Why Does My Front Load Washer Smell Bad?

person cleaning a front-load washer

The Spruce / Olivia Inman

Front load washers account for about 24 million of the 98 million washing machines in use across United States. Unfortunately, problems with odors still persist for some front load washer users.

Why Does My Front Load Washer Smell Bad?

After nearly six decades of being taught how to use a standard top-load washer, Americans had to learn a new way to wash clothes when front load washers appeared in stores. We want to use lots of detergent. We want to see lots of suds. We want to add lots of fabric care products like scent enhancers and fabric softeners to our laundry.

When products are used too liberally in a high-efficiency washer like a front-loader—which uses less water—a large portion of the products do not get rinsed away completely. This sludge-like coating of detergent and fabric softener also contains body soil and fibers from clothing. The sludge becomes trapped in a warm, moist machine or drainage pipe, just waiting for a mold or mildew spore and bacterium that are in the air to find a home, grow, and begin to smell.

Not only does your washer provide a convenient little incubator for these odors, but your laundry room may as well. Is your washer and laundry room well ventilated? Is your laundry area air-conditioned? If not, more moisture and more heat equal more odor.

When companies build a front-load washer, they put it through hundreds of tests. But they conduct these tests day-in-and-day-out for weeks in temperature-controlled, conditioned workspaces. In that clean, air-conditioned laboratory, they don't let things sit around to grow.

While it may seem that you do laundry day-in-and-day-out, many times several days lapse between loads giving the odors time to blossom. That's why your washer smells less than fresh.

9 Tips to Improve Front Load Washer Odor Problems

  1. Forget everything you know about using laundry detergent. More is not better.
  2. ALWAYS use a HE-approved laundry detergent. Use only 2 teaspoons or less per load of laundry. Take the time to measure how much you're adding to the dispenser.
  3. Use only one laundry detergent pod per average-sized load of laundry. You can use two pods for exceptionally large and heavily soiled loads.
  4. Use less, or skip, liquid fabric softeners altogether. Opt for distilled white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser to help remove detergent residue and soften clothes.
  5. Add a fan to your laundry room to improve air circulation; air-condition the space; bring in a dehumidifier; check your dryer vent to make sure it is tight and not leaking moist air into the laundry room.
  6. Clean the washer's lint trap often. Wet lint is smelly lint.
  7. Leave the washer door ajar after every load to allow more air circulation
  8. Schedule laundry sessions more frequently.
  9. Run a cleaning cycle at least monthly.

There are thousands of people who never have an issue with front-loader odor. These people have found the perfect routine and formula for front load washing. They follow every direction about product use; they have great ventilation, temperature, and humidity in their laundry room, and wash clothes or clean their washing machines frequently to keep flushing away the problems.

The History of Front Load Washers

Front-load washers have been around for many, many years. The front-loader as we know it today was introduced by the Bendix Corporation in 1937 at the Louisiana State Fair. This machine was fully automated and would wash, spin, and drain with no help from the homemaker. The rubber gasket door-sealing technology made all this possible. These first front-load machines were big, used plenty of water, and rocked and rolled so much they had to be bolted to the floor.

Then came World War II, and the manufacture of home appliances was put on the back burner as all hands worked on war supplies. After the war in the 1950s, Whirlpool and General Electric developed the twin-tub system of top-loaders, with one tub holding an agitator for the cleaning and rinsing operations, and another tub for the spin-dry process. This design reduced the costs of automatic washing machines and made them more accessible to the public, and top-load washers become the norm in the United States.

As Europeans recovered from the war, they turned to smaller front-load machines that allowed the user to wash and dry in the same machine. Front-load washers are still the most popular design in Europe.

Americans continued using the top-load design until the early 2000s, when energy conservation concerns—especially water shortages—brought back the front-load washer to U.S. markets. The washers are much more expensive than top loading modes but do offer superb water and energy efficiency, are gentler on clothes than other types of washers, and shorten drying times.

Fun Fact

Washing clothes in cold water can help to save energy and prevent carbon pollution. That's because it takes about 90 percent of your machine's energy just to heat water—only 10 percent goes to electricity to power the washer motor.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Clothes Washers. Energy Star

  2. 1937. Bendix Home Laundry. [Print ad] Google Books.

  3. https://www.thespruce.com/top-load-washer-vs-front-load-2145868

  4. Laundry Best Practices. Energy Star