How to Clean a Smelly Dryer

How to clean a smelly dryer

Does your dryer have a musty odor? Or even worse, does your dryer smell like something might have died in it? Luckily, these less than pleasant smells can be remedied (and prevented!) by following a handful of simple steps. 

Before we start cleaning your smelly dryer, it is a good idea to first identify the cause of the smell. 

What causes a dryer to smell bad?

Lint Buildup

Are you being diligent about cleaning your dryer lint trap? Over time, lint buildup limits air flow. That means moisture can collect in the lint trap and in some cases that moisture can turn into mold growth and unpleasant smells. 

Not only can this issue cause bad smells, it’s also going to render your dryer less effective. Even worse – lint buildup is also a serious fire hazard! So please make sure you take the extra step of emptying your dryer lint trap after every use.


Check the dryer vent cover on the exterior of your house. If it is damaged or propped open, pests can sometimes crawl in and create a nest in the hosing. If a pest gets in and happens to die in there, that will eventually cause some seriously bad smells. 

So if your dryer smells like something died… that might actually be the case. It is probably worth your while to hire a professional to clean your dryer vent. A professional cleaning will eliminate this type of bad smell.

Smelly Clothes

Make sure you’re washing your clothes properly before adding them to the dryer. Did your clothes sit in a wet washing machine overnight? Wash them again before drying (then clean your washing machine).

If you’re not washing stinky fabrics properly before tossing them into the dryer, the bad smells from your clothes will be amplified by the dryer heat. Use the appropriate amount of detergent (don’t overdo it!), avoid using fabric softener, and dry them promptly after washing.

How to Clean a Smelly Dryer

Now that you’ve identified the cause of your smelly dryer, it’s time to clean! Once you get into the routine of cleaning your dryer regularly, you won’t have to worry about bad smells developing ever again. 

Gather Your Supplies

  • Vacuum with a narrow hose attachment
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Bowl (for mixing cleaning solutions)
  • Cleaning cloths / towels

Step 1: Clean the dryer lint screen

Start by running your dryer lint screen under streaming water. If water pools on the surface of the screen, that’s a sign of product buildup (likely from fabric softener). This means air isn’t able to properly flow through the lint screen, which can become a major fire hazard! 

Wash with soap and water then rinse completely clean. Air dry completely before you place it back in your dryer.

Step 2: Clean the dryer lint trap

Use your vacuum cleaner and a narrow hose attachment to vacuum up any lint left behind in your dryer lint trap. You might have to use a cleaning brush or your fingers to loosen some of the lint before vacuuming it up.

Step 3: Mix your cleaning solution


If you’re dealing with mold, I recommend using a bleach mixture to clean. Mix 1 cup (or less) of chlorine bleach with 1 gal of water (per CDC guidelines). 


If you’re not dealing with mold, another simple cleaning solution can be created using distilled white vinegar. Mix 1 part distilled white vinegar with 1 part filtered water. 

Step 4: Wipe down the dryer basin

Regardless of the cleaning solution you choose, grab a cleaning cloth dipped into the cleaning solution and use it to wipe down the dryer basin. Repeat this step until your dryer is clean. 

You can also do the same for the exterior of your dryer, paying close attention to the buttons and controls.

Step 5: Let dry, then wipe clean with water

Let the cleaned surfaces dry completely, then grab a bowl of water and another cleaning cloth to wipe it all down once final time. You don’t want any bleach or vinegar residue left behind! 

Step 6: Dry your cleaning towels

After the dryer is completely clean and dry, you can toss your cleaning towels into the dryer and run a quick dry cycle for a final “steam” clean. 

NOTE: If you used your cleaning towels to wipe away mold, it is a good idea to first wash your cleaning towels before drying them! Do not put moldy towels into your dryer!

How to Prevent Bad Dryer Smells

Now that your dryer is clean and smelling fresh once again, here are some suggestions for how to prevent smells from building up again in the future:

  • Remove lint from your filter after every use
  • Hire a professional dryer vent cleaning service every 1-2 years
  • Stop using dryer sheets that leave a film on the dryer vent screen
  • Wipe down the dryer drum regularly
  • Never leave damp laundry sitting in your dryer

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