8 Reasons Why Does Your Washing Machine Smell

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Now and again, you may notice that your washing machine gives off an unpleasant odor. If you don’t figure out what’s causing the smell and deal with it as soon as possible, it can transfer onto your laundry, leaving it smelling less than fresh. These repulsive odors can be a result of a whole host of issues – read on to discover some of the most common causes of a smelly washing machine, the different types of odors you may encounter, and how to clean and prevent these smells.

The pungent odor from your washing machine could emanate from any of its components:

  • The door seal
  • The detergent dispenser drawer
  • The drum
  • The heating components
  • Clogged filters
  • The sump hose

Some of the factors that may result in a smelly washing machine include:

Reason 1: Low temperature

Using a lower temperature wash is energy-efficient and great for the environment. However, doing this regularly isn’t advisable because more dirt and mold are likely to build up inside the washing machine. The accumulation of dirt and mold encourages bacteria to thrive, leading to an unpleasant odor the next time you use your washing machine.

Reason 2: Dirty seal

If you have a stinky washer, you might want to inspect your seal to check if it’s clean. Most standard washing machines have a large, circular piece of rubber between the door and the drum, usually featuring a flap that you can pull back.

Perhaps it’s been a while since you last cleaned the washing machine seal; it can lead to a pungent musty smell that can transfer to your laundry load. Moreover, the compartments of the door seal can impact the flow of water into the washing machine, which can cause mold and mildew to develop. The door seal can also harbor soap scum and grime, which can cause the washer to start smelling with continued use.

Reason 3: Residue in the detergent drawer

If your washing machine features a detergent drawer that you use to add detergent liquids and powders to the wash, it could be this area giving off the offputting smell. If any detergent residue is left behind the drawer and sits for long enough, it will become grimy and eventually give off an unpleasant odor.

Reason 4: Poor plumbing

Another common reason for a stinky washing machine is a less-than-stellar plumbing system. If your device doesn’t drain properly, stagnant water could be trapped in your pipes for days. This not only results in an unappealing stench, but it could also make it easier for mold, soap scum, slime, and bacteria to accumulate. In some cases of poor plumbing, you could also have dirty water from your kitchen sink returning to your washing machine (keep in mind not all washing machine models are affected this way).

Reason 5: Accumulation of detergent and gunk in the drum

Your favorite fragrant detergent might be one of the causes of your washing machine’s unpleasant odor. The detergent, along with all the oils, hair, dirt, and the odd bit of chunky debris from your clothes, can sometimes get accumulated in and around the drum. This, combined with the warm and damp environment inside the washing machine, makes the drum a breeding ground for bacteria.

Reason 6: Trapped water

Sometimes, front-loading washing machines can trap water inside the drum. If not removed, this can become smelly over time. If you keep your washing machine door closed at all times, it will trap a lot of moisture and humidity, leading to a musty smell.

Reason 7: A dirty filter

Clogged filters can significantly compromise your washing machine’s efficiency and even cause your clothes to smell musty. All washing machines feature filters meant to trap all the residue and debris from clothes during a wash. If a filter is never cleaned, it will develop mold and mildew or eventually break down.

Reason 8: You live in a hard water region

Living in a hard water area can impact your washing machine in several ways, most notably through the accumulation of limescale. Limescale is a hard, chalky substance containing calcium carbonate that can clog up your washing machine. 

Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, largely calcium and magnesium, which have picked up through the rock formation in the water cycle. The issue with limescale is that it can cause even more limescale buildup, so even a seemingly insignificant deposit can build up quickly, binding strongly to surfaces and appliances and becoming difficult to get rid of. One of the main signs of limescale as a result of hard water is a smelly washing machine.

The positively-charged mineral content in hard water also tends to react poorly with negatively-charged molecules in soap, creating a molecule that doesn’t have a charge, which means it can’t dissolve in water. This reduces the effectiveness of soap when used with hard water. This reaction can cause the accumulation of soap scum in your washing machine, resulting in the creation and spreading of bacteria and unpleasant odors. 

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Types of odors and their sources

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1. Rotten egg smell

This pungent sulphuric smell can be a result of bacteria flourishing in the drum and other crevices of the washing machine due to lint, dirt, or soap residue. Another less likely culprit is a natural gas leak in the appliance. Natural gas is typically odorless, so utility companies opt to add sulfur to give it a repugnant rotten egg smell so that it’s easy to detect when there’s a leak. Call your gas company immediately if you suspect a natural gas leak in your washing machine.

2. Mildew/damp smell

These smells occur as a result of heat and water buildup in the washing machine. If there’s a wet sock or any other item stuck in the rubber gasket, it can lead to mildew or a damp smell.

3. Burnt smell

It’s difficult to pinpoint the source of a burnt smell without servicing your washing machine. The most likely cause is a malfunction of one of the internal parts, and it could be a drive belt, a motor, a pump, seals, drive couplings, or other electrical parts. The burning smell could also come from the socket or plug rather than your washing machine.

4. Sewage smell

In some cases, your machine could give off a putrid stench that is reminiscent of sewage. It could be that the p-trap (one of the plumbing fixtures) is trapping sewer fumes from underground sewer pipes, which are now coming into the washing machine.

5. The washing machine smells even worse after cleaning

Sometimes you may clean your washing machine and notice it smells even worse. On the one hand, this could be an indication that is cleaning it worked – your chosen cleaning solution may have dislodged some of the gunk that didn’t get thoroughly washed away, and now it’s sitting in the washing machine. On the other hand, the worsening smell could be caused by a blockage in the standpipe.

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How to clean a smelly washing machine

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1. Consult the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions

Before you begin the cleaning process, consult the machine’s manual for instructions on how to clean the washer. Some manufacturers discourage the use of de-scaling cleaners or products in their devices, for example, and using them anyway may invalidate your warranty.

2. Clean the detergent drawer

You can start the cleaning process by removing the soap, bleach, and softener dispensers so that you can scrub them individually. Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes or so. Afterward, use an old toothbrush to get inside the cracks and crevices where mold and residue may have accumulated. Rinse them thoroughly and allow them to dry before putting them back.

3. Run a service wash

A service wash is a washing cycle meant to clean the inside of the washing machine. To ensure effectiveness, these cycles should be run empty. A simple service wash could involve running the machine empty at the hottest temperature. Try adding soda crystals to the drum before running the service wash if you need extra cleaning power.

4. Wipe down the components of the washing machine

Once you’ve finished running a service wash, use a microfiber cloth dipped in a cleaning solution of your choice to wipe the inside of the drum. This will help remove any debris that may have been loosened by running the empty cycle. If possible, remove the gasket and use your damp cloth to scrub away dirt and debris. Wipe around the rubber seals as well, carefully lifting them away from the metal where possible to remove as much residue as possible.

5. Sanitize the machine with bleach

Chlorine bleach is one of the best options for killing mold, mildew, and bacteria. It’s also highly effective at removing grime, and you can rely on it to get rid of odors. Just make sure to take precautions when using bleach, and for safety reasons, avoid mixing it with other cleaners. 

The amount of bleach you should use for sanitization depends on your washing machine type – if you have a top-loading appliance, add four cups of bleach, and add two cups if you have a front-loader. Once you add the bleach, set the machine to the highest temperature setting and start a cycle. Allow the drum to fill, and stop the wash cycle once the bleach has been mixed in. let the bleach water sit for about 30 minutes, then resume the cycle. Afterward, run the rinse cycle to remove all traces of bleach.

6. Deodorize using vinegar and/or baking soda

After sterilization, make a deodorizing solution to remove any lingering smells in your washing machine. Here are some guidelines on how to make an effective deodorizing solution:

  • Mix together 2 cups baking soda and 4 cups distilled white vinegar 
  • Put a bit of the solution in the washing machine’s detergent drawer and the rest of it directly in the drum.
  • Run the machine empty on the hottest temperature setting. Allow the drum to fill, then stop the cycle once the agitator has mixed in the white vinegar-baking soda solution. After 30 minutes, turn the washing machine back on and allow the cycle to resume until complete. 

7. Air-dry the drum

After you finish cleaning, open the washing machine door and the detergent drawer and allow them to air dry, and this allows fresh air to circulate and dry the freshly cleaned surfaces. 

Related article: How Do Professionals Clean Apartments?

Preventing a smelly washing machine

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1. It might be worth changing your wash temperature

As previously mentioned, constantly using low wash temperatures allows bacteria to thrive in a washing machine. To prevent creating the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of nasties, try to run some wash cycles at higher temperatures.

2. Run a service wash regularly

A service wash can be as simple as running an empty cycle at the highest temperature. Doing this at least once a month will cut through any grime and bacteria that may have built up and help to prevent unpleasant odors from developing.

3. Keep your drum as dry as possible

Be sure to remove clothes from the washing machine as soon as your laundry cycle finishes. That way, water is less likely to sit in place and stink up the drum. If you don’t need to run another cycle immediately, leave the machine door open to avoid the damp smell and circulate fresh air inside.

4. Use water softeners

In the case of odor occurring due to hard water in doing laundry, a great solution is to use a water softener, which works by removing and neutralizing the minerals that make the water hard. Soft water is free of mineral ions, which means you can avoid soap scum, bad odors, and bacteria buildup when using your washing machine.

5. Change detergents

Some detergents are difficult to rinse away, especially if you use too much. These cleaning agents can cling to the inside of the washing machine, and if not removed, they can lead to a bad smell. It might be worth switching to a detergent that doesn’t sud up as much to prevent the accumulation of scum in the drum and other washing machine components.

6. Clean your filter

The washing machine filter is usually located at the front of the appliance. To maintain its function, be sure to empty and clean it monthly. If you’re unsure how to do this, check your user manual for guidance. 

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Final thoughts

Washing machines are regularly subject to grime, dirt, bacteria, moisture buildup, soap scum, and other gunk. If not cleaned properly and regularly, you may end up with a smelly appliance and less than fresh clothes. Be sure to clean your washing machine as required, and when in doubt, contact a professional for further advice.

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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