5 Reasons Your Washing Machine Smells

May 6, 2024
Washer Repair

Have you noticed an unpleasant, mildewy odor coming from your washing machine? Maybe you’ve even noticed your clothes coming out smelling unpleasant, or perhaps there’s just a disgusting smell lingering around your laundry room. 

No matter how long the problem has been going on, you’ll want to fix it as soon as possible! The key to fixing a smelly washing machine is figuring out the reason behind the smell. Read on to find out what to do!

Mold Buildup

Possibly the most common cause of a smelly washing machine is mold and mildew buildup. Mold and mildew grow in damp, warm conditions—all of which are common in and around a washer! When mold and mildew build up, they can give off an unpleasant, musty odor, and they can even cause your clothes to smell after washing. 

As well as smelling bad, mold and mildew buildup can cause allergies and other health issues, so it’s a good idea to get rid of this problem as soon as you notice it! Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Make sure the washer is completely empty.
  2. Make a solution of one part water and one part vinegar. This is safe to use and effective at getting rid of mold. 
  3. If you have a front loader, thoroughly clean the rubber gasket surrounding the door opening. This is a common place for mold to build up.
  4. With the vinegar solution, wipe down the drum interior and the inside of the door or lid. 
  5. Thoroughly clean the detergent dispenser and the fabric softener drawer.
  6. Run your washer empty on a hot cycle.
  7. Once the cycle has finished, leave the door open to dry and air out.

Forgotten Laundry Items

Another common source of unpleasant smells in your washer is forgotten laundry items. Small items like socks or underwear can get lodged in hard-to-see areas of the drum, and if they sit for a long time, they can start smelling. This odor can permeate the entire washer and make further loads of washing smell bad. Here’s what to do:

  1. Check for lost items around the drum, seals, and coin trap. Baby socks and other tiny items are small enough to get trapped in the filter system. 
  2. Remove any trapped items you find. 
  3. Repeat the steps in our previous tip to clean the entire washer. Finish by airing out the washer to help dry the machine.

Detergent Buildup

Detergent buildup can also cause odors in your washer, especially if you use too much. When too much detergent is used, it doesn’t dissolve fully during the wash cycle. This can lead to residue building up on the interior of your washing machine, which creates a haven for bacteria to grow. This causes a musty or sour smell as the bacteria continues to thrive, and it can also make your clothes smell bad. Here’s what to do:

  1. Make sure you use the right type of detergent for your machine. If your washer requires high-efficiency detergent, using regular detergent may lead to residue buildup. 
  2. Measure your detergent carefully when putting it into the dispenser. 
  3. Thoroughly clean the detergent dispenser with hot, soapy water to remove any smelly residue. 
  4. Run a cleaning cycle to remove detergent buildup inside the drum. Add a cup of white vinegar to the load and make sure it’s on the hottest possible setting. 
  5. Wipe down the drum after the load is finished to remove any residual detergent buildup. Leave the door or lid to the washer open to let the machine dry thoroughly.

Drainage Problems

Drainage issues can also cause odors in your washer, particularly when there is a significant amount of standing water in your machine. Water that sits in the drum or hoses can become stagnant and cause bacteria or mildew to grow. These then produce odors that can permeate the entire laundry room and even infect your clothes! Here’s how to fix it:

  1. Check the drain hose, as it’s the most common cause of drainage issues and standing water. Make sure it isn’t kinked, and if needed, remove it and check for clogs. 
  2. If your washer has a filter or coin trap, clean this out. A blocked filter can prevent water from draining and cause unpleasant smells. 
  3. Once you’ve addressed any drainage issues, run a hot cycle with a cup of vinegar, and thoroughly air out the machine afterwards to prevent the issue from recurring.

Bad Ventilation

A badly ventilated washer can also lead to musty odors. A lack of airflow can mean moisture accumulates in the drum, and creates the perfect breeding ground for mildew, mold, and bacteria, all of which cause bad smells! These odors can be difficult to get rid of and can permeate your loads of laundry. 

To fix this issue:

  • Leave the washer door open: After every cycle, ensure you leave the washer door or lid slightly open. This lets the washer dry out between cycles, creating a less attractive environment for mold and bacteria.
  • Leave the detergent drawer open: The detergent drawer can also be a moist environment for bacteria and mold to grow, so get in the habit of leaving this open between uses. 
  • Use a fan: If your laundry room is small and prone to dampness, try to improve the ventilation to improve air circulation. Either install an extractor fan or run a small fan in the room to help speed up the drying process. 
  • Dry the gaskets/seals: Water can collect in the gaskets of a front-loading washer, leading to nasty odors. Wipe down and dry the gaskets after each wash and leave the door open to allow any residual moisture to evaporate.

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