My washing machine and clothes smell sour - What do I do?

Posted by Rikke Macijowski Nielsen on

A washing machine and clean clothes that smell sour are not exactly what you want when you've finally got through the pile of laundry. Here we explain why a washing machine smells sour and share our best (and easy) tips for cleaning smelling washing machines.  

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Why does my washing machine smell?

We regularly hold small quizzes on our social media, where we share our tips for natural, allergy-friendly and sustainable laundry with soap berries .

And some of the questions that occasionally come up are about washing machines that smell sour, or do soap berries make clothes smell sour?  

Soap berries are neutral in smell, so if you experience a decidedly sour smell in your laundry, it is most likely coming from the washing machine, which needs a loving hand. However, it is not a good idea to leave a wet wash with soap berries in the washing machine for a long time, because then there is a likelihood of an earthy and sour smell from old damp clothes, as is also the case with other detergents.

On the other hand, a washing machine that smells sour or leaves soap residue is a sign that limescale, old soap, as well as dirt and grime have accumulated in the machine, which therefore becomes a breeding ground for smelly bacteria.  

Fortunately, the solution to the problem is simple: it is to clean the washing machine. 

Washing machines must be cleaned regularly, regardless of which detergent you use to wash with. Here we share our easy tips for cleaning washing machines that smell sour.

Our best tips for washing machines that smell sour

1. Clean the inside of the washing machine

The washing machine is your best friend when it comes to washing your clothes clean - the only thing it asks of you is that you also make sure to keep it clean every now and then.

Add 1/2 dl. Of our sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in your detergent drawer and 1 dl. Of our household vinegar (10%) in the fabric softener drawer. Wash an empty machine at 90+ degrees or a machine clean program.

Repeat 2-3 times a year - then you will also avoid white stains from limescale and old soap on your dark clothes. Baking soda and vinegar dissolve dirt and grime through the pipes.  

2. Clean the soap drawer 

Take out the soap drawer and wash it thoroughly with soap in the sink. Make sure to get into all the cracks - possibly use an old toothbrush for the purpose. If you have a dishwasher, you can also put the soap drawer in there.

3. Run a kitchen sink 

Odors in washing machines are often due to washing being so cold in the machine (20-40 degrees) that bacteria are not killed. Therefore, remember to run a hot wash from time to time - it can be conveniently combined with washing towels or bed linen, which can withstand the higher temperatures. If the washing machine smells particularly bad, it can be advantageous to run an empty kitchen sink.

4. Cleaning the fiber screen and filter 

Bacteria and waste water can also hide in the fiber screen and filter in the machine. Remember to clean it regularly so it doesn't build up. Read the user manual of your machine to find out where the filter is located.

Typically, it is a small door that opens at the bottom of the machine. When you open the door, you typically find a filter that needs to be unscrewed and cleaned thoroughly, as well as a hose with a plug. Be careful when you unscrew the filter and pull out the plug! There is dirty sewage in there, so put a tub in front and drain the water into the bucket.

Remember to also wipe the inside of the door - remember especially the rubber ring around the opening - there can be old soap residue, fluff and hair, which is also a breeding ground for bacteria.  

5. Clean the washing drum with dish soap

Okay... This is a bit of a life hack. You can take a dishwashing detergent and put it directly in the washing drum, close the door and run an empty kitchen sink to clean the inside of the washing machine super well.

So if you have washing-up waste lying around, you should try this easy tip - And try to keep an eye on the color of the water in the machine, which will probably look a little suspicious. But at the same time, it's super satisfying to see it work.

You can also easily use sodium bicarbonate to clean the drum if you prefer.

6. Clean under the rubber strip

The rubber strip that sits at the opening to the washing drum is often fertile ground for a little of everything. Hair, scumbags, grease and dirt typically get stuck in lumps that can smell really, really bad - and a sock or two can also easily slip under there and lie and marinate...

Therefore, we recommend lifting up the rubber ring around the opening of the machine every now and then and looking. Remove any hair and dirt from there and clean the list with regular dish soap and a wet cloth.

If your rubber strip is very dirty, you can sprinkle baking soda under it and let it sit for half an hour, after which you pour household vinegar , let it soak for 5 min., scrub the strip with a dish sponge and then rinse with water and a clean cloth .

Remember to wear gloves when using vinegar.

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How to prevent a washing machine that smells 

1. Air circulation 

Always remember to leave the soap drawer and the hatch closed when the machine is not in use. In this way, the air can circulate, so that a moist bacteria paradise does not arise inside the machine, which creates a bad smell in the washing machine. 

2. Remove the clothes immediately

Regardless of which detergent you use, it is not a good idea to leave a wet wash in the washing machine for a long time, because then there is a likelihood of an earthy and sour smell from old damp clothes. So try to make it a habit to put the washing up when you know you are home and have time to take it out shortly after the washing is done.  

3. Avoid fabric softener 

Fabric softener is actually not only bad for your skin and the environment , it is also really bad for your washing machine. It settles like a sticky membrane inside the pipes and in the washing machine - and it is a bit of a magnet for dirt and grime, which is a breeding ground for bacteria and thus a sour smell in the washing machine. In the worst case, fabric softener can actually clog the pipes in the machine so that it does not work optimally.  

If you have used fabric softener that has accumulated, we recommend running one machine clean from the first tip here. After this, we recommend getting rid of regular fabric softener completely.

If you live in an area with hard water, you can make your own natural fabric softener from 1/3 household vinegar and 2/3 plain water if you want nice soft clothes. If you want a little extra good fragrance for your fabric softener, we recommend using our laundry fragrances , which are based on pure essential oils. It makes the clothes smell heavenly.

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As you can see, it doesn't take much to make sure your machine is in tip-top condition and won't smell. It is well spent for laundry that smells clean and fresh.  

What are your experiences with an acidic washing machine - do you have any more brilliant tips to avoid bad smells? So please share them with us here in the comments or reach out on our social media with your tips.  

Good desire to work with the cleaning 😊  

// With love, the Care by Nature team  

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