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Why Does My Washing Machine Smell? How to Fix the Stench

Do you know why your washing machine smells so bad? Learn why and how to fix it!

Nothing is worse than a stinky washing machine. The smell clouts you in the nose when you open the lid to your washer and gets on all of your clothing. While a smelly washing machine is a common problem, thankfully, you don’t need to live with the stink.

You simply need to remove the smells from your washing machine.

Key Takeaways

  • Washing machine smells are typically caused by mold, mildew, and bacteria feeding on soap scum, lint, and hair in the machine.
  • The rotten egg smell is usually from bacteria growth, while sewage smell can be caused by a dried-out P-trap, clogged drain pipe, or clogged vent pipe.
  • Cleaning methods include using bleach, vinegar, or commercial cleaning solutions to remove soap scum, dirt, and residue.
  • To keep your washing machine odor-free, clean it regularly, use the correct detergent and amount, and don’t let clothes sit in the machine for too long.

Types of Washing Machine Smells

There are a couple of nasty washing machine smells you may run into. The most common ones are the smell of rotten eggs and a sewage smell. Both of the smells have different causes and solutions.

Rotten Eggs Smell

The rotten egg smell is usually from bacteria growing inside your washing machine. Built-up dirt, mildew, mold, lint, and soap are the perfect breeding ground for these bacteria that cause your washing machine to stink. They build in the gasket, lint trap, rubber seal, and drum. In a front load washing machine, small items like socks can get stuck in the gasket.

Another reason you could be smelling rotten eggs is you could have a natural gas leak. Gas companies add sulfur to the natural gas so it can be detected in case of a leak. If you suspect you have a leak, call your gas company immediately.

Sewage Smell

Another smell you may find in your washing machine is a sewage smell. This can be caused by a dried-out or improperly installed P-trap, a clogged washing machine drain pipe, or a clogged vent pipe.

Why Does My Washing Machine Smell?

One reason you have a smelly washing machine is that soiled water and suds splash above the water line and towels often brush there. This buildup is never flushed away. Dirty water and soap suds also linger in the gaskets, rubber seals, and lint trap.

The soap suds, dirty water, and lint are the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of the stink by adding scented fabric softener to your washing machine, although it may disguise the smell. The only way to remove the smell properly is to clean it.

If your washing machine stinks, you’ll need to clean it immediately so the smell doesn’t transfer onto your clothing.

If you have an older machine, you will need to check your lint trap as it may be causing the stench. Lint traps are no longer used in the newer high-efficiency washing machines.

The lint trap captures lint in the water and holds it. Bacteria find it a wonderful breeding ground. If it’s removable, pull it out and soak it in soapy water for 10 minutes.

While the trap is soaking, wipe the area around the lint trap with a paper towel to remove any gunk lingering in the area. Rinse the lint trap and dry it with a paper towel. Return the trap to its spot.

If you can’t remove the trap, simply wipe the area with a paper towel to remove the gunk to the best of your ability.

Plan to clean your washer’s lint trap every 3 months.

Using Bleach to Clean Your Washer

Bleach kills mold, bacteria, and mildew and is an excellent sanitizer. However, bleach isn’t a cleaner so it will not remove the soap scum, dirt, and residue in your machine. Use bleach when you’re ready to disinfect your machine and kill all the mold, bacteria, and mildew.

When using bleach, be careful that it doesn’t come in contact with your skin. You will also need to avoid breathing the harmful fumes. Don’t mix bleach with any other cleaners either. This can create harmful gasses which can injure or kill anyone nearby.

What You’ll Need

1. Add Bleach

Add 1 cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser in your washing machine.

2. Run Wash Cycle

Make sure your washing machine is empty. Run a cleaning cycle or a regular wash cycle with hot water.

3. Wipe Interior

After the cleaning cycle has finished, you will need to wipe the interior of your washing machine with a microfiber cloth. Wipe down the entire drum, especially the areas above the waterline.

Also, wipe down any gaskets or rubber seals in your machine.

4. Wash Dispensers

Remove the detergent, fabric softener, and bleach dispensers. Wash them in warm, soapy water. Dry them with a microfiber cloth and make sure they’re completely dry before you put them back in your machine.

Using Vinegar to Clean Your Washer

Vinegar is a good cleanser to use to clean your washing machine. Vinegar does an excellent job at removing the soap scum, dirt, and residue that feeds the mold in your washing machine. However, it isn’t as effective as bleach is at killing the mold, mildew, and bacteria.

Use vinegar when you’d like to clean your machine and remove the dirty residue.

Vinegar will work for both top and front loaders, but you will need to use a different method for both machines.

What You’ll Need

  • Vinegar
  • Measuring cup
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Dish soap
  • Water

Top Load Washers

1. Start Cleaning Cycle

The first step is to choose the appropriate cleaning or wash cycle for your washing machine. If your washing machine has a cleaning cycle, set your machine on the cleaning cycle and start it.

A machine without a cleaning cycle will need to be set for the hottest water possible, the highest load capacity, and the longest wash cycle your machine will allow you to use. Start the cycle.

2. Fill Your Machine and Add Vinegar

Allow your machine to fill with water and begin agitating. Stop your machine by either pausing it or opening the lid. Add 4 cups of vinegar to the water.

Close the lid and allow your washing machine to start agitating again for 2-3 minutes.

3. Soak Drum

Open your lid or pause your machine. You will need to stop the cycle to allow your machine to sit for 1 hour.

4. Continue Cycle

After 1 hour, restart your washing machine and allow it to complete the wash or clean cycle through the spin cycle.

5. Wipe Interior of Washing Machine

Wipe the interior of the washing machine with microfiber cloths when the machine has finished. Make sure you wipe down above the water line and any rubber seals you see.

6. Wash Dispensers

Wash the detergent, fabric softener, and bleach dispensers in warm, soapy water. Dry with a clean microfiber cloth and make sure the dispensers are completely dry before you replace them in your machine.

Repeat if necessary.

Front Load Washers

1. Run a Cleaning Cycle

Set your machine for a cleaning cycle. If you don’t have a cleaning cycle, use a hot water setting. Add at least ¾ of a cup of vinegar to the bleach dispenser. Run the wash cycle.

2. Run Additional Rinse Cycle

Run an additional wash or cleaning cycle to rinse your machine after the initial wash cycle has finished.

3. Wipe Interior of the Machine

Wipe down the interior of the machine. Carefully pull back the rubber gasket, and wipe it down with a microfiber cloth and vinegar. When finished, dry your machine with a clean and dry towel.

4. Wash Dispensers

Remove the detergent, fabric softener, and bleach dispensers from your machine. Wash them in warm soapy water. Dry them with a clean and dry microfiber cloth. Do not put them back in your machine until they’re dry.

Using Commercial Cleaning Solutions to Clean Your Washer

You can also use a commercial cleaning solution to clean your washing machine. The tablets will clean your washing machine and will remove the dirty residue left in your machine. You may still need to wipe the areas of your washing machine where water can’t reach such as gaskets and rubber seals.

Vinegar is acidic and after extended uses will eat through your rubber hosing, also using vinegar to clean your washing machine may void your warranty. Commercial cleaning solutions are formulated for use in washing machines. They won’t damage the rubber hosing in your machine, void your warranty, nor release the strong odor that vinegar or bleach will.

Commercial cleaning solutions are specially formulated so that they will remove the residue and usually do an excellent job at removing the odor. However, they won’t sanitize or disinfect your washing machine. For this you would need to use bleach.

A few commercial cleaners you can use are:

What You’ll Need

  • Commercial Cleaner
  • Commercial Cleaning Wipes

1. Clean Cycle

Set the washing machine to a clean or hot wash cycle. Place 1 tablet in the washing machine. Run the cycle with no clothing in the drum. Make sure that the water is hot so that the tablet is dissolved.

2. Wipe Down Machine

When the wash cycle is finished, wipe down the gasket, rubber seals, and dispensers with the cleaning wipes.

How to Keep Your Washer Odor-Free

There are a few tips you can follow to help keep your washing machine odor-free.

  • Clean your washing machine several times a month.
  • Use detergents for high-efficiency machines.
  • Make sure you use the correct amount of detergent.
  • Improve the airflow in the room which holds the washing machine.
  • Clean the drain trap filter every couple of months and dispose of any lint that may have built up here.
  • Clean your washing machine’s lint trap every 3 months.
  • Don’t allow clothing to sit in the washing machine and develop mildew or mold.
  • Don’t use cold water for every load. Hot water will help to kill the bacteria which causes a smelly machine.

What Causes the Sewage Smell in Washers?

If you have a sewage smell in your washing machine, there are three potential causes: the sewer, the washing machine drain pipe, or a clogged vent pipe.


To check the sewer, pull out the washing machine, remove the drain hose, and smell it. If you smell sewage, check for a dried out or improperly installed P-trap.

Try pouring a gallon of water down it. If the problem was a dried-out P-trap, this will fix the smell. If not, you will need to call a plumber to check the installation of the P-trap.

Drain Pipe

The washing machine drain pipe sometimes becomes clogged from a build-up of lint, hair, soap, and dirt. The bacteria grows and begins to stink. The solution is to use a sewer machine which can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use one.

It’s recommended that you call a plumber to check your washing machine’s connections.

Clogged Vent Pipe

A vent pipe allows air to enter the system so the water will flow smoothly. It also allows sewer gasses to escape. Vent pipes usually go to the roof and could be clogged with a bird’s nest or debris.

If you can safely reach the roof, you may see the clog and be able to easily remove it. Otherwise, you will need to call a plumber.

When to call your plumber

If you still can’t figure out why you’re having problems with a sewage smell, can’t clear the vent pipe, need to use a sewer machine, or are unable to fix the p-trap, you will need to call a plumber to diagnose and fix the issue.


How Often Should You Clean Washing Machines?

It is recommended that you should clean your washing machine every one to three months. However, the frequency with which you clean it depends on how much use the machine gets.

How Do Professionals Clean Washing Machines?

Professionals clean washing machines by steam cleaning the door handles and all rubber seals. They also remove lint deposits and sanitize the drum using white vinegar. Finally, they perform a full cycle to flush the system through.

How Do I Know If My Washing Machine Drain is Clogged?

The most obvious sign that your washing machine drain is clogged is when you see pooled water in the machine after a wash cycle. You might also find that the machine fails to drain properly.

Is Bleach or Vinegar Better to Clean Washing Machine?

Knowing whether bleach or vinegar is better to clean a washing machine is a matter of preference. Both are effective but bleach is bad for the environment, whereas vinegar is 100 percent natural.

Where Do You Put Vinegar In a Washing Machine?

There are two ways you can put vinegar in a washing machine: add it to an automatic detergent dispenser or pour it directly into the drum.

Can I Mix Vinegar and Baking Soda In Washing Machine?

You can mix vinegar and baking soda in a washing machine. Add two cups of vinegar to 1/4 cup of baking soda and water and pour it into the detergent dispenser. Switch the machine on and let it run through a full cycle.

Why Does My Washer Smell

The most common reason a washing machine smells is that bacteria breeds in the lint and suds left from each washing cycle. The solution is to clean your washing machine with bleach, vinegar, or a commercial washing machine tablet. This will remove the stench allowing you to enjoy fresh-smelling clothing again.

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About the Author

Sara Dennis

Sara Dennis is a coffee-loving freelance writer, homeschool blogger, and mom of six kids. In her free time, Sara loves reading books and researching more efficient and effective ways to keep a clean house, homeschool her children, and blog better while making a home for her large family.