In the several years since front-load washing machines began gaining ground for their high-efficiency, low-water-use operation, the segment has also been a source of frustration for some homeowners. Anecdotal reports of mildewy washers affecting clothes and indoor air quality have come to a head. In April, a class-action lawsuit against Whirlpool was put on hold while courts debated the plaintiffs' grouping as a "class." The suit was reinstated this week.

The suit calls out Whirlpool's Duet product line saying the machines "have serious design defects" that cause mold to form inside the machine, contaminating the machine, the clothes, and the surrounding space with a foul odor, and rendering them useless.

Additionally, the suit purports that, not only did Whirlpool know about the defects and not make efforts to repair them, but that they also profited from mold and mildew problems by marketing a washing machine cleaning product called Affresh. Indeed, as issues with front-load washing machines have gotten more attention, manufacturers including Clorox and Tide have jumped at the chance to introduce washing machine cleaning products.

In response to REMODELING's request for a comment, Whirlpool called the suit "completely without merit," citing data that shows that "less than 3% of buyers report any issue with biofilm in their machine, even after 11 years of use."

The company went on to say, "for more than a decade, these washers have given consumers enormous benefits over older generation machines such as: significantly less water use, greater capacity, higher energy efficiency and exceptional cleaning performance and fabric care." In addition, the lawsuit comes just two months after news that a leading consumer magazine awarded Whirlpool front-loaders top honors in washer tests, citing high-performance cleaning and the shortest available cycle times among recommended washers. Several Whirlpool washer models also carry the Good Housekeeping Seal, which helps guarantee customer satisfaction.

The lawsuit focuses on Duet models manufactured between 2001 and 2008. An NBC News report mentions additional brands that have exhibited mold and mildew problems, including Kenmore, Bosch, and LG. The article says design improvements mean newer models of front-load dishwashers are less likely to be affected.

In its statement, Whirlpool says all appliances "require some level of care to keep them operating at peak performance." Regardless of a given household's habits, Whirlpool recommends the following steps to keep front-load washers clean and fresh:

  1. Read the instructions in the Use & Care Guide
  2. Use high-efficiency (HE) detergent
  3. Keep the washer door slightly ajar when not in use
  4. Run a monthly clean washer cycle, or use an aftermarket cleaning product

—Lauren Hunter is the senior products editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @LaurenHunter_HW or @RemodelingMag.