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My Dryer Smells: How To Eliminate Bad Odors

My dryer smells

If you’ve ever been hit with a whiff of something nasty while doing laundry and thought “Wow, my dryer smells!”, you’re not alone. Having a dryer that smells musty, sour, mildewy or worse is certainly unfortunate, but it’s not uncommon. Still, opening your dryer after doing a load of clean laundry and finding that it stinks can be a shocking experience. What could have caused the smell? Are your clothes ruined—or your dryer? Is there anything you can do to get rid of that unpleasant smell?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to eliminate bad odors from your dryer. The very first step is to figure out what’s causing the stench. These are the likely culprits:

  • Something stinky was in your clothes in the washer and transferred with them to the dryer.
  • Something in the dryer or exhaust vent shouldn’t be there, such as a rat, squirrel or another wild animal that crawled into your dryer’s ductwork and died.
  • Years’ worth of lint buildup in the venting ducts is preventing air to circulate properly during the drying process. This creates the perfect conditions for mildew to grow.

dryer smells like sweat

What To Do If Your Dryer Smells Like Sweat

It’s definitely unpleasant when you run a load of laundry only to discover that your dryer smells like sweat. This is actually a relatively common dryer complaint, and it can be simple to remedy. The two most likely causes of a dryer that smells like sweat are placing already mildewed clothes in the dryer and long-term lint buildup.

If you’re leaving wet clothes in the washer for too long, mildew will start to grow. The resulting dank scent will transfer to the dryer when you dry your clothes. In the dead of summer, even a few hours can be too long to leave wet clothes in the washing machine before transferring to the dryer. This is especially true if you have a lot of clothes made of polyester or other synthetic fibers. These fabrics can retain odor from bacteria, and any fabric will stink when mildew starts to develop. Be sure to transfer wet laundry to the dryer as soon as possible.

Check Your Dryer

Another likely culprit of a dryer that smells like sweat is lint buildup in the dryer or exhaust vent hose. Lint buildup isn’t just inconvenient due to reduced dryer performance and the potential for unpleasant odors. It’s also a fire hazard. Dryers turn wet clothes into dry ones by forcing heated air through the dryer. It circulates through the wet clothes, and then out through the exhaust vent. When there is excess lint in the dryer or its ductwork, it raises the potential for a fire because of two factors. One, the lint buildup can cause the dryer’s heating element to overheat and, two, lint itself is combustible.

This is why it’s so important to clean your dryer’s fine-mesh lint screen after every single use. Even if you do this every time, however, and regularly vacuum the area the screen fits into, lint can still build up over time. Lint can build up within the dryer. It can also build up in the flexible silver vent hose that leads into the wall and then out to the vent located on the exterior wall of your home. The more lint that builds up in the system, the less air is able to flow unrestricted from the dryer to the outdoors. This makes your dryer work harder and harder as it dries more and more inefficiently over time.

Check Your Dryer’s Vent Hose

Another element to check on a dryer that smells like sweat is to ensure the vent hose running from the back of the dryer into the wall isn’t kinked or overly bent. This can happen when the dryer is pushed too close to the wall, compressing the vent hose. When the hose is compressed, lint buildup happens faster, since the airflow is constricted. Mildew can also develop in the dryer or ductwork as a result of a kinked vent hose.

The good news is that your dryer’s vent hose is relatively simple to detach and clean out yourself. At least, the portion of it that runs between your dryer and the wall. Most dryers have hoses that are clamped and taped off at each end. Removing the hose is a simple matter of removing any tape with a utility knife. Take precaution not to damage the dryer flange that the hose connects to and unscrewing the clamps.

Once you’ve removed the vent hose, you can vacuum it out or replace it with a new one purchased at your local hardware or home improvement store. If you choose to take on this do-it-yourself project, make sure to turn off the power to the dryer at the breaker box before you begin to protect yourself against injury. Also, when reconnecting the hose to the dryer and the wall, make sure you don’t insert screws into the hose or the dryer flange. These can catch lint and create a fire hazard. If you’re feeling any hesitation about doing this yourself, your best option is probably to contact an appliance repair specialist who can handle the complexities of your dryer’s vent systems.

Unfortunately, a dryer that smells like sweat isn’t the only bad scent homeowners complain about.

Deodorize dryer

Dryer Smells Bad When Running

A bad smell you detect in the middle of a drying cycle could be caused by a variety of issues. If the dryer is new, it might emit an oily, burning smell the first few times you run it. This is considered normal, but be sure to contact an appliance repair specialist if the odor persists. You can try to eliminate these new-dryer smells by running your unit for 20 minutes without any clothes inside to “burn off” the oils or dust particles that are causing the smell.

If the dryer is not new, the bad smell when it runs is likely caused by something else. Occasionally, an animal might either crawl into the dryer exhaust vent and die, or might build a nest somewhere in the wall along the line of the exhaust vent. When you run the dryer, the heat from the exhaust vent can cause bad odors from the animal or its nest to permeate your dryer, laundry room or home. Rather than resorting to a host of largely ineffective home remedies to address the problem, schedule an appointment with a pest control professional. They will know exactly how to locate and remove your wildlife problem.

If your dryer smells like it’s burning when it’s on, the first thing you should do is stop your dryer.

My dryer smells like burning

My Dryer Smells Like Burning: What To Do

While any dryer smell is annoying, if your dryer smells like burning, that could be an indication of a problem that needs to be addressed right away. Stop using the dryer until you can determine the source of the issue.

It’s possible that the cause of the burning smell, and the fix for it, are relatively simple. If you have recently used a spray cleaner to clean out the inside of the dryer drum, that can cause a burning smell the next time you run the dryer, or even the next several times. Spray cleaners should never be used inside a dryer. They leave a chemical residue that reacts with the dryer’s high temperatures and produces a burning smell that can leave clothes smelling bad. If you need to clean out the inside of your dryer, it’s best to wipe the surfaces down with a mixture of bleach and cold water. Make sure to wear gloves when working with bleach, and prop the dryer door open afterward to let it air dry.

If the burning smell is due to something else, it could be a serious problem. In many cases, dryers that smell like burning indicate that the heating element is reaching too high a temperature. This could be either due to lint buildup somewhere in the system, a kinked vent hose causing improper airflow or a malfunctioning internal part that needs to be repaired or replaced. Electrical shorts can also cause a burning smell when you run the dryer.

Contact a Professional

Since thousands of house fires yearly originate with the dryer, it is very important to treat a burning smell as a serious issue and contact an appliance specialist. If your dryer smells like burning, you can conduct an initial inspection on your own. However. it’s best to follow up with a professional to ensure your dryer is safe to use.

If your problem is not a burning smell but another odor, there are a few steps you can take to make your dryer smell fresh again—and keep it that way.

Dryer smells bad when running

How To Deodorize A Dryer To Eliminate Smells

Want tips on how to deodorize your dryer? It’s relatively easy to keep your dryer fresh, as long as you stay on top of regular care and maintenance and treat problems as they develop. Here are some simple steps every homeowner can follow to eliminate smells and keep their dryers in good working condition:

  • Always clean the lint screen with every use of the dryer.
  • Never leave wet laundry sitting in the washer or dryer, since this can lead to the growth of mildew. Drying mildewed clothes can transfer the musty smell to the dryer.
  • Make sure to run only small or medium-sized loads of laundry whenever possible. Loads that are too large take too long to dry and produce more lint. This causes more dampness and lint buildup within your dryer system.
  • Regularly use your vacuum wand to clean out as much lint as possible from the cavity that holds the lint screen.
  • If your dryer smells musty, mix a cup of bleach with a gallon of cool water. Then use a soft cleaning cloth, such as a microfiber cloth, to wipe out the dryer drum with the bleach solution.
  • If the unpleasant dryer smell is coming from an issue with your washer, try washing your clothes with a cup of vinegar or a half-cup of baking soda. This can freshen the clothes and remove any buildup from fabric softener or other products.

Other Maintenance Tips

Properly maintaining your dryer is something that needs to be done regularly. Here are some other dryer maintenance tasks to remember:

  • At least once a year, visually inspect the dryer exhaust vent that is located on the exterior wall of your home. This may be located high above head-level or lower down, around knee level. You might need a ladder to access it.
  • If there is anything obviously blocking the vent, try to remove the obstruction. This could mean wildlife.
  • Using a flashlight, look inside the duct to see if there is lint buildup that can be removed with a duct cleaning brush.
  • If yours is the type of vent that is covered by flaps, make sure they aren’t stuck in place. Flaps should be able to move freely.
  • If you find a major buildup or blockage, contact a professional to service your dryer and exhaust vent.

Proper dryer maintenance includes a professional inspection and cleaning of your dryer’s entire exhaust vent hose and exterior vent at least once every two years. This will ensure that long-term lint buildup doesn’t cause bad smells, overheating or other dryer problems.

ABC Can Resolve Your Appliance Problems

If your dryer smells, trust the appliance repair specialists at ABC Home & Commercial Services to get to the bottom of it. Whether the unpleasant odor is due to lint buildup, a kinked vent hose, an animal in the vent or another problem, our team can properly diagnose any dryer or washer problem and fix it. They can also help with other issues, like if your dryer won’t start.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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