Cleaning and preventing smells from a washing machine

How To Clean Your Washing Machine - 16 Steps

Updated on 12/15/18
9 minute read

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In this article, I will share with you proven ways to sanitize your washer and get rid of and prevent smells from your front load washing machine. 

I use this tips for years, and I learned many of them from professionals. Though the title suggests this article regards front load washers, most if not all of the tips below will work well with top load washing machine.

Read more to learn how to clean a front loading washing machine (works great also on top loaders). 

 

The causes for bad smells from your washing machine

As a general guideline, remaining moisture in the washing machine can develop smells and we should prevent it. 

Moisture can pool or accumulate in several places in your washer.

Sometimes, the bad smell created from the access moisture is transferred to the laundry and parts of the machine (e.g. tub, drum, filter).

Until removed, that smell will not go away and will keep stinking your laundry. 

 

Once we remove the smell - we need to maintain the washer. Or the smell will return. 

In the next section, I gathered a list of cleaning and maintenance tips that will help you clean your washer and maintain smell-free washer in the future.

Related: How I use a polyphosphate water softener to keep water lines clean of scale and rust.


 

Cleaning and maintenance tips for preventing bad smell from washer

 

Right off the bat, my number one tip I always offer first:

Leave the washer door slightly open after every use

Many people leave the door close tight after they take the laundry out of the washer. 

This is a big cause of smells. 

When you seal the door, the remaining moisture left from the cleaning cycle will develop bad smells over time. It may cause mold, bacteria and other similar things. 

By leaving the door slightly open, you let the tub and drum dry out. Enabling the washer to dry from the inside, is a crucial part of preventing smells.

Prevent bad smells from washing machine by leaving the door open

 

Another similar tip, that will make sure no moisture is left in your washer is:

Leave the detergent dispenser drawer slightly open

Much like the washing machine door, the detergent dispenser gathers moisture during the washer cleaning cycle. 

The water runs through the dispenser to gather the detergent and keep it flowing towards the drum and tub. 

When left closed, the dispenser may develop mold since the water left in it has nowhere to go. 

Prevent bad smells from washing machine by leaving the detergent drawer open

 

Clean the gasket(seal) regularly

Door gasket, or seal, really the same thing, serves 2 purposes.

In short: it prevents water from leaking out of the machine when cycling, and it collects small dirt particles from the laundry. 

In time, the seal collects a lot of dirt and moisture. 

A good practice is to clean it every 3 months. 

Use a damp cloth, paper towel or sponge and run it through all the folds in the seal. From top to bottom, don't leave untouched areas.

You can add some bleach to really eliminate any mold or germs.

Tip: if the seal is beyond cleaning, you can always replace it. That is not a complicated task. 

Clean the washing machine door gasket

 

Do not leave wet laundry in the washer

Leaving your washed laundry in the washer overnight is not a good idea.

Same goes for forgetting the wet washed laundry in the washer.

But we are humans, and we are not perfect. these things happen sometimes. 

When you leave laundry in the washer, even clean laundry will develop a smell and a weird musty odor, and the smell might stick to the machine.

Try to take the laundry out of the washer as soon as the cycle is done.

 

Drain and clean the washer filter

The washing machine filter constantly holds around 2 cups of water around it. It is not dry when the machine is finished.

If you ever cleaned a washer filter, you know that when you unscrew the filter and take it out, water runs out of the machine. 

I recommend the following: every 3 months, remove the filter. Let the standing water drain out. 

Clean the filter with dishwashing soap. 

put it back in place. 

This will make sure the water does not create that stench. 

Prevent bad smells from washing machine by regularly cleaning the filter.

Tip: this may change from a washer brand to another. Read machine manual if you have any doubt about removing the filter.

 

Clean the detergent dispenser drawer

Over time, it may collect detergent sentiments and fabric softener leftovers.

those may clog the paths for the water to run. It may leave access water in the area of the washer. 

Every few months or according to its cleanness level, remove the drawer, clean it with warm water.

Prevent smells from a washing machine - clean detergent drawer

 

Clean the detergent drawer housing

Similar to the previous tip, use a toothbrush or similar tool and make sure the housing is clean.

I never got any washer smell due to detergent leftovers in the housing but it is a good practice and not a big effort. 

Prevent bad smells from a washing machine by cleaning the detergent drawer housing

 

Use vinegar to clean your washer

Vinegar helps to remove dirt and sediment from the inner parts of the washer.

I learned that when I started using white vinegar to clean limescale and stone build up from the kettle.

How to use vinegar: 

Add 1-2 small cups, no need to exaggerate with the amount of vinegar. A small amount goes a long way. 

Run the machine without any clothes. Program the washer to around 40-60 degrees Celsius, and a long program if possible. 

Usually, the normal cotton program is sufficient.

Important: Since I am not familiar with all brands and materials washing machines are made of, contact your machine manufacturer to make sure it will not damage your product.

Tip: I usually do not use vinegar. That is because my washing machine has a small drain cycle on the beginning of every run. It drains all liquids from the machine tub before cleaning the current dirty load. So I can never be sure if it drains the vinegar out before actually letting it do its thing.

Instead, I use citric acid. This is the next tip.

 

Use citric acid to clean your washer

Instead of vinegar, I use citric acid. 

I add a spoon of citric acid directly to the detergent dispenser and run a 60 degrees cotton cycle. You can also go for 90 degrees cycle if possible.

That helps to reduce limescale and stone build up from the washer. 

In turn, that allows the machine to heat properly what causes it to smell less.

Repeat that every 4-6 months or every 50 cycles. Depends on how much you use the washer.

Another way of preventing scale is to use a scale inhibitor. More on the in prevent scale build-up on your heating element section.

Important: Since I am not familiar with all brands and materials washing machines are made of, contact your machine manufacturer to make sure it will not damage your product.

 

Use baking soda to clean smells

This is very similar to the above vinegar and citric acid methods. 

The baking soda will remove smells, odors, and mold. 

I have heard somewhere that baking soda can be mixed with citric acid to create an even more potent powder to eliminate smells and odors.

I haven't tried it yet.

The mix should be in the area of 1 cup baking soda and 1 spoon of citric acid. 

Once I try that, I will update the article.

 

Clean the mildew of the pipes that go down from the dispenser

This is for the DIY enthusiasts. 

Mold and mildew build up over the years also in pipes. Especially in the pipes that connect the dispenser housing to the tub. 

Though it may not be a great source of the smell, cleaning it will do no harm.

In order to perform the cleaning, you need to have access to the washer internals. In front loads washers, you need to remove the washer top cover.

After disassembling the pipes, soak them in vinegar for a few hours. 

You can use a small wooden skewer to agitate the mildew so it will disconnect from the pipe faster.

This requires a certain amount of knowledge and experience, you may cause damage to your machine when removing inner parts. In doubt, always consult a professional.

 

Change your detergent, fabric softener or avoid altogether

Try changing the detergent from liquid to solid or vice verse. Try to change a brand. 

Same goes for the fabric softener. They may leave a residue that creates a bad smell. 

Run an experiment - do not use a fabric softener for a while. Try and see if it reduces the smell. 

 

Check for clogs in the washer siphon

First, make sure you got a siphon installed. 

Siphons are great in preventing bad smells from returning back from sewer lines.

 

What if you have a siphon installed:

Clogs will prevent the dirty water from exiting the system.

The dirty water may develop smells.

 

If there are no clogs:

Next step is to consider installing a non-return valve on the washer drain line. This will prevent dirty water from returning to the washer, regardless of potential future clogs. It can save a lot of worries and headaches.

As a general guideline, clogged siphons are bad and can potentially cause smells and damage to your washer.

 

Prevent scale build-up on your heating element

Hard water can promote scale buildup inside your washing machine. If your washer heating element is covered with limescale and stone, it will prevent it from heating the water properly.

Another issue is it increases electricity consumption, but this is a topic for another article.

Hot or warm water for that matter, can clean laundry better (to a certain extent), and kill bacteria. If the water will not reach the program temperature, it may cause some smells and will reduce the effectiveness of your washer.

Here you can find more information about scale inhibitors and maintenance of heating elements around the house.

It is generally good to maintain the washer water heater element for better results.

 

Do not put too many clothes in the washing machine

This will prevent the washer to finish the cycle as it should be. 

It may cause smell in the clothes and in the machine. 

It may also damage the suspension springs and shock absorbers. 

As a general guideline, always put the right weight of laundry in the machine. 

For example, a 7Kg machine can take 7Kg of dry laundry. 

Another thing to consider is the fabric type. If the fabric takes all the place in the drum and does not allow the paddles to move the laundry around, consider reducing the load. 

 

Last but not least,

Contact the manufacturer

They may have a solution for you. It may be a common problem with the model you own. 

The manufacturer has a lot of experience and may offer a valid solution.

 

To Conclude

Nobody likes a smelly, stinky washing machine.

You can easily get rid of the washing machine smells in various DIY methods.

If nothing helps, contact a professional.