Why does my washing machine smell so bad?

It’s one of the great ironies of life – we put dirty laundry in the washing machine so it will come out fresh and squeaky clean – yet the machine itself is often the pongiest culprit of all!

If you find yourself having to hold your breath when you load and unload laundry, you’re not alone. So, what’s going on with smelly washing machines?

“When it comes to the unpleasant odour emanating from washing machines, it’s important to address the issue promptly to maintain the machine’s performance and freshness of your laundry,” says Natasha Brook, assistant brand manager for Dr Beckmann.

Woman looking inside smelly washing machine
Why does my washing machine smell? (Alamy/PA)

From mould and mildew growth to detergent build-up and stagnant water, Ms Brook says a smelly washing machine can be caused by a variety of factors.

“One common culprit is detergent residue and fabric softener, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria and mould,” she says. “These damp and dark environments provide an ideal condition for microorganisms to grow and produce an unpleasant odour.”

Ms Brook says another possible reason is the presence of trapped lint, hair or other debris in the machine.

“To combat this, run an empty cycle with hot water and a dedicated washing machine cleaner,” she suggests. This promises to cleanse the machine and kill up to 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses, helping to prolong the machine’s lifespan too.

“Don’t forget to also keep the drum and seals clean by wiping these down with a mixture of water and mild detergent to remove any residue or build-up.”

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Ensuring proper ventilation and allowing the machine to dry thoroughly after each use can also help minimise the chances of developing bad smells.

“Leaving the machine door slightly open after washing allows the fresh air to circulate in the drum and prevent the growth of mould and bacteria,” says Ms Brook.

How to clean your washing machine

Jo Jackson, head of product at Fisher & Paykel UK & Ireland, says: “Before cleaning, disconnect the washer from the power, and then use a soft damp cloth to wipe all exterior surfaces as well as the drum and rubber area around the door, then wipe dry.”

Avoid using chemical or scouring cleaners, says Ms Jackson, as these can damage your washer’s paint and plastic surfaces.

Clean washing machine and utility area
How do you clean a washing machine? (Alamy/PA)

She says it’s important to clean the detergent dispenser too, especially if you use fabric softener. Remove the drawer and wipe it with a damp cloth before rinsing it out under warm water.

“The filter is what is commonly forgotten about, but this should be cleaned approximately once a month,” says Ms Jackson. “Open the filter cover typically found on the base of most washing machines.

“Remove the plug and allow any water to drain into a shallow dish. Remove the filter and clean and rinse it in warm water.”

Do you regularly clean your washing machine? What’s your regime? Why not share your tips in the comments section below?

Also read: Laundry symbols got you in a spin? We have decoded them for you.

Written by Sam Wylie-Harris

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  1. As my washing machine is fitted between freezer and taps I can’t access this ‘drain filter’ at bottom of machine.I clean with 2L of generic white vinegar on cold wash every 6 weeks or so, clears the pipes of gunk, so plumber says.

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