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Washing Machine Smells Like Mildew? Here’s How to Clean It

What should you do if your washing machine smells like mildew? Luckily, you don’t have to ditch it for another washing machine. Instead, you can clean it and stop encountering a musty smell every time you open your washer. In this post, we’ll explain why your washer smells moldy, how to clean a smelly washer, and tips to prevent washing machine odors in the future.


Why Does My Washer Smell Moldy?

Your washer can release moldy smell due to one, or a combination of the following reasons:


Use Of The Wrong Detergent

Most washers require you to use high-efficiency detergents and softeners to deliver excellent washing results. If you douse your clothes with the wrong detergent, they may end up over-sudsing, making it hard for your front load washing machine to rinse them fully. The residues of mixture of water, soap, scum, and dirt from the clothes will coat the washer’s drum. 

The wet coating combined with warmth from the warm washing cycle and the spinning motor creates a breeding zone for bacteria, mildew, and mold, hence smelly washer. This can happen in both front load washing machines and the conventional top load washing machines.


Failure to Clean the Door/Gasket

During the wash cycle, the rubber door gasket in your front load washer can trap body oil, hair, soap scum, dirt, and other debris from the fabrics. These materials may coat the gasket, turning it into a haven for bacteria, molds, and mildew. 

That means you will continue experiencing the same musty smell in your clothes and laundry room until you clean or replace the rubber seal in your front load washing machines.

If you own a top loading machine, the mildew smell in your washer can come from areas around the door hinges and other areas susceptible to becoming grimy.

Related: Laundry Symbols Guide: Free Chart

How to Clean a Smelly Washer

As mentioned earlier, you need to identify and clean the stinky components to get your washing machine back on track. The commonly affected areas include the washer tub, gasket, and the machine’s detergent container. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to clean each of them.


How to Clean the Washer Tub

The washer drum can accumulate detergent residue with time and become a friendly zone for the growth of bacteria, molds, and mildew. Cleaning it will eliminate the coating and keep the tub clean and odorless.


Materials Needed

  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 2 cups of distilled white vinegar
  • A stiff nylon brush
  • 2 cups bleach


Step 1: Mix Water with Baking Soda

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, 16 oz (3 Pack)

Pour the ¼ cup of water into the ¼ cup baking soda and stir to mix completely. Add the resulting solution into the laundry detergent dispenser.

The solution will help remove the bad odors and tough stains in the washer tub, leaving it smelling fresh.


Step 2: Sprinkle White Vinegar Solution into the Washer Tub

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity

The white vinegar solution will disinfect the tub’s surface and dissolve any grease, mineral deposit, dirt, and grime for easy cleaning.

Step 3: Run the Empty Cycle

Kenmore 28" Top-Load Washer with Triple Action Agitator and 4.2 Cubic Ft. Total Capacity, White

Press the start/off button to run the wash cycle with hot water

Step 4: Bleach And Scrub the Tub 

Mix bleach (two cups) with water and Spray the solution into the washer tub, then scrub with a brush to deep clean it.

Note: Step 4 is only necessary if the tub has some persistent mildew that didn’t clear with the above steps. The bleach will kill mold and mildew and soak them for easy cleaning.

Step 5: Wipe the Tub

With a towel, wipe the tub’s interior to eliminate any white vinegar smell


How to Clean the Washer Gasket in Front Load Washers

The next culprit for your smelly washing machine could be the door gasket. Here is how to clean it to leave your machine fresh.

Materials Needed

  • One tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate
  • A dry cloth
  • Vinegar 
  • 2 quarts of warm water

Step 1: Make Your Cleaning Solution

Mix one quart of warm water with one tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate to make the solution

Step 2: Rub The Exterior Part Of The Gasket

Dip a clean cloth into the solution and use it to wipe the exterior of the gasket clean

Step 3: Remove The Gasket To Clean The Interior Section

Use the sodium bicarbonate solution and the piece of cloth to wipe any visible accumulation on the rubber gasket. 

Step 4: Wipe The Rubber Gasket With A Water And Vinegar Solution

Here, we aim to remove any persistent grime that you couldn’t clear with other detergents.

Step 5: Re-Install The Rubber Gasket To The Washer


How to Clean the Soap Dispenser

Another cause for your smelly washer could be the laundry detergent dispenser. You should examine it to remove any coating and banish any odor from its surface. Here is how to clean the soap dispenser:

Materials Needed

  • Distilled vinegar solution
  • An old toothbrush
  • Paper towels
  • Water 
  • Spray bottle


Step One: Remove The Detergent Drawer 

Removing the drawer will allow for a closer examination of any accumulation on the laundry detergent cavity. 

Step 2: Soak The Detergent Cavity

Spray the detergent cavity with vinegar solution and allow it to soak up to 30 minutes

Step 3: Scrub the Detergent Cavity 

Using the old toothbrush, scrub the detergent cavity to remove the tough stains. You may have to spray more white vinegar on the detergent cavity to soak the persistent spots.

Step 4: Rinse And Return The Detergent Drawer To The Washer

After cleaning, rinse the drawer with water, then dry the fabric softener using the dry paper towel before returning it to the washer.


How to Prevent Washing Machine Odors

Now that you know the various reasons for your stinky washing machine and how to fix them, the next step is to look at the measures you can take to prevent the odors. The washing machine good maintenance practices include:


Cleaning The Tub And The Gasket Regularly

Cleaning the gasket and the tub regularly will allow no time for the accumulation of detergents, grime, dirt, and the other culprits in your front-loading washer. That means your washer would maintain its original smell and performance. Regular cleaning will also save you from unnecessary repair costs for your front load washer.


Use The Recommended Detergents

Most front loaders are designed to use high-efficiency detergents to operate optimally. That being said, you should always confirm whether you are using the right detergent to produce fewer suds which your washer is capable of handling.


Use The Recommended Quantity Of Detergent

Using the right quantity of washing machine cleaner gives excellent results in both washing and rinsing cycles as the washer won’t have a hard time rinsing the excess suds that result from the input of excess detergent.


Remove Your Clothes After The Washing Cycle

Do not let your clothes overstay in the washer after any washing cycle to avoid the accumulation of moisture in its internal components, lest you want to experience nasty smells in your laundry space.


Allow For Air Circulation

Leave the washer’s door ajar to allow the air to enter the washer and take away any excess moisture. Closing the door immediately after the rinse cycle will trap hot and moist air, which creates a perfect breeding ground  for molds and mildew.


Do Not Forget the Softener Dispensers

Remove the dispenser/s after every three months to clean any soap scum. Remember, leaving the dry or stuck detergent for too long will support the development of bacteria, molds, and mildew in your washer.


Avoid The Use Of Dryer Sheets

These fragrance chemicals can coat the electronic moisture sensor and interfere with its working. Refrain from them.

If the smell persists even after killing mold and cleaning your front loader, then there could be a problem in some other parts of the machine. Perhaps, the control valve might have broken, causing tub fills, which may leak water to other areas of the machine. Or, maybe you didn’t clean  the molds on the washer door gasket well. 

In that case, don’t hesitate to contact an expert to help you out, whether you have the high-efficiency front loaders or the top load washers.


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