How to Deal with Mildew in a Front Loading Washer

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
Even though I leave the door open to air dry, my front loader has mildew in the fold of the rubber seal by the door. Do you have a natural way to get rid of it? I just tried running the Tub Clean cycle with 2-3 cups of vinegar, but the mildew is still there. I can’t soak it in vinegar because the liquid just drains right away through the drainage holes.
Thanks for your help!
Mildewed in Milwaukee

get rid of mildew in washer

Heather says:

First of all, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Mildew in front loading washing machines is a very common complaint. One thing I would suggest is  to look closely at those drain holes and have a pair of tweezers at the ready. Far more often than I care to admit, ours get clogged with hair and lint. If those holes aren’t doing their job, then water will pool in the rubber gasket and you’ll have even more mildew fun.

As you have pointed out, prevention is key. It is very important to leave the door of the washer open between loads. I also highly recommend wiping out the gasket after the last load of the day has been run.

Be sure that your detergent of choice is made for use in a high efficiency machine. These detergents are designed to be used with less water than a top loading washer and won’t leave behind as much of a residue.

Is there a chance you are using too much detergent?

If there is too much detergent in the machine, it won’t all be rinsed away and will leave behind a mildew friendly residue. You’ve seen mildew growing on soap scum in a shower? It’s basically the same situation, only in the rubber gasket of your front loading washer.

I would also avoid fabric softener for the same reason. You can use vinegar in the rinse cycle to help rinse away the detergent. Switch to dryer sheets if you must have scented laundry.

Sodium percarbonate is very helpful in dealing with mold and mildew. You’re probably more familiar with the brand names of sodium percarbonate: Oxyclean, Oxybrite, etc. They are all generally the same and are quite safe for use in the home. You’ll want to mix the solution according to the label directions -I can’t give specifics as the concentration varies by brand- and apply to the gasket. Make sure to get in all the nooks and crannies where the mildew tends to get started. Allow it to sit for 10 -15 minutes and then wipe clean with a damp rag and then dry the gasket thoroughly. This should get rid of your mildew and should be repeated every couple of weeks.

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If you still notice a mildew odor, you may need to replace the gasket. Consult your owner’s manual for the part number. If your washer is still under warranty, it could be covered, however there are some exceptions for mold / mildew. Be sure to use a qualified technician IF this is required to keep your warranty, otherwise a gasket replacement is a pretty straightforward repair.

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13 thoughts on “How to Deal with Mildew in a Front Loading Washer”

  1. You don't recommend fabric softener, but vinegar instead. I use it because I hang my clothes out and don't like them to feel like cardboard. Will the vinegar help with this problem, or is there another fabric softener substitution I can use? (Sorry to go off topic!)
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  2. Lots of time it has to do with the overflow drain being stopped up. In my GE there is a panel below the tub held in with three screws, when you remove those screws the panel pops out and you just twist to remove (similar to the water filter on the fridge) A very handy repairman showed me this trick and I do about every 2 months .Make sure you put a bowl or bucket under to catch the clogged up water. Mine has hair, lint, ponytail holders, pocket change, even golf tees, and earrings…all kinds of little stuff can slip through those drain holes.

  3. Cue embarrassing confession of the day "what do you mean there are HOLES in the gasket?" <gets her tweezers and lysol wipes ready…>
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  4. My parents had to bring in a repairman for their front-loading washer a few months back, and passed on a piece of advice to us (we also have an HE front loading washer) that he told them. You know how you buy HE detergent, and the cup has lines on the inside to tell you how much to use? That is WAY too much.

    According to this repairman, one of the most reasons that he is called in is because people use as much detergent as the detergent company recommends. He said to use a tablespoons or two of detergent for a normal sized load. We thought that was far too little, and would not be enough… but it was. A tablespoon of detergent got clothes smelling and looking just as clean as when we were filling it up to the lines on the cup before. Better for our washer and we get to spend less on detergent. Win-win all around!

    • I've been having issues with suds being left in the washer after the cycle is done – maybe I'm still using too much detergent? I usually use about 1/2 of what the '1' marking on the bottle cap is, but i'm sure that is much more than a tablespoon.

    • Though I was doubtful, I had heard the same thing. I tried using one tablespoon of detergent and was shocked to find my clothes were getting just as clean and I stopped getting mildew in the washer! I keep an actual tablespoon in a cup on my washer because if I don’t my husband and kids just instinctively add way too much.

      Other tips that have worked-

      Do a “shock treatment” by soaking a load of towels with a gallon of white vinegar. Use no detergent. Run that load, then run it two more times with no vinegar, no detergent. Then wash the towels normally with ONE TABLESPOON of detergent.

      Stop using liquid fabric softener and switch to dryer sheets.

      Try a different brand of detergent. I had to give up my beloved Wisk because I found All produces less mildew in my machine.

      Leave the door open AND completely remove the detergent drawer when not in use.

      Clean out the drain catch thing, usually a cap that looks like a gas tank cap behind the front panel. (Usually required unscrewing the panel. There’s water in it so have lots of towels handy.) You’re actually supposed to do this a few times a year, which I never knew until a few years ago.

      Make sure there’s nothing (a sock!) trapped in front of the drain under the big rubber gasket.

      Doing the stuff above has completely eliminated mold and mildew for me. The detergent thing is so counter-intuitive but just give it a chance! Best of luck!

  5. It is a good idea to leave the detergent drawer open too so that can dry out between use. Better yet, take the detergent drawer out and put it on top of your washer while the washer door is open to allow air to circulate.

    It's also a good idea to keep a cotton rag handy to wipe down the door and rubber gasket after every load.

  6. Even for front-loaders, it's a good idea to leave the door open so mildew and mold don't grow. Mold spores could actually come from other sources in the laundry area, particularly if the washer is in a damp basement.

  7. I had this mildew issue. When I switched from liquid to powder detergent that completely took care of it. I read that the front loaders don't use enough water to wash away the liquid and the enzymes in it stay in the.machine and start to smell. I was so glad, it was!


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