Front Loader Washing machines (FL is a common abbreviation), are notorious for having a mildew smell. How do you get rid of the mold smells, and how do you prevent them in the future?
Front load washing machines use less water and are more energy efficient than the more traditional top loading washer design. However the consumer must be more of an expert in the details of the operation of the high efficiency machines than the top loading machines. The manufacturing industry has also had to improve their designs to minimize some of the issues.
Mildew will grow where there is moisture, warmth, and food for mold. Remove any one of these, and there won’t be mildew. Moisture is a necessary ingredient in washing cloths, but the older designs of the machines did a poor job of draining all the water at the end of the cycle. Keeping the door shut when not in use, holds the water in, and gives the mold time to grow. Keeping the door ajar, and the soap drawer open, when done will allow the water to evaporate. One recommendation says 15 minutes with the door open is sufficient. Pull the drawer out all the way, and you will see that there was water still sitting in it.
These high efficiency machines need a special detergent that creates less suds. If you use regular laundry soap, the resulting foam can actually push its way through the sealed door. Some machines have sensors to detect the foam and shut the machine down or pump the foam away. But this also creates food for the mildew, and can clog some of the drain holes which lets more water collect and sit after use. It is best to use the HE low sudsing detergent. Also try to minimize the amount of soap you use. The directions on the detergent bottle is only a guide. The amount of soap you need will depend on the water temperature, the capacity of the machine, the amount of clothes you are cleaning, the extent of the soiling of the clothes, the hardness of the water, and the recipe for the detergent you use. You will have to experiment to find what works in your home. Also don’t overfill the machine with more cloths than the machine is designed to handle.
The newer washers have a machine cleaning cycle. For older machines, use the hottest wash setting with the longest rinse cycle to imitate this tub clean cycle. Some instructions say to use bleach for the cleaning. If you do, use the cheap non scented variety. But bleach is not ideal since it can rust steel and doesn’t totally kill mold.
There are a variety of special purpose machine cleaning products. Some you may have heard of are Washer Magic, Affresh, Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, and WhirlOut. WhirlOut is not actually marketed for this purpose, but it does work. They all vary quite a bit in cost, but have very similar ingredients. In fact what you are looking for are oxygen bleach cleaners. The ingredients you need are sodium percarbonate, hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate. The cheaper versions of this recipe are Oxi Clean, Sun Oxygen Cleaner, Clorox Oxi Magic, and Shout Oxy Power. Use 4 to 6 scoops of one of these powdered cleaners.
And last, a hidden water collection spot in the front loader washers is the drain pump filter. Follow your machines instructions to empty and clean the filter. It may require special torx screwdrivers to access. The extra difficulty to access and the extra steps you will need to prevent a spill means save this for when the smell persists after a machine cleaning cycle.