Major Laundry Detergent Buildup

Updated on February 20, 2013
D.K. asks from Richmond, IN
13 answers

So, last year in November we bought a new front load washing machine. Prior to that we had only used the upright style machines. I was super excited because it is way bigger than the one I had before which means that I can wash our blankets. Yeah!

Some back ground: We live in Japan. I can read a little Japanese, but my reading level is still elementary school level. The writing system is very complicated: three different systems all blended together. Once you are out of high school here you should be able to read 1,945 characters (like our alphabet) that can be put together in combinations to form words. So, I am a little dependent on my husband for reading manuals.

I asked him how to use the machine. Without apparently reading the manual, he gave me the explanation. He told me that I could just use the laundry detergent measurements that come with the detergent the way I always have. Apparently, he was wrong! Majorly wrong, on this one ladies!

I noticed that there was soap residue when I tried to wash out the clothing in which my son had accidents at night. Over the past few months since getting the new machine, the amount of time and water rinsing them out has gradually increased. Last weekend the water turned milky white instantly while rinsing. It took about 8 times filling the 9 liter bucket I scrub the clothing out in to get all the laundry detergent out of one pair of underwear. That's 72 liters of water to get one item clean! Yikes! If I didn't get the laundry detergent out, then the urine just clung to the laundry detergent holding that smell in the clothing. So scrub, scrub, scrub I did. Daily for two pairs of underwear, two footed pajamas, two belly warmers (tube style tops that cover the stomach area, a Japanese thing), and two undershirts.

I also noticed that all of us started getting itchier and itchier. We are all scratching. I also noticed that my husband started taking fewer showers. I asked him why. He said he didn't have time. Recently, I noticed that he had gone at least five days without taking a shower. So, I asked him again why. He said he didn't understand what I did all day. I was scrubbing clothes. I also couldn't understand why our new laundry machine didn't seem to be rinsing properly. So, my husband finally spills the beans as to why he stopped taking showers everyday. The gas and water bills had increased dramatically since November (when we got the new laundry machine.) Then he brought up not knowing what I did all day, and to concentrate on getting housework done more instead of being on the iPad or reading or whatever it was I did. That was the moment I made the connection with the laundry machine. I explained that it took a long time to rinse out the accident clothing and it seemed to be taking longer and longer. It seemed like the machine wasn't rinsing the detergent out. I told him that I tried to fix it by not putting in as much laundry detergent, but it didn't seem to be working. He went to get the manual.

After reading the manual he discoverd that our new machine would tell us the size of the load prior to starting. I was going by the measurements on the actual detergent. I knew that I could always see a number like 0.5 before the machine started to run. I was still going by small, medium and large load sizes. I added the amount of liquid detergent that came up to the medium load size mark on the cap to that 0.5 load size which I thought was a medium load based of my old machine. It turned out that I was putting 5 times the amount of laundry detergent in each load.

Do the math, and you can see that once we figure out how to use this machine, our water and gas bills will go way down, and we also won't need to buy so much laundry detergent. If only my husband would have read that manual first, or if I could read Japanese fluently (been working on that a long time already), but now that I have vented all that.

How do I get all the laundry detergent buildup out of our clothes? Any idea how long it will take to do this? That's three months of two or three loads of regular laundry daily that I was using 5 times the amount of laundry detergent necessary. Ugg! I am guessing it won't be a quick fix.

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So What Happened?

Well as a few of you mamas pointed out, the bigger issue here is communication. My husband and I haven't been communicating well in my opinion for a while now. Anyway, he is talking more now with me. So perhaps this was a necessary eye opener for us.

As for the actual laundry problem: I asked my husband about laundromats, and he totally didn't want to even try that. So, since there is no hot water for the laundry machines here in Japan, I dumped the clothes in our bathtub and ran the hottest water recommended on the clothing labels. Fortunately, the hot water has a temperature control on the bathtub, so this was fairly easy for me to do. I did that a couple of times, and then handwashed them in the sink one item at a time. I started doing smaller loads and running them without laundry detergent. Finally, I think I have got the soap out of the clothes. It has taken a month to do this. I have made a chart with load size and amount of liquid or powder detergent per load. It is pinned up next to the machine so that we don't have this problem again. I just started using laundry detergent on the clothing again. I have tested a few of the items that I noticed held the most laundry detergent before. They all come out of the water without it changing colors or having any soap bubbles now, so I guess the clothes are okay now. We have seen a decrease in the itchiness and rashes too, thankfully!

As for the machine getting cleaned out, we are still working on that. My husband kept telling me that the machine automatically cleans itself with each load. After finding a picture of cleaning the machine in the manual, I dug out my dictionary for Japanese and painstakingly looked up each character and figured out enough to ask him to check my Japanese. He said it was strange and asked me to show him where I had seen it. I took the manual to him. After he read it, he said that perhaps we needed to order some special cleaning product to clean our machine if I was worried. I told him that I was worried after what some of you mamas wrote about cleaning the machine. So we ordered the cleaning product, and it came this week. I am hoping my husband will read how to use it, and we can finish cleaning up this mess on the weekend.

Thank you all for the great advice.

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answers from Portland on

I am so so sorry that this has happened to you! Is there any way you could take them to a laundry mat and rinse them instead of just washing them?

One of the best things to take out soap or shampoo residues is to use white vinegar. I would rinse the clothes in as strong of a vinegar solution, like maybe straight if you can. This should help to break down the soap. You might also want to contact like Proctor and Gamble and ask them because they make a lot of differen types of soaps.

Good luck! I feel so much for you!

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answers from Stationed Overseas on

I second Marla S. I use white vinegar when rinsing soap out of cloth diapers (though I do not use very much). I also think you should take it all to a laundrette/laundromat and just "rinse" each load until you can tell the wash is clear water. If you do, put the vinegar in the soap dispenser this time since you have so much buildup to start with. Sorry. :-( Hopefully this will be a story you and your husband will be able to laugh at in the years to come! Good luck. :-)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think the front loading machines are supposed to be economical because they use so much less water. But that means they need a lot less detergent so the proportion stays the same. The detergent bottle directions have nothing to do with the size of the machine. Sounds like you've had the added problem of a language barrier - I have a friend who studied Japanese and I know how hard she worked to learn an entirely different set of characters. Can you talk to someone who speaks English at the place where you bought the machine? that might save time over trying to decipher a manual, since I think manuals aren't written so clearly anyway.

And yes, run a lot of white vinegar through the machine, and wash your clothes without detergent, perhaps in a laundromat as someone else suggested.

I think it's too bad that your husband is so worried about the bills that he has stopped taking showers, and it's turned into an argument about what you do all day on the iPad. It sounds like you two need to communicate a lot better - he had no idea you've had a ton of laundry and some skin irritation, and you took 5 days to notice that he wasn't showering. It sounds like this problem with the laundry is only one of the things that went on and on without being addressed. Maybe the two of you should work on better and earlier communication so there isn't so much resentment and so there isn't so much time elapsing before one spouse knows of the other spouse's problems.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Not only are you going to need to use vinegar to get the soap out of your clothes, you are going to need to use vinegar in your machine and run some empty loads to get the excess buildup out of the machine. Or look at the manual and use what the manufacturer suggests to clean the machine. My machine has a clean washer setting and suggests using Affresh to clean the washer.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

First, do a major vinegar treatment to your washer. Pour in a few cups, and let the machine cycle. Then do a couple of rinses of your clothing with vinegar added to the water. :)

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answers from Seattle on

On the newer washers a simple vingar clean up will NOT do. Vinegar works best on calcium deposits, it does very little to detergent build up.
You likely have some major soap buildup in the hose system. They should make and sell a washing machine cleaner for HE washers. Send your husband to buy it, you put it in the machine like detergent and it cleans all of the inner workings. You may have to do it 2 or three times if your buildup is that bad.
As for the clothes I would wash them on the hottest setting possible without any detergent. As you wash them you should see sudsing, They need to be washed on hot and rinsed until no more suds come up. You will go through a lot of water... handwashing and rinsing them in the bathtub may help you save a bit and you can get the water hotter by adding almost boiling water to the mix. Adding a drop (really just a drop) of dish detergent also helps (but as others have said to NOT put dish detergent in your HE machine).

Well, what a learning experience....on reading manuals and improving communication...

Good luck!

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answers from Columbia on


Don't put any detergent in. Your clothes are already full of detergent. Just put the vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser.

Set it to run an extra rinse cycle too.

Best of luck!

ETA: DO NOT put Dawn dish detergent into your washer. You can use it in the bathtub and then rinse VERY well to get some of the buildup out. But I wouldn't. Just use the vinegar in your machine. And don't worry...the smell will be gone after you dry the clothes.

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answers from Miami on

I agree with Natalie. And take your husband WITH you on a Saturday morning so that he can help you. It's going to take two people. Plus, he can read the directions at the laundromat.

I think I'd recommend to him that he ask before just assuming that you play on the ipad all day if I were you. And what does the ipad have to do with high water bills? That was pretty crappy of him to say and didn't even make sense...

Good luck with this!

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answers from Dayton on

I had the same problem. It only takes 2 tablespoons of High Efficiency detergent to clean a full load. If you use standard detergents, you use even less than 2 tablespoons. You may want to run an empty load through once with a 1/4 cup vinegar to cleanse out the machine of previous soapy buildup. My repair man also recommended I run the vinegar load once every 4 months or so to keep the machine working right.

I hope this helps.

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answers from Jacksonville on

Run the washer empty on hot several times, then a hot, empty load with vinegar in it (1 cup to 1 1/2 cups). After that, run a cold empty load and see what color the water is. If it is still cloudy, run some more empty hot loads again. Then try a cold empty load. It should be pretty clear by this point. Most front load washers in the US only require a tablespoon of soap for a full size load.

To rid your clothes of the soap put about 1/2 cup baking soda in the tub, then clothes. NO soap at all, fabric softener is ok, And wash like normal.

Good luck



answers from Chicago on

Dawn dish detergent will remove the build up. I'd treat it as if I was stripping cloth diapers.


answers from Indianapolis on

I have a normal washer and dryer. Not HE. And I only use a teaspoon of detergent per load. That's all you need!! The soap companies tell you to use a lot so you buy a lot.



answers from Cleveland on

In my front load washing machine I use a product called "affresh". They are round tablets that go into an empty washing machine to break down all of the soap residue build up. If you can get them in Japan, I recommend buying 2 packs and doing 2 empty loads of laundry with 3 tablets each. The product works wonders. As for the clothing itself, I would wash them a few times without detergent....after all it sounds like the fabric is holding enough detergent from the past few months that you don't need anymore. :)

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