Lawsuit Over Front-Load Washers May Drive Consumers Back to Energy-Wasting Models

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Laundry going through a cycle in a front-load washing machine

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Lawsuit alleges companies sold "defective" front-load machines

Many consumers find that front-loading washing machines have a lot of advantages over their top-loading cousins. Though they are more costly, front-loaders have been touted for their energy efficiency, low water usage and their sleek good looks. But some owners of these newer machines may be getting more than they bargained for.

Apparently, due to their design, older front-loading machines can be great breeding places for mold and mildew (a problem that we noticed too), making your clothes smell like dirty dishrags. It is a problem that some companies have known about for some time, yet they continued to sell these machines. According to

In fact, there are many complaints of mold in popular front-loaders built until the late 2000s, from Whirlpool, Kenmore, Bosch and LG. Angry customers are now venting about the issue in YouTube videos. "You end up with a funky smell that you can't get rid of," a woman says in one of them.
Consumers are suing the companies, calling it fraud. Jonathan Selbin is the lawyer suing Whirlpool over its popular Duet models sold from 2001 to 2008, many of them still in homes today. He said the issue affects "millions" of people. [..]
"On a top-loader, nature takes care of the problem for you; the moist air rises out of the machine," Selbin explained. But on a front-loader, he said, "You've got a sealed environment, and so the water and the moisture stays in here. It's a very humid environment ... and it breeds mold."
Selbin says Whirlpool even knew about the defect for years. A 2004 internal memo shows the company identified the problem and was trying to fix it, the company's lead engineer saying that while mold can exist in any washer, their front-load machines are the "ideal environment for molds ... we are fooling ourselves if we think we can eliminate mold...." But the lawsuit says Whirlpool kept selling the machines anyway.

Some newer front-loaders now have a self-cleaning cycle, to prevent the buildup of mold and mildew. There are also specially designed cleaning products, but they seem to be a bandaid solution to fundamental design flaws. (Whirlpool alone received 1.3 million complaints from 2003 to 2006. Instead of fixing the problem or compensating consumers, they began to sell Affresh cleaning tablets in 2007.)

Costly repairs, easily corrodible parts and a haven for mold

In addition to having this problem with occasional foul odors emanating from our own front-load LG washer-dryer combo (bought used, off Craigslist), we found that it was also expensive to repair. After replacing the pump a few months ago (cost: $200), the bearings gave out last week, and we were informed by the technician that these could not replaced without replacing the whole drum (cost of parts and labor: $900; we were advised that it would be easier to buy another machine).

This machine was only 9 years old, and I couldn't help but compare it to my mother's trusty machines that finally gave out only after 25-plus years.

Frustrated, we did a bit of research online and the bearing design appears to be a major design flaw of some front loaders (one small broken part means you have to replace the whole drum?!), in addition to the widespread use of easily-corrodible cast aluminum for "spider" armatures. All this is geared for quick obsolescence, perhaps?

It was a difficult decision, but in the end, we bid adieu to our high-efficiency front-loader and replaced our single unit combo with two older washing and drying machines that we found used for $50 bucks each. They might not save as much energy or water, but they'll have to do until they design a front-load machine that won't smell or break down in a few years.

Next up: check out our easy tips on how to maintain your front-load washing machine; and if it's really not salvageable, see our ideas on what to do with broken washing machines.

Got a front-loading machine? We'd love to hear about your experiences them in the comments below.