How to Solve the Soaking Problem with a Front Load Washer

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have smelly towel syndrome and want to try your idea with the borax and vinegar, but I do not know how to add the vinegar to my rinse cycle. With a front load, adding anything to it or even “soak” anything in the drum is a little more difficult. I bought a product called “Smelly Washer,” which is not the same as having a “Smelly Washer” but it requires you to soak the solution in the drum for hours. I have no clue how to do this since the drum drains anytime you stop the washer.
Please help with these two issues:

1. How to “soak” in a front load washer.
2. How to add to the extra rinse cycle (or rinse cycle, period)
Thanks so much!

Front Loaded

how to solve the soaking problem with front loading washers

Heather says:

Before we step into problem-solving mode, let’s figure out the problem.

Washing clothing in water uses three kinds of energy: chemical, heat, physical, or a combination thereof. Cleaning clothing pretty much comes down to finding a balance of these energies -wow, it sounds so new age- that won’t damage the fibers.

Soaking is a way to give the chemical portion of the equation time to work. While your clothes are just sitting in water, the molecules in that water are moving around like crazy on a level we can’t see.

Think about adding drops of food coloring to a glass of water, the color spreads, and the drops of food coloring don’t just hang out as droplets in the water. Also, you may notice that the color spreads faster in warm or hot water than in very cold.

Soaking clothing is basically the same. You have your detergent molecules bouncing around in the water, maybe bouncing into the dirt or off clothing fibers. There’s a lot of random stuff happening in there, and a longer soak gives those molecules more time to get a hold of the dirt and bring it into a solution where it isn’t still on your clothing.

Now for your smelly towels:

Soaking gives the laundry detergent molecules clinging to the towels a chance to come off the towels and into the solution. This will happen much faster with hot water than with cold, simply because detergent is more soluble (more can be in the water) at higher temperatures. The vinegar and borax, not used simultaneously, change the water’s pH, which can also improve the solubility of the detergent stuck to your towels.

So what about physical energy?

You get physical energy with agitation or tumbling. This forces water through the clothing (you do know that most fabric isn’t water-tight, right?), increasing the number of interactions between the solution and the molecules (stains and dirt) that we want to come off of the fabric).

The problem with front loaders: You need your laundry to have more time in the cleaning solution. (detergent and water, vinegar and water, or borax and water).

Workarounds for the front loader soaking problem.

There are multiple ways to handle the soaking issue with a front-loading washer. The lowest-tech and simplest method is to use a bucket to soak items outside the washer. If you have many items, the bathtub is another option, but I’ll warn you the trek from the tub to the washer with a basket of sodden towels isn’t fun. Just be glad it’s not down to the creek and back, right?

Another solution is to use the pre-wash cycle as a soaking cycle, understanding that the tumbling of the washtub increases the amount of physical energy involved.

If I find I have accidentally created a detergent build-up on my towels, I run the longest cycle on the hottest settings, with borax in the detergent receptacle and vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. This really is only effective with a small load. If you are overloading the washer, there will simply not be enough water to get rid of the detergent.

guide to the laundry room
Click the picture for more tips!

There isn’t anything magical about a rinse cycle in a front-loading washer. It is simply a cycle where no detergent is in the water. If you need a rinse cycle and lack a rinse and spin option on your washer, just run a load without detergent.

Finally, unplug your washer with a product like Smelly Washer that requires soaking in the tub before it has time to drain. Then allow the product to work overnight.

Also, check the lint trap in your drain line. That can be a serious source of funk in many front-loading washers.

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11 thoughts on “How to Solve the Soaking Problem with a Front Load Washer”

  1. May not work for other model front loaders, but my one has a soaking cycle. Second method – a common feature of front loaders is the spin hold, where the machine does not complete the final spin until a button is pressed to allow it. The final rinse water stays in the drum, and it periodically rotates to move the clothes about. This is normally used by people who don’t want to leave clothes in the machine to wrinkle, so they do the final spin when they are there to remove the clothes immediately at the end of the cycle. But it can also be used for soaking.

    And every front washer I’ve ever had (now on my 3rd) has provision for adding fluid to the rinse cycle, usually in a compartment next to where the detergent is added.

    • Soaking your clothes isntead of letting them agitate so much not only saves energy, it also is much better when it comes to wear and tear on your clothes. Traditional top loading machines with an agitator post in the middle actually overwash your clothes most of the time because they not only force clothes through water, they actually scrub the clothes too. Some of the scrubbing action happens along the tower portion of the agitator, but most of it happens where the flare veins are at the bottom of the agitator. Most of the time your clothes may only need deodorizing. So you’re smart and doing your clothes and energy bill a favor by doing what you’re currently doing. I have a top loading washer too, and I find myself using the hand wash cycle a lot (the agitator swivels on gentle intermittently for a few 5 seconds at a time) It’s much easier on my clothes and it removes the smell. You may think of getting a front loading washer. These are supposedly much more energy wise, but the initial cost is three times as much. And based on the terrible performance with those chore boy front loaders they have at laundromats, it would be difficult to persuade me to get a front loader for home useDryers are not really needed if you live in a place where there is clean air and lots of sun and you have lots of space. My relative in Australia rarely uses a dryer cause the sun is so intense down there. The clothes are hung on the line outside. The clothes dry in 20 minutes or so. Clothes dryers are a rare sight in Australia. People just don’t see the need for them.You are correct in not letting you clothes spin so long before the rinse cycle. Your washer is engineered to spin so long before a rinse cycle to accodmodate large loads and thick weaves of cloth (denim)Also, many top loading clothes washers have a second rinse cycle. Unless you’re washing a load of jeans or towels or have accidentally oversoaped the wash load, this is a tremendous waste of water. During the first/final rinse drain, and some times before the first rinse during the first spin, the washer sprays water into the tub while it’s spinning the wash load, producing an effective supplemental method of rinsing.You can skip the fluffing of the clothes in the washer after the final spin and just hang them on the line. (Jeans should never be put in the dryer anyway) The dryer shrinks and fades many types of fabrics, denim being one of them.When the clothes are dry from hanging on the line, then you can fluff them in the dryer on heat for 1 minute or so with a clean wet rag to remove wrinkles or use air dry to fluff clothing made out of wool, blankets, for one or 2 minutes And to answer your question.. yes your clothes are getting clean, and you ARE saving energy. I’m not sure you’re saving that much energy cost wise with what you’re doing with the washer, but definitely your saving money with not having to use the dryer as long. Dryers are expensive to run, especially if you have a dryer that uses all electric power.Happy washing!

  2. One way to stop the smell is that after you have finish washing your loads is to leave the door open so that the washer air dries the inside instead of closing the door. Also using something to the Tide machine washer cleaner once a month.

  3. I put the vinegar in my fabric softener spot. In fact that’s the only thing that goes in there because it works so well. I am not sure if your washer has a separate space for fabric softener, but if it does, just put the vinegar there.

  4. I have a TOP load HE Oasis washer. It is a bit of a different animal than the front loaders. This model has a Clean Washing Machine cycle. It fills the drum with water. (I would hope it is hot water but my guess is that “they” wouldn’t be that logical!) I am going to try to soak clothes in this cycle by unplugging the machine as you suggested. I think if I turn it off in the cycle it will drain (as anther person said their machine does.) I can plug it in in the morning and let it continue through the cycle or just begin a wash cycle instead. Thanks for the idea!

  5. If it’s just towels that are smelly, I recommend placing 1-2 towels in a large bucket, and pouring boiling hot water over them, let it soak 5-10 minutes, pour out the water and repeat the process. If you have a big pot that can accommodate 1-2 towels, then I would boil the towels directly on the stove. (I do that for kitchen rags, kitchen sponges, dishtowels, etc. — I figure it’s less toxic than using bleach.)

    Also, if you are able to dry the towels in the sun after washing, the sun’s radiation will disinfect them, too. (Think of the bacteria being sunburned into oblivion). To avoid “crunchy” towels afterward, throw them in the dryer to soften up (they might still be “crunchy”, but at least they’ll be germ-free)

  6. And once you get the towels clean: commit to smaller loads. Almost everyone I know stuffs too much stuff into their washer. Front load or too load. Look in the manual, it will describe what can go in a load. If you’ve lost it, go to the company website, you can download or read one online.

  7. My question sorta fits here, I hope you can help me. I can’t find the answer anywhere and it’s driving me crazy… I have a front load washer & I have done this a few times and still don’t know if it’s right or not. I put my towels on to wash on soak with hot water, “my own bright idea” I thought it would help them smell better & possible become the cleanest they ever been.??? Well I assumed that after they soaked they would go on and wash, but I have a, “stinking” feeling that they aren’t washing at all??? I’ve come to this conclusion due to them, Stinking. Plus they seem wetter then normal also. My detergent is gone, but the bleach & softener are still in their spots too. Since I’ve hunted in my manual & all over the internet I am just going to wash them again the normal way, but just maybe you or someone will know the real answer as to what is going on. Thank you so much for any and all input. I truly like your site too, it’s the best thing that came to my 2 hours lost looking for the correct answer. 😉

  8. Maytag front loaders are still able to do a long pre-wash soak even if you don’t have a “Soak” cycle. You just have to outsmart the washer!

    Add items to the tub that need to be soaked, set the cycle for Normal, add bleach to the dispenser, set temperature to hot, and press the Start/Pause button. The machine will tumble and fill with water. When water is no longer being added to the tub, press the Start/Pause button ONCE. The machine will stop tumbling and soak the load indefinitely. (I have done soaks for 30+ minutes.) The bleach water will not drain out until you press the Cancel button. Do that and allow the water to drain. Then start over by selecting Normal, adding detergent (and more bleach if you need it) to the dispenser cups, and press Start. Presto! You have learned how to do a manual soak cycle.


    Before finding this solution I tried EVERYTHING – vinegar, baking soda, Norwex odor eliminator, oxiclean, etc… This truly works.


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