Many people love their front-loading washing machines, thanks to their efficient use of water and energy, ergonomics and their gentler cleaning action on clothes. Indeed, many homes have traded in their old water-guzzling, top-loading machines for updated, high-efficiency models.
But these modern-looking domestic workhorses aren't perfect. A recent lawsuit alleges that some front-load models from the late 2000's were known by manufacturers to be "defective," as their design allowed for the rapid growth of mold and mildew, and yet, still sold to consumers.
Repairs and parts can be expensive too, meaning that in some cases, people are finding that it's more cost-effective to buy another machine altogether.
Regardless of the age of the machine, some simple maintenance can be done to ensure the smooth operation of a front-load machine. If your machine has a self-cleaning option, great, but there are things you can still do to prevent trouble down the road. It doesn't have to be costly or burdensome -- a few small changes in one's laundry habits will go a long way. Here are some quick and easy tips to keep your front-loader happy, healthy and lasting longer.
Tips on maintaining a front-load washing machine
- Always, always use detergent made for high-efficiency (HE) machines, and use the minimum amount (more is not necessarily better). Regular detergents produce much more suds, and over time, can build up a film on the drum and hoses that become a breeding ground for mold, and may even mechanically or electronically damage a front-load machine. Read the label carefully -- some detergents are marked "HE compatible," but still produce lots of suds, which is difficult to rinse out as your high-efficiency machine uses less water, and therefore should not be used in your front-loader. We can't stress this enough -- in same cases, using the wrong detergent may even void your warranty.
Use less or forego liquid fabric softeners (one teaspoon will soften a whole load). Ditto for bleach (one tablespoon for concentrated bleach, two tablespoons for regular). Remember, high-efficiency machines use less water, so less product is needed.
Remove finished loads immediately. Do not let damp clothes sit in the machine (this provides an ideal breeding environment for musty smells and mildew). Care should be taken to ensure pets or children don't climb in.
When not in use, leave the door of the washer ajar, to improve air circulation inside the machine and to prevent the buildup of mold and mildew.
Clean out the washer door's rubber seal thoroughly with a half-half solution of water and vinegar regularly. Use Q-Tips for hard-to-clean areas. Remove any bits of hair or fabric you may find -- these trap odors, sludge and provide a wonderful home for mold. Wipe the inside of the drum with this solution as well.
For a monthly cleaning session, pour some distilled white vinegar instead of laundry detergent into the dispenser, and add one cup of baking soda directly into the drum as well (this will neutralize the pH, but provide a scrubbing action). Run the machine on the hottest cycle, plus an extra rinse. For extreme cases of mildew-y smells, replace vinegar with bleach and run a few quick cycles with hot water. If there's a self-cleaning cycle, follow your manual's instructions on how to use it.
Clean out the drain pump filter every few weeks or whenever you notice problems with water drainage, excessive vibrations, wet clothes after the final spin, longer than usual cycle time, or unusual pauses during a wash cycle. Hair, fabric, and other various bits can get clogged up in the drain pump filter, leading to sluggish drainage of water. The drain pump filter's location varies by machine (check your manual for details) but it is usually located at the front and bottom of the machine behind a small trapdoor.
Ensure that the spin speed you select is appropriate for the load you are washing -- higher spin speeds may mean drier clothes prior to putting them in the dryer, but also means extra wear and tear on the machine's inner parts, potentially shortening its lifespan.
Beyond a regular cleaning, if there are indications of more serious problems (loud noises, won't fill with water, etc.) then you can try to identify the problem yourself before calling the repairperson.
Still followed these tips and ended up with a broken machine that's not worth repairing nor fit to be resold? Check out our ideas on what to do with broken washing machines, in an upcoming post.