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How to fix a smelly washing machine

Cleaning Washing Machine Seals

Your washing machine is meant to expel unpleasant smells from your home, so it can be worrying when your appliance begins to kick up a stink. But never fear, we’re here to show you how to banish  a smelly washing machine for good with our comprehensive guide. 

Jump to: 
What causes your washing machine to smell?
Why it’s important to clean your washing machine
How do to get rid of that stagnant smell from your washing machine
How to prevent your washing machine from smelling

What causes your washing machine to smell?

Nasty odours in your washing machine are typically caused by a combination of three elements – mould, mildew, and bacteria. When you put clothes in your washing machine, body oil, dirt, hair, and scum get trapped in your appliance’s gasket, seal, and detergent dispenser. Over time, this combination, paired with the humidity the machine lets off, creates a less-than-pleasant aroma. 

Why it’s important to clean your washing machine

Your washing machine might be designed to clean your clothing, but cleaning your appliance thoroughly is essential to allow it to do its job efficiently. The warm, damp environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. When you add elements like pet hair and everyday dirt into the mix, it's easy to see why they need cleaning. 

Not only will a bacteria build-up mean your clothes start to smell, but it can also start to degrade the internal workings of your washing machine, meaning it could break down when you least expect it. 

It's much easier to maintain your washing machine's cleanliness than buying a new one – plus, it's kinder on your pocket and the planet, too. 

How to get rid of that stagnant smell from your washing machine

None of us want a musty smell in our homes, but what should you do if your washing machine does begin to let off an odour? Here are some steps to take to banish that smell for good:  

1. Run a service wash

A service wash means spinning your washing machine at a high temperature without any clothes. 

Most people wash their clothes at 40°C or less. While that is a great way to save on energy bills and is much better for the environment, washing at these lower temperatures won’t completely banish mould or bacteria from your appliance. That’s why you must regularly run a hotter service wash to prevent a smelly washing machine. 

Ideally, it would help if you ran a service wash once a month, and most manufacturers now recommend using a specific cycle to do so or provide a particular drum-cleaning program. Your instruction manual should have this information for you. If not, call the manufacturer’s Customer service line and ask which program to use.

2. Clean the seal 

Mould and bacteria can easily fester in the rubber seal around your washing machine's door. After washing your clothes, inspecting the seal for signs of grime and dirt is a good idea. 

One way to do so is by wiping the seal with a microfibre cloth dipped in warm water and washing up liquid. You can use an old toothbrush to scrub off any stubborn patches of dirt if needed, but not too hard, as this could lift the seal away from the machine. 

Frequently performing this task can help prevent the build-up of mould and bacteria contributing to your washing machine's smell. If mould has had too long to develop on your seal, it may sink into the porous rubber and be impossible to remove. If this happens, you may need to replace your machine's door seal. 

3. Wash out your drawers and lint filter

Mould and bacteria love warm and damp environments, so it’s not surprising that your detergent drawer and lint filter can be a breeding ground. A straightforward way to tackle this problem is to remove your drawer from the machine, take it apart, rinse under warmer water, and use soft brushes to scrub away any stubborn muck. 

Ensure you thoroughly dry all the pieces before inserting them back into your machine to slow down the regrowth of unwanted visitors. 

Check Washing Machine Filter

4. Leave your washing machine door open

Leaving your machine door ajar after washing allows air to circulate properly within the drum, speeding up any water evaporation and preventing mould and bacteria from growing. 

You should also leave your detergent drawer partly open for the same reason. Alternatively, you can give it a quick wipe over with a clean cloth to ensure there's no stagnant water lurking. 

5. Check your standpipe  

If bad smells continue, you may have a partial blockage in your standpipe. If you suspect this is the case, use a drain unblocker to try to clear the obstruction. 

If this does not solve the problem, you may need to call a professional plumber to resolve the issue. If you’re a Places for People Customer, give us a call on 01772 667 002 or report a repair through your online account.

How to prevent your washing machine from smelling

Now that you’ve removed the stagnant smell from your drum, how can you prevent your washing machine from smelling in the future? Here are some tips to help you: 

1. Vent to prevent 

When washing your clothing, ensure the space is well-ventilated, especially in the damp-prone winter months. From viruses to unwanted odours, providing adequate air circulation can prevent a range of issues from occurring. 

2. Remember to measure 

Using too little detergent won’t clean your clothes properly, while too much can lead to unwanted residue that can harbour dampness and unwanted smells. Follow the recommended amount outlined on the detergent bottle to ensure a balanced wash. 

Measuring Out Washing Machine Detergent

3. Rinse and don’t repeat 

Too much detergent is problematic for your washing machine. Excess soap can linger in your appliance, attracting dirt and unpleasant smells. To prevent these odours, ensure you occasionally set your machine to a rinse setting. 

4. Spray away the grime 

Post-cycle, target the door seal, detergent drawer, and class with a bleach-based spray. A quick wipe over will eliminate potential mould hotspots from becoming a problem. 

5. Filter through the grit 

Check your machine’s filters monthly to extend its life. A clogged filter is a breeding ground for smell-inducing blockages and can kick up a stink in your home and affect your appliance’s performance.