Odor Removal

How to Get Rid of Washing Machine Odors

For an appliance that cleans and freshens up your dirty laundry, your washing machine can get quite dirty and smelly. Dirt, grime, and all sorts of odors will eventually make their way into the interior surfaces of your washing machine. If you do heavy loads of laundry, your washing machine will eventually smell like a vile combination of sweaty socks, undergarments, wet towels, and just about every article of clothing you wash in it.

A dirty, smelly washing machine is no place for you to do laundry. Grime and scum stuck on a washing machine not only smell bad, but they can also harbor disease-causing microorganisms that are harmful to you and your family. It’s important to get grid of those foul odors from your washing machine to keep your clothes smelling fresh and looking clean.

You Get What You Put In

The odors that stink up your washing machine come from the clothes you put in it. Soap residue and hard water contribute to the foul odor. Sweat, dead skin cells, pollution, and bodily odors will eventually make your washing machine smell bad.

Foul odors in your washing machine are caused by a film of scum. It may sound disgusting, but that disgusting layer of filth are the stains and dirt that come off from your clothes. Clothes are cleaned in a washing machine through a process called agitation, where the clothes are pushed around in soapy water. The water and the detergent then get forced in between the fibers of your clothes.

Many washing machines have lint-removers to help scrub off lint, but most of the dirt and grime floats around the water until the drain cycle. The problem is that most dirt and grime found in clothes are oil-based; oil and water don’t mix. Eventually the oily scum will build up along the walls, drums, and drain-covers of your washing machine. While the film may look invisible, the greasy coating leads to a foul-smelling odor that will eventually make it to your clothes.

The good news is that your washing machine cleans itself every time you do laundry. Water and detergent, along with your clothes, gently clean and scour the interior surfaces of your washing machine for every laundry load. The problem is that washing clothes is not a self-cleaning function. You still need to clean your washing machine every now and then to get rid of the scum. (For tips on scum removal, how to get rid of soap scum)

Schedule a Thorough Cleaning

If you do heavy loads of laundry every week, you need to get down and dirty, and clean your washing machine at least once a month. A bit of elbow grease, coupled with the right cleaning tools, can keep your washing machine clean and odor-free. Whether you use a top-loading machine or a front-loading washer, the cleaning method stays the same.

Here are the tools you need to clean your washing machine:

Follow these steps to remove the odor-causing scum that coats the insides of your washing machine:

  1. Wet the inside walls (for agitator-type machines) or the drum surface (for drum-type machines) with warm water.
  2. Using a worn, soft scouring pad and some detergent powder, gently scrub away at the scummy film coating the inside surfaces of the washing machine. Use as much soap as you need to dissolve the oil-based chemical bonds that hold the scum and grease molecules together.
  3. Empty the lint remover or receptacle (if your washing machine has one), and wash the fabric thoroughly. Clean the drainage slots thoroughly, and make sure to remove all the fibers, hairs, dirt, and other scum that have built up on the holes, pores, and slots of the drain covers.
  4. Rinse the surface with water. Do not add bleach to the soapy surface, because you’ll only end up making toxic, potentially fatal gases.
  5. Add bleach to the dry, clean interior surfaces of the washing machine. Bleach will help disinfect the surfaces, and inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms. Spread the bleach around with a stiff kitchen sponge.
  6. Allow the bleach to set before washing it away. Don’t worry about the bleach wearing out the enamel or the protective paint coating the interior surface of your washing machine. Washing machines are built to withstand the effects of the cleaning chemicals.

A thorough cleaning of your washing machine takes time and effort, depending on how much scum is found in the machine. If you have a tumble-dryer, then you can use the same cleaning technique to get rid of the residue from soap and detergent.

Keep Your Washing Machine Dry

Just because a washing machine uses water doesn’t mean that you should allow excess water to stagnate. Stagnant water gets cloudy and stinks up in a matter of days, and is also a breeding ground for many insects like flies and mosquitoes. If you’re not worried about the stink in your clothes, you must definitely be worried about the critters that breed and float around the scum-tainted water.

It’s important to keep your washing machine dry after you have washed the week’s load of laundry. A dry machine gives you a good idea of whether or not you need to clean your washing machine for the dried, caked-in grease, dirt, scum and grime.

If you do your laundry in a very moist room, you may need to buy some desiccant sachets to keep the interior of your washer clean, dry, and free from odors. Desiccant sachets draw in and prevent excess moisture from building up in a closed space, which is why they are used with some dried food packages and in shoe boxes. Go to a hardware store or household supply store to get the best deal out of a bunch of desiccant sachets.

Use Potpourri

If you’re not into desiccant or deodorizing spray, you can use potpourri to freshen up your washing machine. Strong-scented potpourri does not get rid of the source of the odor, but it does help mask the odor until you find the time to give your washing machine a thorough cleaning. Here are some ideas for odor-masking potpourri:

  • Use citrus. Oils from citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and lime have natural deodorizing qualities. Dry the peel or zest of a few citrus fruits, and place them in an old nylon stocking or a thin tea cloth, and drop it into the machine.
  • Try flowers. If you’re not into the scent of dried fruit, you may want to dry wildflowers like pheasant’s-eye, baby’s breath, or lavender. The lingering scent of wildflowers also give your clothes a fresh, natural scent. Do not use herb-based potpourri on your washing machine, because the strong scent can turn people off.
  • Tumble the potpourri. Instead of leaving the potpourri alone, you can help spread the scent by tumbling the potpourri on the lowest wash cycle while the washing machine is dry. Make sure that the bag can withstand the agitated motion.

Smart Tips for an Odor-Free Washing Machine

There are many other ways to keep your washing machine free from odor-causing grime. The next time you wash clothes, try the following smart washing tips:

  • Use detergent made from 100% soluble cleaning agents. Cheaper detergents contain impurities like chalk, lime, talc, and gypsum-based substances that do not dissolve in water, causing scum to form.
  • Check the water supply to see if it contains hard water. Impurities can cause odor-causing molecules to form and build a foul-smelling film of scum inside your washing machine.
  • Use the recommended amount of soap, and the recommended wash setting, for different articles of clothing with different fabrics.
  • Soak very dirty fabrics in a bucket of soapy water before popping them in a washing machine. The soaking process gets rid of some of the stinky particles of grime.

Just because your washing machine is a place to wash dirty, smelly laundry doesn’t mean it has to stink. A clean washing machine will always lead to those clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Smart washing, proper hygiene, and a bit of elbow grease is all it takes to get rid of the scum and grime that stink up your washing machine. If you just moved out for the first time, MonsterGuide has a great article that will teach you how to wash clothes.

About the author

Nicole Harding

4 Comments

  • I have an old front loading washing machine. The rubber seal collects water and after time, builds up a horrible musty, moldy odor. I spray What Odor? inside the seal and sometimes add it to my laundry cycle to get rid of the smell.

    Its the greatest product on the market for eliminating odor!!

  • I always keep the lid open when not in use, however one day my washing machine too started to smell quite musty and I couldn’t figure it out.
    I tried the following:
    – I ran a full load on hot with vinegar, then another with baking soda, then another with bleach – these didn’t help
    – I then tried ‘Tide Washing Machine Cleaner’ – this only seemed to mask the odour, and the product itself was offensive and stunk up our entire house for well over a week until I did the next three things
    1. I replaced the drain hose since it was coated with grunge
    2. I ran Zep drain cleaner down the drain pipe, twice
    3. I loaded the washer on the largest load with hot water and 2 cups of lemon juice. I left the lid open to stop the cycle and let it sit for hours. I then scrubbed the inside of the tub with a wash cloth back and forth hoping to remove any residue.
    – With that, it seems to have taken care of both my musty smell and the Tide cleaner smell.

    So…. I suggest looking at the drain pipe (we’re going to start replacing ours every few years), and then lemon juice seemed to work best.

    I hope at least some of this may help you out!

  • When all other remedies for curing bad smells coming from front load washers have been tried and have not been found satisfactory I believe the source of the smell may well be corrosion of the aluminium spider with the products of this corrosion harbouring ‘water’ that turns foul, or, should no corrosion have occurred the ‘water’ left in the recesses of the hubs of the spiders will, if left long enough, turn foul.

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