How to Clean a Smelly Washer (& Keep It Smelling Fresh)

March 18th, 2020 

No one likes a smelly washing machine. Howard’s covers some simple practices to keep your machine fresh, including how to clean a smelly washer.


A dirty washing machine sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. A washing machine is constantly doused in warm water, soap, bleach, and other cleaners meant to get the stains and smells out of your clothes. Laundry is supposed to have a comforting fragrance; we even have room scents meant to mimic fresh linen.

But what do you do when your washer machine smells? Or Heaven forbid, the smell starts rubbing off on your freshly washed clothes?

If your washing machine is dirty and is giving off a foul mildew odor, it’s high time you give your machine a much-needed cleaning. So before you call your repair person to come to check on your washer for leaks or other defects, roll up your sleeves, grab some rubber gloves, and get to cleaning.

This is Howard’s guide on how to clean a smelly washer.

Front Load vs Top Load

The first thing to consider when planning how to clean a smelly washer is whether you have a top-load or front load washer. Although front-loader washers are superior in virtually every category from cleaning quality to efficiency, they are far more susceptible to getting smelly and mildewy over time if not properly cleaned. We even listed it in the cons section of our front load vs. top load washers comparison piece.

It is the design of the machine that can cause the increased likelihood of washing machine smells, soap scum build-up, and the development of mold and mildew. High-efficiency front-loaders fill just the bottom half of the washtub with water. The drum then tumble clothes through the water, eliminating the need to fill the tub up all the way.

These machines typically require the use of high-efficiency (HE) detergents that work in conjunction with the design. But when non-HE soap and softeners are used instead, there isn’t sufficient water to flush the cleaners away. The washer drum can become coated with a layer of soap scum with dirt and debris from your dirty clothes. This combined with the damp heat of your washer is breeding ground for mold and mildew.

A similar effect happens to the rubber door gasket that prevents water from leaking. These gaskets become traps for dirt, soap scum, and other bits, adding another place for foul smells to take hold.

What you’ll need:

When dealing with how to clean a smelly washer it is always best to gather your materials. It makes the cleaning process faster. Plus, if you’re missing anything, you can avoid making multiple trips to the store.

  • Sponge/Washrag
  • Bleach
  • Baking soda
  • Plain White Vinegar

    Optional Items:

    • Rubber Gloves
    • Old toothbrush
    • Essential Oil


An often overlooked step in how to clean a smelly washer is the pre-scrub. Start by removing and scrubbing all soap, bleach, and fabric softener dispensers. Use an old toothbrush, or the corner of your sponge to dig inside the cracks and corners. Remove the buildup inside the pipes of the dispensers if you’re able to reach them.

Top-load model owners need to clean around the door and hinges where dirt can go unseen. For front-load models, wipe down and clean around the rubber seal to remove the accumulated gunk in the gasket. It’s best to get these areas scrubbed before you deep clean the drum.

Drum Cleaning

Bleach it Away

If you want to really simplify how to clean a smelly washer, it’s all about mold control. Bleach is incredible for killing mold and mildew. Take precautions, like rubber gloves and room ventilation, when using this product. And NEVER mix bleach with other cleaners.

  • Add four cups of bleach to a top-loading machine or two cups to a front-loader.
  • Run a wash cycle at the highest temperature and let the tub fill. Pause the wash cycle once the bleach has mixed with the water. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes before finishing the cycle.
  • Run a rinse cycle to remove all traces of bleach.

Baking Soda & Vinegar Wash

After the bleach has sanitized the drum, this combination works as a secondary cleaner and deodorizer for your washer. It should remove any lingering dirt and grime, leaving your washer odor-free and back to regular working order.

  • Mix ¼ cup of baking soda with ¼ cup of water and add it to your machine’s detergent container.
  • Use four cups of plain white (not apple cider) vinegar to a top-load machine or two cups to a front-load model. Pour the vinegar into the drum.
  • Run a high-temperature cycle. (You may pause the wash and allow the mixture to soak for 30 minutes for a deeper clean.)

If stubborn spots remain, wipe down the inside of the drum with your washrag or sponge, being sure to check all the nooks and the gasket seal. Wiping down the drum also helps remove any remaining vinegar smell. Run a rinse cycle if you want to wash everything away. Lastly, you can use an essential oil on the seal, as an odor remover and mild disinfectant.

Now that’s really how to clean a smelly washer!



Learning how to clean a smelly washer helps you deal with present odors, but these tips will help prevent it from getting this bad again.

  • Always keep your washing machine door open between washes to let excess moisture evaporate and prevent mildew growth. (This goes for your dryer as well.)
  • Use High Efficiency (HE) detergents. If your machine is a High-Efficiency appliance, especially front load washers, HE detergents help minimize soap scum build-up.
  • Clean out your gasket seal on occasion. The gasket is the most likely suspect for washing machine smells. Cleaning and sanitizing it are vital to keeping your clothes and laundry room fresh.
  • Use the Autowash feature! Washer machines offer an Autowash function to help prevent just this from happening. Run an Autowash every few months to keep it running at an optimal level.

At Howard’s, we’re dedicated to keeping your home running with top quality home appliances. Check out our blog for buying guides and maintenance tips, and don’t forget to check out our website for the best deals on home appliances. Now that you know how to clean a smelly washer, share this with your friends and family!


Your Cart

: 0