By Galen L. Dutch
We’ve all now heard of the so called high efficiency (HE) washers that are supposed to get clothes clean while using a lot less water than a conventional top loading washer.
HE washers were developed as a possible solution to the water shortage resulting from a severe drought in the Southwestern United States from 1987 to 1991. HE washers are made in both front-loading and top-loading models, however both types operate on the same “Water Utilization Principle” (a term coined by the appliance manufacturers) which is by tumbling the laundry through a small pool of water instead of being completely submerged as in a conventional agitator machine. Extremely low water usage is a feature common to all HE washers regardless of the manufacturer and it has been mandated by some local and state governments. Typically, an HE washer typically uses only 15 gallons per cycle and from 1999 to the present, appliance makers and water agencies have been mounting an aggressive marketing campaign to promote the sale of HE washers.
However over the past 12 years that HE machines have been on the market, many users have complained of a strong “locker room” odor emanating from their machines and their clothes have the same offensive smell too. In response to the complaints, manufacturers first claimed that leaving the door open after each use would cure the problem, but that didn’t work. Then they claimed the machine had to be run through a special self-cleaning cycle to remove the dirt that was not washed out during the normal wash cycles. Ironically, when the washer was running with a normal load, the dirt was actually being recycled from the previous load instead of actually being washed out! And now, their latest fix is an expensive “washer freshener.”
However all of these fixes have still not worked and buyers have filed numerous class action suits against the washer manufacturers claiming “Breach of Merchantability, i.e., that HE washers aren’t really capable of performing as they have been marketed. To date one manufacturer has paid out several million in claims and others are in the process of settling with disgruntled buyers.
As one of the expert witnesses for a group of plaintiffs, we examined several HE machines each of which was made by a different manufacturer. First, we noted that the washer was simply not using enough water to keep the clothes from balling up and the water/detergent/dirt mixture was merely being percolated through one layer of clothes to another instead of being suspended and washed out.
Secondly, we removed the interior drum from a front loader or the basket from a top loader and were able to examine the plastic outer tub that actually holds the water. The interior was encrusted with a gooey substance that resembles wet dryer lint and this residue was not getting washed out of the machine itself. Washing a new load of clothes was simply depositing the residue from the previous load and the build up is a cumulative process! The root of both of these problems is that all HE washers (regardless of the manufacturer or model) simply don’t use enough water to do the job.
Despite all the legal actions being brought against the washer manufacturers, they still have not been willing to address the flawed water-utilization principle on their own. The only solution is for the buyers of these machines to find an independent appliance repair service who knows how to adjust the water level control so the machine has enough water to do the job. As an electrical and mechanical geek, I’ve been successfully performing after market adjustments on HE washers and I believe this will become a new and booming cottage industry!
Galen L. Dutch is an electro mechanical consultant.