Is your washing machine growing hidden mold? Lawsuits now accuse some of the top companies of making defective machines.

If this story sounds familiar to viewers who follow Ruth to the Rescue, it's because Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer received similar complaints about Whirlpool back in 2007. More on that part of the story in a moment.

First, the new suits are targeting some of the biggest names in appliances: Whirlpool, LG, Sears/Kenmore, and Bosch. The suits allege that certain front-loading washing machines have serious design defects that cause them to accumulate mold and mildew within the machine. The plaintiffs also claim the remedies they've tried have not eliminated the odors caused by the mold growth.

The machine cost about $1000 and were built into the late 2000's. A list of the models affected is posted at the end of this article.

The companies say customers are the one causing the problems by misusing the machines or not maintaining them properly. They also say only a very small percentage are affected. Whirlpool says the lawsuits are completely without merit. The company's entire statement is also posted below.

Washer Woes 2007

Back in 2007, Ruth to the Rescue received numerous complaints from consumer who were having a problem with the Maytag Neptune front-loading washer, made by Whirlpool. That model has been part of a class-action settlement. Whirlpool said notices had been sent to 1.1 million customers and it had run two advertisements in USA Today. However, many consumers told us they never heard about the settlement, missed a key legal deadline, and were hung out to dry when it came to repairs.

At the time, Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer asked one of those customers, "If Whirlpool says we're not legally bound to fix these problems according to the settlement in the lawsuit, do you believe they are ethically bound to fix these problems?"

That consumer replied, "Absolutely, and I would go back and shop with Whirlpool. If they sent this to me and said, 'Ok. Maytag didn't do this, but we're going to honor this."

As Spencer continued her investigation, she realized she had one of the washing machines included in the settlement. After weeks and weeks of trying to get someone from Whirlpool to sit for an on camera interview, she took a stand on behalf of thousands of customers and told Whirlpool she would dump her own machine on its property in Benton Harbor.

That promise paid off, and a Whirlpool representative finally sat down with Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer. She disputed there was any problem with mold.

"I would dispute that there is a mold issue out there. Again, would go to the use and care manual to make sure that a consumer is doing what they're supposed to be doing with their product," said Kathryn Nelson, who was then the VP of Consumer and Appliance Care for Whirlpool.

What Can You Learn

All these years later, we're seeing new lawsuits targeting some of the biggest names in the appliance business. Consumers can learn a lot from the Ruth to the Rescue investigation of 2007. First, if you have one of the machines affected, make sure you look into being part of the lawsuit.

Also, follow the legal developments closely. You don't want to miss a deadline to be included, and then be left out in the cold when it comes to repairs. Thousands of people found out the hard way what happens if you don't act to protect your interests.

While newer machines how have an improved design, if you have an older front-loading washing machine, there are steps you can take to limit the potential for mold growth.

1) Leave the door open when the machine is not in use. Though, you must use caution if you have small children in the house as they might be able to climb inside.
2) Run a bleach cycle from time to time to clean out the machine.
3) Wipe down the entire machine after each use, right around the door and inside the bin.

List of Machines

Washing machine models named in lawsuits include:

Whirlpool front-load washers sold between 2001 and December 2008, without a steam feature:

WHIRLPOOL DUET
WHIRLPOOL DUET SPORT

Sears/Kenmore front-load washers sold between 2001 and December 2008, without a steam feature:

KENMORE ELITE HE
KENMORE HE2
KENMORE HE2PLUS
KENMORE HE2T
KENMORE HE3
KENMORE HE3T
KENMORE 4T

LG front-load washers sold between August 1, 2003-December 31, 2007, without a steam feature:

WM2077CW
WM2277HW
WM3677HW
WM1212CW
WM1814CW
WM2032HW