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Front-Load Washing Machine Controversy May Drive People Back to Energy-Wasting Models

Front-Load Washing Machine Controversy May Drive People Back to Energy-Wasting Models

Written by Kimberly Mok

Many consumers find that front-loading washing machines have a lot of advantages over their top-loading cousins. Though they are more costly, front-loaders have been touted for their energy efficiency, low water usage and their sleek good looks. But some owners of these newer machines may be getting more than they bargained for.

Apparently, due to their design, older front-loading machines can be great breeding places for mold and mildew (a problem that we noticed too), making your clothes smell like dirty dishrags. It is a problem that some companies have known about for some time, yet they continued to sell these machines. According to Today.com:

In fact, there are many complaints of mold in popular front-loaders built until the late 2000s, from Whirlpool, Kenmore, Bosch and LG. Angry customers are now venting about the issue in YouTube videos. “You end up with a funky smell that you can’t get rid of,” a woman says in one of them.

Consumers are suing the companies, calling it fraud. Jonathan Selbin is the lawyer suing Whirlpool over its popular Duet models sold from 2001 to 2008, many of them still in homes today. He said the issue affects “millions” of people. [..]

“On a top-loader, nature takes care of the problem for you; the moist air rises out of the machine,” Selbin explained. But on a front-loader, he said, “You’ve got a sealed environment, and so the water and the moisture stays in here. It’s a very humid environment … and it breeds mold.”

Selbin says Whirlpool even knew about the defect for years. A 2004 internal memo shows the company identified the problem and was trying to fix it, the company’s lead engineer saying that while mold can exist in any washer, their front-load machines are the “ideal environment for molds … we are fooling ourselves if we think we can eliminate mold….” But the lawsuit says Whirlpool kept selling the machines anyway.

Some newer front-loaders now have a self-cleaning cycle, to prevent the buildup of mold and mildew. There are also specially designed cleaning products, but they seem to be a bandaid solution to fundamental design flaws. (Whirlpool alone received 1.3 million complaints from 2003 to 2006. Instead of fixing the problem or compensating consumers, they began to sell Affresh cleaning tablets in 2007.)

Costly repairs, easily corrodible parts and a haven for mold

In addition to having this problem with occasional foul odors emanating from our own front-load LG washer-dryer combo (bought used, off Craigslist), we found that it was also expensive to repair. After replacing the pump a few months ago (cost: $200), the bearings gave out last week, and we were informed by the technician that these could not replaced without replacing the whole drum (cost of parts and labor: $900; we were advised that it would be easier to buy another machine).

This machine was only 9 years old, and I couldn’t help but compare it to my mother’s trusty machines that finally gave out only after 25-plus years.

Frustrated, we did a bit of research online and the bearing design appears to be a major design flaw of some front loaders (one small broken part means you have to replace the whole drum?!), in addition to the widespread use of easily-corrodible cast aluminum for “spider” armatures. All this is geared for quick obsolescence, perhaps?

supremewhirlpol/via

It was a difficult decision, but in the end, we bid adieu to our high-efficiency front-loader and replaced our single unit combo with two older washing and drying machines that we found used for $50 bucks each. They might not save as much energy or water, but they’ll have to do until they design a front-load machine that won’t smell or break down in a few years.

Next up: we’ll post some easy tips on how to maintain your front-load washing machine.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

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Photo Credit: Flying Cloud via Flickr

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180 comments

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11:47PM PST on Dec 27, 2013

Seems like these sort of discussions have been going on for some time ... https://www.dropbox.com/s/xcdzfs0zklcpf6v/Good%20Old%20Electric%20Washing%20Machine-John%20Hartford%20in%20Anchorage%20Alaska.mp4

10:25PM PST on Dec 24, 2013

Yes, doing the math purely in terms of water used is simple - it is also simplistic. As I pointed out, the average life of a front loader is about 7 years and a top loader 3 to 4 times that. Do that math. Simple again - the top loader wins hands down.

The point is that there are pros and cons for both types of machine. However, the manufacturers and retailers do *NOT* make clear the problems that *DO* exist with front loaders. Manufacturers themselves do not recommend them for floating floors. I've not found any machine that allows rear leg adjustment via the front - would love to hear which ones do. A quick Google search on "walking washing machines" will find you endless examples of this characteristic. Manufacturers and retailers won't warn you about this, either.

A front loader v top loader "take sides" discussion is as pointless as a Republican v Democrat one. What is relevant is that manufacturers should make clear to potential purchasers the pros and cons of their products.

9:12PM PST on Dec 24, 2013

Biby C.--
Consider this-- My last top loader used 30 gal. to do a full load. My front loader uses 7.
You do the math.

8:38PM PST on Dec 24, 2013

I've been using a top loader for 19 years now. Admittedly, it IS a little noisier than a front loader. But apart from that, it has been satisfactory. About top loaders being less kind to clothes, I'm not so sure. I'm still wearing my favourite tees from 20 years ago! One advantage top loader has over a front loader is that even when there's a water cut, due to whatever reason, you can still do your laundry by pouring water into the drum with water from a reserved source like a reserve tank hidden in the ceiling. You can't do that with a front loader.

8:59AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

thanks for the useful info and good comments.

12:57AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

I totally agree with Leigh E.

I always prefered front loading washing machines over toploading.

When the washing is done, with a dry cloth wipe under the rubber folds and around them.
Never close the door completely, especially if you live in a humid climate.
Keep the door slightly ajar when not using the machine.

7:52AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

I have only ever had a front loader and never had any problems that you all state.

Never had smelly odors or clothes (Margaret C. The hole in the front is so that you can clean out all the fluff collected by the machine. If you do this regularly, you won't have smelly water gushing out. A small oven dish fit perfectly under mine and if you don't unscrew the valve completely you can control the water flow)

Never had problems for leveling (Roger H. The back feet on many machines nowadays are adjusted with a screw located in the front middle of the machine allowing you to adjust them while it is under a worktop)

Never seen my machine 'walk the floor'. Being fitted under a worktop, I don't see how this could happen.

Never found that a front loader was noisy. My mother in law has a top loader and it's not any quieter.

As Lisa W. points out, I just leave the door open and there is never any problem with moisture or mould.

The main problem with top loaders for me is that you need more space as you can't fit them under a worktop (not very practical)

5:03AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

I have had one for some years now and don't like mine. The door leaks (and always has), it is very loud when it spins no matter how much we adjust the legs. I will never buy another front loader.

6:34PM PST on Dec 17, 2013

Joseph, I've had several front loaders and what you say about adjustment is right. However, you miss the point I made, which is that it is common today for washing machines to be located in places where you cannot get at the rear of the machine without pulling it out. In that case, if the back legs need to be adjusted to level the machine, it can't be done because you can't get at them when the machine is in the working position, only when it isn't. Given that all manufacturers stress that the machine must be level, this is a major flaw. Indeed, the susceptibility to unbalancing is so severe that even loading unevenly can unbalance the machines and cause them to bang and crash or try to walk out the door.

It is also unreasonable, if not sharp practice, that potential buyers of these machines are not warned about their walking tendencies and, the fact is, that all manufacturers concur that they are not suitable for floating floors. Again, this makes them entirely unsuitable for many householders and particularly those living on upper floors in frame buildings - as many of those living underneath a front loader can testify.

I am a strong advocate for conservation and appreciate the water savings. My wife also prefers the front loader because it is much gentler on the clothes than a top loader. At the same time, the comments about expensive repairs that others have made are correct and, usually, if the machine goes wrong it is more cost effective simply to throw it a

4:27PM PST on Dec 17, 2013

Roger H.--
Most front loaders I have seen have adjustable legs that can be reached with an open end wrench without lifting. Get a 2' or 3' carpenter's level and adjust until the bubble is centered both ways.

I grew up with a Maytag built in the 1950's. Nothing could kill it. Since then I have had several top loaders, all of which died within ten years, Five years ago I bought a Bosch front loader. It uses 1/4 the water (7 gals. vs. 30 gals. for a full load for my last top loader) and doesn't walk at all, since I leveled it..
Leave the door open until it dries, use less soap and bleach, and enjoy the money you save and the water you don't waste

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