Smelly washing machine issue heads to high court

May 30, 2013 7:36:02 PM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court held a conference on Thursday to decide whether or not to hear the case of the smelly washing machines. It's one of a handful of similar cases that could affect millions of people with front loading washers.

Lawsuits have been filed against three of the biggest manufacturers of front loading washers in the country. The plaintiffs say the front loaders are susceptible to growing mold and that makes the clothes come out smelly.

"Whoo, I don't know how to describe it," said Livermore resident Louie Silva. He has lived with smelly clothes coming out of his washer for almost a year. "It's really hard on the nose. It's a bad. Whoo, I don't know how to explain it."

The Livermore resident bought his frontloader made by LG in 2010. He said the problems started two years later.

"They didn't design any air pockets. So there's no air getting behind there which everything stays wet," said Silva.

And that he thinks is leading to a mold problem. Lawsuits have been filed against several manufacturers, including the three biggest: LG, Sears and Whirlpool.

Jonathan Selbin is an attorney in two of those cases. He told us, "The mold starts to develop typically within a few months and then it gets worse and worse over time."

He sent us some pictures of the mold you might see after the washer is taken apart.

"Really just gunk for a lack of a better word. The manufacturers decided to call it biofilm because they were worried how consumers would react to calling it mold," said Selbin.

Whirlpool told us by email, "Data shows that less than one percent of buyers report encountering a biofilm build up issue. In most cases, it is quickly resolved following the use and care guide instructions."

Sears told us, "An overwhelmingly large majority of owners are pleased with their Kenmore front loading washing machines. We fully disagree with the plaintiff's lawsuit."

LG said it would not comment, but denies all allegations in the complaint and urged its customers to follow proper maintenance procedures. Those procedures include leaving the door open between washes and periodically running clean washer cycles to remove residue.

"Well, number one, that's not a real solution. It doesn't solve the problem. And number two, obviously there's a reason you don't want to leave your washing machine door open. If you have kids, if you have pets, it's a safety issue," said Selbin.

Instead Silva has resorted to washing his clothes in his old washing machine stored in his garage.

"I would be just happy with a reimbursement because I do not want a front loader anymore," said Silva.

Selbin says the problem is with washers manufactured primarily before 2010. So far two lawsuits have made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The High Court sent the Whirlpool case back down to the Appeals Court and has yet to decide whether to take the Sears Case.

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