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Smelly Washing Machine? How To Reduce Washer Smells and Odors

Updated on August 24, 2014

Smelly washing machine odors are a common problem with all types of home laundry appliance. Although it may seems counterintuitive to have a worry about how to clean a clothes washer effectively, since they are designed to clean other stuff, the opposite is in fact the case. Without regular maintenance, rancid and musty washing machine smells will become a problem and whilst it is easy to blame that on stinky gym socks etc. it is more likely to be caused by something like a blocked drain, soap scum build up or mold and mildew growth in its damp, dark recesses.

If your towels still smell musty and your clean clothes have a mildew smell even though they just got cleaned, or if your appliance reaks something awful days after doing you washing then it's likely you need to clean it out. A little maintenance will go a long way to fix a musty washing machine stench however and there are odor killing products on the market, like Affresh to keep those smells at bay in between maintenance sessions too.

It's a nuisance, but the convenience of an electric washer sure beats doing it by hand and removing the stink isn't all that tough once you know how and where to look for problems.

Smelly Washer Washing Machine & Dishwasher Cleaner, 24 Treatments, All Natural, Odorless 12-Ounce
Smelly Washer Washing Machine & Dishwasher Cleaner, 24 Treatments, All Natural, Odorless 12-Ounce

This all natural cleaner has up to 24 odor removing washes for way less than you pay for brand name cleaners. Great customer reviews attest to its effectiveness.


How Do Remove Washing Machine Smells?

Before you can begin to even think about removing laundry machine smells and eliminating musty odors for your washer, you need to actually find out where the foul smell is coming from. There are a list of usual suspects which are usually the at the root of these problems so check the following places first:

  1. The lint filter. If you haven't cleaned out the lint filter regularly then you might want to do so now. This is a place where scum and grime can build up and lead to nasty odors and its a quick fix.
  2. The washing machine drain, especially in front loaders. Sometimes the drain filter isn't that easy to get to but it is a repair job you can do yourself if you are a little handy, or you can call in for service. This area can fill up with rancid soap scum and slime which will smell awful if allowed to accumulate. Cleaning this out can solve many issues. You can usually tell if you have a clogged drain if you washer drains slowly or if you can see gunky particles floating in the water before draining. Refer to your operating and repair instructions before cleaning this out and make sure everything is turned off and you have towels on hand as there will be some very stinky, smelly water left in the machine which will pour out of the drain cap when opened.

The next step is to look for mold growth. If your washer smells bad even days after your last laundry day then you probably have a mold or mildew build up somewhere. There are two usual suspects in terms of washing machine mildew problems.

  • Front loading washing machine mold and mildew problems are almost always located in the space around the rubber gasket door seal. The boot, as it is otherwise known, is damp, dark and warm, the ideal place for mold and mildew growth. If your one smells of mildew and damp then it's likely your problem is here. Cleaning this is simply a case of using something like a household bleach spray and a cloth and running it around inside the seal to clean out the offending mold growth. You may have to repeat this maintenance regularly to prevent the problem from returning, although a little preventive maintenance like leaving the door slightly ajar when it is not being used and running a dry cloth around the seal after each wash to mop up any dampness can go a long way to reducing how often this needs to be done.
  • Top loading washing machine problems are more likely to be caused by a build up of mold around the inside of the drum area. The only real solution to this is to fill it all the way up and run it on the hottest wash available with with lid open and a little bleach or white vinegar mixed in with the water (and no clothes of course).

Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, 7-count Single Use
Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, 7-count Single Use

For use with both HE and non-HE washers, Tide cleaner fights smells and removes the odor causing residue on the inside of the drum. For use with HE and non-HE washers.


How To Prevent Washing Machine Odors From Returning

In general, regular cleaning and maintenance will prevent bad washer smells but there are a few other things you might like to consider as well if your problem odors are more persistant.

1. Consider switching to a better brand of washing powder or liquid. Cheap detergent often features more impurities and may include chalk, lime and other unwanted extras which can add to build up.

2. Also see if you can get away with using less detergent than your product recommends. In many cases you can get away with using half of what they tell you to use which is cheaper for you and better for the appliance too believe it or not.

3. If you live in a particularly humid or damp environment and your washer still feels damp even after airing and being wiped down then some people suggest trying dessicant sachets to irradicate some of the excess moisture. Those are the little packets you find in certain product boxes and they can be bought in bulk from online retailers.

4. Cleaning and maintenance is going to be your best friend however. If you have a front loading appliance make sure you run a dry towel around the door seals to soak up the excess water which builds up here in so many models and leads to mildew growth or the stench of stagnant water. Wipe around the inside of the drum as well to remove any remaining moisture and left behind grime.

5. Soak really filthy clothing in a bucket of water before washing to remove a lot of the muck before it even enters the washer. Putting really dirty clothing in to wash, like rugby kits covered in caked on mud, is never a great idea because all that gritty dirt has to make its way out through the filter. Clogging up the works like this is guaranteed to cause issues and smells might be the least of the problems it creates.

6. Use washing machine cleaners and odor removers before the problem gets too bad. Prevention is better (and easier) than cure in every case and using cleaning products which cut through the oily build ups which coat the drainage pipe and kills mold and mildew before it gets out of hand is a really good idea.

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