How to Avoid the Hidden Danger in Washing Machines: Mold

How to Avoid the Hidden Danger in Washing Machines: Mold

Before moving to our current home, we lived in many apartments with in-unit laundry. Each washing machine was front-loading, and if I am being honest, I have been a bit traumatized by front-loading washing machines. I’ve learned to leave the washing machine door open after each wash to let the machine dry out. Even with the best intentions, the door was closed more often than not. And continually, residue and mold would grow in the liner of the door.

So, when we moved into this home, I insisted on a top-loading washing machine. But, I still worry about mold. In my mind, any appliance that uses water has the potential to grow mold. So, I caught up with Michael Rubino, an air quality expert, to talk about taking care of our washing machine.  Check out our interview below:

What are signs that my washing machine may have mold?

Visually, any sort of abnormality on the machine itself could indicate a problem. With so many species out there, mold can come in all sorts of colors, shapes, and textures, so look for any issues.

Just because there’s no visible mold doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem. Growth can go on for some time before the particles are large enough to be visible to the naked eye. Or, there could be a colony somewhere that’s extremely difficult to see, like in the drainage pipes. That’s why it’s important to also use your nose. Mold growth often creates a damp, musty, earthy smell due to the release of gases called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC). If this is present, there’s more than likely an issue.

Finally, assess how your body is feeling. If you start feeling unwell every time you put on your clothes, do the laundry, or are near the machine, that can point to an issue. Mold exposure can trigger a long list of symptoms, and those are the body’s way of signaling that there’s a problem. It’s up to us to listen to these alarms and figure out what the problem is so that it can be removed.

How do I check my washing machine for mold?

Grab a flashlight and thoroughly check the lid, the detergent drawer, the inside of the machine, the rubber gasket (for front loaders), and any other crevice you can access. If there’s a smell but no visual problem, the mold could be deep within the machine or in hidden areas like drainage pipes. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to suspecting a mold problem.

What is the easiest way to properly clean my washing machine?

  • Put on your protective gear (gloves, a mask, and goggles)
  • Place white vinegar in the spray bottle
  • Pull out the detergent tray and soak in vinegar for at least half an hour
  • Spray the entire washing machine down, including the inside of the drum, the rubber gasket, the lid, and any other part you can reach
  • Allow this to sit for at least half an hour
  • Wipe everything down with microfiber towels (these are 100 times better at removing particles than regular rags), making sure to alternate them so you’re not spreading the moldy particles around
  • Gently scrub the detergent tray, wipe with a microfiber towel, and replace it in the machine
  • Place two cups of white vinegar in the washing machine and run it on the hottest cycle (if it has a sanitizing or self-clean cycle, use this)
  • Complete the spray and wipe down process once more (mycotoxins and bacteria are incredibly difficult to remove, so the more thorough the better)
  • Place EC3 Laundry Additive into the detergent tray and run the machine on the hottest cycle
  • Run one more cleaning cycle to ensure the particles are gone
  • Spray the outside of the machine with white vinegar or Benefect Decon 30, let it sit for about five minutes, and then wipe with a microfiber towel
  • Open the door and detergent tray and allow the machine to completely dry

How often should I be cleaning my washing machine?

Deep clean the washing machine at least once a month and clean the rubber gasket and lid seals once a week. This process helps remove any particles that managed to sneak inside and residue from the detergent.

What can I do to prevent mold from growing in my washing machine?

  • Leave the lid and the detergent tray open when the machine is off. This reduces moisture trapped within the machine by allowing for airflow.  
  • Wipe down the seals after washing clothing to remove any moisture.
  • Use the right detergent. If it calls for high-efficiency detergent, that is the option you should go with. Too many suds can leave the door wide open for mold growth.
  • Use EC3 Laundry Additive with every use. This product will help remove particles like spores from clothing and the washing machine itself.
  • Maintain indoor humidity between 30-50%. You can turn on an exhaust fan, open a door or window to create airflow, or invest in a dehumidifier to help.
  • Regularly inspect for wear, tear, and leaks. A malfunctioning machine can lead to excess moisture and mold growth so replace any parts like the hoses as needed or call a repair technician to come in and fix the problem.
  • Make sure to stick to the life expectancy. When the malfunctioning starts ramping up, it’s time to move on to a new machine to avoid opportunities that could lead to mold.
  • Remove all wet clothes immediately. All it takes is 24 hours on a surface with moisture and edible options for a mold spore to grow.

If I am moving into a new apartment, is there something I should do to sanitize my washing machine the first time?

Definitely do a deep clean of the machine using the steps above, completing the spraying and wiping down process three times to eliminate any hard-to-remove contaminants like mycotoxins, a toxic byproduct of some species of mold.

Which is better?  Top loading washing machines or front-loading machines?

Any washing machine can get moldy, but top loaders are a slightly better option. The rubber seal on front-loading machines can retain moisture and particles, allowing mold to grow. 

Mold is one of those things that can appear to creep up out of nowhere. Follow the above recommendations from Mr. Rubino to make sure your washing machine operates at it’s best and keeps your safe.

Michael Rubino is an air quality expert who helps bridge the gap between the air in our homes and its direct impact on our health. Rubino works with over 100 doctors globally to not only raise awareness but also provide solutions to correctly identify and remove the pollutants causing this global health crisis. As President of All American Restoration, Rubino specializes in working with people who are immunocompromised or have acute and sustained reactions to mold exposure and has helped heal over 1,000 families—including celebrities and athletes. He is also a council-certified Mold Remediator by IICRC and ACAC and is a contributing member, sponsor, and speaker for the Indoor Air Quality Association. He is the author of The Mold Medic and a contributor to MindBodyGreen. Rubino has been featured on Gwyneth Paltrow’s The goop Podcast and goop’s website, Brandi Glanville’s Unfiltered podcast, Luke Storey, Forbes, USA Today, and Bloom TV, to name a few. He hosts the YouTube series, Mold Talks, where guests include medical experts as well as mold recovery patients, including media icon Atoosa Rubenstein.

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