Q: Earlier this year, my husband and I decided to ditch our clunky old top-loading washing machine and replace it with a high-efficiency front-loading model. We are in love! It saves space, rattles far less, can take on bigger loads and, best of all, after a couple of months we started to notice a decrease in our energy and water bills. But here’s the thing: I have noticed a particularly funky smell coming from the machine that seems to keep on getting stronger. I know my hubby’s gym clothes can be on the ripe side, but I don’t think that’s the culprit. Any clue as to what is making my HE washing machine all stinky? Help!


A: Congrats on the purchase — HE washing machines truly are huge energy savers — but sorry about the smell. If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone in stinky front-loading washing machine land. The source of that offensive stench? I’m not sure if you’ve already suspected this (reading your owner’s manual may have tipped you off) but it’s most likely, repeat after me, M-O-L-D.


Due to the nature of a front-loading washing machine’s design, they are particularly susceptible to mold and mildew infestations around the rubber gasket that lines the door (top-loaders usually don’t have these gaskets) to prevent leakage. Hold your breath and perform a quick smell test in there … I’m guessing you’ll find that very un-Downy fresh stink is emanating from around the gasket. Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent and correct your beloved front-loader from producing an unholy stink:


Leave the door open

Although you may want to proceed with caution here if you have curious toddlers or cats running about your home, the most effective way to prevent mold from growing inside your washer is to leave the door open so it can air out. When you shut the door after running a load, any residual water left in the machine has nowhere to go and the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew is born. By simply leaving the door ajar, that water is allowed to evaporate. And always remember to take wet clothing out of the machine when the cycle has completed. Don’t leave it in there overnight unless you want to fetch a handful of mildewy smelling underpants in the A.M. It’s also a good idea to leave the soap dispenser door open as well.


Use hot water

This tip may seem to negate any energy savings offered by an HE machine, but running wash cycles on the highest temperature setting periodically is a wise idea when it comes to odor remediation. Go about your regular cold-water washing as you see fit but once a month or so (more frequently if your machine gets a lot of action) run a load on hot to kill any lingering odor-causing bacteria and wash away any stubborn residue that may be living inside your machine. And if your model of washer has a “clean cycle” option, by all means use it. This is a cycle exclusively meant for removing any gunk in your machine. Whirlpool makes a popular product called Affresh that’s designed to eliminate stinky washing machine residue during a clean cycle. Chlorine bleach can also do the trick, but I’d recommend simply running the machine on the clean cycle (or a hot water cycle if your machine doesn’t have it) with a cup of white vinegar as a cheap but effective solution that doesn’t involve nasty chemicals. After every load, it’s a good idea to sprinkle a bit of baking soda in the drum to absorb any odors.


Take it easy on the detergent

Part of the money-saving genius of HE machines is that they require very little detergent (makes sense given they don’t use all that much water) to clean your clothing. If you go overboard with detergent, it could lead to a residue built-up and voila … a nasty smell is born. Make sure that you’re using only specially formulated, low-sudsing HE detergents and that you’re pouring in the recommend dosage or even less than the recommended dosage. I realize that somewhere down the line American consumers were trained to believe that big suds equal big clean, but if you’re pouring a half-bottle of liquid detergent in there with each load, you’re really just damaging your machine.


Break out the white vinegar

As you may have read elsewhere on MNN, white vinegar is indeed a household miracle worker. In addition to running it through the machine during a laundry-less hot cycle, prepare a spray bottle composed of one part vinegar, one part water and give the machine, inside and out, a thorough scrub-down with cloth towels, paying special attention to the area around gaskets (you can use a toothbrush for this). If this doesn’t help curb odors and remove visible mold or residue buildups, I’d consider consulting the big guns by contacting the manufacturer or an appliance repair firm. If your machine is still under warranty, you may want to consider replacing the gasket or another part to effectively remedy your smelly situation. This may be a pain, but I’m thinking that you don’t want your bath towels to smell like your hubby’s musty gym socks for eternity, do you? I didn’t think so.


Happy HE laundering!


-- Matt


Also on MNN: How to spend less money on laundry


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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What is that smell coming from my front-loading washing machine?
What is causing my front-loading washer to smell?