Have you ever washed a load of laundry only to notice that it stinks after you’ve taken it out from the washing machine? We all hate when our freshly washed clothes smell nothing but fresh due to bad odors in the washer. Where do these smells come from, and how to get rid of them?
Often, the washing machine smells due to bacteria or mold build-up. Detergent and soap scum also stink if left uncleaned for long periods. Other reasons include plumbing issues. Cleaning your washer and leaving the door open after each use, as well as regular maintenance, can help keep odors at bay.
Why Does My Washing Machine Smell?
A smelly washer can be concerning, but before fixing the issue, you have to find it. There are several reasons why your washing machine develops a foul odor, including:
Washing at Low Temperature
Most modern fabrics require washing at low temperatures. That, combined with the lower utility bills that come with cold water washing, may put the high-temperature washing on pause indefinitely. However, constantly washing with cold water leads to one problem – soap scum can build up on the drain hose, where it will eventually start to smell bad.
A quick fix is to deep-clean your washer and run a hot cycle every now and then. About once or twice a month is generally enough.
Dirty Door Seal
If you have a front-load washer, you know that the door is sealed with lots of rubber. Grime, lint, and soap scum can easily build up in the seal’s folds, but very few people actually remember to clean this part when taking out the laundry load.
Not only will the soap and detergent residues put off a foul smell over time, but they also create a proper environment for mold and bacteria to thrive.
Dirty Detergent Drawer
Similar to the door seal, the detergent drawer is rarely cleaned. If you leave it dirty for too long, it can become a home for bacteria, mold, and mildew. All of which will give off a nasty odor.
Whether you clean the washer regularly or not, the drum rarely looks dirty. Made of stainless steel, it has a shiny look, and mold and mildew aren’t usually visible on it. However, lint and soap scum can contribute to microbial development inside the drum, too. That’s why you should wipe clean the washer after each use and run a deep-clean cycle regularly.
All washing machines have a system of filters that prevent lint and smaller laundry items from clogging the drain hose and pipes. These filters do much more than what you could give them credit for – for instance, this is where you can find the socks you lost during the wash cycle.
The washer filters take a bit of DIY skill to access and clean, but doing this is crucial. If you don’t feel confident enough to do it yourself, call in a plumber or technician to do it for you.
Lastly, the bad odor coming from your washer may not come from the washing machine itself. There are a lot of plumbing issues that can divert sewer gases into your home through the washer’s plumbing pipes and hoses. Thus, if the odor smells like rotten eggs mixed with human waste smells, assume it comes from your plumbing.
You should never ignore these smells. On the contrary, you must identify the problem and fix it promptly, as sewer gases are toxic and potentially life-threatening.
Why Does My Washing Machine Smells Like:
While all bad smells coming out of your washing machine are concerning, the type of smell can give you an indication of what’s wrong. Let’s have a look at the most common odors and what type of problem each of them indicates.
Rotten egg odors coming from the washer are more common than you think. They happen because of a certain type of bacteria that produces hydrogen sulfide gas.
Sulfur bacteria thrive in moist environments and can end up in your washer through your well water. Moreover, this microorganism also lives in drain pipes and septic systems, as it doesn’t really need oxygen to survive.
While sulfur bacteria aren’t harmful on their own, the gas it produces – hydrogen sulfide – is toxic and potentially life-threatening at high concentrations. Not only that, but sulfur can also discolor the fabrics as you wash them, not to mention the rotten eggs odor you’ll be able to smell on your allegedly fresh laundry.
In addition to sulfur bacteria growing inside the washer because of improper maintenance, the smell can also come from your drain system if you have a plumbing problem.
Like sulfur bacteria, mold and mildew thrive in moist and warm environments – the exact environment your washer provides when you don’t leave the door open after using the appliance.
Mold and mildew develop due to improper cleaning, especially inside the seal folds in front-load washers. It can also grow on filters or inside the water supply or drain hose.
Mildew has a characteristic musty scent that can contaminate your clothes. Spores can also attach to the fabrics from where you can transport them to other areas of your home.
Unlike sulfur bacteria which are harmless, mold and mildew can cause reactions in allergic or asthmatic people, not to mention a series of respiratory diseases and pulmonary infections.
An oil smell isn’t something you’d associate with a washing machine, but the appliance could smell of oil – and you may even find oil stains on your clothes – if some internal parts are broken. The oil smell is often caused by a broken transmission, but other parts in the motor can also break and leak inside the drum.
You won’t be able to fix this yourself if you’re not a washing machine technician or a plumber, so you should have an expert look at the appliance and repair it if possible.
If your washer is new, the chemical smell is most likely the result of the manufacturing process and will fade after the first or second cycle. You can run an empty cycle (using a detergent) to get rid of the smell.
In an older washing machine, the rubber gasket that seals the front door is often the main culprit. If this seal is made of poor quality, synthetic rubber, the material can rot. As it decomposes, it will put off a strong chemical smell.
Using too much detergent and not cleaning the washer properly can also cause an unpleasant chemical smell.
A sewer odor coming from the washer is always bad news. While sulfur bacteria (responsible for the rotten eggs smell) can grow inside the appliance, the sewer smell indicates a bigger plumbing problem that lets sewer gases enter your home.
If you’ve lived in the same home for a while and the problem is new, check the washer’s drain P-trap and make sure it doesn’t leak. A leaky P-trap can dry out and let sewer gases bypass it.
However, if you just moved into a new place, the problem could be caused by improperly installed or clogged drain vents. When the vents are clogged or positioned improperly, they can cause siphoning in your drain system, a phenomenon that drains the water from the P-traps.
You should have a plumber investigate the matter and fix it since sewer gases are toxic and potentially life-threatening.
5 Ways To Get Rid Of Washing Machine Smell
Now that you know what causes bad smells in your washer, it’s time to find out how to get rid of them. Here are a few tried and tested methods.
1. Deep clean your washer with white vinegar
Whether your washer smells of mildew, rotten eggs, chemicals, or oil, you can generally get rid of all these smells by cleaning the appliance with white vinegar (baking soda might also help). Here’s how to do it.
Step 1 – Gather all necessary supplies
To clean the washer, you’ll need:
- White vinegar
- Baking soda (optional)
- Soft sponge or brush
- Microfiber cloths
- Protective equipment
Step 2 – Wipe off the grime and mold
Put on your protective equipment (including rubber gloves) and fill a small basin or bucket with a solution of one-part white vinegar and one-part water. Soak the sponge in this solution and wipe the washer’s interior.
Pay particular attention to the rubber gasket’s folds and remove all grime, soap scum, and black mold stains.
Step 3 – Run a clean cycle
Some washing machines have a dedicated clean cycle. If your appliance has one, use it to deep-clean the machine. Alternatively, use the hottest setting and run the longest cycle.
Before starting the cycle, add four cups of white vinegar to the bleach dispenser. You could also sprinkle a cup of baking soda inside the drum. If you have a top-load washer, pour the vinegar directly into the drum.
Start the cycle and wait for it to finish.
Step 4 – Wipe dry the washer
Use a microfiber cloth to dry the interior of your washer, including the gasket’s folds. Then, use a damp cloth to wipe clean the washer’s exterior and dry it with a clean rag.
Step 5 – Aerate the washing machine
Once you’re done, let the washer air dry completely with the door fully open – a couple of hours should suffice. You can then partially close the door but let it slightly open to allow the air to circulate. If you can still smell the offensive odor, repeat the procedure.
Instead of white vinegar, you can clean the washer with bleach following the same steps. If you do decide to use bleach, run a load of whites to prevent discoloration when you first use the machine after the deep cleaning.
2. Clean the detergent dispenser
Mold and bacteria can also grow and thrive inside the detergent dispenser. Luckily, this drawer is easy to take out and clean.
Step 1 – Gather the supplies
You will need:
- White vinegar or bleach
- Soft bristle brush
- A plastic basin or bucket
- Microfiber cloths
- Protective equipment
Step 2 – Remove the drawer
Take off the detergent dispenser by simply pulling it out of its slot. It should come out easily but pay attention to prevent damaging it.
Step 3 – Let it soak
Fill a plastic basin or bucket with hot water and place the detergent dispenser in it. Let it soak until the water reaches room temperature.
Step 4 – Clean the dispenser
Use the soft bristle brush to scrub all soap scum and stains off the washer’s drawer. Encrusted powder detergent and discolorations could be hard to remove, so let it soak in hot water again if you struggle. You could also try scrubbing off stubborn stains directly under running hot water.
Step 5 – Sanitize the dispenser
For this step, you can either use a solution of one cup of water, one cup of white vinegar, or one part bleach to five parts water. Soak a clean cloth in the solution and wipe the detergent dispenser. Once you’re done, dry it with a clean microfiber cloth and mount it back into its place.
3. Clean the door seal
The rubber gasket is one of the filthiest areas in a washer. Clean it with white vinegar or bleach. Simply wipe it clean with a rag soaked in the solution, then rinse with water and dry with a microfiber cloth. Let the washer air dry with the door open.
4. Clean the filter
Cleaning the filter sounds complicated, but you can do it yourself. Simply follow the quick steps below.
Step 1 – Turn off and unplug your washing machine
Before you try to locate and remove the filter, unplug the washer to prevent accidents.
Step 2 – Locate and remove the filter
The filter location changes based on the type of washer you have. Front-loading washers have the filter located near the bottom of the unit, under a removable panel on the front of the machine (under the door). Most top-loading washers have the filter under a removable panel on the right side of the machine.
Take off the panel and remove the screws holding the filter in place, then remove the filter from the washer.
Step 3 – Clean the filter
Upon removing the part, you’ll likely find it covered in a layer of lint and soap. Use a paper towel to remove as much grime as possible, then soak the filter in hot water for 10 minutes. Pat with a paper towel to remove excess water and repeat if needed until the filter is clean.
Step 4 – Clean the filter housing
Use paper towels or a clean cloth to remove any lint and detergent residues from the filter housing. Also, inspect the space for larger debris, such as socks or underwear, that might have ended here during drainage.
Step 5 – Install the filter back
Once everything’s clean, put the filter back in its place and fasten it with the screws. Place the plastic panel back, turn on the appliance, and check if everything works properly.
5. Unclog the drain pipes
If you’ve done everything above but the odor is still there, snake your drains to remove any clogs. If you still can’t fix the issue, call a plumber to help you.
How To Keep Washing Machine From Smelling
Once you’ve gotten rid of the bad smells in your washing machine, it’s time to learn how to prevent the odors from reemerging.
1. Increase air circulation
Mold, mildew, and bacteria thrive in moist, oxygen-deprived environments, such as the interior of your washing machine. To prevent them from developing, you should always leave the door open when the appliance is not in use. In this way, you can promote air circulation and let the washer’s interior dry properly between laundry sessions.
2. Use the laundry detergent right and setting
Using too much or too little laundry detergent is another cause of bad odors. More often than not, you’ll likely use more soap than needed, especially if you’ve just switched from a conventional appliance to a HE model.
If you have a HE washing machine, only use a detergent specifically developed for this type of appliance. You should also run a hot cycle every now and then, even if it’s an empty one, to dissolve the detergent deposits.
3. Clean the washer regularly
You should wipe clean the washer each time after using it and run a deep-clean cycle monthly or bi-weekly (if you have hard water). Use the steps above to clean the washer with bleach or vinegar.
Bad odors coming from your washer are daunting, but the issue is generally easy to fix. Have you ever dealt with such a problem? How did you solve it? Tell us in a comment.