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Caring for Your HE Washer and Preventing Mold Issues

How to Prevent Mold or Smelly Washer Problems With Front-Loaders

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Front-Load High Efficiency Washer

Front-Load High Efficiency Washer

Photo © Mifflin
***Update June 2013 A Washer Fan is now available direct from the manufacturer for non-vented washing machines.

**Updates July 2012; February 2013: Continue reading to learn the causes of washer mold in high efficiency washers and to learn general care tips for front load washing machines. I have found only one permanent solution to get rid of washer mold for good, Washer Fan.

Learn more about mold from the Washer Fan manufacturer, read FAQ's and watch related videos. Then read my Washer Fan Review. Cleaning your washer is a temporary fix; Washer Fan is a more permanent solution to washer mold and odor.

Understanding Front-Load Washers HE Washers

Front-load washers are designed for high efficiency operation while using low energy. But unfortunately, there is a down side to this energy-saving washer model. Some consumers have experienced mold or unpleasant odors developing in their front-load washers. Once present, these issues can be quite difficult to resolve. With a little extra care, you may be able to prevent these issues from occurring.

It should be noted that not all high efficiency front-load washers have had this problem - but many brands, and I would assume that design modifications have been implemented to prevent, or at least reduce the risk of such problems with some of the newer models.

What Causes Mold, Mildew or Unpleasant Odors?

There are various causes but the main culprit is humidity that stays in the washer. Excess soap and grime can also keep some areas damp. Because of the low water level, wash residue such as grime, dirt and even skin flakes, along with water softeners and detergents do not always fully drain out of a front-loading washer. Using cold water for most loads can also add to the problem. Residue can build up in the rubber door gasket, soap/softener dispenser or other parts of the washer and over time, mold can begin to form or the washer can take on a smelly disposition.

Tips for Preventing Mold & Smelly Problems:
  • Always leave the door and dispenser unit slightly ajar after the laundry is done. Front-load washers and the detergent/softener dispenser drawer must dry out.
  • Never leave a wet washload in the washer overnight; remove it when the washing cycle is complete and leave the door open.
  • After a load is done, always rotate the drum with your hand to see and remove all items. Some could be sticking to top or sides of the washer drum.
  • Use softener sheets in the dryer instead of liquid softeners in the washer.
  • Liquid detergents may leave less residue than powdered formulas which may not dissolve properly.
  • Use less than the recommended detergent level for your load. Too much detergent can cause a residue build up. Experiment until you find a minimum measurement that delivers a clean wash. This is also a money saver.
  • Occasionally wash some loads such as whites, linen and towels in warm or hot water to help flush out wash residue.
  • Always clean your washer as per your product manual. High efficiency front-load models have a cleaning cycle and it's imperative that you periodically run this cycle as directed.
  • Check the gasket just inside the door opening and remove any visible debris. You can also wipe it to speed the drying process.
  • Always use HE detergents with high efficiency front-load washers. Specially marked HE laundry detergent is low sudsing and is recommended for these low-water washers.
  • Update June 2012: The best defense if you have smelly towels and washer mold, is to install a Washer Fan on the back vent of your front load washer. It appears to be the best long term solution for washer mold. Read my WasherFan review for more detail. Watch WasherFan YouTube Video

  • Update July 2012: It's been a month since the WasherFan was installed and towels continue to smell nice - like they should. I'm convinced that this is the best (and only) solution to keep front load washers mold-free. The small fan runs quietly 24/7 and keeps circulating air to the interior of the washer even when it is not being used. This keeps the interior areas of the washer dry, so mold cannot grow. Read review

  • Update February 2013: We have replaced the first Washer Fan model with the upgraded Washer Fan V™. We simply wanted to see how much easier the install is with the newer model. The new unit has strong magnets, so there's no need for screws and it will also fit ANY washer that has a back vent, regardless of washer brand. This makes it very easy to order a Washer Fan V and apply it to your washer. Note that the mold issue can also occur in top load high efficiency washers, so it is more widespread than just front load washing machines. For those washers which do not have a back vent, the manufacturer will be developing a solution in the near future. I highly recommend Washer Fan if your washer has developed mold or a stinky odor.

  • Update June 2013 A Washer Fan is now available direct from the manufacturer for non-vented washing machines.
If You Already Have a Front-Load Washer Mold/Smell Issue:
  • If your front-load washer is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for repair or replacement. You may need to take a firm stand with your dealer or manufacturer to ensure they remedy this problem.
  • If your warranty period has expired, your first line of attack is to try and clean the washer to remove any offending mold. Some consumers have had good results with products such as Affresh® which is designed to clean high-efficiency washers. However, some have had no success with such products.
  • If the gasket appears to contain mold, replacing it may solve the issue.
  • Read what other consumers have tried and learn what has worked for them.
  • There have been legal class action cases regarding such issues and some may still currently be before the courts. For this reason, it's difficult to get definitive answers from manufacturers. Contact your Consumer Protection Branch to log a complaint. Inquire if there are any legal proceedings for your particular brand of washer. You may be able to participate in such a claim and receive a settlement.
Are These Problems to Be Expected With a Front-Load Washer?

Not necessarily but until there are adequate front load design changes, the mold risk is high. But prevention is of utmost importance and you should be aware that this washer model requires more care than top-loaders. Front-load washers are considerably higher priced, at least double, if not triple the cost of a traditional top-loading model. That being said, they are beautiful to look at and are fun-to-use laundry appliances with great convenience and energy-saving features.

However, they are designed to use very low water levels and this can cause problems with expelling wash residue. The appliance design also is a hindrance when its components never dry out completely. Repairs may also be higher over the long run, than with those associated with top-load washers.

Problems with mold and odors have been occurring in some models since these were introduced, but may not be typical of all front-loaders. Since washer use and care varies with different appliance owners, one may have problems, while another may totally enjoy their high efficiency washer without serious complaints.
HE Washer 101 - What You Need to Know About Using High-Efficiency Washers

**Update June 2012:
Read my WasherFan Review - a more permanent solution to washer mold.

I cannot stress enough the importance of preventing mold or odor problems from developing. But if the situation already exists, finding a resolve as quickly as possible is very important. These issues are not only nasty and inconvenient, but could lead to severe health issues.

When buying a front-loader you should be prepared to give your washer a little extra care to prevent such problems by adhering to manufacturer recommendations regarding running the cleaning cycle, using only HE Detergents and following the above tips to prevent any issues from developing. Buy from a trusted source and inquire on the retailer's return policy and how warranty repairs are conducted should the need arise.

Read More About HE Washers & Detergents:

What is HE Detergent?
How a Front-Loading Washer Differs from a Traditional Top-Load Washer
Solutions to Front-Load Washer Mold
What HE is Suitable for Baby's Clothing?
About HE Front-Loaders & HE Detergents - HE 101
Top-Loading vs Front-Loading Washers - Which is Better?
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