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Washing machine stinks – why and what really helps against the smell??

You love the smell of fresh laundry. It is absolutely essential for you to always turn up at work with freshly laundered clothes. Clean clothes are also a matter of course for you in your private life. Otherwise, you always liked to open the door of the washing machine because a fresh scent came to you. But now you have noticed that your washing machine smells unpleasant. You cannot explain it, but you know that you have to find the cause and eliminate it. If your washing machine stinks, there are various causes that can be responsible. Our guide shows you what these causes are and how you can eliminate them.

The topic at a glance

Why does my washing machine stink?

Most of the time it is bacteria that are responsible for the washing machine stinking. In a study of household washing machines, researchers were able to identify around 230 different species of bacteria in them. Both bacteria and mould usually develop in areas that are warm and damp. There are many places in a washing machine that are suitable for this. This could be, for example, the detergent compartment, the drum itself or even the lint filter. A washing machine smells musty when too many bacteria build up.

Every wash cycle produces fibre and detergent residues, which are now increasingly difficult to remove. The reason for this is that washing is now increasingly done at low temperatures. The frequent use of short wash cycles also contributes to this. If these residues accumulate in hidden parts of the washing machine, unpleasant odours will develop.

However, bacteria are not always responsible for bad smells; old, stale water in the drum can also quickly cause the washing machine to smell.

What to do when the washing machine stinks?

Basically, it is a good idea to keep the washing machine as dry and clean as possible between the individual washing cycles. This makes it possible to prevent bad odours. But that alone is usually not enough. The following tips should also be followed to prevent bad odours in the washing machine.

  • Wash at 90 degrees
    Saving energy is a priority today, which is why washing is now mostly done at low temperatures only. This is good for the environment and the wallet, but also quickly leads to unpleasant odours. Therefore, a wash cycle at 90 degrees should be done after every tenth wash. This costs more energy, but also eliminates most bacteria. The machine does not have to run empty; if towels or tea towels, i.e. laundry that can be cooked, are put in, the wash cycle serves another purpose at the same time.
  • Clean the lint filter
    Over time, quite a lot accumulates in the lint filter. Not only lint is caught there, but also dirt as well as bacteria and germs feel at home there. Therefore, the lint filter should always be cleaned regularly. The instructions for this can usually be found in the operating manual.
  • Cold wash with hygiene rinse
    Washing at high temperatures is not only expensive, but usually not good for your textiles either. Washing at low temperatures is usually sufficient to remove the dirt. However, the problem is that these merely lukewarm temperatures are optimal for bacteria. The use of a hygienic rinser in low-temperature wash cycles can counteract the spread of bacteria.
  • Descale the washing machine
    In many regions of Germany, only water with a particularly high lime content is available. The result is that limescale is deposited in the washing machine. These limescale deposits also love bacteria and germs also like to settle there. Therefore, it is recommended for anyone living in these regions to decalcify the machine regularly.
  • Drain the hose
    Residual water in the machine outlet can also cause bad odours. Therefore, it is recommended to remove the water in the hose completely on a regular basis. The procedure is different for each machine, usually the instruction manual shows you how to do it.
  • Cleaning the detergent drawer
    Unused detergent and fabric softener residues very often accumulate in the detergent drawer. Therefore, this drawer should also always be cleaned regularly. To do this, the detergent drawer must first be removed. Coarse soiling can be removed with a soft sponge or cloth, preferably under running water. Then place the drawer in the sink or a bucket, add half a litre of vinegar and fill up with water until the drawer is completely covered. After a few minutes of exposure time, the drawer is simply rinsed off and can then be used again.
  • Clean the rubber seal
    ВWater often collects on the lower rubber seals of the door. This can also cause the washing machine to stink. Cleaning is very easy, the water is absorbed with a cloth, then all the seals are wiped off. A water-citric acid mixture should be used for this. 30 g citric acid dissolved in one litre of water is sufficient for this.
  • Remove residual water from the washing machine
    It may happen that a little residual water remains at the bottom of the drum after the wash cycle. If this water remains there for a few days, it is not surprising that the washing machine stinks. There are various reasons for this, for example the drain may be blocked or the machine simply did not pump out everything. In the worst case, the drain pump is defective. In principle, however, this residual water should be removed, which can usually be done by hand. Almost every washing machine has a device for this purpose. The location of this can be found in the operating instructions.

What home remedies help against odours in the washing machine?

Cleaning the washing machine with vinegar

Your washing machine smells musty – that can happen. However, not everyone has appropriate hygiene rinse aids at home. But that is not a bad thing, because it is also possible to remove the odours with home remedies.

  • Cleaning the washing machine with dishwasher tablets?
    Dishwasher tabs are a good option for cleaning the washing machine. However, it should be noted that although they help to clean, they only have a limited effect against limescale. To clean with dishwasher tabs, simply place them in the empty drum and run a wash cycle at 60 or 90 degrees.
  • Descaling the washing machine – citric acid?
    Citric acid is considered a miracle weapon against limescale. It can also be used to clean and descale the washing machine. For this, 100 g of the powder must first be dissolved in two litres of water. Afterwards, this solution is put into the detergent compartment. Now let the machine run empty at 60 or 90 degrees.
  • Cleaning the washing machine with vinegar?
    Vinegar is generally a good remedy against limescale, which is why it is often recommended to clean the washing machine. Vinegar works very well against limescale, but it also attacks plastic. It is therefore possible that not only plastic hoses are damaged by the use of vinegar, but also other small parts.
  • Clean washing machine with baking soda?
    Unlike vinegar, sodium bicarbonate is again a good home remedy for cleaning the washing machine because it is able to remove bad odours. Again, do a wash cycle with an empty drum, the temperature should be at least 60 degrees. For cleaning, it is sufficient to add 50 g of sodium bicarbonate to the detergent compartment.

How can I prevent the smell?

Better than removing unpleasant odours is to prevent them from arising in the first place. The following measures help.

  • Check the drain pump
    A leaking drain pump can be one reason why the washing machine stinks. Therefore, it makes sense to check the drain pump every now and then. If water escapes from leaks, it collects on the floor and causes unpleasant odours over time.
  • Descale the washing machine
    As soon as water is involved somewhere, calcification can occur. It's no different with the washing machine. For this reason, the washing machine should be decalcified regularly, and not only if it is used in regions with highly calcareous water. In addition to special descaling agents, you can also use simple household remedies such as citric acid. This kills bacteria and germs at the same time. Accordingly, they can no longer cause bad odours.
  • Open the doors
    After the wash cycle, the door and detergent drawer should remain open. This ensures that the residual moisture can evaporate and unpleasant odours are prevented.

How often should the washing machine be cleaned?

Open the door of the washing machine

It all depends on how often it is used. The more often it is used, the more limescale deposits and detergent residues are created. If you do a lot of washing, you should clean your washing machine thoroughly once a month. Every two months is sufficient if you do an average amount of washing. If the washing machine is only used once a week, a three-month cleaning interval is also quite sufficient. In principle, however, it is advisable not to wait until your laundry smells unpleasant after washing. It is better to take precautions and clean the machine regularly.


The reason for using a washing machine is not only to remove dirt, but also odours. Dirty, unpleasant-smelling laundry usually goes into the machine and is removed clean and fresh-smelling after the wash cycle. Until the day you open the door and are met by a very unpleasant stench. At the latest then you ask yourself: My washing machine stinks, what can I do? You will find the answers in our guide. It's best not to let it get things go that far in the first place. You can prevent such unpleasant surprises by cleaning the machine regularly. This involves a bit of work, but it's worth it because you don't have to wash your laundry twice.

Created: August, 7 2023