Why Does My Washing Machine Smell And How To Fix It?

It’s annoying and frustrating when your house smells like sewage and rotten eggs because of your washing machine! How is this possible? You may wonder! A device that washes clothes using fresh-scented detergents and fabric softeners should smell nice as well? Unfortunately, it should. As a matter of fact, you don’t use the machine the right way and you need to clean it regularly to prevent bad smells.  

A woman being disgusted by her washing machine's smell

The reasons why this is happening are plenty. Your washer is a breeding ground for bacteria and mould because of the high levels of humidity and along with the growth of limescale, lint, dirt and soap scum, you get a “not so nice” combination of musty smells. But, before throwing your washer away, let’s see the reasons that are causing these unpleasant smells and what can be done to get rid of them and keep them out of your machine. 

Possible reasons your washing machine smells

Mould and bacteria are the main reasons for a smelly machine. They aren’t the only ones, though. Or better say, they need help to create the nasty odours. Thus, what hides behind that sewage smell?

Bacteria build-up

We couldn’t exclude them from the reasons. They live in the washer; they are fond of that humid, dark environment. And they’re very stubborn so that you can’t get rid of them quickly. They’re invisible. They’re hiding in all the nooks and crevices that even the best cleaner won’t manage to remove.

However, there’s a thing they hate… high temperatures. Washing clothes at low temperatures, won’t make the bacteria disappear. Instead, they’ll breed, they’ll penetrate into your machine and finally produce that sewage smell plus, think about the mould build-up.

Too much detergent

Believe it or not too much detergent can cause that nasty smell to your washing machine. It might sound very bizarre; however, it’s absolutely true! The excess detergent will stick inside the device and will be an excellent place for bacteria to hide in.

So, get rid of that habit! Start using the right amount of detergent. If you aren’t sure how much detergent you should use, then have a look at the machine’s manual. I’m sure you’ll find everything you need to know. 

A woman adding detergent on her washing machine

Poor drainage system

Last but not least, it’s the drainage system. Most of us might wonder what’s that and where it’s located. But we must tell you that it is an essential reason for a smelly machine. This system removes the water during the spin cycle. Dirt and debris pass through this system. 

If there’s a problem with the drainage system, it’ll accumulate water and won’t be able to drain. As a result, the stagnant water will be full of mould, slime, soap dirt and bacteria leading to that nasty smell. 

How to clean a smelly washing machine

Hopefully, there is a way to save your washer. In fact, we have plenty of tips to get rid of foul odours caused by the mildew building up in different compartments of your device. 

Run a service wash

The first step to getting rid of bad smells is to run your machine without any clothes inside at high temperatures. All of us British people, have the habit of washing our clothes at low temperatures up to 40oC to save money and for environmental purposes. However, that habit doesn’t help with the non-development of mould and bacteria. It’s also essential to run the service wash with no clothes. If it’s loaded, the detergent will try to clean your garments instead of the bacteria and grime inside the machine.

A washing machine running a cycle without any clothes in it

For that reason, you’ll need to run an empty cycle at high heat with a typical dosage of detergent at least once a month. Bacteria can’t live at high temperatures. So, it’s an extra reason not to neglect it. As for the detergent, you can use bleach. It will kill the bacteria and thoroughly clean and disinfect your device. In case you don’t want to use such a harsh chemical, then pour a generous amount of soda crystals and vinegar into the drum and run the hottest cycle. You’ll have decent results as well. 

Usually, manufacturers provide instructions and information within the manual. Thus, check it out before you clean the machine. You’ll probably find which cycle to use for the specific purpose.  

Clean the rubber seal

Have you ever wiped excess water gathered in the door seal? I bet you haven’t! Mould, bacteria and dirt accumulate in the seal around the door. And they remain there permanently, sinking into the rubber and making it super hard to remove them. So, if you don’t want to make things irreversible, then clean the rubber gasket ASAP. You don’t have to be an expert or be occupied with special tools and ingredients to do so. Run into your kitchen and everything you need, you’ll find it in your cupboards. 

The white vinegar technique

The vinegar cleaning method will save you from trouble once more. 

Here’s what you need:

  • A spray bottle
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Clean cloths

The steps are easy:

  1. Fill the bottle with the distilled vinegar.
  2. Spray the gasket with vinegar.
  3. Let it act for 2 – 4 hours.
  4. Rinse it and with a clean cloth, dry it.
A woman drying her washine machine rubber gasket with a cloth

The Bleach Technique

If you want a more powerful cleaning solution, there’s always this method. It’ll kill everything around the rubber.

  1. Mix a part of this product with 4 parts water in the spray bottle.
  2. Spritz the rubber with the solution.
  3. Let the mixture stay for 15 minutes or more. 
  4. Next, scrub the rubber to remove the mould away with the brush.
  5. Finally, rinse it with water and dry it with a cloth. 

Clean the detergent drawer 

 A favourite place for mould and bacteria to accumulate is in the detergent dispenser. The amount of detergent is an important factor for the mould building up.  That’s why it is important to clean the washing machine drawer!

You are going to need:

  • A bowl
  • Warm soapy water
  • A toothbrush
  • A damp cloth

Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Start by removing the drawer and then remove all the detachable compartments.
  2. Place everything in a bowl filled with warm soapy water. 
  3. Use the brush and clean all the parts of the drawer and its housing. 
  4. Let the drawer dry and with a damp cloth dry the housing in the device.
  5. Reassemble the drawer and put it back in place.

Clean the lint filter

The dirty filter can cause ugly smells in your machine. I suppose you didn’t know that this part needs to be cleaned, too! This filter, as its name suggests, traps the wires coming out of clothes during the washing cycle. A clogged filter can cause problems to the device. So, let’s clean it!

A very dirty washing machine filter

The way you’ll clean it depends on the form of the filter. 

  • If you can remove the filter from its place, then take it off and soak it in hot water for 10 minutes. 
  • If you can’t remove it from its position, then get a soft brush or some paper towels and clean it.
  • Finally, you may have a disposable filter. Then replace it with a new one every time it’s needed.

Before placing the filter back, you should clean the filter’s location as well. Some paper towels and a toothbrush will get the job done. Use them to remove any residue from the interior. Don’t forget the crevices! Mould’s favourite place!

Check the washing machine’s standpipe

Ιf the smell hasn’t subsided, then you should check for a blockage standpipe. You’ll probably find soap residue and grease that come off the clothes. You have nothing to worry about, though. You’ll just have to clean the drainage pipe, and the problem will be fixed. 

The baking soda method

You need:

  • A bucket
  • Boiling water
  • Baking soda
  • A funnel

Then, do as follows:

  1. Remove the pipe from the machine.
  2. Fill a bucket with boiling water and pour a pack of baking soda.
  3. Then, pour the solution slowly into the pipe using a funnel to avoid any hassle. 
  4. Wait for a few minutes.

The drain cleaner method

Beyond DIY methods, there are always commercial products that can make things better. Thus, to unclog a drainpipe,  you can use a drain cleaner. What do you have to do? Choose a suitable one for your pipe and your needs. Then act as written on the instructions labelled on the package.  

How to keep your washing machine smelling fresh? 

OK! You have found why your machine was smelling; you’ve fixed and cleaned everything. Is there anything else you can do? Of course, yes! In fact, there are several things you can do to prevent the sewage, rotten egg smell return. Let’s find out!

Change the temperature you wash 

As we’ve already mentioned washing clothes at low temperatures, help bacteria accumulation rather than making them disappear. And I’m sure that you know what that means. What’s more, running a cycle up to 40oC, doesn’t properly clean your clothes. Increasing the temperature above 40oC will keep the bacteria out of your machine. High temperatures are an inhospitable environment for bacteria; they can’t survive. Plus you deep clean both your clothes and the device. 

A woman increasing the temperature before turning on her washing machine

Use the correct and the right amount of detergent

Usually, within the manufacturing instructions, you’ll find a suitable detergent for your machine. Not all detergents are ideal for all types of washing machines. Powder detergents usually produce more suds than your device can handle, especially if you own a front load washer. In this case, you should use a detergent that is made for high-efficiency machines

Plus, the quantity of detergent used at every laundry is vital in keeping your machine smelling fresh. If you think that using a generous amount of detergent during a cycle will clean your clothes better, you’re making a big mistake. You’ll end up having a drum covered with a thick layer of soap scum. Check the manual and the detergent instructions to have the best results both for your clothes and the device. 

Keep the drum dry

Something else you should have under control is to keep the drum dry. How many times have you wiped the drum after the cycle has come to an end? It’s something that not many people do. It’s something though, that can keep bad odours out of your machine. You can use a fan or a dehumidifier in the laundry room or the bathroom or wherever you keep your washer, to help the drum dry faster. 

Clean the gasket after use

The gasket, even if you own a top-load or a front loading washing machine, needs special treatment. Due to the material that is made of and its shape, it tends to accumulate water and grime.  Even if you use the right detergent, it won’t prevent the building up. The best thing to do is to remove all the excess water and residue that are trapped in the rubber seal after you terminate your laundry. You can also make a cleaning solution of a part of white vinegar and a part of water and wipe it. 

Remove clothes after washing 

The next step you should take to prevent a smelly washing machine is to remove clothes right after washing. You shouldn’t leave them in the machine for more than 12 hours. Mould and mildew will start growing in the drum, leading afterwards to an unpleasant smell. Let alone that if the drum smells, your clothes will do the same. Thus, remove your laundry as fast as you can to prevent mould from growing both in the drum and on your clothes.

A basket full of washed clothes in front of a washing machine with an open door

Leave the washing machine door and the detergent drawer open

All rooms need adequate ventilation to refresh the inside air. Your washing machine does too. Every time a cycle ends, don’t close the door. Wipe dry the drum and the glass of the door and then leave the door open to help it dry faster. The same applies to the dispenser. You have to leave it open to dry and let the moisture escape. 

Try to apply all the above to have a clean washing machine without unpleasant smells. If the foul odours haven’t been removed, then you should call a plumber to check if it’s something more serious. You should also take into consideration that maybe the time for a replacement has come. On the other hand, if you own a new device, then running a clean cycle at high temperatures will do the job. Run it at least once a month and clean all the internal parts deeply, removing bacteria and mould out of your machine. One thing’s for sure! It’s time to take action and make your washing machine smell fresh. Clean all the internal parts and keep the bacteria away.

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