Contrary to what fabric softener commercials would have you believe, your freshly washed and dried laundry does not need to smell like a crisp Alpine breeze or a lavender field in Provence. But it shouldn’t come out of the dryer with a noticeably bad odor, either—and sometimes, the machine itself is to blame.
Before you can stop the stink from spreading to the rest of your wardrobe, you have to identify the source of the stench. Here are some of the most common causes of smelly dryers, and how to get rid of them.
Why does my dryer smell bad?
When clothes dryers emit foul odors, it could be a sign of a larger problem—or that you’ve simply fallen behind with maintaining the appliance. Here’s how to figure out what’s causing various bad smells, and what you can do to stop them:
The smell: Mildew
The problem: Laundry that smells musty right out of the dryer indicates that you’re probably dealing with some type of mold or mildew problem. Leaving wet laundry sitting in the dryer could be the culprit—or a full lint trap.
The solution: First, remove any lint, dust, and hair from the lint trap—first by hand (or using a cloth), and then with a vacuum attachment. If it still smells like mildew, remove the screen and wash it with warm water and mild detergent. If the odor still isn’t gone, spray the screen with a mixture of one-part water and one-part white vinegar, then rinse with warm water. Let it dry completely before putting the lint trap back in the dryer. While the screen is air drying, unplug the dryer, and use a vacuum attachment to remove as much lint as possible from the lint trap slot.
The mildew smell could also be coming from the drum the dryer. To clean it, first, unplug the dryer, then wipe it down using a lint-free microfiber cloth and the water/vinegar solution. Lastly, “rinse” it by wiping it again with a clean, damp cloth.
If none of that works, experts at Home-Tech, an emergency appliance repair service in Florida, recommend dampening a few clean towels with white vinegar, then running the dryer.
The smell: Something dead and rotting
The problem: According to Wayne Herr, the founder and owner of VentSmart Dryer Vent Cleaning, the culprit is probably lint that made it past the lint trap and into your dryer vent, where it gradually built up to the point of causing a blockage. Because of the obstruction, steam from the dryer turns back into water, and apparently the combination of heat, water, and lint can smell like a dead animal. Though rare, it is also possible for an animal to crawl into your dryer vent—or even make it into your actual dryer—and die.
The solution: Whether it’s a lint blockage or actual animal, you’ll need to clean your dryer vent to get rid of the smell. This previous Lifehacker post walks you through that process.
The smell: Burning rubber
The problem: The smell of burning rubber could be the result of putting items in the dryer, like some synthetic fabrics, that aren’t supposed to go in there—especially on higher heat settings. It could also be a wire short.
The solution: Follow the care instructions on your clothes and linens. If the smell isn’t there when you’re drying items that can tolerate the dryer, you’ve found your issue. Otherwise, it could be a wire short. In this case, carefully unplug the dryer, then inspect its power cord for any defects, like frayed or exposed wire. If you find any, you’ll need a new power cord, according to Home-Tech repair experts. Whether it’s the power cord or something else, the smell of burning rubber isn’t one to ignore, so at this point, you’ll have to decide whether it makes more sense to repair or replace your dryer.
The smell: Something on fire
The problem: If the odor is more of a general burning or fire smell, it could be anything from lint buildup, to a broken thermostat, drive belt, or motor.
The solution: Start with cleaning your dryer vent—especially if it has been a while since you last did it. If that doesn’t help, repair experts at Mr. Appliance recommend checking the dryer’s manual to find out where the thermostat is located, then unplugging the dryer, and removing the thermostat. Check the thermostat using an ohmmeter: If the reading anything other than zero, you’ll need a new thermostat.
If that’s not it, consult your manual to find out how to access the dryer housing, as well as whether the appliance uses a rubber drive belt to turn the drum. Make sure the belt is securely wrapped around the drum, and check for signs of damage or degradation. Remove the belt if it’s damaged, bring it to an appliance or hardware store to ensure you buy the right replacement belt, then install it.
A damaged motor will not only smell like something is burning, but it’ll also be quite noisy. If that’s the problem, you’ll have to decide whether to repair or replace your dryer.
The smell: Gas or kerosene
The problem: The smell of gas or kerosene coming from the dryer’s drum or laundry dried inside of it is typically a sign of a ventilation issue, or—if you open the door and smell gas early in the cycle—a failing igniter, according to an expert at Appliance Repair Specialists. If you smell gas or kerosene in the area around your dryer when it’s not running and the door isn’t open, there may be an issue with the gas valve, or a leak in the exhaust system.
The solution: Never ignore the smell of gas or kerosene anywhere in your home. Call a professional right away if you smell gas or kerosene when the dryer isn’t operating. If the odor is limited to when the dryer is running, start with the easiest fixes: Cleaning the lint trap, screen, and slot, then the dryer vent. If the smell persists, it’s time to bring in the appropriate professionals to identify and fix the problem.