Tumble Dryer Smells? (how to keep it fresh)

When a dryer smells bad, it often points to issues like clogged vents or bacterial growth, resulting in burning smells or a damp, musty odour.

In this article we identify where those bad smells are coming from, what causes them and most importantly how to eliminate those bad smells for good.

Read on to learn practical tips and maintenance routines to keep your dryer smelling fresh, enhancing the longevity of your appliance and ensuring your clothes always come out smelling clean.

What Type Of Smell Is Coming From Your Dryer?

Tumble Dryer

The first thing you need to identify is exactly what that bad smell is. This will help us to locate the area that’s causing the bad smell which is the first step in eliminating it from your appliance.

To help you identify the type of smell, here’s a list of common tumble dryer smells;

Burning Smell

If there’s a burning smell coming from your dryer it could be a number of things but you should always turn the appliance off and disconnect the power supply at the first sign of burning.

If your dryer is brand new, a slight smell of burning is quite common and is usually the result of dust on some of the electrical components. This should soon dissipate and not come back.

If the burning smell remains for any length of time, it could be that the power cable is overheating. This is usually caused by a damaged or frayed power cable which will need to be replaced.

Damp, Mouldy, Mildewy Smell

If the tumble dryer smells damp, mouldy, mildewy or musty it is usually because there is mould or bacteria growth inside the drum. This can be caused by leaving damp items in the drum for long periods.

Other causes could be the vent hose and/or vent are clogged with lint that has started to breed mould and mildew, the condenser box is dirty and mouldy or the water reservoir has mould or bacterial growth.

Dusty Smell

If the dryer smells dusty, it is most likely because there is a buildup of dust on the heater element, motor or one of the other internal components. This should dissipate quite quickly and can be prevented by regularly cleaning the area around the dryer, the top and underneath the dryer to prevent dust from accumulating.

Sewage Smell

The tumble dryer producing a sewer-like smell suggests the laundry was not washed correctly before drying. In some cases, mineral deposits from hard water can be the cause.

To solve this, pour some distilled white vinegar onto a cloth or towel and run this through a drying cycle.

Now that you’ve identified the type of smell in your dryer, you’re one step closer to getting rid of it and preventing it from occurring again.

What Causes That Bad Smell?

These foul smells have all been caused by something, and now we have an idea of the type of smell we’re dealing with, we can identify the most likely cause.

Probable CauseSolution
Overloaded DrumNever Fill The Drum To More Than ¾ Full
Food Left In ClothingEnsure All Pockets Are Empty Before Washing & Drying Clothes
Hard WaterConsider Fitting A Water Softener To Your Home
Clogged Vent (Vented Dryers)Clean The Vent & Hose Regularly
Clogged Lint FilterClean & Regularly Maintain The Filter
Clothes Weren’t CleanEnsure Laundry Is Clean Before Drying
Area Below The Dryer Is Dirty & DustyClean The Area Below & Around The Dryer
Condenser Dirty (Condenser Dryers)Clean The Condenser
Water Reservoir DIrty & Full (Condenser & Heat Pump Dryers)Empty & Clean The Water Reservoir
Defective ThermostatReplace The Thermostat
Defective MotorReplace The Motor

Now we have some idea of what’s causing your dryer to smell, let’s take a closer look and find some solutions.

Overloaded Drum Making Dryer Smell

large load in drum illustration

In your user manual that came with your dryer, you will find the maximum load weight for the size of drum in your appliance. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to just keep cramming clothes into the drum.

We’ve all done it, thinking that it saves time and electricity. Sadly, the opposite is true. This is because overloading the drum can cause the dryer to stop mid-cycle because the moisture sensor detects that the items on the outside of the bundle are dry.

If you happen to leave the load in the dryer all day whilst you’re at work, the wet stuff in the middle of the bundle starts to breed mould and mildew. This then attaches itself to the drum of your dryer and then every load you dry can potentially come out smelling mouldy or damp.

You should never fill the drum of your tumble dryer (or washing machine) more than ¾ full. To resolve this, you’ll need to wash the laundry again on a warm (or as hot as the fabrics allow) wash and clean the dryer using white vinegar (see below).

SEE ALSO: How To Tell If Your Tumble Dryer Is Overloaded

Food Left In Clothing

Tumble dryers often dry clothes that have food stuck inside them.

You might question this, but you’d be surprised just how often this occurs. Especially in children’s clothes, they’re enjoying that piece of cake or whatever but lunch break is over and they have to get back to class.

So the food item gets stuffed in a pocket to be eaten later and is subsequently forgotten. You’d think the washing machine would deal with this but sometimes pieces of food survive the rigours of the washer and end up in the dryer.

Those pieces then get effectively cooked in the heat from the dryer. This eventually leads to a burnt food smell in the dryer and throughout your home.

Always check the pockets on clothes before washing and tumble drying, paying particular attention to children’s clothes.

Hard Water

Tumble dryers in the UK are significantly impacted by hard water, a serious problem affecting ⅔ of the population. Hard water is caused by mineral particles that are present in the water supply. Often lumped together under the umbrella term “limescale”, these minerals can include calcium and magnesium which are the most common. 

However, there can also be traces of other things like sulphur for example. The problem arises after the clothes have been washed and rinsed using hard water and then heated up in the dryer.

The heating up of some of these minerals can cause a foul smell and the only real way to solve this is to use a water softener or add soda crystals to each wash.

Clogged Vent

Vented tumble dryers rely on the vent hose and vent to eject all of the hot, moist air from the dryer and from your home. Over time, the vent hose and the vent get particles of lint building up. 

As this lint is damp, it becomes the perfect breeding ground for mould and mildew which leads to your dryer smelling mouldy and damp.

You need to regularly remove all of the lint from the vent and vent hose to prevent bad smells and also to prevent any chance of that lint catching fire.

Clogged Lint Filter

The Benefits Of Regular Tumble Dryer Lint Filter Maintenance

The tumble dryer’s lint filter captures all the lint, hair and fibres that come off your clothes when rubbing together in the drum. If this filter becomes clogged it can cause the appliance to smell.

This smell could be damp and musty or, in some cases, it could be a burning smell.

You need to make cleaning the lint filter on your dryer part of your drying routine. We recommend cleaning the lint filter before using the dryer as it will be cool enough to handle once the dryer has not been used for a short period.

SEE ALSO: How Often Do I Need To Clean My Tumble Dryer’s Lint Filter?

Dirty Clothes


The tumble dryer smelling due to dirty clothes might seem odd, but it does happen. After using the washing machine you assume that all of the laundry is clean.

However, you might have overloaded the washer’s drum, preventing some clothes from getting wet, much less washed. Alternatively, the detergent might have been low-quality or you didn’t use enough, or you might have chosen the wrong cycle for those items.

Either way, those unclean clothes have ended up in the dryer where the intense heat has increased those dirty, sweaty smells. The problem is that any clothes that actually managed to get clean during the overloaded wash cycle, now smell as bad.

Always make sure to never overload the drum on both the washer and the dryer. That way you can be sure that your laundry washes and dries properly and doesn’t come out smelling worse than it went in.

The General Area Around The Dryer Is Dirty

laundry room with pile of clothes

If the area around your dryer is dirty, it can cause bad smells to emanate from your dryer. The problem is the top and back of the dryer can accumulate dust and dirt which if left, will eventually find its way to the floor beneath the appliance.

Some of that dust will inevitably find its way inside the appliance and the heat from one of the internal components will cause it to burn and create a smell.

Sometimes, a spillage occurs near the dryer and although you’ve cleaned all visible signs of the accident, some might have seeped under the machine. Over time whatever was spilt will start to decay which can lead to bad smells which the heat from the drier accentuate.

Take extra care when using any liquids around your dryer and always keep the area clean and dust free.

Dirty Condenser

If you own a condenser dryer, you will be regularly emptying the water reservoir. But do you pay any attention to the condenser box? This should be removed from the dryer every couple of months and cleaned to remove any lint, dirt, mould, etc.

If the condenser box is dirty germs, bacteria, mould and mildew can and will breed, All of which can lead to foul smells coming from your dryer.

Dirty Water Reservoir

If you own a condenser or heat pump dryer, you need to empty the water reservoir regularly. We would recommend emptying the water tank after every use to prevent your drying cycles from being interrupted.

However, just emptying the water reservoir isn’t enough, it should be regularly cleaned as well. This is especially important if your condenser tumble dryer smells of burning, which could be a sign of accumulated lint or mould. Remove any visible dirt, lint or mould & mildew patches, and then wipe with a soft cloth dipped in white vinegar.

This cleaning should be done at least every month to ensure the water reservoir remains free from any bacteria or germs.

Defective Thermostat

The tumble dryer could have a defective thermostat if you notice a burning smell. If this is the case the temperature of your appliance is most likely getting too high which could cause a fire.

As soon as you smell burning coming from your appliance, switch it off and disconnect the power supply. Before removing all of the laundry to ensure the safety of your household.

The thermostat will almost certainly be the cause of your dryer overheating and will need to be replaced.

If you feel confident enough, you can replace the thermostat yourself, but as it involves dismantling the appliance, we recommend contacting a technician to do this task.

Defective Motor

If there is a burning smell coming from your dryer and it isn’t overheating, it’s likely that the motor is defective. This is more common on old dryers that are reaching the end of their life.

If you suspect the motor is at fault, we recommend switching the appliance off, removing the plug and the laundry and seeking professional help.

The technician will determine the cause of the fault and advise you on whether it’s worth repairing or replacing your dryer.

How To Clean Bad Smells Out Of A Tumble Dryer

Dryer Lint

After identifying the cause of the smelly issue and resolving them, your appliance may still smell bad. To clean the dryer and eliminate bad smells just do the following;

  1. Remove And Clean The Lint Filter
    Remove the lint filter and vacuum away lint and debris using a narrow hose attachment. Next, rinse the filter under a fast-flowing tap to clear any remaining lint. Make sure the filter is dry before reinserting it. 
  2. Remove And Clean The Water Reservoir (If Applicable)
    The water tank should be emptied before or after each use but it should also be cleaned to ensure there is no dirt, mould, mildew or bacteria left in the tank to breed and cause it to smell.
  3. Remove And Clean The Condenser Box (If Applicable)
    The condenser box can become a breeding ground for mould, mildew and bacteria. Clean it using white vinegar to remove any germs, bacteria or mould and mildew spores.
  4. Clean The Door, Drum & Door Seal
    Using a cloth dipped in white vinegar, wipe the drum and door of the dryer. Pay particular attention to the rubber seal around the door. Be sure to lift the seal and wipe underneath it as well.
  5. Clean The Vent & Vent Hose (If Applicable)
    If you own a vented dryer, be sure to remove the vent hose and remove any lint, dirt or dust that’s formed inside. Then ensure the vent isn’t blocked and remove any buildup using a vacuum cleaner with a narrow hose attachment.
  6. Remove Smells From The Drum
    Pour some distilled white vinegar onto a couple of towels and place them in the drum. Run a drying cycle to remove any bad smells. The vinegar will neutralise any bad smells.

Ways To Prevent Your Tumble Dryer From Smelling

Once you’ve solved the smelly issue with your dryer, it’s a good idea to implement preventative measures to stop this from happening again. The best way to achieve this is to keep the appliance regularly maintained.

That doesn’t mean becoming a tumble dryer engineer, all we’re talking about are a few basic things like;

  • Clean the lint filter before every use
  • Clean the interior & exterior of the dryer once a month
  • Clean all around the dryer regularly (and remove any spillages as they occur)
  • Clean the vent & vent hose (if applicable) weekly
  • Clean the condenser box (if applicable) every 2 months
  • Clean the water tank (if applicable) once a month
  • Never overload the drum (keep it between ½ to ¾ full)
  • Remove damp clothes in the drum quickly to prevent mildew growth
  • Always ensure the door is left open when not in use
  • Disconnect from the power supply when not in use

If you make all of the above points part of your regular routine, you should get years of trouble free usage from your tumble dryer.

What is a tumble dryer’s favourite chocolate?
Lindt 😂

SEE ALSO: Tumble Dryer Not Drying Properly? (here’s why & how to fix)

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get rid of the smell in my tumble dryer?

To remove any bad smells from your tumble dryer, clean the drum using a soft cloth dipped in white vinegar, then pour some white vinegar on a couple of cloths and run a drying cycle with the cloths in the dryer.

Why is my vented tumble dryer making my clothes smell damp?

The main reason why a vented tumble dryer makes clothes smell damp is because of lint trapped in the vent and vent hose. This lint becomes damp and allows mould & mildew to develop, which then spreads onto your clothes. Another cause could be you’re trying to dry too many clothes at once (overloading the drum).

How often do you need to clean the condenser on a tumble dryer?

You should clean the condenser box on a tumble dryer every month. If left unattended, it can develop a musty smell and cause the dryer to take longer to dry your laundry.

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