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Why does my washing machine smell?

February 24, 2022
Eloise Webb

Ever wondered why your washing machine smells bad? Then chances are that you haven't been cleaning it...

Didn't know you had to clean your washing machine? If this is news to you and you’re now wondering if you have ever cleaned your washing machine, then this is the blog for you. Due to the nature of the machine's function, it's understandable why many assume it’s already clean. Unfortunately, this is not the case and is often the reason you will begin to notice a bad washing machine smell.

Oxwash are here to explain the simple things you can do to get rid of those bad washing machine smells and prevent them from coming back.

Woman removing laundry from a washing machine

Why do you need to clean your washing machine?

We know cleaning your washing machine is not the most alluring job in the world but here's why it's important. As your washing machine cleans your clothes, soap, dirt, oils and hair can get trapped in the machinery. If left to build up over time it can produce bacteria, mildew and mould within your washing machine.

Washing machines are like us in the sense that bacteria is often the reason why they start to smell. A damp and humid detergent drawer or washing drum is the perfect breeding ground for these microorganisms.

Mildew is a specific type of mould that likes to colonise and grow in damp or humid environments. A good place to check for mildew is within the rubber seal of your washing machine door. The good news is that, unlike mould, mildew doesn’t penetrate surfaces and grow into materials. Instead, it lays on the surface which means it is easier to remove with a simple household cleaner and a good scrub! If you catch the early signs of mildew, you will be able to avoid mould.

The best time to take action is before mildew becomes mould. Mould also feeds off of moisture and residual detergent but its spores can in fact be harmful to our health. Yes, your washing machine could actually be making you unwell!

Another common cause of bad washing machine smells is stagnant water. If water remains stagnant in the seal, drum and pipes it can create a terrible smell. To prevent this ensure any water remaining after the cycle gets cleared and wiped down.

How to remove washing machine smells?

Modern washing machines are able to optimise cooler water temperatures. This is great for your clothes and the planet but means hot water isn’t moving through the machine as often. This does mean bacteria has the potential to survive in your washing machine for longer.

1. Scrubbing

To remove the smell you will need to remove any mildew and mould. The best way to do this is to give the washing machine drum a good scrub.

Many articles will tell you to use bleach to clean your washing machine but it contains a lot of nasty chemicals. Instead we recommend using natural cleaning agents which we find works the same. We've listed a simple 3 ingredient recipe in the maintenance section. A natural bristle brush is an effective tool but for an even more in-depth clean try using an old toothbrush. Another great tool to use is a pipe cleaner, which will allow you to get into the drainage pipe at the back of the machine.

It's important to clean the dispenser drawer too - on most machines the drawer will come out with ease. Leave to soak in warm water for 10 minutes before scrubbing. You can wipe down the drawer space on the machine whilst you wait as that can have residue build up as well.  And remember to check the rubber seal surrounding the door as this is a prime spot for mildew and mould growth. The rubber seal is what makes the washing machine water-tight so you don't want it to deteriorate.  

2. Cleaning Cycles

After you have given your washing machine a good scrub down, you can run a cleaning cycle. Most standard washing machines now have a pre-programmed setting designed for cleaning. Run this setting with an empty drum. If your washing machine doesn't have clean setting, run a 60 cycle with a cap full of bicarbonate soda.

This will wash out all the loosened up grime from scrubbing.

3. Airing

Leave the door open after the cycle has completed to allow moisture to escape and make sure no damp forms. If you're able to, you should always leave the door ajar when the washing machine isn't in use. This will help prevent mildew and mould from building up inside the washing machine drum.

After a washing cycle is also a good time to take an absorbent cloth and dry down the inside of the machine.

How to maintain your washing machine?

Good standard practice is to clean your washing machine at least once a month. Depending on how much washing you are doing or if items are particularly soiled, you may want to do this more often.

Here at Oxwash, we run cleaning cycles a few times a week due to the high volumes of washing we do.  

Natural Cleaning Agent


  • 2 cups of distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 of bicarbonate soda
  • 1/4 cup of water


Mix the bicarbonate soda and water together and add to the detergent dispenser. Add the distilled white vinegar into the empty drum and put on a clean or hot cycle. After the cycle is complete, wipe the drum down with a dry cloth. If you can, it is best to do this whilst the washing machine is still warm.

A great idea from Mind Body Green is to add an essential oil like tea tree or lavender into the detergent drawer too. This will not only act as a mild disinfectant but mask any lingering damp or musky smell.

You can also mix the three ingredients into a spray bottle and target the prone areas of the machine. Leave for 5 minutes to allow the agent to work then wipe with an absorbent cloth.

Tips to prevent washing machine smells
  • Do not use an excessive amount of laundry detergent as bacteria feeds off of the residue. A little goes a long way!
  • Try to reduce your use of liquid fabric softeners. Even better, don't use them at all. Instead you can add a little distilled white vinegar to the dispenser drawer. This will remove any detergent residue and soften clothes, the natural way.
  • Run a cleaning cycle at least once a month to prevent build up but if you can do this more often then even better.
  • Leave the washing machine door ajar when it's not in use.

Your washing machine and clothes should now be smelling much fresher! For more tips on washing machine hygiene and common laundry mistakes check out our blog! Or let us take the hassle out cleaning altogether with our laundry service.

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