Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Laundry Blues

I wonder how many of you own or are considering the purchase of a High Efficiency Washing machine.

I love the size of the machine and how many items I can cram in there. It definitely has a large capacity and does a decent job of getting my mountains of laundry clean. It does take a bit longer to complete a load than a regular front loading, old school machine, but does an admirable job for the most part. I do have one major complaint though. I grumble about the way it washes towels, or rather, fails to rinse them fully.

The failure to fully rinse the towels isn't noticeable at first. However, after months of using the high efficiency machine, I noticed that the towels would seem clean after being washed & dried. But AS SOON as they were wet after a shower/bath, the towel would smell moldy and mildew-y. I began washing more frequently (2-3x/week for towels), used more Tide (my previous brand of choice) and even added vinegar, Oxy Clean, you name it! The problem was still happening, and SO gross! If I dried my face on the towel, the smell would transfer. So icky. And odd. The towels would smell Tide and Downy fresh upon departure from the dryer, but stinky as soon as they did their toweling job!

So, I thought I'd do a bit of research. I hunted a bunch on the internet. Sad, but true. I found that a LOT of people had this problem (which was good as I was seriously thinking I was just a bad little washer woman!). Here is a summary of what I found:

1) Simply using HE detergent isn't enough. Even HE detergents instruct the user to use WAY too much detergent, particularly liquid detergents.
2) The HE models use an insufficient amount of water for successful rinsing of heavy or highly absorbent laundry items, resulting in an incomplete rinsing of excess soap from the laundry, particularly the towels.

This discovery made sense! Extra soap + Super Absorbent Towels + Not enough water to rinse = Mildew that would grow/build up over a long period of time!

Basically, the mildew takes a while to really grow, so the smell wasn't obvious right away. And the towels seemed clean at first, but adding dampness made the smell obvious. Ta da! I kept on reading to find out about how to solve the problem and prevent it in the future.

Here is a little of what I learned:
1) The cleaning formula for liquid vs. powdered detergents is not the same. Powdered Tide, from what I read, has a different chemical makeup and can do a better job of cleaning
2) Mildew and Mold like HE washers. Make sure you check the front "lip/seal" of rubber on your machine. I wipe mine often and, about once a month, do a load of just hot water with bleach to kill anything growing. Vinegar works, too. Make sure you leave the door open after washing, too, to let the machine air out.
3) Use LESS! Whether you choose liquid or powdered detergent, most sites I saw recommended using 1/4 to 1/2 of the amount recommended by the manufacturers to get your clothes clean.

Now that I knew what was causing the problem, I read on to find out what to do to fix it. Would I have to buy all new towels? Thank goodness, no! In order to tackle the problem of stinky towels, first I washed the towels over and over and over with no detergent at all. Even though I didn't use detergent, suds kept coming out of the towels, even after 3 washes. I think I ended up washing them 4 or 5 times to completely get rid of the soap build-up inside the towels.

Next, I did decide to switch to a powdered version of Tide HE. I later switched to the Kirkland Brand from Costco. Now I have begun making my own powdered laundry detergent as it is cheaper, less sudsy (which helps with the rinsing because less water is present) and very gentle. More on that another day.

I also read that using too much fabric softener adds to the problem, so I always water mine down a bit and use less.

So there you have it. A laundry mystery debunked. Kind of sad that I'd be so excited about it, but what can I say? I lead a sheltered life. I'll share the recipe I use for laundry detergent another day. It's easy, affordable and fun for the whole family. That last line may be a bit of an exaggeration.

***photos courtesy of Creative Commons on Flickr


  1. I have the same problem with the towels and with cloth diapers. My husband used to gab when the diapers would get wet b/c they would smell like ammonia from the build up. I too have switched to homemade detergent and love it! It is so easy to make and so cheap.

  2. I found your blog from One Pretty Thing and have been looking around. :)
    I just wanted to say that I have this problem and I cannot tell you how frustrated I am with it!!!!!!! So did you really get the smell all the way out?? It happens to some of our t-shirts and jeans as well. I am using less soap and doing an extra rinse cycle for every load and I still get the issue sometimes. I wish they would re-think how they do these HE washers because I am ready to leave mine out on the curb and go to the laundromat.

    I use Charlie's Soap which is wonderful and a low suds product. Maybe making my own would be better. I use no fabric softener except vinegar. I clean the rubber gasket and run empty loads, running CLR through my washer (and then a few rinse cycles after), hydrogen peroxide, borax, nu-wash and all sorts of things to get the smell out but am still having issues.

    Do you think making my own detergent would really help? And how long were your towels smelly? If mine have been washed many times and are sitting in a pile by my washer to try again - should I just rinse them a bunch? Or now that it has been a few months of smelliness and washing and drying them a bunch, do you think it is too late? (Sorry for the long rant and all the questions!)

  3. Natalie- I'm so sorry that I hadn't got back to this comment!

    For the most part, the problem is totally gone after switching to the powdered detergent. I can't stress enough how much it helped to just wash the stinky items over and over until all the suds are gone.

    I think the homemade detergent is great because it's so much less sudsing, as is the powdered option.

    Also, is your water really soft? Because that could be part of the problem too.

    Our towels were GROSS. SO gross. It made the whole bathroom smell and I thought I was going crazy. I did end up pitching the worst ones before I figured out the soap/washing machine were causing the problem.

    I too am thinking that the HE machines aren't as great as they are billed---esp. if I have to wash 10 times wasting water! But that's what we have, so I'm dealing with it.

    I hope that helps! If you have other questions, email me at launderfoldrepeat@gmail.com
    Thanks for stopping by!!!


Thanks for your comment!