Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's not you, it's your HE washing machine...

We field a lot of questions about stink around these parts.  Usually, people assume cloth diaper stink is related to their washing routine, however, if your cloth diapers have developed a persistent mildew-y smell (not ammonia!), your fancy-dancy high efficiency washing machine may actually be the culprit.  

High efficiency washing machines are prone to stink for a number of reasons:

  • front-loading machines always retain some wetness 
  • front-loading machines are tightly sealed
  • front-loading machines do not use much water, as a result, detergent residue may buildup within the machine
The stink that develops in your machine can transfer to the items washed in your washing machine, including your cloth diapers.  This problem is widespread enough that a class-action lawsuit has been put forth in the (good ol' litigious) USA.  

Often times, people who are dealing with persistent funk will regularly strip their cloth diapers to keep the smell at bay, however, a plausible reason why this approach works is that they are actually stripping their washing machine.  The ingredients found in RLR, a laundry treatment that removes buildup from fabric, are quite similar to those found in Affresh, a product used to remove odor causing bacteria and buildup from HE washing machines -- you might think you're stripping your cloth diapers, but you're actually stripping your washing machine!

If you have funky-smelling diapers, and you suspect your washing machine may be to blame, there are several steps you can take to remedy the situation:
  • use a detergent recommended for use with an HE machine.
  • use the recommended amount of detergent.
  • always leave your washing machine's door ajar between uses.  
  • don't let wet clothes sit in your washing machine for an extended period.
  • regularly clean the gasket surrounding the machine's door opening.  This gasket tends to hold water, and it acts as a catch-all for hair, lint, and other small items that may get trapped (hair, socks, washcloths, etc.).
  • regularly clean your washing machine's filter -- I had the pleasure of cleaning our machine's filter this afternoon, I was surprised about the amount of debris and guck that had accumulated, never mind the skunky water that had been sitting at the bottom of the machine.
  • clean your washing machine as indicated by the manufacturer on a monthly basis-- read your instruction manual!
A stinky washing machine can not only affect your cloth diapers, it may transfer stink to other clothing items, and your laundry room may develop an odor.  Rather than regularly stripping your cloth diapers, which can be a time-consuming process, and which may cause undue wear & tear on your diapers, giving some TLC to your HE washing machine may be a more effective approach.


  1. Cleaning the washer on a monthly basis makes a huge difference, as does actually wiping down the inner gasket around the door. We had a lot of trouble with our machine in the beginning (10 years ago now), but really don't have any trouble with it at all. I've only had to strip Obi's diapers once in 22mis and that was due to yeast rashing. Once you find the routine that works for your machine and ensure you're maintaining your machine as suggested, you really shouldn't have any trouble. :)

    That said, I don't trust the newer gadggety frontloaders with all the digital stuff. Mine is old school and easier to "trick". ;)

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