Why Your Washing Machine Smells, and How to Clean It

When we think of washing machines, we think of clean, fresh-smelling clothes. Laundry is supposed to have a comforting aroma—one that’s so well-loved that there are even colognes designed to mimic its scent.

But what do you do when your front-load washer stinks?

Step-by-Step

  1. Mix ¼ a cup of baking soda with ¼ a cup of water. Add this solution to your machine’s detergent container.
  2. Pour 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum and run a normal load at high heat.
  3. Scrub any remaining dirty spots with the rough side of a sponge dipped in a solution of one part vinegar, one part water.
  4. To maintain freshness moving forward, use detergents made for high-efficiency machines, keep the drum dry between cycles, and clean the gasket as needed.

Before you resign yourself to a musty, mildewy, sour-scented existence, consider this: Your washer probably isn’t defective—it just needs some TLC. A few simple steps could help eliminate that stench forever. That’s right, my friends: It’s all smooth, fresh-smelling sailing from here on out. Grab your hampers, keep your heads high, and scrub stinky clothes from your life for good.

Tide High Efficiency Laundry Detergent, Original Scent, 170 oz- 110 loads

But it’s that efficiency part that can cause some headaches when it comes to smell. See, high-efficiency front-loaders use a lot less water than their top-load counterparts, since they fill just the bottom of the wash tub with water. Since the drum rotates on a horizontal axis, your clothes tumble through the water, eliminating the need to fill the tub up all the way. That’s all fine and dandy if you use high-efficiency detergents, but when you douse your laundry with the wrong kinds of soap and softeners, the smaller amount of water can’t fully rinse them away. The drum ends up getting coated with a layer of soap scum, which is itself peppered with debris and dirt from your clothing. In the heat and damp of your washer, this scum makes a happy home for mildew, bacteria, and mold.

In the heat and damp of your washer, soap scum is a happy home for mildew, bacteria, and mold. Tweet It

The stinky situation is compounded by the fact that front-load washers use a rubber door gasket to keep water from leaking out. Dirt, soap, and bits of fabric can get trapped under the gasket, creating yet another breeding ground for nasty smells.

Detergent in laundry
Most people use WAY too much detergent, and this is one of the main causes of dirty, smelly washing machines.

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