Saturday, December 01, 2007

Accidents happen

(No manuscripts were harmed in the making of this disaster, as far as we can tell.)

This is the story of the washing machine that smelled.

Fascinating, I know.

So it smelled. We had no idea why. It's a top-loading one from Maytag and it's not that old. It's not a fancy HE or anything like that. But for some inexplicable reason, when washing things (rags, as I was doing tonight), it would emit the most pleasing odor that I can only describe as something similar to fresh cat poop. Obviously, something was not right.

So I googled. Splendiforous Google pointed out to me that there were many reasons why my machine might have developed its random smell, chief among them, that it might have the possibility of hidden mold/mildew/fungus. Ok, that didn't sound terrible. You can fix those things.

We weren't going to go out in the middle of the night and buy any of the recommended fancy cleaning products, as Chris was tired. We had already run through an empty load with color-safe bleach last week(I can't abide the traditional stuff; it's the chlorine smell), which hadn't really done anything. We did have white vinegar in the house, so I decided to try attacking the weird smell with that, this evening.

Being the responsible people we are, we first checked the actual plumbing, to make sure there was nothing dead in there. To fully appreciate the rest of this story, you must know that we live in a two-story townhouse and that the washing machine and dryer sit in an alcove in the upstairs hallway. So anyway, Chris pulled out both the dryer and the washing machine, inspected underneath and all around, and unplugged the actual drain line from the washing machine, which itself did not smell. We concluded that our smell was probably coming from the machine itself.

I filled the washing machine up with very hot water. I poured in almost a cup of white vinegar. It happily started to disinfect itself, as best as it could.

And then, it started to drain.

And then, the smoke alarm started to go off at an ear-splitting pitch.

And then, we realized that Chris had been tired, and hadn't actually reattached the drain line from the washing machine, back into the plumbing system. And that the washing machine was happily dumping its load of hot water and vinegar all over our floor.


By the time we became aware of the situation, the carpeting in our upstairs hallway was already soaked through. We had water running through the ceiling, into our downstairs hallway and part of the lower staircase landing. This was NOT GOOD. Let me emphasize the NOT GOOD-ness of this.

I shut the washing machine. Chris ran outside and shut the entire power to the house.

Why the power, you ask?

Well, you see, our townhouse came with two smoke alarms that are actually wired into the electrical system. About a month ago, when Chris was painting the dining room, he had unmounted the downstairs smoke alarm from the ceiling, and left it dangling, while he painted around it. He hadn't yet remounted it onto the ceiling, so there was a hole where it should have been and the smoke alarm itself, wires and all, still attached.

And that smoke alarm hole, my dear friends and blog readers, was where all the washing machine water was pouring through from the upstairs. Oh goody.

So we killed the power, since we weren't sure that the smoke alarm having gallons of water dumped on it was particularly good for our townhouse's electrical system, let alone whether it would decide to short and start an electrical fire.

And then, we proceeded to fumble around in the pitch-dark, while the water still flowed from our ceiling, desperately searching for flashlights. Or rather, Chris did, because I'm blind as a bat in the dark, there was water all over the tile floor we have downstairs, and I would kill myself looking. So I did the most intelligent thing I could, throwing towels on the floor, and standing under the one leak that wasn't coming from the smoke alarm. I got nice and wet in the process, but to my poor panicked brain, that was the appropriate thing to do, so that we could find it in the dark. I am perhaps not the best person to be around during a minor house disaster. =)

(Have I mentioned that with no power, we have no heat, and it's in the low twenties tonight?)

Let's fast-forward almost an hour. We mopped up water; we tried to dry the upstairs carpet; we eventually talked to Chris' father, who knows more about electrical systems than we do. We then, finally, turned the power on again.

And the smoke alarm immediately went off. At an excruciatingly loud pitch again. Poor Zoe leapt under the bed and mewed her head off. Chris desperately tried to disable it, but it's not the easiest thing to do, when it's well past midnight and the blasted thing is directly ringing in your ears. Eventually, we gave up on disabling it, and Chris shut the circuit breaker that controlled it. Hooray, no more noise.

But we still have a downstairs ceiling that will need some repair, an upstairs carpet which is currently ripped up and has a fan running air under it, and a house that smells like moldy water. The damage is not as bad as it could have been; it's also not as good as having no damage.

So if I'm a bit slow during the next week or so, or slower than usual, it's because I'm working on geting my house in order again.

And by some minor miracle, no manuscripts or queries seem to have gotten wet. Thus, I wish to offer a public notice of thanks to whatever gods protect those things--you'll be getting a rather large Christmas present from me. =)


Diana Rowland said...

Yes but... does your washer still smell? ::ducks and runs:::

(Seriously, major sympathies on the house disaster!)

Mary Robinette said...

Wow. That's a sucky, sucky thing. I'm glad that you didn't set it to run and then leave the house.

Kimber An said...

Ahhh! I was about to suggest bleach and I'm so glad I didn't.

karen wester newton said...

It's too bad you're not a writer! That would make a great scene in a book or a movie.

Hope everything gets back to normal soon.

Meg Stout said...


Caren Crane said...

Oh, Jenny. I'm so sorry to hear about the flood. The smell was bad enough, but wet carpet is a nightmare that goes on and on. Not to mention ceiling repairs, etc.

I live in fear of a flooded house (it's a random fear of mine). When my husband and I were looking at houses in the early 90s, the hot new trend was to put the laundry room upstairs. The dh and I (both engineers), looked at each other and asked, "Are they out of their minds?" Obviously, these home designers had never lived with a washing machine that floods. I had.

Happily, we have a downstairs laundry room and have had no washer-flooding problems for the past 14 years. But those memories of huge fans blowing underneath your completely pulled-up carpet fade slo-o-o-owly.

Best of luck getting things cleaned up--and eventually finding the funk!

Kelly Swails said...

Dude, seriously. This sucks.

shannonslocker said...

Our old washer had a tube in the middle of the agitator where you were supposed to pour the fabric softener. so we did. One day we started also having cat-pee smell issues. We cleaned the dryer, the washer drum, everything.

Then one day I noticed that you could actually take apart the fabric softener portion. It took a lot of prying but I got it off and discovered the source of the smell. It was nasty moldy inside but I got it clean with super hot water and bleach.

So now I NEVER use the fabric softener inset on washers. I just bought one of those Downy balls.

Kim said...

Oh, you soooo have my sympathy. When my husband and I were first married, the rubber tubing on our washer broke and we ended up having to shop vac gallons of water from the basement floor (we also lived in a townhouse with those annoying, hardwired fire alarms). Thank God it was just the basement - but a good shop vac is something you might want to ask Santa for! =)

When we were house hunting, I said I wanted a house with a laundry room on the second floor. My husband - a pipefitter by trade - sat me down and told me all the reasons why I didn't want that. He knows his stuff - he was sooo right.

I hope the stink goes away ASAP, and the ceiling repair might not be too bad. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you!

Chumplet said...

My dog has added the smoke alarm to his long list of noises that make him pee on the floor.

Now all I have to do is put something in the oven and he starts getting nervous.

Why does your alarm go off when it gets wet? Wouldn't it be the opposite?

Happy drying. Yuck.

Jaden said...

Perhaps it was karma. You haven't kicked any beggars lately, have you?

Seriously- you have my sympathy. You're actually pretty lucky nobody got electrocuted.

- Jaden

Anonymous said...

Once you get everything back to normal, prevent future foul washer odor by leaving the lid of the washer open after you take a load out. I discovered this a few years ago after suffering the same problem. Mine now stays open all the time, but if that isn't practical for you, leaving it open for an hour or so to dry out might be enough.

Celeste said...

Oh no! You poor things! I hope it doesn't smell anymore when you're done cleaning it up ;)

Elaine said...

Man, that seriously sucks. Water messes are the worst to clean up. Good luck.

kiwi said...

... with a little imagination, Jenny, you could turn this incident into a very amusing short story.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I should offer sympathy but I laughed till I cried. That was a great story! You made my day, thank you.
By the way my dryer smelled like cat pee because the cat seemed to think that was her new litter box! I learned to keep the door shut.

December/Stacia said...

Yes, I genuinely feel awful for you, I really do, having had plenty of at-home disasters of my own, but this is hysterical.

Anonymous said...

That's terribe, Jenny! What a stroke of luck though that none of your writing decided to take a bath. Flooding is horrible, and I should know...

Anonymous said...

Whatever you do, I would strongly advise not reporting this incident to your insurance company. I had a similar kind of caused-by-our-own-mistake water disaster a couple years ago. We reported the $2000 worth of damages and repairs to our insurance company, only to be rejected for a new homeowner's policy because of it when we moved a year later. I would pay out-of-pocket or do it yourself if at all possible.

smurphy said...

Fans are good. Dehumidifiers are better. Took care of our floor very well.

First night in our first house the new house was my first time using a dishwasher. I used Dawn. Bubbles oozed out of it for fifteen minutes before I came back in the kitchen. The dehumidifier saved the floor.

The Anonymous poster is right about leaving the washer open. Mildew will grow quickly when there is no air circulating.

My heart goes out to you Chris and Zoe. At least no one was hurt. And of course, like my dishwasher incident, a while down the road you'll be able to remember and laugh. :)