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The Tale Of The Smelly Laundry Room (Tips For Those With High Efficiency Washing Machines)

October 26, 2010 · 81 comments

in Home & Garden, Misc Tips

Have you ever encountered a smell in our house and you had no idea where it was coming from?

I know several people that would follow a smell, and discover a dead mouse or something worse lurking behind an appliance or in the chimney.

Well, our smell was definitely coming from the laundry room, and it mystified us for months.  We moved all the appliances and looked behind and under them.  We emptied a bunch of frozen food out of the chest freezer, and to no avail.  I figured it couldn’t be an animal because the smell was not constant, and it only happened when the dryer was on.   We even vacuumed out the dryer vent that leads to outside. (Not a bad maintenance idea to do every 6 months or so anyway.) Again, we came up empty handed.

What Fixed the Smelly Washer, and What Didn’t

So, the process to locate the smell continued.  I researched ‘stinky dryer’ on the internet extensively and tried all kinds of remedies.   I poured boiling water down the drain that was in our laundry room.   I poured baking soda and vinegar down the same drain.   That solution didn’t fix anything, but it was fascinating to watch.  Next I read that dryers suck in air to dry the clothes, so I also covered the drain with saran wrap and tape.  That little fix worked for a couple of loads of laundry, and I thought I was home free.  Alas, the stench was back during the third load of laundry.

Finally, I was reading about using vinegar in the washer.  We have a little ‘fabric softener’ slot on our high efficiency washer, so I just dumped some vinegar in the little container and hoped for the best.  Needless to say, it worked!

Why High Efficiency Washers Get So Smelly

So what was the problem?   This is what I think happened:  High Efficiency washing machines are known to get gunky.  That HE detergent gets nestled in the machine, but I also think it was somehow got into some of our towels.  Not all our towels, but just our giant, fluffy brown towels.  Even though they appeared clean and dry, there may have been some detergent residue in them.   (I concluded this because we did narrow the smell down to happening only when the brown towels were being washed.  We are so smart!)

We Don’t Use Afresh Anymore!

Now I add a little vinegar to every load of wash I do (in the fabric softener cup) and everything is fresh and clean, and even softer!  I don’t use the ‘Afresh’ that my washing machine recommends because the stuff is so darn fragrant it almost killed me when we used it one time.  Vinegar is also a great ingredient to use for pre-treating stains.    The best part of the solution is that the clothes do not retain any odor from the vinegar; it all just washes away.

As a side note, my washing machine in a top loading high efficiency model.  Front-loading models are notorious for getting smelly because of the water that doesn’t get fully drained and is left behind.   Therefore, if you have a front-loading model, always keep the door open when it is not in use to dry the machine out.  Using vinegar may also help reduce the smell for front loaders also, even though the cause of the problem is different.

What was the worst smell you ever encountered in your house?  Did it take awhile to solve the problem?  How did you fix it?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Reasons October 26, 2010 at 6:48 am

Isn’t it great to be able to figure out life’s little urgent puzzles like that! Plus, it saved you money because you didn’t have to hire a repairman that wasn’t need (or buy a new unit)…

Smells in my house, hmmmm. I think the thing that smells the most at your house is a toss up between our pets, but probably it’s the dog by a nose. 🙂


Kris October 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

MR- It was a very frustrating puzzle. One with missing pieces on the border and the box cover was missing. But, it is wonderful to have a solution. I am glad that vinegar is so darn cheap!

I like the dog comment! (The dog may take offense though…)


Money Reasons October 26, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Yeah, I’ve had laudry problems in the past myself. There is nothing worse than the laudry piling up while I place sherlock holmes and bob the builder at the same time 🙂


Kris October 26, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Money Reasons- and it is bad too when you have washed the clothes and they smell worse than when they went in the washer!

I love Bob the Builder. Well I love the old Bob the Builder. He seems to have a creepy new voice these days.


The Biz of Life October 26, 2010 at 8:03 am

We had the same problem with the washer. Borax actually worked for us. Vinegar helped somewhat, but didn’t completely fix the problem.


Kris October 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hey Biz – Was your machine a front loader? High Efficiency? Stuff sure does gunk up with the HEs. They don’t put that in the advertisement though.

I love my washer though. It holds so much. I use less water and I have to do less loads. It is all good!


Nicole October 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

Yup, the front loaders also get really gunky in the rim around the front loading area. We clean it out with a wetwipe on occasion.

Our laundry room is also where the litterboxes are, so the washer has never been the most stinky thing in there.

The worst smell in the world is shrimp peelings that have been sitting in the garbage for too long. That literally makes me wretch.

MR– by a nose hahahaha


Kris October 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

Nicole – I think I read that front loaders are supposed to be cleaned each day- wiped down or something. The vinegar really does seem to break down that leftover soap that gets left behind. I heart vinegar.

I think I am going to be sick just thinking about your shrimp peelings…


Money Beagle October 26, 2010 at 10:50 am

Yeah, we noticed a bunch of gunk building up around the rubber seal for our front loader and we now leave the door open.

With our front loader, we also noticed a problem where it wasn’t spinning at full speed anymore. Thus the cycle times were taking longer and longer. I did some research and our particular model has a little relief valve that gets clogged with hair, small items that might get left in pockets, etc. It involves removing the front bottom panel (three screws) and opening the valve, which drains some water out (a drip pan underneath is necessary), and cleaning out the end of the cap where the clogs formed. Once I cleaned that off, it started spinning at normal speed again, so now I have a recurring reminder to clean that out every three months.

HE washing machines may use less water, but they’re awfully ‘needy’ compared to the top loaders.


Kris October 26, 2010 at 10:56 am

I agree Beagle, they do seem to be a lot of work, and seem pretty frustrating. That is great that you figured out your spin problem. I bet repairmen just love the front loaders though, I bet they have a lot of business they never had before!


First Gen American October 26, 2010 at 11:46 am

I discovered vinegar after I decided to rid the man smell out of our linen closet. With a house full of males, our towels/sheets still smelled kind of musky even after washing them. Once I started washing in hot water with a vinegar rinse, it made a big difference. Keeping my machine from getting funky is an added benefit. Since my son also has super sensitive skin, I also do an extra rinse on his loads to get any residual detergent out. I spend way more on laundry than I probably should but I’m super anal about stains and smells.

When I was living in the UK, I had a friend who was moving out of an apartment and learned that the guy who was moving in after him was this total jerk who’s guts he hated. I forget how he wronged my friend, but he got his revenge. He screwed open the window sill and stuck a smoked kipper (fish) into the wall..right near a heater. He did it the day he moved so the smell wasn’t apparent yet. This was in college and although I feel bad for the landlord, I still love the story.


Kris October 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm

FGA – I understand, I am a fragrance freak! I am incredibly sensitive to all fragrances, so I prefer zero scent at all.

I cannot imagine how disgusting that kipper smell must have been. I don’t think any amount of vinegar could fix that! I hope he anonymously sent a letter to that poor landlord later…


Roshawn @ Watson Inc October 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Good stuff. We never had this specific problem, but at least we will know what to do if it occurs. Also, I’m sure vinegar is useful to get rid of other odors too.


Kris October 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Shawn – I cannot tell you how glad I am that vinegar solved the problem. I love my vinegar! I hope it never happens to you, but be prepared just in case! 🙂


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff October 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Our last roommate left a really awful cologne/musk/something worse smell behind. I sprinkled baking soda on the carpets and most of the smell was gone once I vacuumed it up. Baking soda and vinegar are great just to keep around the house!


Kris October 26, 2010 at 10:50 pm

BFS – I am also a fan of baking soda. Combining it with vinegar can be so much fun!

I used too much baking soda once when vacuuming and ended up being surrounded in a cloud of baking soda, and I think I ruined our vacuum cleaner! I believe I did it all wrong!


Crystal @ BFS October 27, 2010 at 2:07 pm

There is a mistake waiting to happen – somebody getting so fed up with a smell that they join the awesome power of vinegar and smell-reducing power of baking soda…hehehe. Although that volcano effect may be a fun way to clean out kitchen pipes…


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