Q. Dear Umbra,
I have had issues with odor from my front-loading washing machine, even though I almost always take the clothing out soon after washing and leave the door open. I haven’t always cleaned the gasket, since it leaks and I wondered if I was messing it up. Now I’m wondering if my washer is a mold factory I need to replace. Are the new front loaders any better regarding mold? Should go back to a top loader? I love saving water, but don’t want to have a moldy washer.
A. Dearest Kelly,
I’m no fan of mold in any circumstances (well, except for blue cheese — I do love a nice Gorgonzola). But there’s something especially insidious about that blackish-green plague infiltrating your washing machine, which should be a sacred space of cleanliness and purity. It’s high time to take back your laundry room — and luckily, I’m confident that you can, no big-ticket new purchases required.
Front-loading washing machines are wonders of water conservation: Models with the Energy Star label scrub up your skivvies using about 40 percent less water and 25 percent less energy than the old top loaders. Their design allows clothes to tumble through a smaller volume of water rather than soak in a larger one. On top of that, their high-speed spin cycles remove more water than older models do, reducing drying time, and their agitator-less drums cut down on wear and tear of your clothes.
But they do have one weakness: Front loaders rely on watertight rubber gaskets on their doors rather than gravity to keep the water in, and those gaskets are prone to trapping moisture. A few wash cycles go by without the gasket ever fully drying, and presto — mold can seize its opportunity and start to colonize.
Reportedly, newer front loaders have improved gaskets and other features that cut down on the mold problem. That’s great news if you’re upgrading from an older water hog. But Kelly, I don’t think you need to throw your washer out with the wash water. The manufacture of new appliances has a notable environmental impact, so keeping your current machine in use is the more sustainable choice (and the more affordable one). It sounds like your washer just needs a little TLC to get back up to peak freshness.
Even better news: You probably don’t need a harsh cleaner, like bleach, to banish mold. I’ve had the same problems with my front loader, and this is what worked for me: First, roll up your sleeves and clean the gunk out of that gasket. Gather some rags and hot, soapy water, suppress your gag reflex, and get in there. Second, run an empty wash cycle to clean out the machine. Grab two cups of vinegar and a quarter cup of baking soda; put the baking soda in the detergent dispenser and the vinegar in the drum itself (details here). This is one case where you do want to use hot water (go for the cleaning mode if your machine has one). You might have to repeat this step if your mold invasion is really bad, but it should restore things to sparkling-clean shape.
If, by chance, it doesn’t, don’t give up. Mold might have crept into the hidden nooks behind the drum. Your next step is to call a repair technician who’s willing to do some disassembling and cleaning. You’ll want to call one anyway to fix that leaky gasket, right?
Now that your washer is spic-and-span, repeat the cleaning process every couple of months as a preventive measure. It’s also a good idea to use limited amounts of only high-efficiency (HE) detergents, or even make your own, as excess suds can leave behind a film that mold loves to glom on to. It sounds like you’re already wise to the other major tips for keeping a front loader mold-free: Remove wet clothing promptly and leave the door open between washes (lock the laundry room door if you have kids or pets who might get stuck inside it, though).
That’s it! Take the money you would’ve spent on a new washing machine and treat yourself to something nice.