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Why does my washer smell?

By: Tiffany Alton-Froggatt

One of the most common concerns that we hear from people in regards to their washing machines is odour. We generally hear this in regards to front loading washers, especially if the door is left closed when the machine isn't in use.

A musty, sour, organic smell coming from your washing machine can be frustrating, but it does not indicate any kind of fault with the appliance. The smell can be easily prevented, with regular cleaning/maintenance, and proper detergent use.

Front loading washers use a low water level. Because they turn on a horizontal axis, and because of gravity, even with a small amount of water, all of the clothes fall through the water and soap solution. High efficiency (HE) detergents are low sudsing formulas, that are designed to be used in front loading and HE top loading washers. Too much detergent, using the wrong kind of detergent, fabric softener, and using the wrong water temperature causes a build up of sticky, icky film between the tubs of the washer. Dirt and odour causing bacteria stick to this film, and it builds up over time.

In the past, phosphates in detergents prevented this to some degree. The recent push for cold water washing has amplified this issue, because detergents don't break down properly in really cold water, unless they are specifically designed for that purpose. Detergents with enzymes require water temperatures of at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit in order to become effective.

How to fix it:

  1. Every 3 months - Clean cycle - Most manufacturers have added a "Clean Washer" cycle to their front loading machines. This cycle uses hot water and turbidity to clean the inside of the washer. Some manufacturers recommend adding a cleaning product, like Affresh tablets to the washer during this cycle. My preference is to add about 1/4-1/3 cup of citric acid powder (LimeFresh) to the drum of the washer. This cycle can be quite long, but is an important step in the maintenance of your washing machine.
  2. Every month - Pre-pump filter/Coin trap - Some manufacturers have added a customer accessible filter/trap to stop coins, lint, hair, etc from entering the pump. This does need to be cleaned out on a regular basis, as wet lint and hair can create a must odour. Follow the instructions in your owners manual to clean this properly.
  3. Every Day -Dry the bellow (rubber gasket/boot) inside of the door after you are finished using the washer for the day. Dry the glass on the door as well. Leave the door propped open with a soft towel if possible, to allow air flow.

Keep in mind:

Commercially prepared detergents (Tide, Sunlight, etc) have a lot of filler in them. This filler can contribute to the musty/sour smell in the machine, as well as in your laundry - most noticeably, towels. Consider trying Excelsior laundry detergent instead. This detergent is made in Canada, contains no filler, and can be used in all water temperatures. Because it is free from fillers and dyes, you only require one tablespoon of detergent, and costs only $0.25 per load. Excelsior detergent is sold at Peterborough Appliances.