I’m sure we’ve all been there: you put on a wash and when you come to collect your clothes to hang them up or put them in the dryer, you’re met with a horrendous smell.
As well as just being generally unpleasant, this smell will linger on the clothes that you’ve just spent time cleaning!
But what causes any kind of bad smell in your washing machine?
Washing machines can start to smell due to a lot of different reasons. Over time, dirt, body oils, limescale and detergent can build up inside the machine and reduce its washing power. This can make your clothes smell damp or musty, even if they’re dry, as well as make the washing machine itself smell very unpleasant, sometimes as bad as sewage.
In this piece we’ll look at the different causes of bad smells from your washing machine, how to treat them and also how to prevent them in future to keep your clothes and your washing machine smelling fresh!
What Causes Bad Smells in the Washing Machine?
A bad smell could be leaking from any one of your washing machines nooks:
- The seal around the door
- The soap/detergent dispenser drawer
- The drum itself
The first port of call in diagnosing a smelly machine is to check all these parts thoroughly.
It can be tricky to tell where exactly the smell is coming from (especially since the door and the drum are very close together) so it’s important to know what factors can cause the smell.
For a while now, it’s been the norm to wash clothes at much lower temperatures (usually 30 oC) to save energy.
Water temperatures such as this, though, mean that bacteria are able to survive and grow, which can definitely contribute to a smelly machine.
When we were all washing at 50 or 60 oC, this wasn’t an issue, as bacteria will be eliminated at these temperatures. Some smart machines actually have a built-in hygiene function to wash clothes at these temperatures for a deep clean.
If left unattended, a door seal can develop mildew and other dirt that can cause a bad smell.
Grime and soap scum are liable to get caught in this area due to the small gaps available for stuff to build up in.
Moreover, if the water flow into the machine is slowed by the compartments of the door seal, then mildew can build up from the slower water flow.
Just like with the slower water flow, if the machine has poor drainage, then bad smells will start to accumulate.
Still water will start to become stagnant if left alone for long enough, which will smell bad itself and poor drainage will very easily lead to this.
Still water also leads to mould, soap scum and bacteria, which will make the machine smell pretty grim.
If the washing machine isn’t cleaned regularly (or you don’t have a smart one with the hygiene function) then the drum can start to get some really nasty build up.
Soap scum and other dirt can accumulate if the drum is left unattended.
This is much more of a problem when using powder detergents, as if these don’t fully dissolve (especially in colder water), the build up will be much worse.
If more detergent than is recommended is regularly used, this will make the problem a lot worse as well.
Now that you know what the causes of the bad smell are, let’s look at how to get rid of it once there’s a build up.
Getting Rid of a Bad Smell
This is probably pretty obvious, but the best way to get rid of the bad smell in your washing machine is simply to clean the machine.
There are some best practices for the cleaning itself though.
A mixture of baking soda and vinegar is a classic cleaning solution which is great for getting rid of mould and mildew.
Dissolve some baking soda in water (1:1 mixture is fine) and add this to the detergent drawer of your machine.
Next add some white vinegar to the drum and run the machine through your normal washing cycle but with some extra heat.
There will be a lot of foam in the drum while the machine runs, but this is OK, it’s just the vinegar reacting with the baking powder.
Once it’s finished draining, check the inside of the drum. You should find that it will be looking nice and shiny, but there may be some more stubborn patches left.
For these leftover bits, you can use a sponge or scouring brush with some more of the cleaning solution to really go hard on them.
If you don’t feel like brewing your own cleaning solution, there are a lot of mould and mildew cleaners available to buy. Just make sure that they’re applicable with the washing machine surface (most will say what they can be used with).
You can clean the detergent drawer in the same way if it is completely removable.
Once you’ve cleaned out the machine and the smell is gone, you want to be sure that it won’t come back.
Maintaining a Clean Washing Machine
Basically, it’s good to clean your machine that way every so often, to prevent the build up of mould and mildew in the first place.
There are some other things you can do though.
Use the Correct Detergent
This is an easy one to keep on top of. If you use a powder detergent, then always make sure that you’re not overfilling the dispenser drawer, to avoid soap scum build up.
If you use pods, this is completely mitigated already, as they are much easier to dissolve at lower temperatures and can’t clog up the dispenser drawer.
Keep the Drum Dry
This will prevent your clothes from coming out smelling damp and musty.
Once a wash is finished, it’s best to leave the washer door and detergent drawer open so that the machine can dry out naturally each time.
If it’s not dry, then stagnant water will start to build up, along with mould and mildew, creating bad smells.
Check Your Pockets
Before putting a wash on, make sure the pockets of whatever clothes you’re washing are empty.
Small particles left in the pockets can causes blockages in parts of the machine, including the drain, leading again to stagnant water.
Following these steps along with regular cleans will keep your machine fresh, which keeps your clothes fresh.
So now you see what causes the bad smells in your washing machine and how to fix them AND prevent them from coming back in the future.
As long as you keep on top of soap scum and water drainage, you’ll have no issues in keeping your clothes smelling fresh after every wash, as they should!
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