If you are using your washing machine, and it smells like something died in it, you have a problem. I had the same problem, and it was getting worse and worse over the last few months. It was doubly bad because my cat’s litterbox is in the laundry room. I don’t really like things smelling like a barn, especially in a small house. Consequently, I needed to get rid of the stench in my washing machine. If you have a smelly washing machine, there are some steps you can take (a couple easy ones, and one more difficult ones) that can take care of the problem.

Top-loading vs. High Efficiency Front Loading Washing Machines

I personally have a Top-loading machine, though a lot of the advice here carries over. The biggest thing that both have in common (and something you should get in the habit of doing) is leaving the door open after you’ve done a load of laundry. That allows things to air out, and the bits of liquid left will dry out prior to bacteria growth for the most part.

Best Steps to Get Rid of a Stinky Washing Machine

First, make sure you’ve got a brush, some cleaner of some sort (something that’s anti-bacterial), and some time.

These are necessary tools because you’ll be scrubbing certain parts of the machine, mainly where you put the soap. This is something I didn’t really need to do, since I use powdered detergent. I’m also a bachelor so things like “fabric softener” or “bleach” or “timed release cleaners” confuse me. Large load, cold water/rinse, and a tablespoon of detergent and I was good to go. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have to brush out these spots on your machine. Loosening up the crap will help with removal.

Next, Take out the softener dispenser (mine was on the center top of the agitator), and scrub it out.

Check the spot where it goes in too, that way you’ve cleaned it out appropriately just in case you’ve got some mold a-growin’. Give it a good scrub with cleaner. Sometimes you may have to let things soak a bit, or let the spray sit…that’s fine. Give it a good scrub at the appropriate time. Put the dispensers back in.

Then, next step will depend on High Efficiency Front Loading or Top loading machines.

For High Efficiency Front Loading machines, put in about a half cup of bleach (liquid) into the detergent dispenser, and then run on a normal cycle with hot water. When that’s done, wipe down the inside of the machine, looking for any mold growth around the rubber gaskets (those can be cleaned like the dispenser, you just won’t take them out). For top loading machines, I put in about a half quart of bleach into the drum, then filled it with hot water. I let it sit that way for about an hour (either leave the lid open, or pull the dial out (or on mine, push it in)), then ran through the rest of the cycle.

That should get rid of most of the mildew and mold and stale/rotten smells.

What you may want to do next is run a cycle of vinegar through the washing machine. NOTE: DO NOT COMBINE VINEGAR WITH BLEACH. I put in about a half quart of vinegar into the drum of my machine, filled it with hot water, and let it sit for an hour. Then finished the cycle.

What happens if I’ve still got a stinky washing machine?

If you’ve still got a problem with smell, then you may want to start checking around your washing machine. It’s possible it may be leaking, and that’s what is causing the smell (check the floor around and under). It may be possible the drain is leaking somewhere, check under that (and in the crawlspace). I’ll tell you what happened to me, though: I didn’t have an s-trap.

My house was built in the late 1940’s, and apparently whoever plumbed it (may their children get warts) didn’t think the drain pipe going from the washing machine needed an s-trap. The S-trap is the S curved pipe that allows a little bit of water to remain in it to prevent sewer gas from flowing up and gagging you. They are not difficult to put in given some time, plumber’s glue, and some help from Ace Hardware or Home Depot, but if you’re still nervous you can hire a plumber. I put in my S trap with the help of my dad in about an hour (including the trip to Ace). It’s not difficult. You can even order s-traps from Amazon…just make sure your measurements are spot on.

If there are still some problems as far as a stinky washing machine, you may want to consider calling a repair shop to see what other ideas they may have. But these steps should take care of most of the problems.

Prevent the Stinky Washing Machine

Say you’ve gotten rid of the stench, and now you want to keep it that way. There are some ways you can keep your washing machine smelling clean.
The number one thing to prevent a stinky washing machine (high efficiency front loading or top loading) is to keep the lid open for a while after you’ve done laundry. This is the thing I still have problems with, but I’m getting better. Again, the air flow will help dry things out and prevent bacterial growth. Wiping down the High Efficiency front loading rubber gaskets around the door will also help with that.

Another thing you can do is to buy the washing machine cleansing tablets (from like Clorox) or powders (from others). These have suggestions to run once every month or so just to help clean gunk/kill bacteria. Sure they may work, but I used several of these to try get rid of the stench in my washing machine with limited results. I think a lot of the problem that I had personally is that they required running a cycle…none of the instructions mentioned soaking. So, use them for preventative measures…that’s why they weren’t mentioned in the steps above.

Lastly, you can always run the bleach THEN vinegar cycles. That’s what I plan to do. That’s cheaper than the cleaning tabs. You could likely run just vinegar through, but I don’t trust only that…maybe because I always associate clean with that bleach smell. If you still do want to give those cleaning tabs a go, Amazon has them from Affresh for a decent price.

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