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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – It’s helped tackle dirty laundry, using less energy, less water, and less detergent. However, front-load washing machines may be triggering more service calls, more trouble, and more lawsuits than manufacturers ever expected.

Michael Vogler says it’s left him high and dry. “You could say it was a clothes spoiler, instead of a clothes washer.”

Vogler is one of the lead plantiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Electrolux Home Products, the maker of his Frigidaire front-load machine. He walked us to the back of his house to a shed where he says he is storing the “evidence.”

“This is where the problem is,” Vogler said, pointing to the machine.

Vogler says he noticed his allergies worsening, his clothes smelling, and he found a streak of mold on one of his clean shirts. That’s when he discovered what was hidden inside the front seal of his machine.

“It was black and slimy. This is stained and permeated in the rubber,” Vogler said.

Class-action lawsuits have been filed against several top washing machine makers – Electrolux, Frigidaire, Sears, Kenmore, LG Electronics, Bosch and Whirlpool Corporation. The lawsuits claim the machines are defective in their designs and airtight seals, creating breeding grounds for slimy, smelly black bacteria, also known as “biofilm.”

“In our case, we have a service bulletin on this,” said attorney Ed Wallace, who represents Vogler and others in the litigation against Electrolux Home Products.

“The company knew there was a problem as early as April 2007. And rather than recall the machines and let consumers know, they continued to sell the machines,” Wallace said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are also arguing that when customers complain, manufacturers often place the blame on them for not cleaning their machines.

“So this is something I’m responsible for?” says I-Team Senior Investigative Reporter Ginger Allen.

Allen called several of the customer service lines and was repeatedly told this was something she was responsible for, and a problem she could prevent, if she followed the manuals. Some of them also told Allen this was not a very common problem.

However, the plumbers and appliance service companies, which have inspected the moldy machines, told the I-Team they could not disagree more.

“Yeah. Oh my gosh yes!” said one plumber, when Allen asked whether he’d heard of the problem.

When asked whether the problem rests with just one brand, an appliance serviceman said: “No, it’s all front loaders.”

The repairmen told us how “common” was to have standing water, mold and odors in front-load washers.

“You can’t imagine how it smells, like somebody died. I have to go outside,” said one serviceman.

In court documents, Whirlpool is said to have marketed a product called Affresh to “combat” mold. The product, according to the documents, could generate an estimated $195 million in sales revenue, even though the company said it had “few” consumer complaints about bacteria.

Vogler says when he complained to Frigidaire, he was told to buy a new $200 part.

“Companies rip people off, $200 to $300 at a time. It’s just not fair, “ Wallace said.

Vogler’s son was a baby when his lawsuit began. Now, seven years later, they do laundry together in a top-load machine, waiting for their day in court. “It’s just a principle thing. I just feel like someone needs to stand up to these people,” Vogler said.

STATEMENTS TO CBS 11 I-Team FROM MANUFACTURERS:

ELECTROLUX NORTH AMERICA

“Although I’m unable to comment about the specific lawsuit, we dispute that our front load washers contain any defect regarding mold or mildew. Please see several tips for consumers experiencing mold or mildew:
• To help prevent odors, mildew or mold, consumers should leave the door open for a few hours after use to allow the washer to dry.
• Additionally, consumers can refresh or clean the inside of the washer by running the Clean Washer cycle. Some models have an automated reminder mode or consumers may prefer to manually select the cycle.
• If a consumer believes that their product is not working as expected, we urge them to call our consumer services group to discuss whether service is necessary.”

LG ELECTRONICSUSA

In light of periodic news reports raising questions about “mold” in front-load washing machines, LG Electronics USA reiterates the importance of proper use and maintenance.

Laundry odors can occur for a variety of reasons, and the number of mold reports represents a very small percentage of units installed in consumers’ homes. This is not a new issue as claims have been made against all major manufacturers over the years.

For all front-load laundry purchasers, LG emphasizes proper use and routine maintenance.
• LG recommends using the correct amount of High-Efficiency (HE) detergent for front-load washers.
• A washer cleaning solution developed for front-loaders may also be used periodically.
• Additional maintenance suggestions and consumer tips, including information on LG’s “tub clean” cycle, can be found in the user’s manual.

LG has also developed a variety of features on its front-load washers to help consumers better care for their washers and clothes, including:
• An exclusive magnetic door ventilation feature to ensure the wash tub stays fresh in-between loads. LG has designed a clever magnet that props the door open ever so slightly to allow fresh air to circulate in the wash tub without getting in the way.
• A redesigned antimicrobial door gasket with drain holes to help the gasket dry more quickly to keep mold and mildew away.
• A high-powered “Tub Clean” cycle that removes detergent residue to keep odors and mildew away; it is recommended that consumers run this cycle every month to help keep the washer clean and fresh.

Customer satisfaction with LG front-load laundry products is extremely high, and LG consistently receives accolades from independent testing organizations on our washers and dryers.

As an industry leader and technology innovator in front-load laundry, we appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight on this industry issue.

SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO.

“Sears and Whirlpool, who manufactured the washing machines at issue and is defending Sears in the lawsuit, reject any claims that Kenmore front-loading washing machines are defective. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of our members are pleased with their Kenmore front-loading washing machines. To control odor, mold, and mildew in their washing machines, our members always should follow the instructions in the use and care guide for their washing machine. For more information on the topic, please see the statement provided by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers: http://www.aham.org/consumer/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/id/43663.”

BOSCH

“As a matter of company policy, Bosch does not comment on pending litigation.”

WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION

In October last year Whirlpool Corporation received a winning verdict in a class action involving a wide range of our front-loading washing machines. The verdict clearly validated what our consumers already know — that these are high-quality washers with great performance, great energy and water savings and clear instructions for proper use. The jury saw through the class-action lawyers’ attempts to enrich themselves on the backs of consumers who have never had a complaint about their front-load washing machines. More than 96 percent of people who own these products are happy with their front-loading washing machines, and we have people on call to answer any consumer questions that may arise. The class action lawyers are the only ones who stand to benefit from these lawsuits.”

WAYS TO CLEAN YOUR MACHINE:
1. Leave the door open after use IF you do not have small children or pets.
2. Run a bleach cycle to wash out the machine periodically.
3. Clean your machine with store-brought products specifically designed for washing machine clean cycles.
4. Do not use liquid fabric softener. Use dryer sheets instead.
5. Put your machine on pedestals.
6. Wipe the water out of your machine after each use.

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