How to Clean a Smelly Washing Machine

smelly towels from washing machine

Dirty clothes go into your washing machine, and then you expect clean smelling clothes to come out. Unfortunately, your washing machine may develop a bad odour like sewage that can start to permeate your clothing, which defeats the purpose of using a washing machine.

Bad washing machine smells don’t develop out of thin air. Rather, they’re typically tied to a build-up of dirt, mould, mildew and bacteria somewhere in the machine. Even when using plenty of strong smelling soap powder, tabs, and those scent boosting pearls, your machine can still end up smelling like rotten eggs after a cycle.

By giving your washing machine a thorough cleaning, you can knock out the source of the stink and get back to odour-free laundry. Once you’ve learned the cleaning process, you can then make it a regular habit and keep future smells at bay.

Understanding Washing Machine Smells

Your washing machine is made for cleaning, but it still gets dirty. Hair, dirt and oil (from people and pets) that come off of your clothing can get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the machine. Detergent and fabric softener residue can build up, too. Plus, hard water may leave behind mineral deposits.

Mix bacteria or fungi into this mess, and you’ll end up with a breeding ground on your hands. The warm temperatures and high humidity of the laundry room can make your washer a prime location for colonies of microorganisms to thrive.

Mould, mildew and bacteria may quickly start to produce odours. You may not see them, but they’ll make their presence known anyway.

The detergent drawer, the filter and the door seal are some of the most likely spots for microorganisms to hang out, but these stink-inducers could be anywhere. Giving your whole machine a thorough cleaning is the best way to ensure that you’re tackling the problem.

As you can see, your washing machine is the ideal environment for bad smells to develop. A thorough cleaning will ensure that the nice fragrance of your laundry detergent is all that you smell.

Deep-cleaning Your Washing Machine

Are you ready to give your washing machine the attention it deserves? These steps will walk you through the process.

1. Wash the detergent drawer.

Yes, detergent is what gets your clothes clean, but, even still, the detergent drawer isn’t self-cleaning. In fact, it can quickly become one of the spots with the worst residue buildup.

To clean it, fill a basin with hot water. Add a splash of bleach or a few spoonfuls of baking soda.

Slide the detergent drawer out of your front-loader. Place it in the hot water to soak for about 15 minutes. After you take the drawer back out of the water, use a cleaning rag to wipe it down. Scrubbing with an old toothbrush can help you get into the corners and crevices.

Rinse the drawer with clean water. Allow it to dry thoroughly before putting it back in the washing machine. While you’re waiting, use your rag to wipe down the slot on the machine where the drawer belongs.

2. Give the door seal a swipe.

dirty washing machine door rubber

Next, focus your attention on the door seal of your front-loading washing machine.

You can wipe it down with a damp cloth. Plain water may do the trick, but you can use a bleach-water mixture if needed. Be sure to get inside any folds, but be gentle so you don’t cause damage.

Leave the door open while the seals dry.

3. Check the filter.

There may be a filter on the front of your washer where loose items end up. You might find lint, hair, or odds and ends stuck in the filter.

To clean it, open the filter panel. If there’s a small hose inside, let it drain into a container before you pull out the filter. Next, slide the filter out of the machine, and clear any debris from its screen. Then, return the filter to its spot and close the panel door.

4. Run a cleaning cycle.

Now that you’ve targeted some of the dirtiest areas on a washing machine, you can focus your attention on the whole thing by running one or more service washes. That means doing a wash cycle without any laundry in the machine.

When you run a cleaning cycle, it’s best to use the hottest water setting. While hot water alone may be enough to freshen up your machine, you might want to use additives as well. You have several options. They include:

  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Citric acid
  • Epsom salts
  • Concentrated laundry detergent with plant-based enzymes
  • Antibacterial products that are designed for cleaning washing machines

It’s a good idea to consult your owner’s manual to make sure that you’re using an approved cleaning method. Adding unapproved products may invalidate your warranty.

If allowed by your manufacturer, here’s one approach you can try:

  1. Fill a measuring cup with 1 cup of bleach. Pour half of it directly into the machine and half into the detergent drawer.
  2. Start the cycle so the washer fills with water. To increase the time that the bleach water is in the machine, pause the cycle for one hour, if possible.
  3. Finish the wash cycle.
  4. Pour 1 cup of vinegar in the detergent drawer.
  5. Run another wash cycle.

After using bleach in your washing machine, it’s smart to make sure that your next load is whites-only so that you don’t end up staining your clothes with a bit of bleach that may have been left behind. A vinegar rinse cycle will probably take care of that problem, but it never hurts to be extra careful.

5. Wipe down the machine.

Before your put away your cleaning gear, use a damp cloth to scrub the front, top and sides of the machine. Pay special attention to the areas around the detergent drawer and the filter panel.

You may want to use a dry cloth to wipe out the drum as well. Leave the door open until the drum has fully dried.

6. Check the standpipe.

If the unpleasant odor persists, the problem might be in your standpipe rather than the machine itself. The standpipe is the plumbing piece into which the wastewater drains.

You might be able to clear standpipe buildup with drain cleaner. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to call a plumber for professional service.

Keeping Away Future Smells

A one-time cleaning may take care of your current problem, but the odors will come back if you don’t keep up with regular appliance care. Consider implementing a cleaning schedule like the one below.

When Washing Clothes

More laundry soap isn’t better. Overusing detergent causes buildup to accumulate more quickly. Read the manufacturer’s directions carefully so you know what the proper measurement is. Then, get into the habit of using only that much detergent for each load. Otherwise, you machine, and fabrics could smell like rotten eggs or sewage.

After Each Wash

Remove finished load right away. Wet laundry encourages smells to fester.

After taking out the clothes, go over the door seal with a cleaning cloth to remove any debris. That will help stave off future mold and mildew growth.

Pull open the detergent drawer. Mold flourishes in dark, enclosed spaces. The drawer will stay fresher if it’s exposed to room air and ambient light between cycles.

Leave the door propped open. You don’t have to keep it cracked all the time, but you should at least let the drum dry completely before you close the machine back up.

Once a Month

Run a service wash with hot water and your additives of choice, such as baking soda, bleach or washing machine cleaner.

Give the detergent drawer a good cleaning, check the filter for debris buildup, and wipe down the outside of the washer with a damp rag.

Related: 10kg Washing Machines

The Results: Clean Clothes and an Odor-free Washing Machine!

Once you’ve done one major cleaning to tackle years’ worth of dirt buildup, monthly maintenance should go a lot faster. If you stay on top of it, you may be able to get through the real cleaning work in less than half an hour. The service cycle will take longer, of course, but that’s a largely hands-off process.

Besides, you’ll likely find the effort worthwhile. Keeping up with maintenance may extend the life of your appliance and reduce the need for service calls. (Just be sure to always consult your owner’s manual before beginning. That way, you can make sure that all of your cleaning steps are manufacturer-approved.)

Plus, a smelly washer that harbors bacteria and transfers stink to your clothes isn’t doing much good. On the other hand, a scrubbed and polished washing machine will be ready and able to produce the fresh, clean clothes that you expect from this household appliance.