How to Remove Smell from Your Washing Machine: Ultimate Guide


Do you ever open your washing machine only to be greeted by an unpleasant odor? This is a common problem in many households but fear not – it’s usually easy to fix. Understanding the causes and knowing how to effectively remove and prevent these smells will keep your washing machine fresh and your clothes smelling great.

Understanding Washing Machine Odors

Why is My Washing Machine Smelly?

If you’ve ever been greeted by a musty or foul odor upon opening your washing machine, you’re not alone. This common issue can be both unpleasant and frustrating, especially when you expect your washing machine to produce clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Understanding why your washing machine smells is the first step to solving the problem.

Washing machines, especially front loaders, are prone to developing unpleasant odors. This often results from the damp environment inside the machine which can foster the growth of mold, mildew, and bacteria.

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The Science Behind the Smell

1. Mold and Mildew Growth

  • Environment: Mold and mildew thrive in moist, warm environments, which are typical conditions inside a washing machine, especially after a wash cycle.
  • Locations: These fungi often grow in hard-to-see areas, such as behind the drum, within the detergent dispenser, or around the door gasket, particularly in front-loading machines where the seal can trap moisture.
  • Contributors: Leftover water, combined with detergent and fabric softener residue, creates an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew.

2. Bacteria Buildup

  • Source: Bacteria can accumulate from the residue of detergents, fabric softeners, and the organic matter (like skin cells and oils) from dirty clothes.
  • Odor Production: As bacteria break down these substances, they can produce foul-smelling byproducts, leading to a stinky washer.

3. Detergent and Fabric Softener Residue

  • Residue Buildup: Overuse of detergents and fabric softeners can lead to a buildup of residue within the machine. This is especially true for machines where too much detergent is used or non-HE (High Efficiency) detergents are used in HE machines.
  • Odor Trapping: This residue not only traps existing odors but can also degrade over time, contributing to the overall smell.

4. Trapped Items and Debris

  • Small Items: Sometimes, small items like socks or children’s toys can get trapped in the machine, particularly between the drum and the outer tub.
  • Decomposition: If not removed, these items can start to decompose, giving off unpleasant odors.

5. Drainage and Ventilation Issues

  • Drainage Problems: Poor drainage can lead to stagnant water in or around the drum, which becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
  • Inadequate Ventilation: If the washing machine is not properly ventilated, the damp environment inside the machine can persist, exacerbating mold and mildew growth.

6. Infrequent Use and Poor Maintenance

  • Infrequent Use: Washing machines that are not used regularly can develop odors due to standing water or residual moisture that doesn’t have a chance to dry.
  • Lack of Cleaning: Regular cleaning is essential to prevent the buildup of residues and microorganisms. Neglecting maintenance can lead to a gradual increase in unpleasant odors.

7. Hard Water

  • Mineral Buildup: In areas with hard water, mineral deposits can build up in the machine, which can trap dirt and detergent residues, contributing to the smell.

Addressing the Issue

Understanding the causes of washing machine smells is crucial in addressing the issue effectively. Regular cleaning and maintenance, using the right amount of detergents, ensuring good ventilation, and checking for trapped items are all essential steps in keeping your washing machine smelling fresh.

Tackling the Problem

Ways to Remove Odors from a Washing Machine

Removing odors from a washing machine can be achieved through various methods. Each method has its own effectiveness and suitability depending on the severity of the odor, the type of washing machine, and personal preferences. Below, I’ll outline several ways to remove odors and discuss which might work best in different scenarios, along with the ingredients or items needed for each.

1. Cleaning with Vinegar and Baking Soda

  • Method: Run an empty hot water cycle with two cups of white vinegar, followed by another cycle with half a cup of baking soda. This helps in neutralizing odors and dissolving buildup.
  • Best For: Regular maintenance and mild odor issues.
  • Items Needed: White vinegar, baking soda.

2. Using Commercial Washing Machine Cleaners

  • Method: Follow the instructions on a commercial washing machine cleaner, which typically involves running an empty cycle with the cleaner.
  • Best For: Persistent odors or as a periodic deep cleaning solution.
  • Items Needed: Commercial washing machine cleaner (available at most supermarkets or online).

3. Bleach Cleanse

  • Method: Run an empty hot water cycle with a cup of bleach. This is effective for sanitizing and eliminating stubborn mold and bacteria.
  • Best For: Severe mold and mildew problems. Use sparingly as bleach can be harsh on some machine parts.
  • Items Needed: Bleach (chlorine or oxygen bleach, depending on manufacturer recommendations).

4. Enzymatic Cleaners

  • Method: Some enzymatic cleaners are designed for washing machines and can break down organic material causing odors.
  • Best For: Situations where odors are due to organic stains and residues.
  • Items Needed: Enzymatic cleaner formulated for washing machines.

5. Essential Oil Refresh

  • Method: Adding a few drops of essential oils like tea tree, lavender, or lemon to an empty hot water cycle can leave a pleasant scent.
  • Best For: Light odors and for adding a fresh smell to the machine.
  • Items Needed: Essential oils of your choice.

6. Citrus Cleanse

  • Method: Running a cycle with lemon juice can help in eliminating odors and providing a fresh citrus scent.
  • Best For: Mild odors and as a natural alternative to vinegar.
  • Items Needed: Lemon juice or fresh lemons.

7. Maintaining Drainage and Filters

  • Method: Regularly check and clean the washing machine’s filter and ensure the drainage system is not clogged.
  • Best For: Preventative care to avoid odor build-up.
  • Items Needed: Basic cleaning tools like a brush and cloth.

Which One Works Best and Which Should You Choose?

The best method depends on your specific situation:

  • For regular maintenance and mild odors, the vinegar and baking soda method is usually sufficient.
  • If you’re dealing with stronger, more persistent odors, a commercial cleaner or a bleach cleanse might be more effective.
  • For those sensitive to strong scents or chemicals, citrus cleanses or essential oil refreshes are good alternatives.
  • If the odor is due to organic stains (like pet urine), an enzymatic cleaner can be very effective.

The choice of method will depend on the severity of the odor, the type of washing machine, and personal preferences regarding the use of chemicals versus natural ingredients. Regular cleaning with any of these methods can help maintain a fresh and odor-free washing machine.

What is the Best Way to Get Rid of Smell in Washing Machine?

Comparing methods, a combination of regular use of vinegar and baking soda, along with occasional use of commercial cleaners, seems most effective. It’s environmentally friendly and gentle on your machine.

Preventive Measures

How to Prevent Washing Machine Smells

Preventing odors in your washing machine is key to ensuring your laundry stays fresh and your machine operates efficiently. Here are several strategies to keep unpleasant smells at bay:

1. Leave the Door Open After Use

  • Rationale: Allowing air to circulate inside the drum helps to dry out any remaining moisture, a primary cause of mold and mildew growth.
  • Tip: If you have pets or small children, ensure the laundry area is safe or supervise the open machine.

2. Remove Wet Clothes Promptly

  • Importance: Leaving damp clothes in the washer can lead to musty smells transferring to both the clothes and the machine.
  • Practice: Try to transfer laundry to the dryer or hang it up to dry as soon as the washing cycle is complete.

3. Use the Correct Amount of Detergent

  • Overuse Issues: Excess detergent can leave a residue inside your machine, contributing to odors.
  • Guideline: Follow the recommended detergent amount per load, considering the water hardness and load size.

4. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

  • Cleaning Frequency: Clean your washing machine at least once a month to prevent odor buildup.
  • Methods: Use vinegar and baking soda, a commercial washing machine cleaner, or run a hot water cycle with lemon juice.

5. Clean the Gasket and Dispensers

  • Front-Load Washers: Wipe down the rubber gasket after use as it can trap moisture and debris.
  • Dispensers: Regularly clean the detergent and fabric softener dispensers to prevent clogs and residue buildup.

6. Ensure Proper Ventilation

  • Airflow: Make sure your laundry area is well-ventilated. This helps moisture inside the machine evaporate more quickly.
  • Consideration: If your laundry room is small or lacks ventilation, consider using a dehumidifier or fan.

7. Check and Clean the Filter

  • Maintenance: Regularly check the washing machine’s lint filter (if available) and clean it to prevent clogs and odors.
  • Guidance: Refer to the manufacturer’s manual for instructions on how to locate and clean your machine’s filter.

8. Run a Hot Water Cycle Regularly

  • Benefit: Hot water cycles can help to kill bacteria and mold spores that might be causing odors.
  • Frequency: Consider doing this once a month as part of regular maintenance.

9. Avoid Excess Fabric Softener

  • Residue: Fabric softeners can leave a residue that contributes to mold growth.
  • Alternative: Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener alternative.

10. Address Drainage Issues

  • Inspection: Ensure that the washer is draining properly after each cycle. Stagnant water can lead to mold and odor.
  • Professional Help: If you suspect drainage issues, it might be necessary to consult a technician.

Choosing the Right Detergents and Fabric Softeners

Opt for HE (High Efficiency) detergents for front loaders and avoid excessive use of fabric softeners, as they can leave residue that contributes to odors.

Advanced Care and Maintenance

Taking care of your washing machine not only prevents odors but also extends its life and ensures it runs efficiently. Here are some advanced care and periodic maintenance tips to keep your washing machine in top condition:

1. Deep Clean the Washing Machine

  • Frequency: Aim for a deep clean every three to six months, depending on usage.
  • Method: Use a mixture of hot water, vinegar, and baking soda, or a commercial washing machine cleaner. Don’t forget to clean hard-to-reach areas like the detergent drawer and the door gasket.

2. Inspect and Clean the Rubber Seals

  • Importance: The rubber seals, especially in front-loading machines, can trap moisture and debris, leading to mold and odor issues.
  • Action: Regularly wipe down the seals with a mildew-resistant cleaner. Check for trapped items and remove any debris.

3. Check and Clean the Water Inlet Filters

  • Purpose: These filters prevent debris from entering the washing machine. Over time, they can become clogged.
  • Maintenance: Turn off the water supply, remove the hoses, and check the filters at the hose connection points. Clean them thoroughly or replace them if necessary.

4. Clean and Maintain the Detergent Dispenser

  • Buildup: Detergent and fabric softener residue can accumulate in the dispenser, leading to clogs and inefficiencies.
  • Cleaning: Remove the dispenser drawer, soak it in warm water, and clean it with a soft brush or cloth.

5. Service the Washing Machine Hoses

  • Check: Inspect the hoses for cracks, leaks, or signs of wear at least once a year.
  • Replacement: It’s recommended to replace the hoses every three to five years to prevent leaks and water damage.

6. Balance the Machine

  • Stability: An unbalanced washing machine can vibrate excessively, leading to wear and tear.
  • Adjustment: Check if the machine is level and adjust the feet as necessary to ensure it’s sitting flat on the ground.

7. Regularly Clean the Lint Filter

  • Location: The lint filter may be located in different places depending on the model, such as near the drain or in the drum.
  • Cleaning: Remove lint and debris from the filter to ensure efficient drainage and reduce the risk of clogs.

8. Monitor for Unusual Noises or Movements

  • Awareness: Pay attention to any strange noises or excessive vibrations during operation.
  • Action: These could indicate a problem that requires professional attention, such as issues with the drum or motor.

9. Consider a Professional Service Check

  • Professional Inspection: Even with regular maintenance, it’s beneficial to have your washing machine professionally inspected and serviced every few years.
  • Advantages: A technician can identify and address issues that are not easily noticeable, ensuring optimal performance.

10. Review and Follow Manufacturer’s Guidelines

  • Manual: Always refer to your washing machine’s manual for specific maintenance recommendations and guidelines.
  • Adherence: Following the manufacturer’s advice can prevent damage and ensure you’re using the machine as intended.

Professional Maintenance: When to Call a Technician

If odors persist despite thorough cleaning, it may be time to call a technician. They can check for and resolve issues that are not easily accessible, like internal hoses and drainage problems.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Dealing with Persistent Odors

For stubborn smells, a more aggressive approach might be needed. Running a few consecutive hot cycles with a combination of vinegar, baking soda, and commercial cleaners can do the trick.

Addressing Specific Washing Machine Models

Top-loaders and front-loaders might have different problem areas. For instance, front-loaders often require more attention to the rubber gasket.


Keeping your washing machine smelling fresh requires regular maintenance and a bit of know-how. With these tips, you can easily prevent and eliminate unpleasant odors, ensuring your laundry smells as clean as it looks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: How often should I clean my washing machine?
  • A: Ideally, once a month to prevent odor buildup.

Additional Resources

For more detailed instructions, product recommendations, and expert advice, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines and dedicated home maintenance resources.