What is wrong with the washer?
June 23, 2013 3:59 PM   Subscribe

We have a 9-year-old front-loading Kenmore washing machine that has for the last month been giving off a musty/moldy smell. We've tried everything we can think of, cannot make it go away and cannot identify the source. What's going on and what should we do?

We've tried:
-leaving the door open at all times between washings (which only serves to spread the smell through the house);
-running bleach through several washings;
-wiping down the gasket and other accessible surfaces with vinegar;
-including baking soda in each washing;
-hiring an appliance repair person (who suggested leaving the door cracked and then ran the cycle with washer cleaner and left more for us to use. None of this has helped).

The internets shows this to be a common problem with the Kenmore front loaders. I've found no real solutions. We're faced now with calling the appliance repair person back (but for what reason? could removing the machine to inspect the water lines tell us anything?) and/or completely replacing a washing machine that has no mechanical problem. The smell is terrible and mold can't ever be good.

posted by AnOrigamiLife to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you had the seals on the door checked? I've read that sometimes you get water in between parts of the door, and that's where some of the problems come from.

Ours, for example, has a flat window on the outside, but a shaped piece inside that makes it a bit wider. There's notes about water getting inside it and causing mold and mildew, but we've been careful with it and no problems yet.
posted by mephron at 4:08 PM on June 23, 2013

Have you checked UNDER the gasket for mold?
posted by easily confused at 4:08 PM on June 23, 2013

My parents managed a building that had a row of maytag front-loaders in the laundry room. They ALL smelled like this.

I, being the only one small enough to completely stick my head+shoulders inside the thing tracked the smell down to the area where the two halves of the gasket kinda overlap like an N or a Z. It was moist, but not like standing water in there. The design made it the perfect place for some sort of mildew or something to grow readily and create this gross smell.

I'd also turn the drum and see if there's a bit of standing water in the bottom of the drum outside of the basket that you can hear sloshing around a bit. Shake the drum around on it's "suspension" too so you can hear if there's much water.

The problem seemed to be that if the door was was open a bit, that water started evaporating and would condense on the gaskets, and there would be a generally higher-than-outside humidity all inside the washer/gasket/door zone. Does the door glass ever get foggy when it's sitting open but almost closed? I also never once felt that gasket area when it wasn't still damp. even if the room was hot in 80 degree weather and the washer hadn't been used in a while. It just stunk more and more over time and seemed like the smell almost permeated the rubber.

We never found an actual solution to this, and the repair techs always shrugged. I've also never used another front-loader that had the weird smell issue since then. I had actually forgotten about that problem entirely until i saw this thread.

So there's a potential source, although i can't offer any kind of solution beyond "get a different washer". Maybe try replacing the door gaskets entirely?
posted by emptythought at 4:08 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did you take the little dispenser drawer out and gave it a good wash? (old toothbrush works best)
posted by travelwithcats at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2013

Any chance there's a wayward sock that achieved escape velocity and is now a mold farm trapped between the drum and the housing?
posted by carmicha at 4:45 PM on June 23, 2013

And it definitely is coming from the inside of the washer? I ask, because ours developed a leak in the drum and dripped inside the appliance housing.
posted by Good Brain at 5:10 PM on June 23, 2013

Our frontloader developed a strong rotten egg smell that recurred whenever the spin cycle drained the water from the washer. The smell spread out through the house like a wave of awful. Nothing made it better until I pulled the panel under the door and started poking around. In our case there was a kind of trap down there (part of the drainage system) near the pump that had residual water in it that had the same stink. I cleaned that out and things got better, though the smell still creeps up on us if we don't periodically add a laundry additive that's supposed to get rid of smells.

Ours is also a Kenmore....
posted by baseballpajamas at 5:24 PM on June 23, 2013

Try some enzymatic cleaner in with a load. We use the stuff we bought for cat smells... That has knocked it back for us.
posted by mzurer at 6:58 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you had issues with overfilling on smaller cycles? We had a similar issue with moldy smell and didn't realize we also had a fill issue until we tried to run the machine on a small cycle (we generally only use large). In our case, both issues were caused by buildup of moldy gunk in the hose that connected the tank to the pressure/fill switch in the control head. The buildup of gunk in the hose caused the machine not to accurately read whether it was all the way empty or full. (This explained the overfilling, as well as the smell--dirty water was staying in the machine just below the visible part of the drum because the machine mistakenly thought it was done draining.)

I bought a new hose to connect the tank to the fill switch for $13 online, connected it, and bob's your uncle.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:04 PM on June 23, 2013

heh... you might find this interesting.
posted by HuronBob at 8:53 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I cured our's by removing the drain and filter assembly and cleaning it. It was full of rotting fluff.
posted by BenPens at 4:33 AM on June 24, 2013

We have almost the exact same problem! Our's is also a ~10 year old Kenmore that in the last 9 months or so ago started smelling really bad.

If we do an empty, hot, bleach wash (we even tried the stuff sold to solve this issue), it gets resolved for a week or two, then comes back. It doesn't make our clothes smell, but is definitely noticeable when you're loading clothes into the washer.

I'll check out the above solutions as well. Thanks!
posted by reddot at 6:06 AM on June 24, 2013

In order to set the dye in our jeans and also to combat this, we put vinegar in the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener. Plain old white vinegar is something to try if you've not already, and having the door be ALL THE WAY OPEN in addition to the soap-loader basket.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:32 AM on June 24, 2013

yeah, I came in to second "you are doing the monthly drain filter cleaning, right ?"
posted by k5.user at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2013

I noticed this horrible moldy stench issue recently with our relatively new and spendy LG front-loaders. Turns out I had failed to RTFM. There is a drain and filter assembly that is part of a very small panel on the bottom left hand side. As part of periodic maintenance, we were supposed to be opening that panel, pulling the plug and draining and rinsing the filter assembly on a monthly basis.


So I cleaned it out (it was horrifyingly gross in there) and now I periodically run a clean cycle (as per the manual) and drain and clean out the filter. Oh and after every single load I now run a clean damp rag around the inside of the door along the gasket seals because all kinds of moisture and cat hair and gak gets hung up in the bottom of the door gasket. Takes about ten seconds in between loads and I can just toss the rags in with the next load of towels and such.

apropos of nothing I learned that modern high-end dishwashers require a similar filter cleaning cycle. I had only ever owned cheap, shitty laundry machines and dishwashers in rental units prior to our doing a big remodel of all the appliances in our house and I had NO IDEA these things even had periodic maintenance schedules. Until our brand new fancy dishwasher sprang a leak and nearly ruined our hardwood floors, and the repair guy was like... um, have you ever cleaned the filters?

Oops again.

So. I'd recommend seeing if there's some kind of filter/drain and possibly looking to see if there's a maintenance schedule in the manual that you should be attempting to adhere to (either the manual you got with the machine when you bought it... you saved it, right? or else the PDF version that you can Google online by looking up the model#).

The More You Know[TM]
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:39 PM on June 24, 2013

On our LG model, we're supposed to wipe up the excess standing water that remains in the door seal, and then leave the door open. We've been doing this, and it's never gotten stinky. We do live in a dry climate, however. Haven't cleaned the drain filter, but I will now.
posted by huckit at 12:18 PM on June 25, 2013

Response by poster: All really helpful feedback, thank you. I'd mark nearly all of them best answer, so rather than doing that I'll just say bravo to the helpful comments and advice and links. I'm looking into all of it.

Meantime, I did call Sears, who sold me the Kenmore. The guy says they recommend a product called Affresh, which they sell but you can also purchase at Walmart and Target. It's a puck that you run through a cycle once a month at least. The Sears guy had no other solutions and simply said yep, it's a frequent problem.

THANKS everyone!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:35 PM on June 25, 2013

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