My washing machine had an odor problem. Embarrassing, but true.
At first I tried to politely ignore it — it was just a faint musty smell, after all — and it was partly my fault, I figured.
After all, I’d forgotten to take that load of damp towels out before we went away for the weekend… so of course the washer smelled a bit stale.
A quick run-through with a splash of bleach and it would be fine, I figured.
How about giving the washer an extra go at the spin cycle, in case it just wasn’t getting all the water out? How about leaving the washer lid open to let the insides dry between laundry loads? How about blasting a hot blow-dryer at its tub?
No, no, and no. It still smelled.
And the smell was getting worse. Not only that, the smell was transferring itself to the laundry that should have come out fresh and clean. Even rinsing with vinegar and hanging the laundry on the line couldn’t banish the smell from certain items. My much-loved heavy cotton shirts were in a particular skunky state.
When you feel the need to ask – “All Right . . . who threw the fish in the washer?” then you know it is time for some proper washing machine hygiene.
Heather L. Sanders, who wrestles regularly with cloth diapers — now, there’s some serious laundry credentials! — had the advice that saved my washing machine from a smelly, lonely, unloved condition… and probably saved some of my more intimate social relationships, too.
Here’s how she explains the problem:
Both front and top loading washing machines have two tubs. The inner tub holds the clothing and the outer tub holds the wash and rinse water during the wash cycles… With regular usage a layer of both laundry detergent and fabric softener can build-up leaving a sort of curd on both tubs. This curd will leave a constant odor in your washer. Cleaning only the inner tub (what is visible to your eye) will not remove this sour smell.
Heather goes on to explain, in useful detail, exactly how to clean the washer properly. Basically, we’re talking about a certain amount of vinegar and baking soda, in the hottest water your system can produce.
That’s the first step, to loosen up the icky gunk.
(I call it Icky gunk but that’s not a technical term… Heather and my lonely appliance repairman more properly call it “curd” — but please note that Miss Muffett’s cheese has nothing to do with it — washing machine curd is the result of laundry soap binding with minerals in the water… but I digress…)
The cleaning process is long, and it’s not a whole lot of fun.
But it’s a heck of a lot longer, less fun, and possibly more expensive if the vinegar-baking-soda-scalding water cleaning routine doesn’t do it all — how long did I ignore that musty smell for, anyway? — because the next step, if you must go one, involves actually opening up the washing machine cabinet to get at the disgusting innards and to scrub it down…
If your machine is under warranty, take a deep breath and pull out your wallet — then call the serviceman to do this part. My old Admiral is a real workhorse, but its warranty ran out around the time when Top Gun hit the movie screens, so I wielded the screwdriver myself.
Not a hard job… but man! it’s disgusting in there!
And that’s exactly why you’ll want to pay particularly close attention to Heather’s tips for maintaining your washer so as to avoid any future nasty build-up of smell grunge:
- Avoid using more than 1/2 of the cup that is provided with standard commercial laundry detergents. Obviously the manufacturers are not going to tell you to use less of their detergent (a sales oriented approach is to suggest using MORE), however most have found that using even 1/2 the recommended amount is more than enough to get the same level of cleanliness. This is going to vary according to water types and detergent types, but ‘play’ with amounts until you settle on what is right for your diaper laundry or laundry in general.
- Avoid using liquid fabric softeners (try the all natural fabric softening ability of distilled white vinegar instead). However, if you are set on using fabric softeners, be certain to dilute it with water when you pour it into the receptacle in your washer. Too much fabric softener has been known to leave black marks on clothing when used in full strength – as well as the negative effects of build-up in the fabric softener dispenser and in the tub(s) of the washing machine.
- Choose liquid over powder detergent. Often times powder detergents do not dissolve and cause a build-up on clothing and your washer’s tubs and pipes/hoses (this is true of dishwashers as well).
- Do not overload.
Now, never would I think for a single moment that you might have a smelly washer… but maybe you’ve got a “friend” with that embarrassing problem? Send them over to The Diaper Hyena’s guide to Washing Machine Care. Truly, they’ll thank you for it… later.