specifically about Bi-O-Kleen detergent is incompatible with CR's testing procedures? Since that's what you stated, I'm curious as to how you came to this conclusion.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 3:45PM
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Caryn, have you thought of trying a different laundry detergent? I would.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 2:28AM
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Caryn, have you been successful in your laundry quandry? What did you finally do? what is your outcome?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 9:38AM
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Seeing how this was bumped up I read the entire thread and I've got to join the crowd saying this may be a problem finding the right detergents to use for the laundry. I'm also curious if you've found what works. I was also a victim of the dreaded 'Oasis' machine and I also replaced that lemon with a Samsung recently. My replacement is a WF331, with an internal heater, and I've been ecstatic over how clean my clothes are again. I was fortunate enough to have a good friend bring me some Persil from London, have some bio-kleen, Tide HE powder, and what I've found is that bio-kleen is fine for lightly soiled clothes, but the persil...wow. When I've got whites to wash, it's the go-to now for me. Socks that haven't been clean in ages because of my old machine are just amazingly clean again. I haven't seen our whites look this good since we bought that Oasis and shipped off our old water-hog top loader. I did not want to go back to the old style as we're finally getting hooked up to city water again (currently on well) and water bills are expensive here! We've got a water softener so we don't need to do much to enhance the detergents. I do have one child that has very smelly clothes after wearing and I no longer have to go that extra mile to get out the odor -- a normal wash does the trick. I've been so impressed with the front loader's cleanliness as opposed to my old top loader that I don't think I could ever go back.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 7:28PM
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