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Why does my washing machine smell?

woman looking into washing machine full of clothes and holding nose

Top tips to troubleshoot why your washing machine smells and how to banish the bad odours for good

Ever taken out your laundry expecting the sweet scent of lavender but instead been hit by the musty smell of mould? Or maybe your washing machine’s been smelling alarmingly like a sewage pipe lately. A dirty or blocked washing machine can become a breeding ground for bad smells, turning your weekly laundry into a dreaded chore.

If that sounds all too familiar, don’t worry, you don’t have to splash out on a new machine just yet. Tracing the source of the smells can be tricky when you’re not sure where and what to look for but once you’ve found it, removing the odours is often a simple fix.

If you’re dealing with unwanted smells in your appliance, read our guide to find out why your washing machine smells and how to resolve the problem.

READ NEXT: Best washing machine cleaners

Why does my washing machine smell?

washing machine drain unplugged on a pink towel

Your washing machine regularly hosts a number of not-so-nice substances, from sweat and dirt, to grease and pet hair. During a wash cycle, the detergent absorbs and removes them all but sometimes, instead of draining away, dirty water and detergent residue remain in your machine. Over time, these can block the drainage system or build up to hotbeds of smelly mould and bacteria in the drum or drawers.

How do I find the source of the smell?

To find what is causing the smell, identify it first:

  • A musty or rotten egg smell is likely the result of stagnant water or mouldy gunk in the drawers, drum or seal.
  • The smell of sewage, especially when accompanied by frequent leftover water in your drum, can indicate problems with the drainage system. Check the drain pump, filter and pipes for soap scum, lint or limescale blockage.

READ NEXT: Best drain unblockers

How do I get rid of washing machine smells?

To get your washing machine smelling fresh again, simply give all problem areas a thorough clean:

To clean the drawer: Take it out, soak in warm water, then scrub persistent residue with a small brush. Our full guide goes into more detail.

hands cleaning washing machine drawer with red cloth and washing machine in the background

To clean the seal: Wipe it with a damp cloth first, then brush off lingering residue gently. If you find that mould has seeped deep into the rubber, you will need to replace your seal completely.

If you’re lucky, the seal replacement will be covered by your appliance’s warranty, in which case you’ll want to contact the manufacturer. Regardless of warranty, you may still want to seek a professional repair service, as replacing the seal can be a tricky DIY job. If you’re a confident handyperson, make sure you purchase the correct replacement part for your model and follow all guidance in the instructions or on the manufacturer’s website.

To clean the drum: Run a service wash (an empty cycle at a high temperature) and wipe remaining residue with a clean, dry cloth.

To unclog the drain pump: Waterproof the room and empty the emergency drain hose. Next, remove the filter and carefully dislodge any gunk or small objects from its housing. Finally, soak the filter in warm soapy water and give it a scrub.

To unclog the drain pipe or standpipe: Waterproof the room, disconnect the pipe and flush it out with hot water. With more persistent blockages, you’ll want to use some pipe cleaner or a plumbing snake. If the blockage is severe, seek the help of a professional.

For the best results, be sure to check out our favourite washing machine cleaners. Use the links above to our step-by-step washing machine cleaning guides for more in-depth information on each cleaning process.

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What can I do to prevent washing machine smells?

woman kneeling next to washing machine open and enjoying its smell

  • Run a monthly service wash: While cheaper and more environmentally friendly, cooler washes won’t protect your machine from bacteria. Most manufacturers recommend running regular, hot service washes and many machines will even have a dedicated setting for this. You can check the instructions manual for your appliance for the recommended service cycle.
  • Encourage air circulation: Stagnant water, damp clothes and back to back washes all create a moist environment perfect for mould and bacteria. To stop the spread, remove wet clothing from the machine post-wash promptly, wipe the drawers and seal each time you run a cycle and keep the door open. You might also want to consider installing a fan in your laundry room, if you have one, to ventilate lingering odours.

READ NEXT: Best dehumidifiers

What to do if my machine still smells?

Although a thorough cleaning and drain unblocking are enough to eliminate bad smells, sometimes odours can be symptoms of more serious issues with your appliance. If you’ve investigated all the common problems and your machine still smells, it might be time to seek the advice of a professional or consider a new washing machine if yours is getting on a bit.

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