We’ve all been there. We take out our laundry after it’s done, expecting the delightful scents of the laundry detergents, but instead, we’re hit with a musky odour that is disgusting the least.

But what exactly can be the cause of the problem? Well, smelly clothes after washing can be due to numerous reasons. In this post, we’ll take a look at what’s causing the bad odour in your washing machine, how to get rid of it and how to keep it from coming back.

In this article:

Why Does Your Washing Machine Smell Bad?

If you notice that your clothes only smell after washing them in the washing machine, then the problem is coming from there. So below we present to you some of the most common reasons why a washing machine may stink:

  • Hard Water

If the place where you live has hard water, it could lead to limescale build-up. This, on the other hand, causes blockages in the appliance and the accumulation of substantial amounts of soap scum. While there isn’t anything you can do about the hard water, you can still run an empty cleaning cycle with hot water to tackle the limescale.

  • Bacteria build-up

As soap scum accumulates in the washing machine, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria and bad smell to develop. This usually happens in dark and moist places like the drum, but bacteria and mould could easily thrive in the rubber door seal and even the detergent drawer compartments. So, always pay attention to these high-risk areas.

  • The clothing itself

As we mentioned before, the clothes material or condition could also contribute to the unpleasant smell in the washing machine. If the smelly clothes are your gym gear or generally garments that you’re sweating regularly in, don’t go overboard with the detergent just to clean them better. This is how soap scum is built and there won’t be much difference in the results. Instead, consider washing them more frequently and by hand, which can even help preserve the more delicate materials.

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How to Clean Your Smelly Washing Machine

Thankfully, washing machines can be cleaned easily. Both front-loading and top-loading washing machines can be cleaned in the same way.

The only difference is that when you have a top-loading washing machine, you need to set it to a full-load warm water cycle. For front-loading machines, a medium warm water cycle would be sufficient as the drum is a bit smaller than those of the previous one.

Supplies needed for getting rid of the washing machine smell:

  • 1-2 cups of white vinegar
  • 4 tbs of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of water

Step-by-step washing machine cleaning process:

  • Add the baking soda and water to the laundry compartment of your washing machine.
  • Pour the vinegar into the washing drum.
  • Launch an empty warm water cycle.

Leave the machine to do the work for you. The combination of vinegar and baking soda will break up any limescale deposits, as well as remove the bad smell. The white vinegar is very effective for cleaning mould naturally from the washing machine, bathroom tiles and various other places, too.

After the washing cycle is completed, clean the door inside out. Deposits often build up on the door resulting in smell emanating from the washing machine.


Clean thoroughly the slimy build up in the detergent container. Moisture often remains inside it for days, thus creating the smell of stale water. This would later transfer to your clothes.

How to fight and prevent limescale buildup in washing machines

Fighting limescale deposits happens in two ways. You can always go with the safe method and use a specialised product. If you don’t mind adding harsher detergents you may be able to see results immediately.

Keep in mind that some detergents have to be used multiple times before any effect can be seen. An empty cycle with vinegar and lemon is a good natural solution against the build-ups.

Another way to fight limescale formations in your washing machine is trough adding natural ingredients to ‘soften’ the water.

How to Keep the Bad Washing Machine Smell Away

There is one secret to stopping the bad odour from coming back and making sure that your machine works well in the future – maintaining the appliance correctly.

In order to keep your washing machine in top condition and avoid odour build-up, make sure to perform a cleaning cycle every two to three weeks, depending on usage.

Also, remember to always leave the door of your machine open, so the drum can dry completely. You can do the same with the detergent drawer.

Image source: Shutterstock/ThamKC

  • Last update: April 17, 2020

Posted in All Articles, Cleaning Guides

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