Have you ever wondered why your clothes smell like mold after washing it in your front loading washing machine? It’s not your detergent or fabric softener. It’s your front loading washing machine! Here’s a step-by-step direction on how to clean a smelly front loading washing machine so you don’t have to keep washing your laundry!
I admit. I was like you and was drawn to the sleek and sexy look of the front-loading washing machines when they first came out. I always wanted one.
Also, ergonomically, it made more sense for my back not to bend down to get the clothes from the laundry basket on the floor and pick it up to load the top loader repeatedly.
Plus, the whole eco-friendly reasons for owning one started to make me want it even more. “You mean, I can save on electricity and water bill while a sleek and sexy washing machine cleans my clothes?” Sold!
So when my top loader went kaput after so many years, I ran to buy a pair of sleek front-loading washer/dryer. But soon after, my fantasy of having clothes washed and dried by the energy efficient, hardworking, and sexy machine became nightmarish, out of control stinky beast that made my family sick.
After about a month of using the front loading washing machine, clothes started to smell like mold and mildew after the wash. I did everything that the manual said – I used High Efficiency (HE) detergent and I didn’t overload the washing machine so I was perplexed as to why newly washed clothes smelled so bad.
It didn’t matter if I used extra rinse cycle. It didn’t matter if I used a different detergent. Since I didn’t use fabric softeners due to toxic chemicals and the strong odor, fabric softener couldn’t be the issue as some sites said it could be. But still, my husband thought fabric softeners can eliminate the odor so he brought home 3 different kinds for me to try. Well, they just covered up the smell but the mildewy smell was still there. And then, I thought it was my son’s athletic socks. That wasn’t it either. It was maddening!
And my family is allergic to mold!
It turns out, the smelly front loading washing machine problem wasn’t any of the things I did. It was what I didn’t do.
I found out, through an exhaustive search on the internet – because the manufacturer or the place where we bought the machine was not helpful at all – that the machine that was cleaning my clothes also needed to be cleaned!! What? I need to “clean” the washing machine? I scoffed. But a further research revealed the following reasons why I needed to do that.
How does it spin?
The drums on washing machines – top and front loaders – extract water from the clothes by spinning around an axis during the “Spin” cycle, pushing the water outward from the center to drain through the holes on the sides of the drum.
Excuse the scientific jargon here but centrifugal force is used for the water to drain. And the top loader’s drum spins around an Z-axis or a vertical axis (imagine the agitator in the middle of the drum is the Z-axis) draining the water toward the bottom of the drum.
In a front loader, the drum spins around an X-axis or a horizontal axis. And when the water gets extracted around an x-axis, the spinning motion will disburse the water to the sides and not toward the bottom of the drum. So there’s always a chance that not all of the water will get completely drained.
The result is water and moisture pooling in the rubber gasket that seals the door, especially at the bottom of the gasket, as shown in the picture below. See how the mildew and the sludge pools inside the gasket and clogs the draining holes?
The moist environment allows odor-causing bacteria, mold, and mildew to grow. And add some lint, hair, dust, and whatever gets shaken out of the clothes to the mix, and you have a sludge that resembles an industrial toxic waste. The toxic mildew and mold create a foul smell and slimy film, as pictured above. Gross. Toxic. Unhealthy. Did I say GROSS??
Since I found out that my dream machine is not so sexy anymore, I had to do something about it. I couldn’t throw it out since the motor was working fine. My research led me to the following steps to eliminate the odor and to clean the machine.
How to clean
Tools or supplies:
- Latex or Rubber Gloves
- Paper Towel (for cleaning mold and mildew, use a paper towel and discard them)
- Baking Soda
- Q-Tips (to get to the holes and crevices)
- Old Tooth Brush
- Bleach (optional when mold problem is serious)
- Use eco-friendly High Efficiency (HE) detergents. (See the update below)
If the detergent is concentrated, use half as much. HE detergents produce less suds and have less fragrance than regular detergents. The volume of suds produced by regular detergents acts like sludge to water draining out of the tub. Also, their fragrances mix with the mildew-y water produces an even worse smell.
- Do not use liquid fabric softeners
First of all, the average fabric softeners, like Downy, have toxic chemicals, to begin with, but its thick and slimy film coats the machine surface, making it a perfect trap for mildew and lint. Even the eco-friendly ones like the ones my husband brought home, contribute to the foul-smelling sludge. If you need to use fabric softeners for anti-static, use dryer sachets instead. You can check out my DIY for making dryer balls out of orphaned socks.
- Unload the finished load immediately.
Do not let the wet clothes sit in the machine for obvious reasons. If you can’t take them out in a timely manner, use the delay washing feature and time the finishing time when you can take them out right away.
- Wipe down after each wash
Every time you finish your load, wipe down the water and soak up any remaining water inside the gasket with a towel. Peel back the rubber door seal. You’ll notice grooves where water pools and you’ll find slimy gunk that formed from debris, dust, and lint from the clothes, mixed with water. Wrap a paper towel around your finger and place it in the grooves while spinning the washer drum slowly with the other hand to clean all around the gasket.
Clean the drain holes along the gasket with Q-Tips. You can also use an old toothbrush to scrub any stains stuck to the gasket. You only need a few mold spores for them to grow exponentially so don’t take a chance.
Once a week, make a solution of 50/50 vinegar/water solution to wipe the gasket clean. Don’t forget to clean the inside rim of the glass door as well as the glass.
- Leave the door open.
When the washing machine is not in use, allow the water and moisture to evaporate and not stay stagnant inside. Be careful leaving the lid open if you have young children or pets. You don’t want small children or pets being trapped inside. Cats love to crawl inside crevices and this can be a perfect spot for catnaps.
- Wash empty washing machine weekly
Wash the empty washer with HOT water at least once a week. The frequency depends on how many loads of washes you do but in general, once a week of a quick cleaning without clothes or detergent should be sufficient to wash and drain any debris that are stuck to the drum.
- Deep monthly cleaning
Once a month, add a cup of Distilled White Vinegar and 1 cup of Baking Soda directly into the drum. Combining both will create bubbling action and will gently scrub any debris you can’t get inside the drum for normal cleaning.
If the mold situation is really bad, you may need to use bleach instead of vinegar and baking soda. But make sure you run a few empty cycles just with hot water before doing a load of wash. Otherwise, you may end up with tie-dyed shirts.
- Clean the detergent compartment drawer
Read the instruction manual on how to take the detergent compartment drawer out and clean all the compartments thoroughly. Soak it in warm water with dishwashing liquid or vinegar/baking soda mix. Use an old toothbrush if you have to but clean out any stains or remaining residues.
- Clean the drain pump
This should be done about every two weeks. If the drain pump filter gets clogged with debris, the water flow will slow down, and fill up with stinky water over time. Old water that didn’t drain sits here, as does lint and other odd items. The drain pump filter is usually located at the front bottom of the washer. Refer to your washer manual as different machines have different instructions but the bottom line is that it needs to be cleaned out so that water doesn’t sit on the pump.
I didn’t have to try any special products to keep the machine from smelling after following above steps but there are products like OxiClean or Affresh that you can use to clean if the situation is beyond vinegar or bleach.
[Detergent UPDATE] – I noticed that since I’ve been using this homemade powder laundry detergent, my washing machine does not get mildew-y as fast. Liquid detergents coat the surface of the machine and make it attract more lint and mildew. Since I’ve been using the powder detergent, my washing machine hasn’t been as dirty or mildew-y. More reason why I love my homemade powder detergent formula!
Want to clean some more?
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- How to clean your radiant stove top.
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- Non-toxic way to polish your silverware
- How to make all-purpose citrus enzyme cleaner
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