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What can I do About a Smelly Washer?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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If a washing machine starts to develop a strong odor, there are a number of techniques which can be used to get rid of the smell, and to prevent the buildup of odor problems in the future. There are also some steps which people can take to avoid getting a smelly washer in the first place, including following manufacturer's directions very carefully, especially with high efficiency washers, which can start to smell very unpleasant if the wrong detergents are used.

Washers become stinky as materials build up behind the washer drum. This can include a layer of scum from incompletely cleared detergents, along with mold, pet hair, and other detritus from clothes and towels washed in the washer. If a washer starts to get smelly, it is a good idea to take out the washer drum to clean thoroughly behind it, paying special attention to the filter trap. Often, materials get trapped in the filter, making it hard for the washer to drain, and a smelly washer is the result.

Once the area behind the drum and the filter trap have been cleaned, a hot load without any laundry should be run with baking soda and vinegar or bleach to clean out the washer and bring back a fresher scent. There are also commercial products available for smelly washers, some of which run with empty loads, and some of which run with towels. However, a commercial cleaning product for a smelly washer will usually not be effective unless the area behind the drum has been cleaned to remove buildup.

Preventing a smelly washer starts with determining whether or not household water is soft or hard. Water which is extremely hard can interfere with the action of detergents, causing buildup, and it may make it necessary to add a water softener to the washing machine. If the household water is about average, people may find that it helps to run smaller loads of laundry, and to periodically run an empty hot load with vinegar or bleach to scour out the washing machine. A smelly washer can also be prevented by cutting down on detergent use.

Laundry should also not be left in the washing machine, as this can encourage mold to develop, and the washer should be left ajar for ventilation. For people who are concerned about small children and pets, the door to the laundry room can be kept closed, and it's a good habit to check the washer and dryer before running a load anyway.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon944356 — On Apr 07, 2014

My flatmate has a strong odor, and somehow, it has managed to stick that odor to the washing machine. Every time I do the laundry, all my clothes end up to my despair, smelling like him. I've tried using more detergent, gels, strong smelling softeners, but nothing seems to help. Can anyone give me a solution to this problem?

By anon352068 — On Oct 19, 2013

Use Odoban in the rinse cycle. Your clothes will smell fresh and your mildew smell will never return. The smell is caused by pathogens growing in the moisture in the washer. We found out the hard way.

Our teenage son got athlete's foot which found a home in the washer. It spread in the clothes. The whites we could bleach. The colors we couldn't. All of our laundry smelled like mildew. Our son and I developed jock itch that wouldn't go away. We tried everything, including pills from the doc. It would go away and then come back. We endured this misery for six months.

We started searching for something that was a fungicide that could be used in laundry and found Odoban. From the first load we did, we knew our problem was solved. Now when we drain our washer, the water never smells and was not black like the first time. It's guaranteed to fix the problem because it kills the source.

By anon341672 — On Jul 13, 2013

I was surprised at how easy it was to get to the pump filter on my kenmore elite front-loader. I took the panel off the bottom front of the cabinet. There it was, right in the front. It was a big, white plastic thing. Unscrew the filter, pull out, clean, put it back. All I needed was a nut driver with a no. 20 torx bit. I don't know about the drum. It sounds complicated.

By anon322964 — On Mar 02, 2013

Soap nuts (detergent) will solve these odor problem. They're anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

By anon321763 — On Feb 24, 2013

I solved my smelly washer problem with two simple steps. Always leave the door open when the washer is not in use. Switch from a liquid detergent to a powdered one. Of course, you will have to manually clean all the places you can get at first. You may even want to use one of the commercial washing machine cleaning products that are available in grocery stores after you have done that to give your machine a new start. However, once you have done that, taking those two steps should solve your problem. The main culprit, in my opinion, is the liquid detergent.

By anon308875 — On Dec 13, 2012

There is now help in replacing your stinky front loading washer. Recently, courts have given class action status to the worst offenders. You can sign up for reimbursement by researching the class action lawsuit against Whirlpool.

They claim rather than fix faulty design problems, Whirlpool created Affresh in order increase profits. These charges show blatant disregard for consumers health and well-being.

It seems this is their modus operandi, since they also have been charged with concealing dishwasher problems that lead to house fires. Whirlpool also makes Kenmore, Kitchenaid, Roper, Estate, Maytag, Amana and Jennair. This seems like a monopoly. They should put the money paid to their lobbyists into fixing faulty designs!

By anon260150 — On Apr 09, 2012

Epsom salts and oxyclean: simple, cheap and very, very effective in killing the mold/smell.

By anon150994 — On Feb 09, 2011

I really do believe that the main culprit of a "smelly washer" is the great amount of fabric softeners that are used. I don't use these anymore; they are great water polluters. Also, they take the "drying" out of your towels. Use the softener towelettes in your dryers. Give the dryers (and the environment) a break and hang out your clothes, esp. sheets. You'd be surprised how much you can save on electricity.

By anon75158 — On Apr 05, 2010

This article does not tell me how to take the washer drum out. I need to know how to do this if I am going to clean behind it and the filter trap. This is the new info for me. We all know about running bleach and leaving the door open after and that stuff. I want to get the drum out!

By anon38505 — On Jul 26, 2009

Washing machine odor is almost invariably caused by overuse of detergent, using fabric softener, using cold water for washing or by infrequent use.

Preventative maintenance is important to avoid mold growth in the perfect environment of the washer.

The best way to clean any washer is to do long soaks (even overnight) starting with hot water and a washing machine cleaner. Bleach or vinegar (*never* together) will kill the mold but won't remove it or the residue it grows on from inside the plastic outer tub. In more extreme cases extra gallons of hot water need to be added manually after the washer has filled into this hot cleaning soak in order to soak the area just above the normal water line where suds and soiled water splash up and don't get washed out. This "splash area" is invariably the area of heaviest buildup. --Paul Flynn

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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