Why is There a Greasy Stain in My Washer

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Dear Home Ec 101,
Lately I’ve noticed a greasy ring around the top of my machine, a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II which is a top loader. I know my clothes are *clean* but the washing machine grosses me out. I have tried scrubbing with vinegar, but it came back.

Onto problem #2, which is connected. I decided to go for “once in a while is better than every washing cycle” and bought some Clorox™ washing machine cleaner. I followed the directions and ran the machine empty, doing two rinse cycles. It didn’t do a lot of good, but then I just found a big beach blotch on the back of a favorite (and new) black t-shirt. Now I’m not dumb enough to put bleach in my machine with a dark cycle, so I assume this bleach was lurking from me cleaning the machine.

So my questions are: how can I get that greasy mess out of my machine, and how do you make sure bleach is entirely gone from your machine if you ever DO use it?
Laundered in Landry

what to do about grease in the washing machine

Heather says:

I’m going to assume that if you live in an area where the water has a high iron content that you’d be familiar with the coloration and characteristics of that stain, from it’s appearance in sinks, toilets, and tubs. (Also iron stains aren’t greasy, but I felt it should be noted for future Googlers)

If no one in your house has suddenly taken up a hobby involving a lot of grease, the culprit for the grease stain may be the washing machine itself. Before the transmission has a catastrophic failure (goes kaput) it may begin leaking grease which is often first noticed on clothing or inside the washtub.

The seal can break down or leak. Once this starts to happen grease can travel up the center shaft and make it’s way into the washtub during the spin cycles. Hello homemade centrifuge. The oil is then dispersed in the water and floats to the surface, where it clings to the walls of the tub (and sometimes to clothes) during the drain cycle.

While your machine seems to work just fine right now, in the future the spin cycles will get noisier, you’ll start hearing metal on metal noises and it won’t be too long (I cannot predict when) until the motor burns up. Accessing the motor and transmission in a top loading washer is a somewhat difficult task, but not impossible, depending on the model, you may have to work from the bottom machine or the back. Before you even think of disassembling the washer, make sure it is unplugged.

Water + electricity = bad joojoo.

If you have already been considering replacing your machine, do a cost-benefit analysis. Go ahead and assume that both the motor and transmission need to be replaced when you call the appliance repair shop and don’t forget to get the labor and service call fee added to your estimate.

While HE machines are nice, most come with their own quirks. Front loaders, for example need the door left open between loads to prevent mildew growth. The rubber gasket also must be wiped out after every use, it’s a nice hiding spot for hair and filth. All HE machines should be used with a detergent designed for a high-efficiency washer.

Now, as far as cleaning a washer:

Most washers need to be cleaned from time to time, but you don’t necessarily need a special cleaner to do it. The Whirlpool Ultimate Care II manual suggests 1 cup (250mL) of chlorine bleach and 2 cups (500mL) of detergent to a hot cycle.

And finally, the mysterious bleach splot:

A splotch of bleach on dark clothing suggests that the shirt came into direct contact with full-strength bleach.  It is also possible that your bleach dispenser is clogged or has a crack; when this happens, it may not function as it should, and it is possible that full-strength bleach could come into contact with clothing. To ensure this doesn’t happen in the future, only add diluted bleach to the wash after it has agitated for 5 minutes (this lets the detergent work more efficiently as it breaks down some of the cleaning enzymes).

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

There is also the possibility that the shirt came into contact with a dribble of bleach on the lip of the washer or the floor of the laundry room. This happens to the best of us.

Good luck with your machine, and I’m sorry about the shirt.

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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21 thoughts on “Why is There a Greasy Stain in My Washer”

  1. If someone in your family HAS taken up a greasy occupation (mechanic?), here's my solution – pour a can of CocaCola into the wash with the greasy work clothes, and wash those work clothes separately.
    It worked for me when my husband was working in puddles of industrial grease (he builds oil and gas processing equipment.)

  2. i bought a new HE (front loader) washer about 5 years ago, and it definitely has its quirks. all in all, i'd buy one again because the pros outweight the cons. but another con is that you have to bend down all the way to load it – not a problem for me now at age 33 but something to consider as we age…that might not be so easy for me in 15-20 years. also, mine seems very finicky and even though i use the special HE detergent (not more expensive than other detergent), if i overload the washer even just a little, or use a little too much detergent, the washer will leak all over the floor. so you just have to be careful how you use it…but i swear there are benefits too!

    • I decided to splurge and bought the horribly overpriced stands that go with my HE washer/dryer. The extra height is a big help with loading and unloading the washer. Also the drawer underneath gives me some extra storage space.

      I've never had any problems with it leaking, so you might want to have the seals checked on your washer.

      • My personal opinion is that my washer sucks. It's an LG and the matching dryer also sucked (to the point where they replaced it once, the replacement sucked, and they gave me my money back for it and I bought a Whirlpool). I don't think it's the gasket. I kind of agree on the stands though, I just didn't have it in me to shell out the extra $200 or so for them…horribly overpriced is right! They would have been nice though, and the extra storage would be handy as you mention.

  3. I've had a frontloader for a couple of years now and have never had any problems with it, even when my husband doses the laundry soap. 🙂 It's a European model, though – I don't know if that makes a difference.

    Regarding the black shirt, maybe it's time to buy some black dye and spruce your blacks up?

  4. I just acquired a front loader with this recent move. I knew to keep the door open but didn't know about cleaning out the gasket. Thanks!

  5. Try adding some baking soda to the wash cycle.

    If I get a lot of buildup, I run the empty washer through a cycle using the hot water setting and 1/4 cup of ammonia.

    I also don't close the door tight after use. I let air flow to prevent must problems. These things work for me.

  6. I use 1/2 cup ammonia added to our regular detergent for anything greasy – and we have a lot of that! I use ammonia to clean out the machine as well. My hubby's employer provides us with a degreaser that is supposed to be used on his uniforms, but it eats the deals out of the machine!

  7. Three questions which could translate to a greasy ring in your washer-

    1.) Do you have hard or soft water? If it's hard, you need water softener. Hard water can can contribute to your ring problem.

    2.) Do you use the recommended amount of detergent? Using more can contribute to your problem.

    3.) Do you add liquid fabric softener during your rinse cycle? If so, how much? You may want to cut back or use less than "recommended". Fabric softener does cause buildup, on your washer tub and on your clothes.

    • I also had this ring that you are speaking about, then i realized that it only happened when i washed my towels.. I guess when one uses lotions on their body and drying yourself after the shower creates this problem..

  8. We have the same greasy ring in our washer. Also a whirlpool, but I can't remember the model at the moment! It's not from washer oil (or it would have died long ago), but I never have been able to figure out the cause. We do wash dirty diapers in there, and I've definitely checked to make sure it wasn't a poo ring (it's really not!) 😛 It's mostly dirt and sand (we live in the country.)

    Someone told me the washer basins that are white inside (coated in whatever they're coated with) are more susceptible to that ring than stainless steel washer basins. Grease and whatnot just sticks better. It's a pain in the a** to clean out, but we find a toothbrush/scrub brush with baking soda does the trick. It just keeps coming back, though 🙁

    • That is a possibility, but I assumed after talking to the reader that the washer isn't new but the ring is. If their habits hadn't changed and the ring suddenly appeared the washer itself is on the list. You may want to try Bar Keeper's Friend it is made from oxalic acid (I may have the name spelled wrong I'm not home to double check) the acidity may help break down the grease. I love that stuff.

  9. If you know a certain handy someone maybe that certain handy someone could build you a wood stand for your washer????

    I like my washing machine. It is like the front loaders but it loads from the top. However, I am getting really frustrated because it is staining all my white clothes. They are coming out with greyish blotchy stains all over them. I have been reading about it and apparently people have been having troubles with the Sears washing machines doing this since 2005. However, I have no real answer as to what is actually causing it. Some people say its the fabric softener, others say its the laundry soap brighteners and still others say it is the washing machine. I never had troubles with my regular agitator style washing machines. I use the same detergent and same fabric softener….the only difference is the machine.

    Argh! My husband’s undershirts look like some monster-baby lost its formula all over him! Its a good thing they are UNDER shirts! LOL!

  10. In have a brand new Whirlpool Cabrio machine. I have used the affresh before I started using my machine. After two loads I noticied a grease type ring in the stainless steel tub. It is a top loader. I called the store and they switched out another cabrio same machine. I have the same problem. We have a water softener system and i bought a water analysis kit to check our water. Everything is fine with my water. What is causing the ring? Sometimes it is small splotches around the stainless tub. I keep the lid up after each load of laundry. We do not have greasy or grimey clothes. The clothes come clean but this ring is frustrating. I should not have to clean the tub after every load.Any suggestions? The company will let me return the machine but is this a common problem with stainless steel tubs or is it this just this brand? I use the he detergent and follow the directions.

  11. I have Whirlpool C61033653. One time only..dark grease on 2 shirts. Called Sears Repair. I mistakenly said I googled it and it said bad transmission. He agreed and left. I paid $79. Ordered new washer. Now, since continuing to use it, no more grease! Should I cancel the order? My washer isn’t very old. 2 years maybe.


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