This is a pretty common thing that we service guys encounter, people complain of a bad odour from the washing machine or washer dryer and we've even added a video explaining this below.
First let's start with a simple fact, there's no component that can fail to cause a bad odour from inside a washer. Sorry, but it's not a fault with the machine and it will undoubtedly be from some form of external source and in this article we will explain what causes the problem, how to solve it and how to avoid bad smells from your washing machine.
The major factors that can cause the problem are explained here and you should read this article thoroughly and check as much as you can before calling any service department. If you have a smelly washing machine please read this article in full as it will help you solve the problem and not have it again.
It's also been brought to our attention that there are a number of people out there, along with some companies, that are giving staggeringly bad advice on how to deal with this problem, mostly to try to get you to buy some product like a washing machine cleaner, most of which are targeted at dealing with limescale, not odour issues. The advice given in this article is correct and we will explain how you can try to resolve the problem for free if you want or, use a commercial product that will solve the problem, properly.
Consistant low temperature washes without a maintenance wash will very often result in a build up of bacteria inside the drum if you combine this with liquid detergent (more on this below) then it is an almost perfect recipe for bacteria build up inside the drum of your washing machine.
But this never used to be a problem and, although we can't prove it, we think we know why.
As washing machines have gotten cheaper and cheaper in order to save on production costs manufacturers have moved away from using enamelled and stainless steel tubs (the big drum around the one you put clothes in which hold the water) and moved almost entirely onto using plastic ones. There are very, very few low cost washing machines now that do not have a plastic outer tank.
The plastic tanks have nooks and crannies that can harbour bacteria growth as that's the way that they are designed and, the surface isn't as smooth as steel or enamel allowing bacteria to take hold and breed. This builds up and leads to a bad smell.
In extreme cases you can get lumps of mould coming out in the wash or small black marks, speckles etc. on clothing. Yes, in you've case not sussed it yet, there's lots and lots of people out there that are washing their clothes in bacteria and then we wonder why we have skin irritation problems.
If the answer is yes then this is most likely the problem as there is no chlorine bleaching agents in liquid powder and it has a tendency to smell a bit ripe after a while. It is also VERY easy and prone to over-dosing, which can lead to a congealed mass of goo in, or on, the drum which, in extreme cases can actually corrode the aluminium drum shaft.
Shown in the photograph to the right is a badly corroded alloy drum support spider from just such treatment and this is, by far, not the worst that we've seen. In some really bad cases the support almost disintegrates.
Sorry soap powder manufacturers, but we see this in the field after several years.
The cure is to use powder (real stuff from a big box) and wash through a boil or hot wash with the machine empty, this is known as a washing machine maintenance wash. Or you can cheat and use dishwasher cleaner or bicarbonate of soda, both are effective at cleaning this but not as good as a dedicated cleaner.
Ariel tablets are also okay as they dissolve just as fast as powder and can be used in the drawer unlike other soap tablets.
Using soap nuts or ecoballs is just a disaster waiting to happen as well as both will increase the likelihood of you having a problem in the first place massively.
Often we will see appliances incorrectly installed allowing dirty water from your drain to come back into the appliance. If you see the appliance slowly filling when it's switched off it is almost certain that this is the problem and you will need a plumber and not an appliance engineer.
You can also try the cleaning tip as detailed above but it will not stop the problem re-occurring at some stage.
More information on backfilling from this link
When this article was originally published the only option we had to recommend as a maintenance wash is to do a full "boil" wash program (as hot as you can get basically) with a bleach containing detergent. The best option there that we would recommend is using Ariel (from the green packs) as it also contains components that deal with limescale and many other bits of dirt that you don't want there. We know that Ariel is a little more expensive than some, but it's also a lot better in our opinion and our own testing bears that out.
Doing this on a regular basis, once a month or so, can actually stop the problem occurring in the first place and is recommended by most service engineers as well as others within the industry and is often detailed in the manufacturer's instructions.
Also make sure that you clean out the soap box thoroughly, all of them come out somehow and it's usually in the instruction book how you do this. Pay particular attention to the softener section (if you use it) and make sure that bit is cleaned regularly or you can get a build up of not very nice gunk as well as possible leaks from there.
If you get the soap drawer out and look up above it you'll see a series of jets, this is where the water comes in to disperse into the drawer, make sure that is also clean, we find it best to use an old toothbrush dipped in a little bleach to get them clean, especially if they are a bit mouldy. Any black "stuff" you see in there is mould, it's a build up of bacteria who just love the wet environment to breed in. it is best to do this before a maintenance wash to ensure that any bleach or other cleaning products are removed and do not then affect the next load that you wash.
You can find out how to do this how to do this on most washing machines from our article about how to do a maintenance wash for your washer.
Drying out can also help massively, this is why many people advise that the door of the machine is left slightly ajar. If you are having problems with mould or an odour doing this, whilst unpleasant at first, will help in the longer term with the above advice.
This article was originally posted in 2004 and, since then we've been searching for a cleaner that can solve this odour problem for people, in 2008 we finally found one that actually worked properly!
Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner has been specifically developed to combat the problem of smelly or foul smelling washing machine and is available in the online store along with it's sister product Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner.
Is short, Affresh attacks the residue itself, breaking it up and sending it down the drain and, regular use can stop it from happening again. The great thing about this is that it's not stupidly expensive either, it's actually quite cheap.
We get asked all the time on the best way to solve the problem and, especially if it is fairly bad, maintenance washes can take a long time to clear the odours but it still won't remove all the scum that's left, Affresh will as it is specifically designed to break these residues up.
If your machine is really bad though you may have to use a full pack the on the first pass and possibly need to re-treat again, perhaps even a few times depending on the severity of the bacteria build up. And, it could get worse before it gets better!
The reason is that each time you use Affresh or a maintenance wash it "peels off" the top layer of bacteria leaving more stinky gunk exposed than before, which makes the smell work. There's no solution other than to persevere and repeat until it clears which, in some really bad cases we've seen has taken more than a dozen washes!
Most other washing machine cleaners that we have come across, often sold in supermarkets and the likes, are not as effective as Affresh and tend to merely mask the smell from the gunk in the washing machine, not actually solve the underlying problem. But then, they are much cheaper in some cases.
You can find more, as well as related, information on the effects of not carrying out a maintenance wash from the following articles:
Door Seal Mildew Or Black Marks why you can get black mould and what to do when you do as well as tips to avoid it
Washing Machine Soap Drawers how to clean the soap drawer in your washing machine to avoid smells and bacteria build ups
Whiter Whites, Brighter Colours how to use detergents correctly.
Washing Machines, Detergent & Skin Irritation does detergent really cause skin irritation or is there more to it?
From "The Art Of Laundry" issued by Procter & Gamble:
On occasions there can be a build up of residue on the inside of the washing machine which may transfer to garments. The deposits can be caused by dirt, grease, lint or hard water salts. Unpleasant odours may also arise from the residues. Higher temperature washes and bleach containing detergents can help prevent these residues.
Do a "maintenance wash" (hot wash of at least 60°C or above with no load in the machine) using a heavy duty bleach containing detergent such as Ariel powder or tablets. In extreme cases more than one maintenance wash may be needed.
CAUSE: Insufficient detergent used on a regular basis, so dirt is not properly dealt with
PREVENTION: Always use the recommended amount of detergent appropriate to the amount of dirt, water hardness and load size
CAUSE: Detergents without bleach are consistently used
PREVENTION: Carry out a monthly maintenance wash using a bleach containing detergent such as Ariel powder or tablets
CAUSE: The washing machine is consistently being operated at lower temperatures
CAUSE: The washing machine has not been given basic maintenance
PREVENTION: After using the washing machine, wipe around the door seal leaving the door open after use.