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How To Get Rid of Stubborn Washing Machine Smells + The One Odor That Spells Danger

The less-is-more detergent tip that’ll save you money AND freshen your machine

Noticed that your clothes are coming out of the washer with a less-than-fresh-smell or has there been an odor wafting from your washing machine? The culprit is likely a washing machine in need of washing. And you’re not alone — after all, up to 20% of households have never cleaned their washer, according to the National Cleaning Survey. And even if you have cleaned your washing machine in the past, that smell can come back and it may be due to something other than lack of cleaning. So we asked the cleaning experts what can cause a washing machine to smell bad, what are for the easiest, most effective ways to get rid of that washing machine smell and the how to keep smelling fresh for good.

What’s causing that washing machine smell

Before you can pinpoint how to clean your washer, it’s important to determine what’s causing the odor — and if it’s something serious, explains Will Cotter, cleaning specialist for FreshSpace. Here, the various odors and what they may mean:

1. Mildewy or moldy stench? Moisture overload

This is the most common washing machine odor, explains Cotter. “Mold, mildew, and odor-causing bacteria need both moisture and ‘food’ to develop, so these smells are caused by two main factors: dampness that remains after the wash cycle is complete and a build-up of sweat, skin cells, dirt and soap scum from clothes and detergent that stick to the drum and other machine parts.” If this is your smell, skip right to the below tips on how to clean your machine.

2. Sewage stench? Peek at the pipes

This odor can sometimes be caused by bacteria, so give one of the cleaning methods below a try first. “If the smell still lingers, this typically indicates that you have an issue with the pipes or vents connected to your washer,” says Rich Mullins, of H2O Plumbing. If you’re feeling particularly handy, you can look up YouTube videos (like the one below) on how to investigate and clean a washing machine vent pipe, drain pipe or P-trap, but keep in mind it may require you to go up on your roof so, in general, it’s best to let a professional plumber tackle this problem.

3. Rotten-egg smell? Call your gas company

If you detect a sulfuric odor — especially if it comes on suddenly and you have a gas-powered dryer next to your washer — call your gas company immediately, then leave your home until they arrive. While a rotten egg smell can be the result of a dirty machine, it can also indicate a natural gas leak, in which case, you want someone to investigate right away, as a gas leak can result in a fire or even an explosion.

How to get rid of washing machine smell

Now that you’ve determined what’s causing the smell, how you get rid of the washing machin smell depends on which type of machine you have.

How to get rid of front-loading washing machine smells

Towel hanging out of a washing machine (get rid of washing machine smell )
Kirill Rudenko/Getty

Check the rubber gasket around the door. Not only is this area notorious for “eating” socks and delicates, it also traps grime and moisture that combine to form a mold and mildew factory. “White vinegar is the go-to fix here,” assures Cotter. “Just pour about 1 cup of undiluted white vinegar into the detergent dispenser and run the machine on an empty hot water cycle. The acids in the vinegar will kill off odor-causing bacteria and break down built-up gunk on the inside of the machine and keep it — and your clothes — smelling fresh. Repeat the process monthly.” (Click through to learn more brilliant white vinegar uses.)

To prevent washing machine smells moving forward, check for trapped clothes in the folds of the machine, then wipe down the gasket with a clean, dry rag when you’re done with a wash cycle.

“Also, leave the door to the machine ajar between cycles,” suggests professional cleaner Kait Schulhof, founder of A Clean Bee. “This will encourage more air circulation, so moisture doesn’t have time to fester in the machine. Then, once every week or so, give the gasket a quick wipe-down with a cloth dampened with more white vinegar.”

How to get rid of top-loading washing machine smells

A front loading washing machine, get rid of washing machine smell

These machines often form pockets of mold and mildew around the agitator — the part that sticks up in the middle of the drum — as well as under the lid. “To clean it, just sprinkle about ¼ cup baking soda inside the drum and around the agitator, then pour in 1 cup of white vinegar, splashing it onto the baking soda,” says Karina Toner of Spekless Cleaning. “This creates a fizzing reaction that breaks down soap deposits and gets into the nooks and crannies of a top-loader.”

“When the fizzing stops, grab a scrub brush and run it over the drum, under the lid and into the crevices of the agitator.” Once the machine is scrubbed down, add another cup of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser and run the empty machine on its hottest water setting. While top-loaders don’t have a rubber gasket to worry about, it can still help to leave the door open for an hour or so after running a wash cycle to let the inside of the machine fully dry. Then, stay on top of odor-causing bacteria by running the hot cycle with 1 cup of white vinegar in an empty machine once a month. 

How to prevent *future* washing machine smells

1. Slash the amount of detergent you use per wash

Close up of woman hands adding fabric softener or detergent to a modern washing machine. (get rid of washing machine smell )

Save money and thwart odors by using less detergent — 2 Tbs. of the liquid or powdered stuff is the max you’ll ever need to clean a load of laundry, regardless of what the product label claims and that’s for a full machine. Halve that amount for half a load and halve it again for loads smaller than that. Not only will this ensure your clothes come out of the wash looking and feeling clean, but it will also prevent excess stench-causing soap residue from building up inside your machine.

2. Consider high-efficiency (HE) detergents

These detergents produce fewer suds, leaving less smell-inducing residue on your washing machine and detergent, but they will also work just fine in a top-loader.

3. Give dispensers a quick wipe-down

When it’s time to do your monthly washer cleaning, don’t forget about the area where you add the detergent, fabric softener and bleach. Whether it’s a pull-out drawer or a recessed area around the drum, this spot is prone to build-up and can become a magnet for dust, dirt and hair that will eventually produce foul odors. Before running the washer on its cleaning cycle, simply wipe the dispenser areas with a rag dampened in white vinegar until any residue is gone.

For more cleaning hacks, click through:

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