Mystery Mold / Mildew smell and front load washers (also SUD error)

by Jamie Dolan on May 7, 2016

20160507_134359About 16 months ago we switched from a traditional top-load washing machine to a Whirlpool duet front load.  For larger loads (blankets, multiple towels, etc.) this machine does an excellent job and doesn’t tend to get off-balance the way top load machines do.  It also needs less detergent and you tend to only have to use Bleach or Oxygen bleach on the dirtiest loads.

Despite these bonuses, we ran into a couple of issues, the first one after owning the machine for about 9 months, it suddenly stopped working and displayed an error code.  Luckily we were still under the warranty period at this point.  The entire main board along with a second part had to be ordered and replaced, this process took the service person 3 separate trips to work on the machine.  With a week to 10 days between each trip, waiting for the needed parts to come in.  This left us without a washing machine for over 3 weeks.

Once the repair was done, the machine was again fully operational.  Once out of warranty, at times we started getting a SUD error.  Looking this up, it says causes for this error include: the drain hose can be blocked or you are using too much detergent.  Since I’m using HE PODS with a pre-measured amount of detergent, this seemed like an unlikely cause.  Checked the drain line and it was clear.  We tolerated this error at times interrupting or greatly slowing our wash cycles.

Now I’ll get to the real reason I’m writing this:  We typically do leave the door on the machine open when not in use.  I had vaguely heard this was what you were suppose to do with these machine.  I never gave a lot of thought as to why.  For some reason the door on our machine ended up getting closed around a time that we were very busy and then where away for 2 nights.  It ended up being closed for about 5 days.  After a couple days of travel, I went into the laundry room (basement room, mostly finished walls) and was overwhelmed with a mold / mildew order.  I saw some water on the floor and assumed the old faucet on the large laundry sink dripped a bit, causing the floor to be wet and mold.  I put on the respirator and cleaned the floor in that area with a bleach wash.  Two days later, the mold smell is still strong in the laundry room.  So strong I could not isolate where it was coming form.  I had even run a load of wash, that ended up smelling a bit off.

Next step, I get a clean sprayer and load it up with a Lysol product that kills mold.  Spray the walls, under the sink, even being the backsplash that is behind the washing machine.  Two days later, still have a strong mold smell in the laundry room.  We decide at this point that there must be mold growing behind the backsplash wall and that whole wall may have to be removed.  We started the process of getting things out of the way of that wall; starting with sliding the washing machine to the other room.

What happened next saved us a lot of time, effort and money.  Once the machine was in the other room, we nearly immediately figured out the true source of the mold smell – the washing machine itself.  It wasn’t the floor or wall after all.  Upon doing some research, I found that this was a very common issue, where mold grows around the door seal.  We could not see any visible sign of mold on the seal, yet concentrated on cleaning it well.  This seemed to reduce, but not eliminate the smell.

The next step was to hook the machine back up and engage the cleaning cycle with only bleach.  The first time I ran the clean c20160507_134402ycle, I had some surprising20160501_015334 results.  The cleaning cycle “cleaned” so much detergent from the machine that the machine was over-loaded with suds.  It got an error.  I had to stop the cycle, open the door and manually remove the suds.  I started a new cycle and the same thing happened again.  I once again removed the suds.

Additional cycles produced less and eventually no suds (took about 6 clean washer cycles).

At this point, after cleaning the seal and running these cleaning cycles that presumably removed much buildup from inside the washer, I thought the smell would be totally gone.  While much better, there still seemed to be a “off” / mildew like smell.  20160507_134434

After some additional reading and watching some YouTube videos, I found a possible cause.  There is a drain filter on this machine.  It is directly below the drum (front door).  To access it, you have to remove 2 to 3 screens to take off the machines “kick-plate”  The only trick is these screws are a Torx-20 tip.  A tip that many home owners may not have handy.  Luckily I did have a set of torx tips and was able to easily remove the kick plate.  Once I had it off, the drain filter clean out was very easy to remove by hand and clean out.

20160507_134508What I found in the clean out was very much a surprise.  It included large amounts of lint, a ring (costume jewelry) a quarter, wood chips, a small piece of wire, etc. (kind of gross mess of stuff).  However it was easy to clean out.  I replace the trap, again hand tight.  I again ran the clean cycle.  This time, 99%+ of the odor is gone.  The SUD error is also gone.  I’m nearly certain it was caused by this clogged trap.

I feel like there is s still a very small off-smell near the door gasket that must be in some of the tight folds of the seal.  I’m going to try and steam clean the seal when I get a chance to try and get rid of that final bit of off-smell.  Wash turns out fine now and smells fine.  The room smells fine.  I can only notice the slight off smell if I go up close to the outer seal and smell it.

I did learn that if you absolutely can not get the gasket cleaned that you can order a replacement gasket for about $60 (there is a $30 tool that is suggested to help make the replacement easier)

Important points:

  • Doors on front load machines need to stay open when the machine isn’t in use.  Even leaving it closed for a few days can cause mold to grow.
  • Once mold starts growing, it can create an overwhelming strong smell, making it very difficult to pinpoint the location of the mold smell in that room / area.
  • Even if you use the right detergent, you still need to run the clean washer cycle at times. (hopefully to prevent build-up and sudsing like I encountered)
  • Thought a bit inconvenient to access, the drain trap on these machines likely needs to be cleaned out on a somewhat regular basis.

Helpful items:

  • Torx 20 screw driver (This is what is required on my whirlpool duet, it may vary on other machines)
  • Regular Clorox bleach
  • Spray bleach cleaner
  • Old rags
  • Washing Machine Cleaner tabs (optional) I’ve also read dish washer pods like Cascade complete can be run in the machine and heal clean it just as well at a lower cost.

Rough guide to solving mold odor issues:

  • Physically clean outer and inner seal on all surfaces you can get to with the old rags and something like Clorox Bleach spray. (Q-Tips can be helpful to get in the folds in the seal)
  • Remove the kick plate (screws by the very bottom by floor) and clean out the drain trap and re-install trap and cover.
  • Run the machine on the cleaning cycle, multiple times if necessary to remove build-up.
  • Ensure drain line on back of the machine is cleaned out.

One problem I learned of, but did not encounter.  There is a drain line in the machine that runs from near the drain trap to the upper back of the machine where it connects to the hose the runs to the drain.  This is suppose to be a semi-clear / white line (which mine was).  When you take the kick plate off to clean the drain trap, inspect the line.  If your line is very dark / black in color, then chances are good it is very dirty / filled with mold.  If it is dirty, then it needs to be removed and cleaned or removed and replaced.  (There are videos on YouTube showing how to do this.

Good Luck.  I hope this article saves you some hassle.  As you can see it took us some time figure out what was causing the mold smell, then to remedy it.

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