Seattle's Child

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smelly laundry

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Smelly laundry? What I learned about my HE washing machine

Tempted to fight odors with more detergent? Read this first.

Solving the smelly laundry mystery:

I’m a mom of three active kids who make daily heaps of filthy laundry. Life recently cornered me into learning more about laundry detergent than I ever cared to know, and now I feel compelled to share this new and surprisingly useful knowledge.

A year ago we purchased a sparkling, extra large, front-loading, high-efficiency washing machine.

It was top-rated by Consumer Reports, massive and appeared to be up for the job.

For some time, it was just as advertised: This magical machine could transform sweaty, muddy, sandy piles of kid clothes into fresh and inviting mounds of warm laundry that I would bury my face in before heaping onto the couch.

But a few months passed, and I started to notice a smell. A really yucky smell! What was this? I always left the washer door open when not in use; I used only the recommended amount of detergent; I regularly cleaned the filter and I even ran the drum clean cycle regularly with vinegar or bleach. So why was this machine and everything it washed starting to stink after only one year? Maybe I needed to add extra detergent? (It turns out, definitely no.)

We had other problems come up, too, and had to have a mechanic come, twice. The second mechanic took the time to explain exactly what was happening, and why I needed to find another laundry detergent.

High-efficiency machines don’t use a ton of water, and they cannot handle a lot of suds. Many liquid detergents contain waxes to help reduce sudsing, and other stabilizers to keep all the chemicals in solution. Unless you wash with very little detergent and extremely hot water every single time, these waxes quickly build up throughout the washer, along with smelly bacteria and mold. Apparently some of the fancy detergents marketed for sensitive skin are the worst offenders, causing the smelliest machines. The outrage! Our mechanic suggested I switch to a simple powder detergent specifically designed and recommended for HE machines.

I have since taken this advice, and found a great product: Rockin Green powered laundry detergents. I mostly use the Classic Rock in Unscented, but they make a variety of quality formulations. This line of detergents happens to also be very eco-friendly. It is plant-based, biodegradable, and free of SLS/SLES, dyes, parabens, phosphates and artificial fragrances — yay!

Just a tiny scoop is all I need even for those nasty vomit-soaked loads, and I am happy to say that once again I can bury my face into the fresh heaps of laundry that always remain unfolded on our living room couch. Success!


More in Seattle’s Child:

How to get your kids involved in cleaning and tidying

More life skills to teach kids while you’re stuck at home



About the Author

Molly White

Molly White is a Seattle native, scientist and mountain mama. She is currently a stay-at-home parent, and while she cannot usually be found at home baking vegan loafs like a good girl, she is proficient at getting her children outside regardless of the weather. On their adventures through the wild landscapes and waterways of the Pacific Northwest, they enjoy learning together about all the important things.