Front Loading Washing Machines – How to Clean and Maintain High Efficiency Washers Mold Free

Mold is a common and dangerous problem with front loaders. Mold and mildew, at best, can cause bad odors in the machine and on your clothes.

how to clean a front loading washing machine

When it comes to doing laundry, many people use front loading washing machines because they are more efficient than top loaders. On average, they use 40 percent less water and almost 60 percent less energy. They also clean clothes better. But, they are not without their problems; and so, if you want to avoid problems, you need to know how to clean a front loading washing machine.

The Dangers of a Dirty Front Loading Washing Machine

Mold is a common and dangerous problem with front loaders. Mold and mildew, at best, can cause bad odors in the machine and on your clothes. At worst, mold can make you sick. It grows because dirt, lint and water gathers between the seal of the machine’s tub and door, thus creating the ideal atmosphere for the breeding of mold, mildew and other bacteria.

The mold creates inhalable spores, and the bacteria create nasty odors. Inhaled toxic mold spores can cause chronic fatigue; dizziness; eye, nose and throat irritation; fever and flu-like symptoms; headaches; learning disabilities; nausea; severe breathing problems and vomiting. Therefore, it is important that you keep your front-loading washing machine clean and that you keep the area between the door and the tub dry when not in use.

How to Clean a Moldy Front Loading Washing Machine

How to clean a Front Loading Washing MachineIf you are wondering if your machine is moldy, it probably is. If you smell a musty, sour or stinky odor coming from your washer or your clothing, you probably have an issue. There are a number of possible solutions, and none of them work for every situation.

Some people have had luck getting rid of mold by changing detergent. Some do well by using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar every few loads. Others have had mixed luck with oxygen-free bleach.

One product many people have had success with is the all-natural Smelly Washer Cleaner product. It works with high-efficiency front-loading washers, and because it is made from citrus, it is safe for the environment. It supposedly cleans by getting rid of the odor: not by masking it.

Another product that is supposed to get rid of the odor rather than mask it is Affresh Washer Cleaner for High-Efficiency (HE) Washers. The manufacturer also claims that the product is eco-friendly and safe for septic systems and appliances. It works by releasing oxygenated bubbles that remove residue buildup that causes odors.

To clean your washing machine without commercial products, use the Acidic Cleaner (click here for the recipe) with some sprinkles of baking soda to clean the rubber door gasket. Try using a soft toothbrush, or one of many small brushes you can find to clean in small crevices, and a soft clean cloth to gently but firmly wipe out the gooey mold. Frankly, If washing the gasket does not get rid of the odor and the mold, you may have to replace the gasket.

Also use the Acidic cleaner and baking soda to clean the soap and softener dispenser. If you can remove the soap dispenser tray, do so, then soak it in the vinegar solution with baking soda for ten minutes and wipe it clean. Also use the solution to clean the hole that houses the dispenser tray, if your appliance has one. Rinse all parts well after cleaning to remove the vinegar and baking soda residue. Spraying just the Acidic cleaner over the surfaces will remove the baking soda, and then water will remove the vinegar.

Again, be sure to rinse and dry everything well. In fact, you should dry all the parts of the machine, including the inside of the door, after each and every use to prevent the growth of smelly mold. Just like we advise after taking a shower to dry the tiles and grout right away, or after cleaning kitchen surfaces to let them dry completely, we advise the same treatment for your front loading washing machine. Mold, mildew and germs like moist surfaces. Eliminate the moisture, and there goes the gunk!

Filter Cleaning

Another part of front loader maintenance is filter cleaning. Manufacturers and models vary, so you need to check your manual for your specific instructions. But typically, it involves opening a small door near the bottom at the front of the machine. Inside, you will find two items: a small hose and a debris filter.

The hose drains leftover water out of the washer, so you need something for the water to drain into. Be prepared, because it might be several gallons worth. After you drain the water from the machine, remove the housing for the debris filter by turning it counterclockwise. Once it is out, clear it of lint and other debris. Before reinserting it, reach behind where it was and check the drain pump impeller with your fingers to be sure it is also clear of debris.

Final Step

After you have cleaned the above items, run a load of hot water with laundry detergent but no laundry. Adding oxygen-free bleach to the detergent will prevent mold. If your system has an integrated cleaning cycle, use that. If you were having odor issues, run another load afterward using hot water with one cup of baking soda and one of white vinegar.

How to Prevent Mold in a Front-loading Washer

In addition to the rubber door gasket, you need to clean the soap dispenser and any other part to which you have access frequently. Because front loaders use very little water, not all substances are rinsed away when the tub empties. This can cause a residue buildup.

Let it Dry!

It is good to leave the washer door open after doing a load. This allows the inner parts to dry out. Dry the soap dispenser and the door gasket by hand with a towel. Also, do not leave wet clothes in the machine for very long — especially all night. Any moisture in the machine will eventually cause mold.

Rather than using powdered detergent, use liquid because it dissolves better and leaves less residue. Also, to reduce residue, use as little detergent as you can while still getting a clean wash. Rather than liquid softener, use softener sheets to reduce moisture.

If you always wash in cold water, do an occasional load in hot water. This will clean out some of the residue buildup. Use a low-sudsing detergent designed for a high-efficiency washer. These washers usually have self-cleaning cycles, and you should use the one on your machine periodically.

As with anything, prevention is better than cure. Becoming a little slack in caring for your front loading washing machine can cause many problems later. And if you are no more fortunate than many other people, you may not be able to get rid of your problems once you have them. So if you haven’t done so in a while, go take a look at your front loading washing machine and get ready for action.

Welcome to my website!

Julia has been practicing green cleaning for several years as the owner of As You Like It Home Cleaning and organic gardening for almost 20 years running Julia Houriet Custom Gardening. She studied landscape design at Radcliffe Seminars in Cambridge Massachusetts. Her expertise is gleaned from education and years of experience.

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  • 19batman57

    what about all the comments saying not to use vinager becouse it dries out the rubber gaskets?

    • immortelle

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll update the posting with better instructions.

      To avoid damaging things you are trying to clean, never use straight vinegar. Always dilute the vinegar to a minimum of one part vinegar to one part distilled water. Better yet for most purposes, use one part vinegar to 3 parts water. And as long as you rinse off the vinegar completely, right away, it shouldn’t cause harm to any surface, even rubber.

  • Bren5457

    Appreciated this article. Very informative. I’ve just finished reading articles to do with removing mold from walls as I’ve discovered a moldy wall behind my wardrobes and feel that it is the cause of me feeling unwell. I’ve notified my landlord as there is a drainage problem at the back of the flat.

    My washing machine as been producing an horrible odor recently and I do a very hot cycle every now and then. The only thing I haven’t done recently is clean out the filter as I have problems bending due to severe arthritis. Will have to get my son to do that.

    • naturallybubbly

      Thank you Bren5457 for commenting and I am glad the information helped you. I update these articles as I find more green cleaning solutions to problems like smelly front loading washers! Hopefully the manufacturers are paying attention to the problem as well and coming up with their own design solutions to preventing mold and mildew.

      • Sarah

        I just moved in to a house that I am renting and the HE washer has a smell that just won’t go away. I have used bleach, baking soda and vinegar, and HE washer cleaner several times each. I alwayse leave the door open when it is not in use so that it will remain as dry as possible. The smell just won’t go away is there anything else that I could do other than what has already been discussed in the article?

        • naturallybubbly

          Hi Sarah, I’ll check into some other options for extreme deodorizing of the washing machine. Thanks for your comment, I’ll get back to you!

          • Hi Sarah, I’ve thought about this problem and here are my suggestions. Let me just say in advance that we try not to be dogmatic or rigid about issues of toxic versus non toxic products.

            If it were me and I had a HE washing machine with a mysterious history at my disposal I would buy a commercial product that is formulated for the task of sanitizing HE machines, and from there practice green maintenance methods to prevent more odors from occurring.

            Otherwise, you will have to keep at cleaning the machine with the non toxic supplies and hope to stay on top of the odors. If you do choose this route I recommend trying a different set of natural products and see what happens. Hydrogen peroxide may help you.

            For example, I recently confronted refrigerator gaskets in the fridge that came with my newly purchased home that were black with sooty mold. I used vinegar and baking soda first to scrub as much of the actual gunk off. I wore a face mask and scarf on my head, andn gloves of course. AFter cleaning it thoroughly I then sprayed thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide.

            Try spraying hydrogen peroxide into as many areas and crevices that you can around the smelly gaskets. Let it air dry thoroughy. Do this after cleaning. Disinfectants don’t work on dirty surfaces!

            Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  • Thanks, this was really helpful. There’s this product that Tide makes to clean HE washers but I am allergic to that gunk. I will be using the white vinegar & baking soda method. Thanks again!

  • naturallybubbly

    Thanks for the kind words. Glad to be of help! Get back to us with your success or non success with these green cleaning methods for HE washing machines. Keep in mind that older HE machines had no drainage holes in the rubber gaskets so the odor problems are bound to be worse with an older washer.

  • M

    I noticed that you mentioned using softener sheets instead of liquid fabric softener. A better idea would be to use wool dryer balls. A lot less harmful and they work great for your clothes.

    • naturallybubbly

      Hi M, thanks so much for your input! I hate dryer sheets in general, but some people just seem to love fabric softener. I wonder if there are non-toxic dryer sheets? I’ll have to look into that.

      My question for you is what are wool dryer balls? Thanks, Julia

  • Pam

    Instead of dryer sheets or softener, I use vinegar in the wash. I put it in the softener dispenser. If top loader just put in with the soap and water. I use about 1/4 cup. It softens clothes, keeps them brighter and helps with underarm stains. ITS CHEAP too!

    • naturallybubbly

      Hi Pam, thanks for your suggestion. I am sure that vinegar makes a great fabric softener. I’m wondering though if you have noticed any degrading of your rubber gasket as a result of using the vinegar? I’m guessing that the vinegar is dilute enough to not harm the gasket, but there is this concern with vinegar that it damages certain materials.

      We need to be careful about recommending vinegar for certain cleaning jobs involving rubber, grout, and natural stone for example. The rubber gaskets in the front loading machines seems particularly thin and vulnerable to damage from acidic agents.

      I would love to hear back from you and keep this topic going. Maybe I’m geeky, but I can’t get over how versatile vinegar can be!

  • 0xnull

    A repair guy said that mold can come from using excess detergent. The theory is that, because the machine uses less water than an older machine, the new HE model can’t fully remove the excess soap and dirt from the clothes. So the stuff stays in the clothes and you get mold.

    That theory seems more plausible than the theory that mold grows around the door gasket and somehow permeates the clothes and is not washed out.

    • naturallybubbly

      So that is the reason that they make special HE detergents. I wondered why we needed to use those, but you have explained that now. The last HE machine I used was shared by three apartments, and we didn’t all use HE detergent. And that machine smelled bad! Thanks for your comment!

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