Why Does My Washer Smell and How to Prevent and Clean It

washer odor

If your washer stinks the cause is likely from mold growth. A washing machine can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew; and worse, the stinky odor that develops can spread to your clean laundry and even throughout your laundry room!

​One of the main trouble spots is the area above the normal waterline. This area always has the heaviest build-up because the soiled water and suds are splashed above the waterline. When the washer enters the rinse cycle the build-up isn't flushed away and it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and mildew. 

If your laundry begins to smell, it's because the clothes and towels are rubbing against this area during a full load. However, there are a few simple steps that you can take to not only eliminate the smell, but also prevent it from returning in the future.

What to Do About a Stinky Washer

If you notice a mildew smell in your clean laundry first you need to deal with the washer. Re-washing clothes in a smelly washer will only result in smelly clothes. Once the washer is clean of mold and mildew, your clothes should also come out of the washer smelling clean.  

Frequently, people attempt to mask the smell from their washer with a fragrance, but doing this doesn't resolve the root cause of the problem. Mold and mildew growth is still taking place in your washer and will continue until it's killed. There are several different methods to get rid of and prevent your washing machine from smelling.

Bleach​

Bleach has been around for decades, in fact, it's been around for over 100 years! It's an excellent cleanser for killing mold and bacteria growth. However, care needs to be taken when handling bleach as it should not come in direct contact with your skin.

Also use care not to breath the fumes from bleach, and keep in mind that it should never be mixed with other products as it can produce harmful gases that can result in sickness and in extreme cases, death.

Here's how to clean your washer using bleach:​

  • ​Add 1 cup of bleach (Amazon) to the bleach dispenser. If you do not have a bleach dispenser you can add it directly into the machine.
  • Run the Cleaning Cycle or if your washer doesn't have this cycle, run a hot wash cycle. 
  • Run the washer without laundry.
  • Once the cycle is finished wipe down the interior with cleaning clothes and clean the detergent and bleach dispensers. 

Vinegar​

White distilled vinegar can be an effective way to kill bacteria and mold spores in your washing machine. It will work for both top and front load washers, however, the process is different for each. 

Top Load

  • Use the Cleaning Cycle or set your washer on the following settings: Hottest temperature / Highest load capacity / Longest wash cycle.
  • Once the washer fills with water and is agitating, add 4 cups of white distilled vinegar to the hot water.
  • Close the lid and allow the washer to run in the agitate cycle.
  • After a few minutes, open the lid - the washer will stop with the lid open.
  • Allow the vinegar solution to sit in the water for an hour before returning the lid to the closed position.
  • When the washer finishes it's cycle, use your cleaning cloths to wipe down the inside of the unit. 
  • Repeat if necessary

Front Load

  • Use the Cleaning Cycle if your washer has one. If not, select the hot water setting. 
  • Pour at least 3/4 cup of distilled white vinegar into the bleach dispenser.
  • After the washer has completed the cycle, run an additional rinse cycle. 
  • Use towels to wipe down the interior of the washer.
  • Remove the bleach and fabric softener dispensers and wash in warm, soapy water. Do not replace them until they have thoroughly dried.
  • Carefully pull the rubber door gasket back and wipe it down with a soft cleaning cloth and vinegar. Once cleaned, dry the gasket with a dry towel. 

Washer Cleaner

Using a cleaner that is specifically designed to clean your washing machine is a relatively new concept, but it's also very effective. The Affresh (Amazon) is reasonably priced and it does a nice job of not only preventing odors and mold growth, but also eliminating an existing problem. There are other products available, but we've seen good results with Affresh.

  • Select the Clean Washer Cycle or use the Normal Cycle with hot water.​
  • Place 1 Affresh tablet in the washer.
  • Run the cycle without laundry. Be sure the water is hot so that the tablet will fully dissolve.
  • Wipe down the door gasket (front loader) and bleach and detergent dispensers with Affresh Cleaning Wipes (Amazon).

  • If you are trying to eliminate an existing odor problem, the manufacturer recommends running 3 consecutive cycles, each with a new Affresh tablet.

Preventing a Stinking Washer

Preventing your washer from developing a mildew problem isn't as difficult as you may think. Any of the above methods, used on a regular maintenance schedule will help keep bacteria and mildew growth from starting. However, these 3 tips are best practices to eliminate a stinky washer entirely.

Tip #1: Cleaning Cycle

​If your washer is stinky you can eliminate the offending odor by using the cleaning cycle. The majority of newer washing machines are manufactured with a cleaning cycle. The cleaning cycle is designed to do just what it says . . . clean your washer. It uses high water temperatures in order to kill and flush mildew from the unit.

You simply run the cycle without clothes. Although it isn't necessary, we recommend using a washer cleaner such as Affresh (Amazon) to ramp things up and give your washer a helping hand. But bleach or vinegar can also be used. See above for instructions.

Check your owner's manual for specific details, but many manufacturers recommend running this cycle at least a couple times a month to prevent mildew and fungus growth. 

Tip #2: Keep the Door Open​

After you remove your wet clothes, the inside of the washer will still be damp and may even have a few puddles of water here or there. Moisture specifically likes to hide in the detergent drawer and door gasket of a front loader, and under the rim of a top loader. Add a bit of lint and a few detergent suds and you have everything you need for mildew growth. 

By simply leaving the door open on a front loader (or the lid open on a top loader) for a couple of hours, the moisture will have time to evaporate​. Slightly pulling the detergent drawer out to allow for air flow, will also allow this area the opportunity to dry. 

Tip #3: Keep the Clothes Moving​

​If you start a load of wash you want to keep it moving thru the washing cycle until it's dried and out of the dryer. It doesn't take much time for mildew to begin to grow in your washer. This is especially true since your washer is such a hospitable environment. It provides all the things mold and mildew need to thrive (a warm environment and food) and this is especially true if clothes are left to linger.

Once the washer finishes it's wash cycle remove the clothes as soon as possible and place them in the dryer. You should never leave wet clothes in the dryer​ either, so start the dryer right away. Although mold and mildew shouldn't be an issue once the dryer has finished it's cycle, it's a good practice to remove the clothes as they are less likely to wrinkle.