The Stinky Washer Mystery

The Stinky Washer Mystery

A few years back, MWT and I switched to a front load washing machine and vowed we'd never go back to a top loader ever again. Until about 6 months ago when it started to stink. And I don't mean stink....it STANK! Every time water shot out of the discharge hose the laundry room filled with the odiferous scent of sewer. So, being a DIYer, I decided we could solve the mystery of the stinky washer ourselves. 

My first step, as always, was jumping on Google and asking the question: Why does my front loader smell like a sewer? The only helpful hit was a forum in which a washing machine repairman participated. The repairperson said that it was a discharge hose problem. The hoses are corrugated for easy bending and lint and dirt and stuff gets caught in the corrugated bits and 'ferments' as it were. The suggestion was to get a hose brush and clean it out with a degreaser/water solution. That sounded good to us, so we gave it a shot. The hose was a little funky, and the offending smell did emit from it when water flushed out of it.

Frigidaire FTF530ES 3.1 CuFt Front Load Washer


The repair dude's suggestion seemed to work. No more stink....for a week. And then, WAM! Gas mask time. We figured we hadn't gotten the hose clean enough and never would. So, we decided we'd just go to our local appliance repair shop and buy a new one.

MWT went in with the model number of the front loader and the service guy across the counter started writing up the order. "Broke the old hose?" he asked as he wrote.

"No," said MWT. "It stinks. We cleaned it, but...."

The serviceman shook his head.

"What?" said MWT.

The man stopped filling out the order. "I'd like nothing better than to sell you a new discharge hose, but I don't think the hose is the problem."

"Really?" asked MWT. "What is the problem, pray tell*?"

"Same thing happened to me a while back," said the man. "I think it's the detergent you're using and the amount." He went on to explain that when his front loader began to stink, it was after he had stopped using Tide. (We did the same about 6 months ago.) He also said that even though we were using liquid detergent specifically for HE machines, we were still using too much. He suggested using about half the quantity the Tide bottle suggested. (UPDATE: Read comments below, especially Mike's.)

"And that's it?" asked MWT. "That'll take care of it?"

The serviceman shook his head. "One more thing. Go home and dump a good amount of bleach into the washer and run it empty using hot water. That should take care of it."

"Gee," said MWT with that Boy Scout enthusiasm he sometimes emits, "thanks!"

So, that's exactly what we did. Flushed the washer with a bleach-only load and started using HALF the recommended amount of detergent. And you know what? The stink mysteriously disappeared!

*MWT didn't really say 'pray tell'. I took artistic license for Holmes-ian effect.


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Lillian on Oct 27, 2015:

My comrades in arms...my laundry suddenly started to smell putrid and I swear it was emitting dangerous fumes (I had to wear a gas mask...ok kidding). It was very strong and intolerable. I cleaned my washer with vinegar and bleach, hoping that would be the remedy. It wasn't. I used Affresh (3 consecutive washes) and expected that to solve the stench problem. It didn't. The culprit, in my case, was the detergent I was using...Tide. I switched to something else and that solved the problem. It is curious that the liquid Tide was half gone when the sickening smell made it's presence known. I think that the key word here is "rancid".

Lar on Sep 20, 2015:

Thank you all.  My sewer, I mean washer, smells so bad and I am disgusted with it.  I hope all your suggestions help.  This is my first front loading sewer, washer.  I did not know this change of washer style would be a problem.  Why do they have an appliance like this if it is so common for it to stink? 

Jen on Mar 12, 2015:

Isn't owning a home/appliances fun... lol.  1st: ALWAYS leave the washer door open after you wash a load.  2nd:  Use less detergent.  If/when you get that smell (which we did, because I was not following steps 1 and 2)... throw about a cup of baking soda in the machine and run a cycle on hot water.  Next, pour vinegar into where you'd add the detergent and let a cycle run on warm water.  Follow steps 1 and 2 for now on.  No more smells.  :)

Amanda on Apr 26, 2013:

We used Tide exclusively on our front-loader and were very strict about the measurement but still had the "someone has gone and died in our machine" smell.  We did all of the above but nothing worked till my husband googled and pulled the machine all to bits and found that many color catcher cloths we had been using had taken field trips into the innards of our machine where they had gotten all moldy and nasty.  Hence the stench.  No amount of bleach would have fixed that!  

We use Gain now.  Cold water, too.  We still are careful about how we measure everything, but we keep an eye on those wandering color catchers, I tell you what!!!

Anonymous on Jul 12, 2012:

The funky smell is caused by odor causing residues that can build up in your HE washer over time and are located on the drum (in the area that you cannot see and/or reach). People mistakenly often think the cause of the smell is coming from the visible gunk in the drawer or on the seal and clean that but only to be disappointed because they're not treating the source of the issue. Also, many people don't realize that they need to clean their washer regularly like any other major home appliance to maintain it over time. 

Use Tide Washing Machine Cleaner- its the best solution for removing the odor causing residues at the source. Just use three times consecutively and then once every month and the smell with go away. Good luck!


Robert on Jan 16, 2010:

your dryer plays a little ditty, eh? that's cool, but i won't really be impressed until it can pay my electric bill for me.

DIY Maven on Jan 15, 2010:

Bruno---Your washer plays a tune?? Does it have an iPod dock too?? ;) Ours has a buzzer. Actually, it HAD a buzzer. We disconnected it because it scared the cat. 

bruno on Jan 15, 2010:

Update: our new (front-load) washer and drier finally arrived, and we love them. The drier even plays a cute little ditty when the cycle is done. No smell so far, but we've very careful to leave the washer door open and clear out any water from the gasket.

Sarah on Jan 15, 2010:

This is the first advice I've seen about this problem that suggested anything other than that it was water in the seal (our problem is not related to that).  The "hot load" makes so much sense, but wasn't intuitive to me!  Has anyone switched back to Seventh Generation or Method with success?  I can't wait to run a hot bleach load and hope to clear out the death stink that's been hounding us for years!! THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!

lydia on Dec 23, 2009:

Ours started smelling like there was a dead terrorist in it also. I was told to get "affresh" a product just for the dead terrorist smell. Bleach did not work on ours. Affresh did. If you are well into dead body territory, you use it three times in a row. If you have a new washer, use it once a month (thank you for not telling me this, stupid appliance store) and you will never get the smell..


They sell it at Home Depot here.



Robert on Dec 18, 2009:

In my experience, the primary reasons for front-loading washer smells are: detergent buildup, running only cold-water loads (both of which have already been discussed), and water buildup in the gasket (the rubber piece that seals the door) that actually causes mold.  Water often collects in the gasket and doesn't evaporate.  Eventually mold will form in the areas where the water collects.

This MSNBC article discusses the issue...

The fix for the gasket problem is essentially the same as what's already been mentioned for the other odor-causing problems.  Run a hot load regularly, check the gasket to make sure it's clean and clear, and limit your detergent use.

Just my two cents...

DIY Maven on Dec 18, 2009:

Thanks for the input, Jeanne! Seems like a lot of people in the US are struggling with stinky front loaders. I'm glad we've had such a good response to this article. The more evidence to uncover the mystery the better!!!

Jeanne on Dec 17, 2009:

We had the same problem. After all kinds of messing around, and I mean all kinds...bleach, vinegar, whirlout, boiling hot water, calling the service man! Research brought us to the same solution.  Too much detergent! Gosh how simple huh? Front loaders are extremely efficient machines ande the detergent instructions are recommending far too much. We now use between 1 to 2 Tablespoons of detergent and voila! No more musty smell. I use Tide HE powder but my friend uses another liquid HE brand and has the same great results.  And for those who are wondering, my clothes come out sparkling clean and I have two young children who seem to be experts in messes too. We do not use liquid softener, but I have read that it contains animal tallow which can cause it to build up in the hoses and cause it to smell. I am guessing that the liquid softener instructions require too much as well.  After I am done, I wipe out the inside and a few times a month I rinse out the washing machine filter (don't forget to do that, all kinds of stuff gets in there!).  I leave the door open for 24 hours to dry.  Since we've made these simple changes, the results have been awesome.  I used to be soo worried that we made a very costly mistake, but now I absolutely love my front loader. 

DIY Maven on Dec 17, 2009:

Thank you for the information, Mike!! Yes, I RARELY wash with hot water. I'm sure, like I mentioned in a comment below, that I'll experiment with other detergent in the future. We also cut the fabric softener use in half too. Anyway, sounds like we are on the right track! 

Jon Evans on Dec 17, 2009:

I ran our machine last night at 95C after emptying a full bottle of bleach into it. It seems a lot better today. Mike: I'm with you, I think it's more to do with doing loads at 30 to 40. The only time I do a boil wash these days is to clean it out.

For the record, we're currently using Bold 2 in 1 sachets. We usually buy whatever is on offer at Tesco.

I also bought some calgon tablets yesterday which we're going to start using. Just a stopgap until we get a water softener, hopefully at some point during 2010. Our water is fairly hard.

Mike on Dec 17, 2009:

Um.  I don't think your choice of detergent is the issue.  Pretty much every washer sold here in the UK is a front-loader, and the principal cause of bad smells, gunky build-ups in the filters and so on is apparently more to do with the fact that hardly anyone ever does a HOT wash.  All the detergent manufacturers (and environmentalists, and pretty much everyone else) suggest washing everything at 30C (or less) as that's the optimum temp for the enzymes in the biological detergents (and it saves energy), but it's also the optimal temp for all the microbes and wee beasties that cause the gunk and smells.

Your service chap was quite correct to suggest a hot bleach wash.  You'd do just as well to run a batch of towels or such through a hot wash (read: boil, or the highest temp your machine will do) once every couple of weeks, and maybe chuck a cup of white vinegar in with it for good measure.  You can probably then choose whichever detergent you like, but cut down on the quantity.  Also, mo(u)ld seems to love liquid fabric softeners, so experiment a bit with quantities on that, too.

DIY Maven on Dec 17, 2009:

CJ--I'm glad you found a detergent that works for you. The service guy recommended Tide, which we had been using. When we stopped using it, the washer began emitting the smell about 6 months later. The repairman's experience coupled with our own suggested cause and effect. What detergent do you use? (We had been using Seventh Generation as well as Method.) BUT like the serviceman said, it's also a matter of how much detergent you use. It seems that all detergent manufacturers suggest using much more than is needed in a front loader. In the future, when the memory of the stench dissipates, I might switch back to Seventh Generation and use much less than the label suggests. Also, just to tell the entire story, the door has never been closed when not in use and I tried the vinegar route, which just made the odor smell like a vinegary-sewer. Ick.

CJ on Dec 16, 2009:

Maybe i'm interpreting this wrong but are you saying that to keep a front-load washer working properly you have to use tide??  I've never used tide.  I use non-toxic detergent, and have for the three+ years we've had our washer.  It has never once smelled remotely bad.  You don't have to use toxic detergents to keep it from smelling bad.  Keep the door open when it is not in use and consider adding vinegar to the wash to keep the washer clean and soften your laundry.

Jon Evans on Dec 16, 2009:

Perfect timing - I dealt with a blockage in the output pipe of our front loader last night, and just like yours it stank like a sewer.

I'm going to try the bleach trick. Not sure about using less detergent, we've been buying those detergent tabs / liquid sachets lately. Maybe we should switch back to powder.

bruno on Dec 16, 2009:

Our new front-load washer and dryer pair is arriving later this month, so this story is much-appreciated. Thanks!

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