Laundry should smell nicer after it's washed.
June 27, 2010 1:23 PM   Subscribe

My front-loading washing machine smells bad, and makes my clothes smell bad. It smells mildew-y or like a sour dishcloth, and has imparted sour dishcloth smell to my favorite black (i.e., can't be bleached) pants.

To make it smell less bad, I have to run a load with bleach and hot water, then leave the door open. But the door is kind of in the way when open, and I don't always have a load that needs bleach, which is also not great for the environment. I've tried leaving dirty-but-dry towels in the washer to absorb moisture, but it's not always successful. Leaving the door unlatched, but sort of closed doesn't do it. If I leave stuff in the washer for a few hours after they're done, I have to re-wash them, which makes the water-saving feature of the high efficiency washer useless.
posted by theora55 to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
"If I leave stuff in the washer for a few hours after they're done, I have to re-wash them"

I've noticed that this always happens when using our washer during the summertime, even though it's in a dark cool basement.

Have you tried running vinegar and baking soda through?

I also thought this was interesting : "I did tons of research on smelly washers and the one constant I found was this. Do not use liquid detergent in your HE washers. Liquid detergent contains animal fat. This fat sticks to the inner workings of your washer, eventually creating that lovely smell we know and love. HE washers are energy efficient thus using less water to wash our clothes. The lack of water also allows something else. It does not flush away a lot of the residue that old washers would."
posted by HopperFan at 1:29 PM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: Have you tried running a hot EMPTY load with lots of bleach?
posted by rhapsodie at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Vinegar vinegar vinegar. Toss 1/4-1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle. It kills mildew and makes your clothes softer without fabric softener. If you want to make a habit of using vinegar, buy a Downy ball so you don't have to wait around for the rinse cycle.
posted by workerant at 1:31 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Vinegar, white vinegar. Run a cycle with the vinegar and also wipe around the door and inside and anywhere you can reach under the rubber. Clean the drain and where you put the soap in. All with white vinegar.
posted by bwonder2 at 1:31 PM on June 27, 2010

I had the same problem, including the open door being in the way in my kitchen. I modified my clothes washing routine to the evenings, so I move the last load from the washer to the dryer, then leave the washer door open while I head to bed. Washer door open overnight = not in the way since I'm in bed, and no more smellyness.

I'll keep an eye on this thread in the hopes someone has a better solution!
posted by BigVACub at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2010

That sucks - front loading washers are a pain in the butt.

It is mold. You got to get in there with sponge and some bleach, and clean the hell out of it. Especially the door gasket.

The regular run an empty load with one of those bleach/mold tablets they sell at lowes and home depot.

You have to make sure the door is kept open as much as possible. Letting it stayed closed and wet is encouraging the mold to grow. Don't do a load unless you can empty it immediately after it is done. And keep the front door open, to air it out and dry it out.

If you laundry room is a damp location, you might need to run a de-humidifier in the room, to help dry out the washer after each use.
posted by Flood at 1:34 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Use some dishwashing powder (cascade, etc. ) and run it empty with hot water, once a week or so. Dishwashing powders have enzymes that will help eliminate the proteins that stink in a front loader. We do this followed by a run with bleach/ hot water every 4-5 loads and it has really helped that stinky front loader problem. Also, take off the bottom front panel of the washer and give the filter a thorough clean!! We had about $6 in change and wadded up hair in ours that stank to high heaven!!
posted by pearlybob at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2010

I think the door gasket is the issue also, as mine does the same thing. First, you need to attack the gasket with a 30% bleach solution and a good brush. There should be a small drain hole at the bottom of the gasket, make sure it is clear. You can stretch it a little and also gently clean inside it. You need to scrub the gasket thoroughly and get all the mildew out. Then run a Hot Hot cycle with bleach, no clothing. Then run another one with white vinegar. That should get the insides pretty clean. After that, you don't need to leave the door open all the time, just for about 30 minutes after you finish a load. I've found that to be plenty of time to dry it out enough to keep the mold down.
posted by raisingsand at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2010

Borax may help when you rewash the stinky clothes.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2010

Soda crystals
posted by fire&wings at 1:59 PM on June 27, 2010

This stuff works. Between this and leaving the door open between loads, I no longer have a smelly washer.
posted by cecic at 2:02 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Leaving the door half open is plenty on my machine - but as others have said you need to get the mold out first and then keep airing the machine properly.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2010

Get a packet of epsom salt and run it through a large load on the hottest water possible. I do this every couple of years with mine and it's all good. Better than vinegar, because I find vinegar makes my clothes smell slightly like fish and chips for the next wash or so.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2010

Less detergent, door open. I took a throwaway rag and wiped the gasket at the front of mine down, ran a hot load with bleach, left the thing open, and we were okay. And, use less soap.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2010

There is a product for that. It works.
posted by halogen at 2:26 PM on June 27, 2010

Our washer had that same problem too. Lift back the gasket that's around the door. I bet you'll find mold growing underneath it. I wipe it down with a rag soaked in some bleach water. I'm not sure if this is a good idea but we put a pen between the gasket where it seals to the drum so it airs out between loads. It's stopped the mold but it's probably not good for the gasket. I think we might give the epsom salts and vinegar a try.
posted by stray thoughts at 2:44 PM on June 27, 2010

We also use affresh. And leave the door open -- by open, they mean just don't seal it, not that the door needs to be wide open.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2010

Use less soap, and make sure it's formulated for HE washers. Watch your laundry in the cycle; if there are LOTS of suds, you are using too much soap- HE formula soap + front loader should mean distinctly less sudsing than you are used to. Excess soap accumulates and makes things stink.
posted by ambrosia at 2:54 PM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: You can add vinegar with your soap as well, instead of waiting for the rinse cycle. It worked wonders for getting greasy waitressing clothes clean and the odor from the vinegar is not left on your clothes when you're done washing, which was a concern for me.
posted by gilsonal at 2:56 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the filters, but checking the seals and drainage pipes can help too - horrible amounts of gunk can build up there (especially if there's long hair in the family), and wet deteriorated rubber is rather musty too.
posted by liss at 3:04 PM on June 27, 2010

Does your front-loader have a "tub clean" cycle? On my LG/Tromm, it lasts 90+ minutes and involves a high level of hot water that submerges the gross part of the gasket. It keeps the mold at bay even in humid Atlanta summers, although I also leave the door open almost all the time.
posted by catlet at 3:21 PM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: You have mold/mildew. Once it's on the gasket it's pretty hard to get rid of the smell, no matter how much you scrub. I struggled with this for a long time. Before replacing the gasket:

1) Remove your wash promptly for the dryer. If you let it sit you will be rewashing.
2) Wash your whites last, in hot water with bleach.
3) Use detergent for front-loaders (I have never seen the thing about powdered vs. liquid) and use the proper amounts. Actually, use half the suggested amount, that should still get your clothes clean.
4) Leave the door open to dry. Depending on how "in the way" it is, you could use a little piece of masking tape to hold it an inch or two open instead of letting it stand "all the way" open. (Otherwise, the bedtime idea is a good one.)
5) Clothes that have become mildew-smelling can be fixed in two ways: Wash them with white vinegar (and detergent, or not, doesn't matter); or put them in the sun and breeze for a few hours. A clothesline is great, but I just use the yew bushes in front of my house (and then my clothes smell pine-fresh!) or put my drying rack outside.

Once the mildew smell is there, though, you may be best off replacing the gasket. Replacing mine cost around $100 including labor. (I don't remember exactly because I finally had it replaced when I had to have another thing repaired on the washer, so I remember the final bill but not the breakdown.) And after you have it replaced, always either leave the door open or AT THE VERY LEAST wipe the gasket dry after every wash and do the "bleach wash" with the whites now and then.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:57 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find that Affresh works fine if I it once a month for prevention, but once the washer is smelly, I have to use three tablets to get rid of the smell. For some reason, Affresh seems to do a better job than bleach in my front-loading washer.

I've used a large dose of bleach in an empty load, hottest water. At OTHER times I've used plenty of ammonia. (It's literally deadly to use them together.) Both of those worked in my top-loader.
posted by wryly at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2010

Response by poster: I use less than the recommended amount of detergent. Will try vinegar, dishwasher deterg, etc. I'm hesitant to use chemicals because I'm on a septic system, and near a nice lake. Seems like a design flaw to me; having to buy a product to clean my washer? weird. Thanks.
posted by theora55 at 4:48 PM on June 27, 2010

How about cleaning your filter?
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on June 27, 2010

This happened to me, specifically with towels, and internet message boards seemed to insinuate that Tide detergent makes the mildew (or mildewy smell, at least) worse. I switched to a different brand and have kept the smell/mold under control, but can't attribute it 100% to detergent since I'm also keeping the door open, wiping down, etc.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:10 AM on June 28, 2010

Seems like a design flaw to me; having to buy a product to clean my washer? weird.

It's not a design fault - it's user error. You didn't allow the machine to dry and gave yourself a mildew problem - that's why you may need to use products to remove the problem.

If you allow the machine to dry when not in use and run a hot cycle with bleach every now and then you ought not to need specific products to clean it. You may find you need to use something to reduce limescale build up and you do have to clean out the various parts where hair. fibres and detergent can get stuck/build up, including the detergent drawer, but that's it. I've only ever had front loading machines and never had your problem.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2010

Response by poster: I've run multiple bleach loads; can't run an empty load, so I have some very white rags. Have also run several loads with vinegar. It finally smells neutral. The directions say to leave the washer door ajar, which I do, but I seem to have to leave it wide open, which is a traffic problem.
posted by theora55 at 6:34 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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