Why Does My Front Load Washer Smell Bad?

man looking tense in front of washing machine
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Why Does My Front Load Washer Smell Bad?

After nearly six decades of being taught how to use a standard top-load washer, Americans had to learn a new way to wash clothes when front load washers appeared in stores. We want to use lots of detergents. We want to see lots of suds. We want to add lots of fabric care products like scent enhancers and fabric softeners to our laundry.

When products are overdosed in a washer that uses less water, a large portion of the products do not get rinsed away. This sludge-like coating of detergent and fabric softener contains body soil and fibers from clothing. Then it is trapped in a warm, moist machine or drainage pipe, just waiting for a mold or mildew spore and bacterium that are in the air to find a home and grow and begin to smell. 

Not only does your washer provide a convenient little incubator for these odors, but your laundry room may as well. Is your washer and laundry room well ventilated? Is your laundry area air-conditioned? If not, more moisture, more heat, more odor.

When companies build a front-load washer, they put it through hundreds of tests. But they conduct these tests day-in-and-day-out for weeks. While it may seem that you do laundry day-in-and-day-out, many times several days lapse between loads giving the odors time to blossom. In that clean, air-conditioned laboratory, they don't let things sit around to grow. That's why your washer smells less than fresh.

My Friend's Washer Smells Fine, so What Can I Do?

There are thousands of people who never have an issue with front-loader odor. These people have found the perfect routine and formula for front-load washing. They follow every direction, they have great ventilation, temperature, and humidity in their laundry room and wash clothes very frequently to keep flushing away the problems.

Here's what you can do:

  • Forget everything you know about using laundry detergent. More is not better.
  • ALWAYS use an HE approved laundry detergent. Use only 2 teaspoons or less per a load of clothes and measure.
  • Use less or skip liquid fabric softeners.
  • Add a fan to your laundry room to improve air circulation; air condition the space; bring in a dehumidifier; check your dryer vent to make sure it is tight and not leaking moist air into the space.
  • Clean the washer's lint trap often. Wet lint is smelly lint.
  • Leave the washer door ajar to allow more air.
  • Schedule laundry sessions more frequently.
  • Run a cleaning cycle at least monthly.

The History of Front Load Washers

Front-load washers have been around for many, many years. The front-loader as we know it today was introduced by the Bendix Corporation in 1937 at the Louisiana State Fair. This machine was fully automated and would wash, spin, and drain with no help from the homemaker. The rubber gasket door-sealing technology made all this possible. These first front-load machines were big, used plenty of water and rocked and rolled so much they had to be bolted to the floor.

Then came World War II and the manufacture of home appliances was put on the back burner as all hands worked on war supplies. After the war in the 1950s, Whirlpool and General Electric developed the twin-tub system of top-loaders with one tub holding an agitator for the cleaning and rinsing operations, and another tub for the spin dry process. This design reduced the costs of automatic washing machines and made them more accessible to the public and top-load washers become the norm in the United States. These were the days when no one worried about water or electricity usage.

As Europeans recovered from the war, they turned to smaller front-load machines that allowed the user to wash and dry in the same machine. Front-load washers are still the most popular design in Europe.

Americans continued using the top-load design until the early 2000s when energy conservation concerns – especially water shortages – brought back the front-load washer to U.S. markets. These washers are smaller, sleeker, and run by electronic brains.