A lot of dirt, soap, lint, softener and water pass through your washing machine. Over time, they form a residue where odor-causing bacteria and other microorganisms can grow. These steps can get rid of washer odor and keep it from coming back.

Let the washer air out

One of the best things you can do to prevent odors is to remove wet clothes as soon as possible when the load is done. Then leave the washer open so the interior can dry. 

The monthly bleaching

To keep your washer clean and free of odors, run an empty load using hot water and 2 cups of chlorine bleach in the soap dispenser once a month. The hot, bleach-y water kills germs and removes detergent buildup within the washer and dispenser. Let the washer run a complete cycle for best cleaning and rinsing. Repeat the wash cycle if necessary, to remove any lingering bleach.

Natural cleaning

If you prefer natural cleaners, two common household ingredients—white vinegar and baking soda—will do the trick. The vinegar disinfects like bleach, but it’s milder. Its acidity also helps dissolve soap residue in the wash tub. Baking soda cleans soap scum and helps remove odors.

Steps for a top-load washer:

  1. Start an empty load with hot water and 3 to 4 cups of white vinegar.
  2. Let the washer run a few minutes, then add about 1/2 cup of baking soda.
  3. Run the washer again for a few minutes to mix in the baking soda, then stop the washer and allow it to sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Then resume the cycle and let it finish.
  4. Run a second hot wash cycle to clean out gunk loosened by the vinegar water.

Steps for a front-load washer:

  1. Run an empty load using hot water and 2 cups of vinegar added to the detergent dispenser.
  2. Run a second complete cycle after adding 1/2 cup baking soda to the drum.

Hand-clean washer nooks

Clean around the lid or door weekly using a soft cloth dipped in warm water and sprinkled with a non-abrasive cleaner. Use a toothbrush if necessary to clean grime from dispensers. A toothbrush also can come in handy to clean mold and mildew from the gasket around the door of a front-load washer.

Wipe off hard water deposits

Milky white stains are a sign of hard-water deposits, which attract soap scum that can lead to mold and mildew. Wipe off hard-water stains with vinegar or a washer-safe cleaner.

Check the trap, if there is one

If your front-load washer has a pump with a trap area, check your washing machine’s owner’s manual for instructions on how to clean it. Lint or other items stuck in the trap area can get smelly.