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How to Remove Mold and Mildew from Front-Load Washing Machines

By: Julie Day
front-load washing machine

Front-load washing machines are notorious for collecting mold.

I’ve had my front-loading washing machine for about four years, and it has some great advantages – it’s quiet, fast, uses less water and detergent, and gently tumbles (rather than yanking) my clothes. In general, I’ve been so pleased with it that I was shocked one day when I opened the door and was nearly knocked unconscious by a fetid blast of moldy-smelling air!

How could a machine that’s so wonderful, suddenly turn so horribly smelly?

Looking behind the gasket in a front-loading washing machine

Gaskets hold moisture.

The answer is in the way the machine is designed. Front-loading washing machines have watertight, airtight doors that seal with a rubber gasket. That rubber seal traps moisture in the machine and also provides the perfect nooks and crannies for mold and mildew to grow.

Top-loading washing machines, on the other hand, have a rather loose fitting metal door that easily allows the tank to dry out between loads.

The problem isn’t helped by our laundry preferences. High sudsing detergents and liquid fabric softeners leave behind residues and films that invite mold growth. Cold-water cycles and mild, eco-friendly detergents don’t quite blast away residues like their environmentally-unfriendly counterparts.

So, to keep mold at bay, front-load washers need just a bit more maintenance than top-loading machines.

How to Get Rid of Mold and Smells in Top-Load Washers

If you’ve got a stinky front-load washing machine, here’s how to get it smelling fresh again:

    Cleaning gasket on front-load washing machine

    Cleaning gasket on washer.

  • Clean Gasket: Use a rag or towel to clean the rubber door gasket on a front-loading washer with either hot soapy water or a spritz of mildew cleaner. Make sure to wipe underneath and around it as well. Be prepared for some slime and gunk, and possibly a stray sock or two!
  • Clean Dispensers: Remove the detergent dispensers and give them a good scrubbing. If they don’t come out, clean them as best you can, using a bottle or pipe cleaner to reach back into the crevices.
  • Run Cleaning Cycle: Next, run an empty wash cycle on the longest, hottest water setting (or a tub-cleaning cycle, if you have it). Add one of the following directly to the wash tub:
    • 1 cup of bleach.
    • 1 cup of baking soda.
    • 1/2 cup of powdered enzymatic dishwasher detergent (such as Cascade Complete).
    • A commercial residue-busting washer cleaner (such as Affresh or Smelly Washer).
    Affresh commercial cleaning pellets

    Commercial cleaning pellets.

  • Repeat Cleaning Cycle: If the problem persists, repeat the cleaning cycle and consider trying a different additive. It might take several cycles to get the smell out.
  • Professional Help: If you’ve tried every way to clean your front-load washer and it still smells, you may have mold growing back behind the drum, or possibly a clogged drain or filter. A qualified repair person can dismantle the machine and clean it for you, or you can unplug the machine and carefully explore and clean it yourself.

Preventative Maintenance

Once your machine is clean, follow these tips to keep it that way:

    Washer door left open to allow tub to dry

    Allow washer tub to dry.

  • Air It Out: If possible, leave the door of the front-load washer cracked open to allow it to dry thoroughly between cycles. However, you shouldn’t do this if you have children or pets who could be tempted to climb (and possibly become trapped) inside the machine.
  • Remove Loads Promptly: Be sure to remove wet clothes as soon as the cycle is finished. Set your washer to beep when it’s done, so you don’t forget.
  • Choose Detergent Wisely: Choose low-sudsing detergents specifically made for high-efficiency (HE) machines. When possible, choose powder over liquid; liquid detergents are usually higher in suds.
  • Washer dispensers

    Clean washer dispensers.

  • Use Less Detergent: Read the labels and use no more than the amount recommended for each load. Experiment with using less detergent, until you find the minimum amount necessary (sometimes just a spoonful) to get your clothes clean.
  • Avoid Fabric Softener: Liquid fabric softeners leave residue that contributes to mold in front-load washers. Instead, use dryer sheets or dryer balls to soften your clothes.
  • Dry Gaskets: Use an old towel to wipe around and underneath the door gaskets and the inside of the door on front-loading washers. Ideally, you should so this after every cycle, but at the very least it needs a periodic wipe down to remove any water or mildew trapped in the folds.
  • Use Bleach: About once a month, run a hot water bleach cycle. I usually take the opportunity to throw in work towels, fabric shower curtains, and muddy gardening clothes, along with that nasty gasket-cleaning towel.
Cycle controls on front-load washers

Occasionally use the Sanitize or Tub-Cleaning Cycle on front-load washers.

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3 Comments on “How to Remove Mold and Mildew from Front-Load Washing Machines”

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  1. Helen Says:
    April 3rd, 2012 at 9:52 am

    How do you get black mould off the rubber gasket around the door of my front loading LG washer without using bleach or harsh chemicals. When I called about replacing the rubber around the door, I was told it would be $150. My machine is only 3 years old and I don’t want to spend that kind of money on it.

  2. Pat Says:
    May 12th, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Danny i have had front loader Simpson Esprit for 9 years i clean out every use leave it open it has grey rubber i used scalexe on vingare once a month but i still black moulds i am port lincoln South Aust could you suggest what i could do
    thankyou pat

  3. Gene Says:
    June 10th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Helen: you can’t really remove the black mould off the rubber gasket and restore the surface to its original quality, but you can kill the mould and bleach it, so it is no longer visible. Then, if you follow Danny’s advice, it will not grow again.

    Here’s how I do it. Tear a paper towel into several strips 2-3 inches wide. Pad all cavities in the gasket with those paper strips. Set a few strips aside, long enough, in total, to cover the straight cylindrical section of the gasket (where you see most of the mould). Put your latex gloves on (I do it with bare hands, but I am thick-skinned) and soak the paper in liquid bleach. The best kind to use is the gel bleach (known as “thick bleach” here in England). Then paste the strips onto the gasket and run your finger over them gently, chasing the bubbles out. Make sure the affected area is completely covered. Then squeeze the bleach out of the bottle onto the wadding you stuffed into the cavities earlier, spread it and massage it in, making sure the paper is completely soaked with no bubbles underneath.

    You may want to shut the door and leave it for several hours to a day. Be careful not to displace the wadding when shutting the door; if that proves difficult, leave it open, but then make sure there is enough ventilation in room during the first couple hours, when the bleach is most active.

    When you think it’s done (or when you’ve lost patience), collect the wadding in a plastic bag and dispose of it along with your regular, non-recyclable waste. Make sure no paper is left in the gasket or falls behind the drum. Most paper towels will turn into a soft pulp by the end of this procedure, but some are tough enough to withstand it and may clog important orifices in your washing machine (although that is very unlikely, better be careful).

    If any spots remain, repeat by applying the bleach-soaked paper just to those spots. I use the same procedure for cleaning the caulk around my tub and inside the shower cabin, where it usually takes much less time (from several minutes to a couple hours)

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