Washing machine produces pale streaks on laundry or emits a sour smell

Last updated 20/03/2023 07:30


  • pale streaks on laundry
  • washing machine emits a sour smell

Applies to

  • washing machines


If the washing machine produces pale streaks on laundry or emits a sour smell, refer to the suggestions below for step-by-step instructions.

Streaks and sour smell:

Streaks on garments and a sour smell coming from the washing machine are unfortunately well-known phenomena when you use a new washing machine.

The problem is usually caused by a combination of four factors: 

  1. A water-saving washing machine 
  2. Adding too much washing powder 
  3. Washing at too low a temperature 
  4. Using detergent which contains zeolite

A new washing machine uses considerably less water than a ten-year-old model.

  • The dosing instructions on detergent packs do not take into account the fact that new washing machines are much more efficient in using water than previous models.
  • If you add precisely the right amount of detergent according to the instructions on the packet, you will always add too much detergent if your washing machine is new. 

Many detergents contain the substance zeolite. (Zeolite is used as a substitute for the environmentally harmful substance phosphate.)

  • Zeolite softens water during a wash cycle. Unfortunately, zeolite does not dissolve as readily as phosphate. 
  • When you use a detergent which contains zeolite and add too much washing powder at low temperatures in a washing machine with low water consumption, you will initially see soap residues on your garments. 
  • If you continue using the detergent, you will notice a sour smell coming from the washing machine after a while. This is caused by a mixture of lime and undissolved zeolite, which adheres to the back of the drum. Some of this coating on the drum can be released during washing and cause pale streaks on the garments. This applies even if you do not add too much detergent or use liquid detergent for the wash. 

It is important to ensure that your washing machine is ventilated.

  • Poor ventilation will result in a wetter “environment” in the washing machine, as well as a sourer smell.
  • In a new washing machine, it is not sufficient to leave the door open after a wash cycle.
  • You must do three things: wipe the rubber seal dry, leave the detergent dispenser drawer and the door open. 

To eliminate the problem of sour smells, you must remove the coating on the back of the drum. The Danish consumer organization "Forbrugerinformationen" investigated the phenomenon over a long period of time and published guidance on how to remove the coating on the drum.

  • Once the coating has been removed, it is important to add the correct amount of detergent in future. 
  • Adding the correct amount of detergent to a new water-saving washing machine: 
  • Read the instructions on the detergent packet, use the recommended quantity and measure out the detergent precisely. 

If you still get pale streaks on your laundry, you could try adding even less detergent, try a different detergent which does not contain zeolite or use liquid detergent.

  • When you use liquid detergent, you should also add the recommended amount in accordance with the instructions on the bottle.
  • Liquid detergent can be added to a dispenser ball, which is placed on top of the clothing inside the drum. 

Six things you should always remember with a new washing machine:

  1. Use the recommended amount of detergent in accordance with the instructions on the packet. 
  2. Measure out the detergent in a measuring cup.
  3. Wipe down the rubber seal after washing 
  4. Leave the detergent dispenser drawer open after washing 
  5. Leave the door open after washing 
  6. Hot-wash (minimum 60 degrees Celsius) at regular intervals

How to save your sour-smelling washing machine:

If ordinary detergents for washing machines do not solve the problem, it may be necessary to follow the cleaning instructions below.

  • The washing machine has a sour smell and you are cross. Regardless of how much you descale and use hot wash cycles, the rotten smell just keeps coming and your laundry smells. The smell comes from a foul coating on the back of the drum, and you will need a scraper to remove it. 
  • The Danish consumer organization "Forbrugerinformationen" has received hundreds of complaints from people who are suffering from sour-smelling washing machines. Forbrugerinformationen’s laboratory, therefore, investigated what causes the sour smells and how they can be removed. 
  • The problem is a recent one. If you have a sour-smelling washing machine, it is probably caused by adding too much detergent, a water-saving washing machine and washing at low temperatures. The sour-smelling coating is apparently a mixture of zeolite and lime. The zeolite comes from numerous washing powders. 

Removing the sour smell

  • Wash the machine three times, with 50 ml of dishwasher detergent and a tablespoon of chlorinated agents, such as chlorine each time. Use a 60-degree cycle.
  • Wash the machine through once, at 60 degrees without any detergent. 
  • Wash the machine three times, at 60 degrees with 30 grams of citric acid powder. 
  • Wash the machine through once, at 60 degrees without any detergent. 
  • Most of the sour-smelling coating will now be removed, but it may be a long time before the smell finally disappears.

How to avoid the sourness:

  1. Find out how hard your water is, and add the right amount of detergent. Ask your water supply company about water hardness. 
  2. Occasionally wash at a high temperature to prevent bacterial coatings from developing. 
  3. Consider the detergent you are using. Some products use zeolite, while others use phosphate. Zeolite is less harmful to the environment than phosphate, but zeolite can apparently cause washing machines to become sour if too much detergent is added. If you live in a place without a water treatment works, using zeolite is recommended. This is because phosphates are a major environmental problem in these areas. If you live somewhere which does have a water treatment works, you can choose freely between the two types of detergent. Your water treatment works will normally be able to deal with phosphates. You can buy eco-labelled detergents either with or without phosphate. 
  4. Leave the soap dispenser drawer and the door open when you are not using the machine, and clean the soap dispenser drawer regularly. 
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