High efficiency (HE) washing machines were introduced to the consumer market in the late 1990’s in response to federal mandates requiring appliance manufacturers to conform to energy-saving standards.
HE washers save significant energy over traditional washing machines by decreasing the amount of water needed per load. Spin mechanisms used in HE washers get laundry drier than older machines and save more energy by reducing drying time.
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Innovative design is the key to the efficiency of HE washers. Conventional or deep-fill washing machines use a “vertical axis” center post agitator and require the machine to be filled with water to adequately clean and rinse each load. Front-loading HE washers are designed with a “horizontal axis” which tumbles laundry from side to side.
Top-loading HE machines have a “modified vertical axis” and use a low post agitator or "impeller” spraying mechanism to wash and rinse clothes.
HE machines use about 60-65% less water than conventional washers. Average water use for a HE machine is about 14 gallons compared to the 40 gallons needed per load for conventional or “deep- fill” machines.
Front-Loaders and Mold
More widely available than top-loading HE washers, front-loaders represent about 90% of the HE washing machine market. As more and more consumers have replaced their old washers with HE front-loaders, problems have emerged with development of mold inside the machines.
Causes of mold growth in front-loaders have been attributed to a number of factors. The most common complaint has been with the gasket or “boot” which seals the washer door. The gasket can accumulate residual water which doesn’t drain at the end of the cycle. If not cleaned and dried regularly, a wet gasket invites mold quickly.
Some front-loaders have issues with water drainage in the machine itself; water left in the drum at the end of a load can also encourage mold. Mold has been also been found in, under and behind detergent, fabric softener and bleach dispensers.
Front-loaders’ efficiency means less water circulating through the washer; this may cause build up of soap scum which could result in mold-related problems.
Preventing mold from forming in washers is especially important for those with mold sensitivity and household members suffering from allergies, asthma or other respiratory illness. Laundry contaminated with mold may trigger allergic reactions or breathing problems.
Front-loading washers require routine maintenance to optimize operation and prevent mold from growing. Steps to take include:
- Use HE Detergent
HE washers use much less water than conventional machines and require use of low-sudsing detergents. Specially formulated HE laundry detergents have become widely available and should be used in place of standard detergent.
HE detergent, like most commercially-available detergents, contains additives which may trigger allergies, asthma, skin irritation and other unwanted health conditions. Doing some homework on which brands have fewer additives is time well spent to minimize health problems.
- Clean the Gasket
Clean and wipe dry the gasket after every load; using an especially absorbent cloth helps to remove maximum moisture. Also, check for socks or small items which may have gotten lodged in the gasket during the wash.
- Leave the Door Open
Leave the door to the machine ajar between loads. The doors on front loaders are air-tight; closing them after a wash won’t allow the inside of the machine to dry properly and creates an ideal environment for mold to flourish.
- Clean the Dispensers
Clean all dispensers and dispenser compartments regularly.
- Don’t Leave Wet Clothes in the Washer
Make sure to remove laundry at the end of the wash. Wet clothes left in the machine can lead to mold.
Manufacturers of front-loading machines recommend regularly cleaning of the washers with bleach or special cleaning agents designed to eliminate soap scum and prevent mold growth; rinsing the machine periodically with vinegar, baking soda or borax will inhibit mold while minimizing exposure to chemical irritants.
American Association of Textile Chemicals and Colorants
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