How to Clean a Smelly Washing Machine (5 Simple Tips)

Paradise Appliance
November 2, 2022
Washer Repair

You want your washing machine to be making your clothes clean and fresh, so a smelly washing machine can be alarming. It is especially unpleasant if that smell is transferring onto your clothes when you wash them. Not to worry, our easy-to-follow guide has five simple tips for what to do if your washing machine is smelly. Soon your washing machine will smell fresh and clean again!

1. Scrub the Drum

A smelly washer is caused by either an overgrowth of odor-producing bacteria or from a build-up of mildew. This can be caused by a variety of things such as leaving wet clothes sitting in the machine for too long, using the wrong detergent for your machine, or going too long between cleans.

The first place to start is to scrub out the drum of your machine, as this is where most of the mildew or scum is going to be concentrated. Using a scrubbing brush dipped in a solution of water and detergent, give the tub of the machine a thorough clean to dislodge any stubborn bacteria or mildew. Then run a rinse cycle to ensure that any of the dislodged debris has been washed away.

2. Check for Hidden Mildew

After scrubbing the drum, the next step is to clean any places where mildew might have built up that could be overlooked. 

Make sure you clean the detergent and fabric softener dispensers. You can use an old toothbrush to get into any hard-to-reach crevices. 

You will also want to ensure you clean around the lid and the hinges if you have a top loader, or around the door gasket if you have a front loader, as these are also places mildew can build up. 

If your machine has a coin trap, remove it and empty out any debris that might be caught inside, then clean out the compartment with the old toothbrush. 

3. Run a Wash Cycle with Bleach

Bleach is an essential tool when it comes to fixing a smelly washing machine, as it kills bacteria and mold, and prevents the bad smell from returning. In order to run a bleach cycle:

  • First, put on rubber gloves and ensure the laundry room is well ventilated. 
  • Add four cups of bleach to the drum if you have a top loader machine, or two cups if you have a front loader. 
  • Set the wash cycle to the highest temperature cycle and let the drum fill. Once the drum has filled, press ‘pause’ on the cycle so that it has time to soak and kill the bacteria or mildew. 
  • Press start and finish the cycle.
  • Run one further rinse cycle with nothing added to ensure that all the bleach has been removed. 
  • If you are particularly worried about bleach residue, you can run a test wash with an old towel or similar so you can feel confident no bleach remains in the washer to damage your clothes. 

Important note: NEVER mix bleach with any other cleaners. Doing so can lead to the creation of toxic fumes. 

4. Run a Wash Cycle with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Once you have run the bleach cycle, it is a good idea to follow up with a baking soda and vinegar cycle in order to ensure the machine is completely deodorized. To do this:

  • Add 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of baking soda to the detergent container on your machine.
  • To the drum, add two cups of vinegar for a front-load machine or four cups of vinegar for a top-loader. Make sure you use plain white vinegar. 
  • Activate a high-temperature cycle. (For a deeper clean, you can stop the wash and let the mixture soak for 30 minutes.)
  • Once it’s finished, your washing machine should smell clean and fresh. 

5. Try a Commercial Washing Machine Cleaner

If you are short of time or your washing machine is not particularly smelly, you can try a commercial washing machine cleaner, although this will not be quite as effective as the bleach cycle followed by the baking soda and vinegar cycle. 

You can purchase a commercial washing machine cleaner from a hardware store or from the supermarket. Some brands are made to go inside the drum, while some you put in the detergent dispenser. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions before using.


In order to prevent your washing machine from smelling bad in the future, follow these simple prevention steps. 

  • Never leave wet clothes sitting in your machine. If you ever forget and leave clothes sitting, after removing the clothes, do a bleach wash cycle as outlined in our guide. This will stop mildew or bacteria from multiplying.
  • Make sure you are using the correct detergent for your machine. If you have a high efficiency washer, using regular detergent can lead to a buildup of scum, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria. 
  • Make sure you are not using too much detergent. Even if you are using the right sort of detergent, too much can cause scum buildup. 
  • Make sure you are not using fabric softener too often. Fabric softener can leave a residue in your machine which can cause bad smells. If you are a regular user of fabric softener, you will need to clean your washing machine more often. 
  • Regularly clean out the coin trap. If this is allowed to fill with lint and other bits of debris, mildew can start to grow and can soon spread to the rest of the washing machine. 

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