Front Loading washing machine - 123rf

Get Rid Of Stinky Washer Once & For All

What you need to know about eliminating the disgusting smell in your front-load washing machine.

Front Loading washing machine - 123rf


THE FIX | Stink happens. If you have one of those pricey front-load washing machines and do not micromanage its maintenance, the chances are great that the tub will develop a foul odour and your freshly washed clothes will eventually take on the sickly sweet smell of pond scum.

Here are a few things you need to know about front-load washing machine smell.

The Causes Of Stinky Washer

It’s more like what doesn’t cause smelly washer. Here are five of the most common causes:

1. Closing the door when the washer is not in use
2. Failing to consistently and scrupulously clean folds in the rubber gasket (a.k.a. the boot) that acts as a door seal
3. Neglecting to routinely remove the soap-dispensing drawer and deep down clean it and the housing it fits into
4. Using liquid laundry detergent and any kind of fabric softener
5. Washing clothes in cold water

Avoiding Stinky Washer

A front-load washer is airtight. If its door is always closed, mould and bacteria can form on its twin tubs: on the outside of the inner tub (known as the washing basket) and on the inside of the outer tub. The door must be left open (unnerving though that would be in a house with small children).

Clean the gasket well and often. On her website, clean freak Linda Cobb, the self-described Queen of Clean, recommends wiping tea tree oil into all its folds and crevices.

Constant cold-water washing in water less that 85 degrees Fahrenheit (the minimum temperature necessary to dissolve laundry detergent in water) will eventually lead to soap buildup on front-loading tubs. Hot-water washing uses more electricity than cold-water washing but lessens the residue buildup associated with front-loading washing machines.

The Cure For Stinky Washer

There are several ways to reduce and/or eliminate the stink coming from your machine. One is to use bleach and vinegar (CLICK HERE for a good treatment plan). Another is to use a product designed specifically to deodorize stinky washers. Among these, Affresh, Smelly Washer and OdoBan receive the most attention, with Smelly Washer users raving about its effectiveness. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll need to have your washer disassembled and the tubs industrially scrubbed. Following the tips above should avoid that complication.—Ruth Rainey

Photo: 123rf

17 replies
  1. Paul Flynn
    Paul Flynn says:

    This is all great advice. However, although leaving the door open does lessen odor, it actually makes the problem worse by drying out the residue and making it more difficult to remove. The best way to get rid of odor is to remove the cause of it.
    If odor persists or returns there is most likely remaining residue in the “splash area” just 3-5 inches above the normal waterline. The is almost invariably the area of worse buildup. To clean the splash aera simply add cleaner to a full load of laundry. The added bulk of the laundry will raise the water level to include the splash area. Pause to soak for extreme cases. To compare SmellyWasher to Affresh, copy and paste this youtube video.

    Also, using mainly cold water is understandable for saving energy but makes preventive maintenance more important. A hot soak or wash as your last cycle on wash day will help dissolve and flush out odor-causing residue. Your last cycle is a perfect opportunity to wash or soak more soiled laundry.
    If the washer is infrequently used an extra rinse is also a good tip.

  2. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I solved my smelly washer issue by removing the detergent tray and cleaning it. It had lots of mold underneath, and also inside the area that the tray goes. Once I cleaned it, I sprayed it with Clorox clean up and let it sit overnight to kill all the mold. Problem Solved. Clothes smell clean now. I take the tray out when I am not using the washer and I havent had a bad smelling load since. I also leave the door open when not using it.

  3. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    I spoke to a man who fixes appliances and is very reliable. I tried what he said for about a month and no more smells from my washer.
    First run a cycle w/ 3 cups of bleach in the hottest water. Leave door open to dry. Next day run a cycle with 1/2 gallon of vinegar, again in the hottest water. NOW HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART. He asked me what detergent and fabric softener do I use. When I told him Costco brand detergent and Downey fabric softener, he explained to me about animal based products producing mold after longtime use. I have switched to all PLANT BASED WASHING PRODUCTS. I now use Next Generation detergent and fabric softener, but there are many others out there on the market. Since switching about a month ago and first cleaning my machine with the bleach and vinegar I have had NO MORE SMELLS FROM MY MACHINE. I don’t usually post things but this was worth it and I really want others to please try it. I tell you it has worked for me. My laundry room smells so much better.

  4. debbie
    debbie says:

    I add 1 tsp baking soda and 2 tbsp of vinegar to every wash cycle. I use liquid detergent on one side and put this solution in the powder side. If I do this consistently I have no smell at all. I too take out the dispenser and clean it regularly.
    Happy washing!

  5. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    We bought a brand new, high-end, front-loading laundry pair about 5 years ago. We noticed the smell in the washer and on the clothes/towels within the first few months. Replaced about a two dozen towels and tea towels thinking it was from our old washer and smell was in the fabric. When that didn’t work we tried EVERYTHING to clean the washer – bleach, vinegar, cleaning asst’d filters after every load, drying the gaskets/tubs/any piece I could see that came into contact with the washer, leaving the door open, etc., nothing worked.

    Completely frustrated, I was pricing new washers when we ran out of detergent late one night. The only place that was open was a drugstore and all it had was powdered Tide HE detergent so I bought it. Smell went away after the FIRST wash.

    Have since tried Nellie’s brand powder for HE washers and same result. No smell whatsoever. I’ve been using powdered HE detergents for about 2 years now and the smell has never come back. I don’t leave the door open, I don’t dry the washer and now only run it through a tub-clean cycle about once every 6 weeks when I clean the filters. Problem solved.

    Have since read the smell comes from a build-up of residue created by liquid detergents…?

    Anyway, to sum-up: try POWDERED HE detergent. Works great, no smelly washer.

    • Fred
      Fred says:


      You are quite correct. After a lengthy conversation with a rep for a large appliance manufacturer, I was told that the smell does indeed come from liquid HE detergent. All liquid HE detergent (and some regular liquid) contains enzymes, or bacteria, and that is what helps clean, rather than the abrasive action of powdered detergents. And typically, consumers use TOO MUCH. Two tablespoons is the recommended amount, with the exception being very large/bulky loads. This, coupled with the moisture sealing-in nature of the door can eventually cause the smell in question. A poster above hit on something I think I will recommend from now on, which is to remove the detergent tray and clean it out(if you want to continue to use liquid detergent), or do as you did and switch back to powdered detergent.

  6. Steve
    Steve says:

    Since the problem is typically detergent build-up or mold / bacteria, you can do away with all that by using an ozone / oxidized water washing system. They hook up to your machine, and then you can use cold water only without detergent or other chemicals, and you shouldn’t ever get that stink.

  7. marsy
    marsy says:

    I to had the foul smell and tried everything.. i have since solved the problem by only using HE POWDER detergent..(sunlight)Its the LIQUID HE detergent that causes the problem as well as fabric softeners.. I thoroughly cleaned the machine running a cup of bleach in hot water cycle heavy load..once a month.. then I stopped using LIQUID fabric softener and only put the detergent in the open door – sprinkle on top of load and always use the EXTRA RINSE CYCLE i clean the rubber and tub and door glass once a week..never use the dispensers at top.. My washer never produces an odor anymore..

  8. Joan peterson
    Joan peterson says:

    NO MORE SMELL!!!!!! Tide HE liquid was the problem in my front load LG washer. I switched to Arm and Hammer for all machines and I have not had any problem since. I always keep the door open on my machine as we’ll. I love my machine now!

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