In the past decade, front-loading washers have enjoyed growing popularity in the US, thanks in large part to their efficient energy and water usage, and gentle treatment of clothing compared to the classic pole-agitator top-loading machines. Lowering water bills and easing consciences, the front-loading models have made washing a bit "greener."
Maybe a bit too green, according to a group of consumers who have filed a class action against Sears. They claim that the design of these front-loaders is defective, causing mold, mildew, and horrible smells in a machine that's supposed to be clean.
The problem in the washer design stems from the water-tight seal round the door, something that top-loaders don't need. When a load of laundry is done, it's a natural reaction to close the door (though manufacturers' instruction clearly state that you shouldn't). This creates a damp breeding ground for microorganisms, which cause unpleasant smells. Since most laundry-doers aren't always going to leave the door open, companies like Whirlpool use "Dynamic Venting Technology" to replace stale air between wash cycles. But this doesn't necessarily guarantee a dry, mold-free environment.
The consumers in the case argue that manufacturers should design their washers to prevent this from happening. The manufacturers claim that a class action shouldn't stand, since so few users have complained, and the cause of the smell can't be blamed solely on the washer's design. The case has tumbled its way through the legal system, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, though SCOTUS kicked it back down to a lower circuit for reconsideration.
If anything, this suit could influence washing machine-makers to design better products that don't raise such a stink. But in the meantime, just keep the door open after each load, will ya?
Photos by UpstateNYer via Wikimedia Commons and Reviewed.com