Top Loading Washing Machine Smells Like Mildew? (here’s why & what to do)

If you own a top loading washing machine and it smells like mildew, it can permeate into every item that you wash. At the end of the cycle all of your laundry has that disgusting, damp, mildew smell.

But the problem isn’t isolated to your laundry and washing machine, over time the laundry room will also begin to get that musty smell too. That smell is always caused by something you’re not doing right, either using contaminated water, having insufficient ventilation, a build up of detergent residue, low water temperature, plumbing faults or insufficient maintenance of your appliance.

Any one or a combination of these issues could be the cause of that mildew smell in your washer. Keep reading to find out more as well as ways to solve this problem for good.

Why Does My Top Loader Washing Machine Smell Like Mildew?

There are several reasons why your lop loader might smell like mildew, which include;

Probable CauseSolution
Insufficient VentilationClean the washer after use and leave the lid open when you’re not using the machine
Detergent ResidueClean the washer to remove detergent residue and never use more detergent than is absolutely necessary
Insufficient Maintenance Of The WasherClean the washer properly after every use
Using Water From A Contaminated SupplyClean the washer and only ever use fresh water in future
Always Using A Low Water TemperatureSelect a high water temperature when fabrics allow, and run a hot service wash at least once a month
Clogged Drain HoseInspect and clean the drain hose 
Plumbing FaultsGet your pipework checked by a plumber

Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues;

Insufficient Ventilation

This is the most common reason why top loading washing machines smell mouldy or like mildew. If, after the wash cycle has finished and the laundry has been removed, you always close the lid on the washer, you prevent the circulation of fresh air.

The damp air that’s trapped inside your washer starts to smell and the mould and mildew spores that are ever present in our water supply begin to breed and multiply. This leaves your washer with that damp, musty smell every time you use it.

Mould and mildew along with many types of bacteria thrive in dark, damp conditions. Which makes a washing machine with the lid closed the perfect breeding ground for these smelly cultures to form.

To solve this you need to clean the washer properly using a commercial washing machine cleaner or natural ingredients like white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (see below).

Once the washer has been completely cleaned properly, it is important that you leave the lid open when it’s not in use to allow that damp air to dry out properly and prevent those mould and mildew spores from breeding.

Detergent Residue

powder detergent

If you fail to rinse away any detergent residue in your washer it will mix with any water left in the tub and create the perfect place for mould and mildew to settle and breed. This could be the reason why your top loader smells like mildew.

In the first place; You need to give your washer a good clean to ensure all traces of detergent and stagnant water have been removed.

Secondly; You need to prevent this from happening again and the best way to do that is to use less detergent and thoroughly rinsing the washer after every use.

It might also be a good idea to use a High Efficiency (HE) detergent from now on as HE detergents create less soap suds.

Insufficient Maintenance Of The Washer

Many of the problems that lead to a smelly washer are related to insufficient maintenance. Plus most of the solutions involve thoroughly cleaning your washer, so it might not come as any surprise when I tell you that regularly cleaning your washer is the best way to prevent it from smelling like mildew.

To solve this you need to clean your washer completely and after cleaning, leave the lid open to allow the washer to dry out and circulate fresh air. 

Using Water From A Contaminated Supply

If your washer has that musty, mildew smell it could be caused by using dirty water. This could be because you use well water or your home supply has been contaminated in some way.

Get your water supply checked out and then thoroughly clean your washer and only ever use water from a fresh supply in the future.

Always Using A Low Water Temperature

Unfortunately, we’re all being encouraged nowadays to use lower temperatures when doing the laundry. This may be better for the environment, but it’s not so good for your washing machine.

If you always wash on a cool wash, the bacteria and mould and mildew spores are left undisturbed and can grow at an incredibly fast rate. This will lead to your top loader smelling like mildew.

To solve this you will need to give your washer a thorough clean and then run a hot water wash at least once a month to remove bacteria and mould and mildew spores.

Clogged Drain Hose

washing machine drain hose

It is possible that a clogged drain hose could be the cause of that mildew smell coming from your top loader. If the washing water cannot drain away, it can flow back into the washer and produce that foul smell.

To solve this all you need to do is inspect the drain hose and if it is kinked or twisted, straighten it. Then remove any clogs using a plumber’s snake before cleaning the washer using a commercial washing machine cleaner or a natural alternative like white vinegar.

Plumbing Faults

This is rare, but if you’ve tried everything else in this article, all that’s left is a plumbing fault. If your home has a plumbing fault it could lead to stagnant water sitting in the drain pipe. That could be what’s responsible for that mouldy mildew smell.

If this is the cause of the problem, I recommend getting a plumber to investigate for you. He will have the right tools and know how to fix it for you.

How To Remove That Mildew Smell From A Top Loader Washing Machine

top loading washing machine agitator

Once you’ve discovered that foul musty, mildew smell in your top loader, you’re going to want to get rid of it and fast. There are a few ways you can achieve this which include;

Cleaning A Top Loader Using A Commercial Washing Machine Cleaner

There are a number of commercial washing machine cleaners available in the UK. Some of the more popular include;

All you need to do is follow the instructions on the packaging to remove all odours and odour causing germs, bacteria, mould and mildew spores from your washer leaving it clean and smelling fresh and mildew free.

Using A Natural Cleaning Solution

bicarbonate of soda

There are several natural products that you can use to clean your top loader and remove bacteria, germs and mould and mildew spores. These include;

You can use any one of these ingredients on its own or combined with one of the others. For example, pour 4 cups of white vinegar into a tub full of water (with no laundry) and run the washer on the longest, hottest cycle available on your washer.

Or use 4 cups of white vinegar and 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda into a tub full of water and run on the longest hottest wash cycle available on your washer.

Or pour 2 cups of lemon juice and 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda into a tub full of water and run on the longest hottest wash cycle available on your washer.

Give Your Washer A Deep Clean

But before you start the washer, add your preferred cleaning ingredient, allow it to mix in by agitating the water, then run the hot wash cycle and after it finishes, run a rinse cycle.

Remember to wash all around the lid, hinges, soap dispenser and other areas. If there are any stubborn stains or dried on detergent, or mould patches, these can be removed using an old toothbrush after allowing the vinegar/lemon juice mixture to soak into the area for around 30 minutes.

Using Other Household Cleaners


You can also use other substances to clean the washer and remove that mildew smell. For instance;

Using Hydrogen Peroxide To Clean Your Top Loader

Hydrogen peroxide will clean and disinfect your washer as it removes that bad mildew smell. All you need to do is prepare 5 cups of hydrogen peroxide and put one cup in a clean spray bottle and use it to spray the lid, and all of the crevices and hard to reach parts of the washer.

Wipe all of these areas using a sponge to remove any grime or mould patches. Fill your washer with hot water and pour the remaining peroxide solution in.

Allow it to soak for at least 60 minutes before running the longest, hottest cycle on your washer.

Using Bleach To Clean Your Top Loader

If you decide to use bleach to clean your washer, you should fill the washer with hot water and add 4 cups of bleach to the water. Agitate to ensure it mixes in well. Don’t forget to wear gloves and open a window to keep the room well ventilated.

Allow the mixture to sit for 1 hour, during this time scoop out some of the solution and pour it into the detergent dispenser to remove any mildew spores from this area as well. Wipe the lid down and don’t forget the hinges etc as well.

Then run the hottest, longest wash cycle and once it finishes, run a rinse cycle to remove all traces of bleach from the appliance.

Using The Auto-Wash Function On Your Top Loader

Many top loader (and front loader) washing machines have an auto-wash function which means all you need to do is select this function and add the cleaner of your choice. There’s no need to scrub or wash anything, unless the mildew smell doesn’t go away.

If your washer still smells like mildew after running an auto-wash cycle, you will need to use one of the methods mentioned above to deep clean your washer.

Don’t Forget To Clean The Filter

Whichever cleaning method you have chosen, it is important that you clean the filter on your top loader every time you clean the washer. The filter will either be inside the agitator or inside the top rim or along the drum of the washer.

Consult your user manual for the location of the filter on your top loader and instructions on how to remove it for cleaning.

If the centre agitator is removable, the filter could be located underneath. Remove the cover to reveal a lint trap which can then be cleaned.

You can run your finger around the top lip of the rim to feel for a round or rectangular screen. This screen can be removed to reveal any trapped lint.

SEE ALSO: Top Loading Vs Front Loading Washing Machine – which is better?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my washing machine always smell like mildew?

If your washing machine always smells like mildew it is almost certainly caused by a buildup of bacteria, mould, mildew or dried detergent (soap scum). A good way to prevent this is to run an empty hot service wash at least once a month to kill any germs, bacteria or mould and mildew spores. You should also leave the lid (or door) of your appliance open after use to allow air to circulate which helps the tub to dry out preventing mould and mildew spores from breeding.

How do I clean mould & mildew out of my top loading washing machine?

To clean mould & mildew out of the top loading washing machine, you should either use a commercial washing machine cleaner or a natural alternative like white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice or a combination of bicarb and either white vinegar or lemon juice. You could also use hydrogen peroxide or bleach to remove mould and mildew from a top loader. Whatever you use to clear the problem don’t forget to run a rinse cycle to ensure all of the cleaner has been removed before washing any clothes.

Why does my top loader washing machine smell bad even after cleaning?

If your top loader washing machine smells bad even after cleaning, it could be due to a clog in the drain hose or the home’s drain pipe. You should investigate both of these areas before contacting a plumber.

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