“Black Sludge” Still Plaguing Campus Washing Machines

For some resident students, whether or not their clothes leave the washing machine dirtier than they went has become a crapshoot.

Dark streaks of unknown origin have been appearing on students’ items post-wash from time to time, a phenomenon occasionally referred to as “black sludge.”

The problem has been observed throughout campus residence halls as early as last year, but seems to occur most frequently in Horan Hall. The black-brown stains are easy to spot on otherwise clean clothes and do not easily come out in subsequent washes.

Area Coordinator for Horan Hall Ryan Bunts offered a possible explanation as to how the stains are caused.

“It was eventually found that when students put items into the machines that are excessively dirty (i.e. shoes or athletic cleats), they can leave residue in the rubber outer lining of the machine, “ said Bunts via email. “Housekeeping has since been treating this by cleaning that area with Lysol wipes which treats the problem unless excessively dirty items are placed in the machine again.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 2.14.57 PM
Horan Hall washing machines leave students with “black sludge”on otherwise clean clothes. Joe Liggio/THE QUADRANGLE
Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 2.16.31 PM
Horan Hall washing machines leave students with “black sludge”on otherwise clean clothes. Joe Liggio/THE QUADRANGLE

Campus washing machines are serviced by Fowler, a commercial laundry equipment company that supplies different clients ranging from coin-operated laundromats to apartment complexes and school dormitories, according to the company’s website. Bunts explained that while Fowler is responsible for maintenance of the machines, housekeeping staff handles cleaning them, and does so “a few times a week.”

The situation is familiar to many students, to the point where it has already become the subject of parody by some on campus. Senior Cameron Cullen, host and writer of the Manhattan College TV series “Cam’s Corner,” provided one such example as he addressed the “black sludge” problem in the November edition of his web series, now in it’s second season.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 5.06.28 PM
Character Kry$ Ventura (played by senior Christian Bennett) investigates the machines in a recent episode of “Cam’s Corner”, the YouTube series hosted by Cullen. CAM’S CORNER, NOVEMBER EPISODE / COURTESY

“One of our main segments on the show is Cam’s Call, [where] we investigate something that is ‘getting under my skin on campus,’ so we looked at the weight room scene,” said Cullen, referring to an earlier part of the episode addressing deadlifting restrictions in the Fitness Center. “We ran into people who were familiar with the show, fans I guess, and they pretty much said ‘Hey, you guys should definitely do a spot on the black sludge situation in Horan Hall.’ So we were able to swing that and kinda do a special report.”

The report featured “Expert Field Expert” Kry$ Ventura, (played by senior Christian Bennett), braving the dank conditions of a decrepit Horan laundry room and pointing out “black sludge” build up with a flashlight before being overcome by CGI fumes. Suggesting that the sludge was an aftereffect of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Ventura warns students to remain wary of the source of “some of the most disgusting and repugnant substances to ever grace this campus.”

Cullen, who is also a Resident Assistant in Lee Hall, has not observed the same issue of “black sludge” occurring in his own building, but points out that some washers and dryers in Lee are in need of repair, and that it doesn’t appear Fowler representatives are consistent when it comes to servicing machines. Ultimately, he acknowledges that most problems with the machines are out of Residence Life’s hands.

“It seems like a pretty major issue, and it’s not something that can be fixed in a day or two,” said Cullen. “I think it’s an issue that definitely needs to be figured out because we deserve better than this.”

The Quadrangle found that some degree of mildew buildup was present in all washing machines in Horan. Comparing pictures taken of the grime build up at the end of the Fall semester to pictures taken following the start of the Spring semester revealed no apparent decrease in the level of this mildew over Winter Intersession. The build up occurs in the same recess of the rubber liner that sits between the washer’s door and tub.

Ultimately, Bunts points out that students are an important factor in keeping the machines clean.

“There are two ways that students can help us solve this issue – rinse any muddy or excessively dirty items before placing them in the machines (and not putting shoes in at all), and filling out a housekeeping work order [online] if there is an issue stating specifically which machines caused the problem. We always want to help with these issues and will address them immediately when they are brought to our attention.”

Housekeeping work orders can be submitted at manhattan.edu/repair