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Odors, Mildew and Your Washing Machine

By Donald Grummett

A modern clothes washing machine can suffer from odors or mildew. It may build to the point where the odors seem to overwhelm all other aspects of the clothes washing experience. The causes can be varied but generally are due to moisture build-up within the clothes tub.

Washing Machine

Water Drainage

Since the washing machine itself operates full of water the presence of moisture is typical. The problems usually begin either when the water is not removed at the end of the cycle by the drain system, or for some other reason, excess water accumulates inside the tub.

If the drain system is suspected test the clothes immediately after the cycle has ended. The ‘cheek method’ works well. Remove a towel from your completed load of washing. Place it against your cheek. The towel should feel cool against your cheek without feeling wet. If the towel feels wet place it back into the washing machine and re-spin the load. If a second spin removes more moisture then your washing machine is not reaching its maximum spin speed.

Spin Speed

Associated with the slow spin speed is overloading of the washer. To test for overloading wait until your normal load has completed and come to a full stop. Then remove two or three items and restart the cycle from the rinse position. Let the washing machine fill with water, and go completely through the rinse, drain, and spin cycles. Again let the machine complete the cycle and come to a full stop. If the clothes are now properly spun, suspect overloading.

There are many things that can affect the spin speed. The most common is an unbalanced load. An unbalanced load will not allow the tub to reach the maximum spin speed. It’s usually accompanied by the washing machine either jumping, or being noisy. If this is allowed to continue moisture will remain inside the tub at cycle’s end. This will cause the machine to smell musty and can eventually lead to the presence of mildew.

All washing machines must come to maximum spin speedWasher to remove the moisture from the clothes. Although the drain pump will remove the majority of water, it is the spinning that removes the moisture from the clothing. If for any reason the maximum spin speed is not reached the moisture within the clothing will tend to redeposit itself inside the washing machine. This is common for people who allow the wet clothes to sit inside the machine long after the wash cycle has been completed. This simple act often leads to odors or mildew. For this reason avoid washing right before bedtime, or before going to work in the morning.

Front Loading Washing Machines

If your washing machine is a front-loading style the possibility of odors is something about which you must be aware. Moisture can accumulate at both the inside surface of the door and the interior. To alleviate this problem dry off the inside surfaces of the door with a clean cloth as soon as your washing is finished. If possible, leave the door slightly open after your washing is completed. This allows warm room air to enter the machine while the machine sits idle.

Also, gently wipe off the rubber seal at the front of the washing machine. It often has grooves, ridges, or small crevices in its surface where water can accumulate. Be aware that along with the wash water will be a small amount of detergent. If allowed to accumulate it can become sour and heighten the bad smell. This is especially possible for anyone with sloppy washing habits.

Fabric Softener

A final note about front-loading washers is in regard to liquid fabric softeners. If used full strength they may be involved in the odor problem. When used full strength it can become deposited in the detergent dispenser or the front door seal. Once deposited the softener can become sticky, allowing lint and dirt from the clothes to adhere to these surfaces. This washing debris can then cause a smell if left to build up.

At full strength from the bottle, their concentration may be too high for the small quantity of water used within a front loader. Liquid fabric softeners should be diluted before placed into these washers. The recommended mixture is six parts of water to every one part of softener. To regulate your liquid fabric softener, keep a pre-mixed amount in a secondary bottle. When fabric softener is required pour it into the washing machine from the pre-mixed rather than the original bottle.

If All Else Fails...

If your clothes washing machine presently has an odor use some of the above methods to isolate the cause. If cleaning the problem area is unsuccessful you may need to take further action. Many consumer websites suggest multiple applications of hot water and a cup of white vinegar. This may be helpful. My experience has shown this method is more preventative than corrective. For washing machine odours we generally recommend the use of a strong washing machine cleaner. One of the most effective is Glisten. Another one is called Ysano. Both can be purchased at most appliance parts stores. At a price of approximately $10 it is well worth the investment.

Copyright 2007 by Donald Grummett. All right reserved. Donald Grummett has been in the trade over 30 years as a technician, business owner, and technical trainer. Visit MG Services to learn more invaluable information about your appliances.

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Last Modified: 24 March 2020

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