my washing machine smells like sewage

Help! My Washing Machine Smells Like Sewage | 5 Steps To Get Rid Of It

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It’s that time of the week where my washing pile has more clothes than my closet. A load of washing is urgently needed, except that my washing machine smells like sewage! Yuck! 

Welcome to EnviroMom! x
Welcome to EnviroMom!

That was a very desperate version of myself two weeks ago. Luckily, for every problem, there’s a solution.

The process of getting rid of that sewage smell involved five simple steps: 1. Check all pipes, 2. Run an empty cycle with an appropriate washing machine cleaner, 3. clean the rubber (front-loader) and wipe the drum, 4. Minimise the amount of detergent and softener, 5. Get some fresh air through your laundry room.

How To Get Rid Of The Sewage Smell In 5 Easy Steps

1. Check your laundry pipes and drainage system

It may sound like an obvious one, but finding out where the smell is actually coming from is an important first step. 

The bottom line is if your laundry drainage pipe is blocked and grey water (cute name for dirty water) can’t get through, the only option it has is to go back to where it came from, your washing machine. Even if the pipe is partially blocked, the water flow is likely to be compromised and dirty – okay, grey – water is likely to linger around your clothes for longer than it should.  

A clear pipe will make sure water flows as it should. That is – dirty smelly water goes away from your clothes and quickly! 

Having your pipes checked is an important first step.

washing machine pipes need to be checked

2. Clean your washing machine regularly (and how to clean)

This may sound like the most obvious tip ever! However, a lot of people (myself included) simply forget or do not clean their washing machine on a regular basis! 

In the back of my mind, I probably think a washing machine ‘self-cleans’ with all that water and detergent! But it doesn’t quite work that way. 

Think about your bathroom sink or shower, don’t they get dirty despite all that water and soap? The same can be said for a washing machine. 

The best way to clean a washing machine is by running a hot water load with an appropriate washing machine cleaner such as Affresh or Duracare. There are many options available both online and in-store. 

While I have not tested many brands of washing machine cleaners, I have come across recommendations for things such as vinegar, bi-carb and lemon juice. 

While I am a huge fan of eco-friendly hacks and use these natural products quite regularly, I fear the high acidity of vinegar (or lemon) could do more harm than good to my washing machine (for example, compromise the rubber). That’s the same reason why I don’t use vinegar as dishwasher rinse aid

Ultimately, an eco-friendly appliance is one that has a long life. 

3. Clean the rubber around the door (for front loader washing machine)

If you have a front loader or a HE (high efficient) washing machine, you made an excellent choice as they tend to be more water and energy efficient – which makes them more sustainable.

However, they are also a more ideal environment for mold, mildew (fungus) and bacteria to grow and thrive. The moist rubber around the door is particularly vulnerable. Rubber is what stops water from leaking outside. In order to function properly and to last for a long time, rubber needs to be kept ‘moist’, while dry rubber is prone to crack. 

Mold, mildew (fungus) and bacteria love and thrive in moist environments, that’s why wiping your rubber with a multi-purpose cleaner (with bleach) is really important. Once again, I would avoid vinegar as it might be too acidic for the rubber. If vinegar is to be used, it should be at least highly diluted in water. 

Now, you might be wondering why a self-defined EnviroMom would recommend bleach instead of vinegar. So, I feel I should address this! I consciously try to avoid bleach whenever possible as it harms our waterways and aquatic life. 

Luckily, there are many bleach-free options available that are suitable for different cleaning jobs! However, I will draw a line around sewage matters!

Moreover, cleaning your washing machine rubber with bleach does not need to be a daily occurrence, depending on how much you wash weekly or monthly will be enough. 

It is also a good idea to thoroughly wipe the drum for both front and top loaders.

4. Minimise amount of laundry detergent and avoid softener 

Excess amounts of laundry detergent can be hard for a highly efficient washing machine to dissolve as they operate on minimal water volume. Residual detergent can contribute to clogging. 

reduce the amount of laundry detergent
Keep the amount of laundry detergent to a minimum and consider ditching softeners

Unless my clothes are extremely dirty, I often use about half of what the manufacturer recommends. For laundry detergent sheets such as Earth Breeze or Tru Earth, about half a sheet per load will give me perfectly clean – and freshly smelling – clothes. 

Modern detergents are gentle enough on our clothes to make fabric conditioners pointless. The safest option is to ditch it all together, as residual material (often containing oils) will also provide a thriving environment for mold, mildew and sewage smelling bacteria. 

5. Ventilation or dehumidifier for your laundry room 

Ventilation can be your best friend when it comes to fighting bad smells. 

Not only will airing provide a way out of the room for the stink itself, but it also helps to fight nasty bacteria that causes the bad smell in the first place. The equation is more air, less humidity and moisture. 

For those who don’t have windows in their laundry room, it might be worth considering a dehumidifier or a simple moisture absorber (like the ones you can use inside your closet). 

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my washing machine?

While the definite answer will depend on what type of washing machine you have, how many loads of laundry you do, how much detergent you use. According to my experience, I recommend running an empty cycle with a dedicated cleaner once every two months and wiping your rubber (if you have a front loader) weekly. 

Are front loaders more likely to stink compared to top loaders?

The short answer is – generally speaking, yes. But…

Don’t despair and, most importantly, don’t make the switch without doing some good research. Front loaders are more likely to smell because they generally run on a lot less water. Their door also has a rubber gasket which can provide an ideal environment for sewage-smelling bacteria to grow. With regular cleaning and rubber wiping, your front loader can be rid of the nasty smell. With the added benefit of being more energy and water efficient. 

Is bleach recommended for cleaning my washing machine?

Bleach is excellent for getting rid of mold and sewage smelling bacteria, however it is not very efficient at breaking (or dissolving) hard residues that block pipes.  

Is bleach eco-friendly?

The short answer is no. Bleach is a powerful chemical that is highly efficient at killing bacteria. The problem is it also kills lots of other things when it ends up in our waterways. It is important to limit the use of bleach. Bleach is still an important household product for hygiene purposes, but should be treated as a last resort. 

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