If your washing machine stinks, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Washer mildew and odors are one of the most common complaints amongst homeowners. However, it is possible to alleviate the smell through a few simple steps. Changing your washing habits and/or detergent used may be necessary to keep odor away.
Most of the time, a musty or mildew smell in or around your washer or laundry is indicative of mold or bacteria growing in your washing machine. The moist, dark environment of the washer is the perfect environment for them to thrive so limiting their food source via detergent and softener usage is the best plan of action to prevent odor from returning.
There are several things that can cause buildup of odor-causing residue on the door gasket and deeper inside the washing machine. This constantly wet, decaying matter, aka "bio-film" can really start to stink over time and spread to the laundry and even the wash room and home in more serious cases. The washer should be cleaned before attempting to remove mildew odor from towels and other laundry.
A cleaner, such as Smelly Washer or Towel Cleaner, that can be used with laundry is best to use. The added bulk of the clothing will raise the water level to include the "splash area" just above the normal waterline where suds and soiled water accumulate and don't get rinsed out. The splash area is almost invariably the area of worst buildup and can become quite thick after years of buildup. Cleaning cycles don't reach the splash area and worse cases may need repeated cleaning and soaking to remove. Returning or persistent odor in your washer or laundry is a sign of remaining residue.
Using mainly cold water for washing is fine but make preventive maintenance very important. A hot wash or soak as the last cycle on wash day will help dissolve the bio-film buildup so it can drain out. It's a good opportunity to do more soiled laundry. Also, if the washer isn't regularly used or returning odor is a problem a second rinse may be desired.
If your washing machine stinks, this is one of the less obvious culprits. It requires a tad bit more work than throwing some bleach or washing machine cleaner into the clean cycle, but it can effectively eliminate the “gunk” at the root cause of the stench. Using fabric softener is often the cause of the residue.
Typically, your washing machine’s instruction manual will tell you how, and how often, to clean under the agitator or the drain pump filter. Top and front loaders are different in the way they operate and drain, so they have different cleaning methods.
For a top loader, you’ll need to remove the agitator or the detergent/softener dispenser to get to the “gunk.” Usually, there is a top that can be popped off to expose a bolt in the agitator. Removing the bolt allows the agitator to be lifted up out of the washer. Once removed, clean in, under and around the agitator with a hot water and a brush or cloth. The agitator can be difficult to pull up. Care should be taken it doesn't hit you in the face if it suddenly releases.
A front loader washer typically has a panel on the bottom, either exposed or hidden, that contains the drain pump filter. Removing the panel will expose a drain. Make sure you have a bucket and a towel handy as some water will come out when the filter is loosened. Once the water is drained, the filter can be removed and the “gunk” cleaned out. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the filter once a month. Items such as coins, screws, toys and even bra wires can cause plugged filters to slow draining and cause odor.