Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sludge and Muck-- Cleaning Your Front Loading Washing Machine Drain Filter

Clean Your Front Loading Washing Machine Drain Filter
The spirit of this blog is all about learning from our mistakes. I must say, I learned a pretty good lesson with this project.

I've had my front loading washing machine for about 2 years or so. It's a Whirlpool Duet (Model WFW9250WW02, if you want to get specific). I love it! As per the instructions, I've been diligent to always unload the clothes promptly and leave the door propped open to prevent the growth of mold and mildew in the washing drum.  Initially, I also did a good job running the recommended monthly cycle to clean the washer.

But I started to let that habit slip.  After all, I figured, I often wash towels with hot water and throw some bleach in now and again. Surely that's enough to clean the washer, right?

I had been noticing that when I did a load of laundry, I would often smell a swampy, sewage-type smell as the water drained out.  I dumped vinegar down the drain pipe in the wall where the washer emptied, and it seemed to help a bit.  We have had some other plumbing issues in our basement (i.e. a basement floor drain that kept backing up), so I chalked up the smell to the plumbing issues and not the washer itself. After all, I couldn't smell anything funky in the washer drum. But even after we got our basement floor drain cleared out and the other plumbing issues fixed, the smell remained.

I also started noticing soap suds collecting in the rubber seal by the door, even at the end of the cycle. So I reduced the amount of soap I was using. But then I washed a load of brand new cloth diaper prefolds (that's a story for another day...) with hardly any soap, and there was STILL soap suds in the seal, right by the drain holes.
Soap suds in front loading washer rubber seal
Soap suds collecting in the rubber seal, even after a rinse cycle.
So, I do what I usually do when I have a problem to solve--I Google it. I discovered that I probably needed to clean the washer drain filter located at the bottom of the washer.  This was a very helpful video by murfsappliancerepair showing the process step by step:

Now, this isn't something mentioned in the manual for my washer (believe me, I checked). Perhaps this is a job that Whirlpool thinks should be left to the professionals.  I suppose it could possibly void a warranty if you attempt to do this on your own, so you might want to check. But really, this job isn't that hard.

But if your washer is like mine, it is really, really stinky.

My hubby helped me with this project--my pregnant belly is hindering my ability to lie on the floor with any sort of ease and grace.  He moved the washer away from the wall so we could unplug it from the wall (instead of unplugging the black cord from the mechanism as shown in the video).  On our model, the screws are on the bottom of the panel.
Unscrew panel at bottom of front loading washer
The screws may be in a different place on different models.
Since we don't have pedestals, I had to put a shallow pan on the floor to catch the water. The cap was VERY tight and took quite a bit of elbow grease to unscrew. (Unlike the video, we did not need to pull the mechanism out--it was easy to access right where it was.)
Place pan under drain before unscrewing
Be sure to place a pan under the opening to catch the water!
But once it was free... oh my goodness, the smell.  Here was the source of my sewage fumes.  Black gelatinous goo was caked all over the thing, and I found a couple bobby pins and a large office-style rubber band bound up in it. It literally smelled like a swamp!
Dirty drain filter
For your sake, be glad the filter is blending in with the pan and hiding the extent of the nastiness!
After wiping off the big globs of goo, I soaked it in a solution of dish soap, bleach, and hot water. The cap actually disconnects from the body of the filter (at least on my model), so it was easier to get into the crevices to clean.
Detach and clean filter on front loading washer
I used a Q-tip to clean inside the cap.
I also wiped out the inside of the filter housing with the bleach water solution. In hindsight, I could have poured some bleach solution directly into the drain holes in the rubber seal to see what washed through, but I didn't think about it at the time. I was too mesmerized disgusted by the filter itself.

Once the filter was as clean as I could get it, I put it back together and screwed the cap back on the drain. There are two tabs that meet up when the plug is screwed in all the way.
Reassemble the filter
Two tabs meet to ensure the lid is completely sealed shut.
The hubby screwed the panel back on, we plugged the washer back in, and I ran the cycle to clean the washer, using 2/3 cup bleach in the bleach dispenser, as per my manual.

Not surprisingly, the smell I noticed when I run the washer was and is gone!

Here are some things I've learned from this endeavor:
  • Use the "Clean Washer" cycle as instructed by your manual. My manual instructs me to do this once a month, which I neglected for well over a year. This cycle uses more water and runs differently than regular cycles to clean the drum thoroughly. There are special cleaners designed for this purpose, but bleach should work as well as anything. Now, this cycle wouldn't have prevent the bobby pins and rubber bands in my drain filter, but it probably would have prevented the build-up of swamp goo.
  • Check the pockets of your pants and shirts when sorting laundry to remove any foreign objects ahead of time.
  • Always check the rubber seal after each wash cycle for hair balls, lint, and other objects.
  • Remove laundry promptly (or use the "Tumblefresh" option if you can't get to it right away) and leave the door of the washer open. I also leave the dispenser drawer open to thoroughly dry.
  • Wipe the rubber seal with a bleach solution if you notice any mold or mildew.
    Mold and mildew build up in the rubber seal of front load washer
    I should have been wiping this out more often...
  • Clean your drain filter on a regular basis.  I've read every 6 months or so is a good schedule, but anytime your washer isn't draining well, looks like it has soap build-up, or smells like a sewer, it might be time to clean it out.
  • Read your washer manual and go to the internet when in doubt!
My laundry room smells so much better after this project! Live and learn, live and learn.

Remember to check those pockets,
Mulligan Mama

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