Appliance repairman Paul Flynn of Savage was getting calls from customers suffering allergic reactions to their foul-smelling front-loading washing machines. During nearly every $150 service call, Flynn found mold and mildew inside the inner tub.
Flynn got to thinking about his experience cleaning metal lathes and kitchen grills in the Navy, and in 2002 started working to perfect a granular, citrus-based product for washers. Since last year, Flynn has been selling SmellyWasher online, filling 75 to 100 orders a day for shipments worldwide. He's sold about 20,000 of the $16 bottles, enough to quit his job as a repairman.
But besides selling a product, Flynn also educates consumers about solving the problem before it occurs at his website, SmellyWasher.com.
"The whole reason this problem exists is the fault of the detergent manufacturers," Flynn said. "They tell us to use too much of their detergents."
Consumers who own front-loading washing machines should use only about one-quarter of the recommended amount of high-efficiency (HE), low-sudsing detergent. Standard, non-HE detergents in front-loaders are too sudsy.
Why don't top-loading machines have this problem? Less efficient top-loaders that use more water typically flush out excess suds, soil, detergent and fabric softener.
Class-action lawsuits against manufacturers such as LG, Whirlpool and Maytag have been filed, alleging mold and mildew problems in front-loading washers.
Some suits have been settled while others are pending, affecting hundreds of thousands of consumers, said Rob Shelquist, a partner at the Lockridge Grindal Nauen firm in Minneapolis.
According to Whirlpool, the low water use and airtight seals on HE front-loaders create the potential for odor-causing mold and mildew. Whirlpool has its own anti-odor product, Affresh, which sells for $7 for three treatments. SmellyWasher is more expensive than Affresh initially ($16 for 24 treatments), but Flynn's product lasts a year.
SmellyWasher can be used as a preventive monthly or less often if smaller amounts of detergent are used. Affresh is also used monthly, but a $7 packet of three tablets lasts only three months. Flynn's product will remove musty odors from towels or clothing, which Affresh does not claim to do.
Getting rid of the mold problem
To eliminate odors, Smellywasher users should put a capful of Flynn's product in the detergent dispenser, select the hottest water temperature and the extra-large load to fill the empty washer with the largest amount of water. Let the water agitation start and then stop the washer and allow the solution to soak for two to four hours. Repeat as necessary and allow to soak overnight if needed.
Flynn said that the product works best in hot water. Consumers might want to run the faucet closest to the washing machine until the water is hot before starting the process or turn up their water heater temperature until the load is finished. (Remember to turn the temp back down to avoid scalding.) Flynn offers a money-back guarantee. Stubborn cases of mold and mildew might require five to seven treatments.
Susie Thymian is such a believer that she now sells SmellyWasher in her own store, McGinnis Appliance in Morris, Minn. Thymian had blamed the musty smell from her towels on her teenagers, who often leave wet towels in a pile in their bedrooms. Her kids' solution to the stink was to use more towels. Thymian's answer was to use more bleach in the laundry, but nothing got rid of the mystery mold odor until she found Flynn's product.
Only a few of Flynn's customers are from Minnesota so far. Most come from regions with higher humidity. Sharon Turner, who lives in steamy San Antonio, Texas, said SmellyWasher worked after several cycles. "I was ready to throw out my plush towels and my front washer. It saved my sanity."
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 • firstname.lastname@example.org