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Home & garden.

Updated: 2 Nov 2021

How to clean a smelly washing machine

Musty smell coming from your washing machine? Watch our video for quick ways to cure the odour and keep things smelling fresh.
Matt Stevens
Cleaning a smelly washing machine

Clean your washing machine regularly and you'll keep it free from mould and that smelly, musty odour some washing machines give out. You don't need to buy any additional detergents or washing machine cleaning products, just watch our video below or follow the five easy steps to prevent a smelly washing machine.

For a closer look at additional cleaning products, we compare washing machine cleaners from Dettol and Dr Beckmann, and explore the claims made by manufacturers. 

How to clean a smelly washing machine

  1. Run a regular, hot, service wash
  2. Clean the rubber seal
  3. Wash the detergent drawer and lint filter
  4. Leave the washing machine's door and drawer open
  5. If you've done numbers one to four and your washing machine is still smelling, check your stand pipe.

1. Run a service wash

A service wash means spinning your washing machine without any clothes in at a high temperature. 

Most people wash their clothes at 40°C or less, and while this is a great way to save money on energy bills and is better for the environment, washing at these temperatures won't completely rid your washing machine of mould and bacteria. That's why you need to regularly run a hotter service wash to deal with this problem.

Ideally done once a month, most manufacturers now recommend you use a certain cycle to do this or provide a special drum-cleaning program. Your instruction manual should have this information. If not, call the manufacturer's customer service line and ask which program to use.

The only down side to running a hot wash is that it will cost more. That's why when we test washing machines we measure how much energy and water it uses, so we can tell you how much it'll cost to run. 

We've found A-rated machines that cost more to run than D-rated or lower models, so take a look at our washing machine reviews to help you find a great model that doesn't cost the earth.

2. Clean the seal

Mould and bacteria can fester in the rubber seal around the door hole. After your washing has finished, have a look at the seal to see if it needs a scrub. 

Doing this regularly can help prevent the build-up of mould and bacteria. If mould has had too long to fester, it may have sunk into the porous rubber of the seal and be impossible to remove. If this happens, you may need to replace the door seal.

3. Wash out the detergent drawer and lint filter

Mould and bacteria also have a tendency to build up in the detergent drawer and lint filter. Watch our videos on cleaning the detergent drawer and strange noises in your washing machine for instructions on how to clean these areas.

In our washing machine tests, we analyse the water left in the clothes to see how much detergent a machine really rinses - the worst leave visible traces.

4. Leave the washing machine's door and drawer open

Leaving the machine's door ajar after washing allows air to circulate in the drum and helps prevent the growth of mould and bacteria. You should also leave your machine's detergent drawer partly open for the same reason.

5. Check the stand pipe

If bad smells continue, you may have a partial blockage in the standpipe. If you suspect this is the case, use a drain unblocker to try and clear the pipe.

If the problem is serious, you may need to call in a professional repairer. To find a repairer you can trust, try Which? Trusted Traders to find a local trader who has been assessed and checked by Which? experts.

If you're considering buying a new washing machine instead of repairing your current one, see our list of the best washing machines than have topped our independent lab tests.

Our guide to the most reliable washing machine brands also reveals the washing machine brands that are less likely to let you down, based on the experiences of thousands of owners.