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Home » What is the source of the odor in my washing machine? Six common causes and solutions

What is the source of the odor in my washing machine? Six common causes and solutions

by Nina Smith
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Washing machines can emit foul odors, but it’s not always clear what’s causing the issue. We’ve broken down six typical causes of washing machine odors and how to fix them.

We’re all so focused on cleaning clothes that we forget to tidy the washing machine(opens in new tab) itself – until it starts to smell. It’s a common issue that can leave clothes smelling even worse than before they went in.

Consider what we put washing machines through the hair, dirt, oils, and odd bits of chunky wreckage left in pockets that we throw in every couple of loads.

What is the source of the odor in my washing machine?

1. Low-temperature washing

While washing clothes at a low temperature appears to be an effective way to save energy – especially if you’re concerned about how much it costs to run a washing machine – (opens in new tab). However, doing so regularly may produce a pungent odor because it will not eliminate nasty bacteria.

The solution: To clean a smelly washing machine caused by low-temperature washing, simply run a service wash’ cycle on your device. While it may sound complicated, you must run an empty washing machine through a high-temperature process with a high spin rate. A service swirl on your washing machine at least once a month should keep any bacteria at bay.

Expert advice: Cleaning influencer Lynsey Queen of Clean (opens in new tab) uses bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar to maintain her washing machine smelling fresh. She suggests combining white vinegar and baking soda to make a paste that can be positioned in the detergent drawer of your washing machine. Then, pour approximately 250ml of white vinegar into the drum and run the device through a hot cycle, followed by another hot process to rinse the machine.

2. A soiled door seal

If you haven’t cleaned the door seal of your washing machine in a while, a musty odor may develop, and your entire house may start to smell slightly off. 

The solution: Fortunately, a dirty door seal is a simple problem. Wipe the insides of the seal with a dry rag, getting into all the niches and gaps of your washing machine’s rubber door before loading the next load. If mold has started to grow, scrub it away with a brush and mold-busting spray before drying the seal. If you put off cleaning the door seal for too long, the dirt and grime will sink into the rubber, and you will hold to replace the whole door.

Cleaning Guru Kim Woodburn (opens in new tab), who became well-known on the TV show How Clean Is Your House, suggests wiping the door seal after each wash. “When you open your washing machine, run your fingers around the rubber rim to get the muck off,” she says.

3. A faulty drainage system

Poor drainage could be to blame if your washing machine emits a foul and pervasive odor. A clogged sewage system leaves water in the machine, and as more stagnant water accumulates, the smell will only worsen. More importantly, stagnant water promotes the growth of mold, slime, soap scum, and bacteria.

To repair: To repair a clogged drainage system, use a drain unblocker to clear the drain and allow stagnant water to escape quickly. You should thoroughly clean the washing machine to remove any remaining mold, bacteria, or slime.

4. You use an excessive amount of detergent.

Isn’t it ironic? When you use too much detergent, your washing machine will smell the polar opposite of clean and fresh. Using too much detergent means that most of it will be left behind after washing, allowing soap residues to become stuck, moldy and smelly, and an excellent place to hide for bacteria.

The solution: The simplest explanation for this problem is to clean the detergent drawer and filter at least once every two weeks – and only use the recommended amount of detergent when washing clothes. Most washing machines allow you to remove the drawer, which you can soak in warm soapy water before scrubbing with a scrubbing sponge or, if you want to get dirty, a toothbrush. Then, using a clean cloth, dry the drawer.

Follow Mrs. Hinch’s cleaning tips (opens in new tab), and then use Flash Bathroom spray to clean your washing machine’s drawer. “Because it removes soap scum, it’s ideal for removing old fabric conditioner,” she explains. She also suggests cleaning the area behind the drawer. She does this by using a combination of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar along with her ‘trusty’ Sonic Scrubber.

5. The drum is wet.

The smell of dampness is unmistakable, and it isn’t easy to get rid of. The drum of a washing machine will always get wet, but if it is constantly damp, you may notice a lingering odor in the air and on your clean clothes.

The solution: To ensure that the problem does not reoccur, you can take a few steps to keep the drum from becoming damp. After washing, remove the clothes from the washer as soon as the cycle is complete and leave the machine’s door open to allow proper air circulation and drying. If the air is incredibly humid, consider using a fan.

6. Your cleaning method was effective.

It may appear contradictory, but adequately cleaning your washing machine can cause it to smell worse than before. Cleaning the device, in whatever method you choose, should end things with hidden gunk, which can cause a foul odor. The odor indicates that the dirt was not thoroughly washed away and is now just seated in your machine.

In addition to the increased odor, you may notice black specks of dirt or the wastewater’s nasty color that was not previously present. This is likely to occur if you have just cleaned the washing machine for the first time in a long time.

The solution: This issue is quickly resolved by running a second clean cycle. A simple empty hot wash cycle may suffice, but if you require a little more cleaning power, add soda crystals directly into the drum of the washing machine before starting the process.

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