Reasons a washing machine smells mildewy & moldy (& how to fix it)

Though it is easy to take washing machines for granted, they deserve some appreciation. After all, it is thanks to them that you do not need to hand-wash your clothes. Not only was it an extremely laborious task, but it also consumed a tremendous amount of time. 

Maytag washing machine

However, there are certain disadvantages to these inventions. Because they are often left forgotten once they do their jobs, the fungus takes residence on their moist surface. Yes, one solution would be to hand-wash all your clothes. But don’t worry – you don’t need to go Amish to prevent the smell. We’ll tell you all you need to know about this stinky problem. Here are the reasons your washing machine smells mildewy and moldy.

Mold vs. Mildew

Since this is not the main topic of this article, we will just quickly go over the most notable differences between these two fungi. 

older washing machine

Mold

Mold is darker than mildew, generally black or green. It is notorious for its musty smell and poses a greater health hazard than mildew. It’s also far less picky about its habitats.

Mildew

The milder of the two, this form of fungus is white or gray. Though it stinks less than mold, it is also not as harmful to your health

At the end of the day, neither one of these fungi should be welcome in your home. Not only are they smelly and unsightly, but they also cause many respiratory complications. 

Reasons your washing machine smells like mildew & mold.

Just like any other appliances, washing machines require regular care for them to function properly. After all, you wouldn’t use an oven or a blender without cleaning them before each use. Why should a washing machine be any different?

The root of the issue lies in several factors, and the first one is the biological material caught on your clothes. Dead skin, body oil, and hair, to name a few. Dust and dirt also contribute. The fine blend they create is very appealing to bacteria and fungi. Add to that the innate humidity that comes with a washing machine, and they will feel right at home. 

The washing machine smells worse after running.

Samsung washing machine

If you experience this issue, you are likely using colder water to do the washing itself. Though it is more energy-efficient and some clothes do call for it, it struggles to remove the grime. Consider running a hot-water cycle right after to clean out the organic residue. Cleaning your washer might also be a prudent idea. 

How do I get the mildewy smell out of my washing machine?

Now that you’ve become acquainted with these unbidden fungal guests, it is time to evict them from your abode. 

top-load washing machine
  1. Since the fungus can irritate your skin, start by putting on protective gloves. Next, you’ll need a cloth rag and scrub brush. 
  2. Cleanse the washer tub. This component does the brunt of the work and is the primary place where mold or mildew might grow. Make sure you remove every trace of soap and detergent.
  3. Place 1 cup of baking soda and a bit of vinegar into the washer. Scrub the surface thoroughly.
  4. Find a cycle with the highest temperature and select it. With the machine still empty, turn it on.
  5. Clean the gasket. This step is particularly important if you have a front loader. You can clean it with vinegar as well for better efficiency.
  6. Scrub the soap dispenser. Most washers feature removable ones. Take it out and scrub it under running hot water. Make sure you use soap. If you can’t remove your dispenser, you can use a toothbrush. It will help you reach deeper.
  7. If your machine still stinks, it is time to step up your game a bit. Add 2 cups of vinegar and half a cup of baking soda. Have the machine run empty on hot water settings with only this mixture inside. 
  8. You can reach for bleach if the vinegar fails to combat the fungus. Once your machine is dry, run an empty cycle with hot water. Once filled with water, add half a cup of bleach into the detergent compartment. 

If neither one of these steps help, you should call a professional. The mold might be growing behind the drum, which you can’t reach on your own. There could also be some problems with the drain or filter. 

Prevention against mold and mildew

washing machine

After sanitizing your washing machine, you must ensure that the mold or mildew doesn’t regrow. 

Use only a moderate amount of detergent.

Believe it or not, drowning your clothes in too much detergent might exacerbate the stinky odor. One way to tell if you’re using too much of it is by placing a piece of clothing into a container. Then, fill it with water and shake it a bit. Suds or bubbles indicate detergent residues in the clothing. 

Use the appropriate detergent.

Though liquid detergents might be easier to use, they tend to create too many suds. Over time, these suds will leave behind smelly debris. If you can, choose the powdered type. Also, High Efficiency (HE) machines are usually compatible with detergents made specifically for them. Using a regular one can also lead to grime formation.

Don’t use liquid fabric softeners.

These products are designed to prevent rigid and wrinkly clothing. However, trace amounts of them tend to get stuck behind the drum. This is more likely if you use a front loader.

A good alternative would be to reach for dryer sheets. These perform a similar function, but they are added to the dryer. Of course, this is an option only if you do use one.

Let the machine dry.

Whirlpool washing machine

All kinds of germs thrive in moist environments. After you’ve just unloaded the washing machine, sealing the door shut is like establishing a protected habitat for these fungi. Leave the door open every time you finish doing the laundry. If the room is naturally humid, it might be a good idea to dry it yourself. You can use a piece of clothing to get this done. 

Clean the interior regularly.

As tedious as the task may be, don’t treat the aforementioned cleaning guide as a one-time fling. Instead, make it a habit. By disinfecting your washing machine often, these stinky residents will be much more reluctant to settle in. 

What exactly is often enough? If you’ve just managed to get rid of the mold, continue the cleaning procedure at least once a week for the whole next month. Otherwise, using a cleaning product once a month should be more than enough to keep your washer healthy. 

Unload the clothes as soon as possible

Leaving wet clothes inside such a small space is the worst thing you can do. In addition to growing all over the machine, the mold will also spread to the warm damp clothes. Only do your laundry when you know you can take it out right when the cycle ends.

Place your washer into dry rooms only.

While we don’t think you keep your washing machine in a humid old cellar, make sure you store it in a dry room. All the cleaning won’t avail to anything if the air itself is naturally moist. A bathroom might not be the right place for your washer, particularly if you take lots of hot baths or showers. The trapped water vapor will condensate on the drum, allowing the spores to sprout.

If you want to put your washer in the bathroom, ensure a bathroom fan is installed to tackle the humidity. 

Best products

If the DIY method fails, you might want to unleash a full-on chemical assault upon the obnoxious fungus. There are several products out there designed specifically for this purpose. Since we care about the health of your washer just as much as you do, we’ve selected some that you might want to use. 

OxiClean Cleaner with Odor Blasters

True to its name, this washer cleaner was enhanced to combat the foul stench. The package came with 4 pouches of cleaning powder, which is very intuitive. In hindsight, paying about $13 dollars for this marvelous product was quite the bargain. 

To use it, pour one pouch into the drum. It is meant to be used without any other clothes present. Then, select the ‘Clean Washer Cycle’ if your machine features one. If not, select whichever one has the highest water temperature. 

Make sure you scrub any residue once the cycle is over. 

If the washer already stinks, apply once a week for at least 3 weeks. For maintenance, it is a good idea to use it at least once a month. 

Active Washing Machine Cleaner

This stander washer cleaner contains 24 tablets and costs barely $16. With such a great price per capsule, you’ll certainly fall in love with this cleaner. The tablets dissolved entirely when we ran an empty cycle, so we didn’t have to scrub any residue. Not to mention this product is compatible with all types of washers. 

Inside the box, there was a cleaning calendar. Though it is not exactly vital, we appreciated this extra effort from Active. It might come in handy, particularly if you are the forgetful type.

Affresh Cleaner

With the rising concern for the environment in recent years, it is important that we all choose products that are gentle to our planet. One such product is the Affresh cleaner. There are various packages, but we opted for the 5-tablets one. It was quite affordable, costing only $11. As the tablet dissolves, it permeates deep into the washer and cleanses even the parts that are invisible to your eyes. 

The application is easy. You just run an empty cycle with the tablet inside. Afterward, you just clean up the residue. Simple yet effective. 

Tide Cleaner

For only $12, you’ll receive 5 packets of this high-quality cleaner. The powder dissolves faster than tablets, and we saw immediate results. After the washer’s been cleaned, it is recommended to use it at least once per month as prevention.

Are you ready to get a new washer?

No solution worked? Is your washing machine beyond salvation? Well, in that case, it might be the perfect time to buy a new one. If you don’t know where to begin looking, let us narrow down the search for you. 

Kenmore Top-load washer

Regarding performance, there is nothing bad we can say about this top loader. Not only did it wash our clothes extremely fast, but they were also quite dry when we unloaded them. What’s more, it did not even use all that much water. This is the best option if you want to save some money on your water bills. As a top loader, it is less prone to fungus formation. This is because gravity draws the water out of the cylinder when idle. 

It features over 10 wash cycles, so you can use it to wash a wide array of clothing. It’s also the best value-for-money option out there – only $500. 

That said, it is not the most aesthetic model out there. However, the same can be said about any top loader. Still, it’s the inner beauty that matters, isn’t it?

LG Mega-capacity front-load washer

A mogul amongst manufacturers of electronics, LG is a very reliable brand. It should be no surprise that we were very satisfied with this washing machine. This commodious front loader is the perfect match for bigger families.

Although $2,000 might be an alarming price to pay, its smart design will fit right into your laundry room

LG Single Unit Wash-Tower

Once the laundry’s washed, you are left with a heap of wet clothes. If so, investing in a dryer might be a good idea. This next product features a washer and a dryer in one unit. For a price of $2,400, you won’t have to air dry your clothes anymore. 

We were particularly pleased with how space-efficient this unit was. The smart interface with in-built AI also left a lasting impression. 

Its only downside is the exorbitant sum. But if you can afford it, go for it. It is definitely a smart investment. 

And remember – both of these LG products are eco-friendly.

FAQ

Why does my washing machine smell even after cleaning?

The odds are that you haven’t cleaned your machine in ages. Once you did, you tore down the built-up grime and dirt. Since there is so much of it, the water failed to carry it away in one fell swoop. But don’t kiss your washing machine goodbye just yet – there is one simple solution. Run another hot-water cycle. More often than not, this will resolve the issue. 

If the stinky smell persists, turn your attention to the drain. Unclog it if necessary. 

Should all of our suggestions fail, you might want to call your washing machine manufacturer to have them inspect it. Or, you can buy one of our recommended ones and replace it. The choice is yours. 

Conclusion

To sum up, mold and mildew feed on the organic detritus found on your clothes. In moist conditions, the spores will root and grow. This will eventually lead to a foul stench emanating from the washer. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda can be used to remove the smell. If the fungus is persistent, you can also opt for washing machine cleaners to do the job for you. In case your washer is old, and the mold won’t go, no matter how hard you try, you might need to consider an upgrade.

However, prevention is the best medicine. Air drying the washer drum and regular cleaning are good habits to pick up to avoid the smell. Cleaning your machine at least once a month should suffice.