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Laundry Smells Like Vomit? Do This Next

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When you take your freshly-washed laundry out of the washer or dryer, you expect it to smell fresh and clean. You might feel confused or frustrated if your laundry smells like vomit after a washing or drying cycle. So, what causes laundry to smell like vomit? 

Laundry smells like vomit because your washer has a build-up of bacteria, mold, fabric softener, or laundry detergent. Other causes include leaving wet laundry in the washer for extended periods or too much lint in your dryer’s lint filter. Using too much or too little detergent can also cause this.

In this article, I’ll discuss why your laundry smells like vomit and what you can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again. By following the steps outlined, you’ll be able to get your laundry smelling fresh and clean again.

What Makes Laundry Smell Like Vomit?

Tor holding a pair of smelly jeans.

In the introduction, I mentioned why your laundry might smell like vomit. In the sections below, I’ll discuss these issues in greater detail: 

Your Washer Has a Bacteria or Mold Build-Up

Leave your washer open after use helps prevent bacteria build-up in your washer.

Washers are moist and dark places, which are the ideal conditions for bacteria and mold to accumulate. Leaving the washer door open after a wash cycle helps dry out the drum, but some sections may remain wet. 

As the bacteria or mold grows, it can emit a sour odor resembling vomit and settle on your laundry. 

There’s a Detergent or Fabric Softener Build-up in Your Washer

Over time, residual laundry detergent and fabric softener can build up in your washer, clogging the detergent drawer, drum, and other washer components. This can prevent detergent from reaching the drum during a wash cycle, causing it to be washed ineffectively and to smell bad. 

When pulling out the tray on my front loading washer, I found a bunch of detergent buildup inside both the tray and the slot where it sits.

The detergent and fabric softener build-up can also attract bacteria and mold, which can smell sour and like vomit. 

You’ve Left Wet Laundry in the Washer for an Extended Period

If you often start a laundry load by switching on the washer and then forgetting about it, your laundry may sit in the drum for several hours before being removed for drying. The dark and wet conditions in the drum can cause bacteria and mold to build up, making your laundry smell foul. 

Your Dryer’s Lint Filter Is Clogged

Dryer manufacturers recommend clearing out the lint filter after each drying cycle, but many people forget to do this. Not only is a clogged lint filter a fire hazard, but the smelly lint can make the laundry inside the drum take on a foul or vomit-like smell. 

You’re Using Too Much or Too Little Detergent

Using too much detergent may sound like a good idea if your clothes are dirty and smelly. However, this can have the opposite effect. If there’s too much detergent in the laundry load, the washer might not be able to rinse the excess, and the residual detergent will remain in the clothes and cause them to dry more slowly, resulting in bacterial growth. 

If you use too little detergent, your washer won’t be able to clean the laundry effectively, and the bacteria already present on it will remain and cause it to smell. 

How To Get Rid of The Vomit Smell on Laundry

If your laundry smells like vomit, there’s, thankfully, a lot you can do about it: 

1. Clean Your Washer Thoroughly

How to Clean a Front Loading Washer (Step-by-step guide)
Here is a video I made on how to clean a front loader step-by-step.

If you suspect that your laundry smells like vomit because your washer is dirty or has a bacterial build-up, you should clean it thoroughly before doing another load of laundry. Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Run an empty cycle on hot with some laundry detergent to remove any dirt or debris from the drum. 
  2. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the door seal around the machine’s edges. 
  3. Mix one cup of white vinegar with two cups of hot water and pour it into the detergent compartment. 
  4. Run another hot cycle to rinse out any dirt and grime. 
  5. Use a disinfecting cleaning spray to clean the outside of the washing machine and around the lid. 

You can also buy a commercial washer cleaner and run an empty cycle (Amazon paid link.)

More on cleaning your front loader here.

2. Avoid Leaving Laundry in the Drum After a Cycle

Do you often forget you have wet laundry in your washer? If so, you can avoid doing this in the future by setting a reminder for yourself on your phone to remove the laundry. Alternatively, consider investing in a washer that plays a tune or beeps loudly when the washing cycle is complete. 

3. Clear Out Your Dryer’s Lint Filter

Make sure you give the bottom of the slot where the filter sits a good cleaning once in a while too, as there can be a lot of build-up here as well.

You should clear the lint filter after each cycle. Luckily, this is a quick and easy process and involves removing the lint trap and removing the lint. 

To give your dryer a more thorough clean, below is a useful guide:  

  1. Remove the lint filter and empty it into the garbage.
  2. Use a vacuum cleaner or lint roller to clean out the lint trap area and remove any fine particles of lint.
  3. Use a damp cloth and a few drops of dish soap to clean the drum. 
  4. Use a brush to remove any stubborn stains or residue. 
  5. Check the dryer vent and exhaust hose for any blockages. If there are any, use a vacuum or a brush to clear them.

4. Use the Correct Amount of Detergent

Tor measuring up liquid detergent.

While it can be tempting to use more detergent for particularly dirty laundry, avoid doing this, and stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If your laundry is very dirty, consider adding a cup of baking soda or white vinegar to enhance the detergent’s action.  

How To Prevent Laundry from Smelling Like Vomit

Clothes Smelling Sour? Here's how to fix them
Here’s a video I made on how to prevent clothes from smelling sour, the same principles apply here as well.

With the right preventative measures and cleaning solutions, you can keep your laundry smelling fresh and clean. Below are steps to prevent your laundry from smelling like vomit in the future: 

  • Run a monthly empty washing cycle. Use white vinegar, baking soda or a commercial washer cleaner on an empty hot cycle. This will eliminate any bacterial or mold accumulation and help your laundry to smell better.
  • Clean the washer’s gasket and detergent drawer monthly. The gasket (the rubber seal around the door) experiences a lot of moisture and can quickly become dirty and smelly. The detergent drawer can also become clogged, preventing detergent from reaching the drum. Cleaning these parts regularly can help prevent smelly laundry.
  • Keep the drum door open for a few hours after a laundry load. Your washer’s drum will be damp after a laundry load, and keeping the door open will help it dry faster, and prevent bacteria or mold from developing. 
  • Use a water softener if you live in a hard water area. Hard water can cause minerals to accumulate and form limescale in your washer’s internal parts, emitting a foul odor. However, using water softener tablets or liquid can prevent this.


Ever gone to grab freshly washed laundry and smelled vomit? It’s an unpleasant surprise, likely one that you’ve experienced at least once. But what causes this smell? 

It could be the result of various factors, including the detergent you are using, the age of the laundry, and even the amount of time it has been sitting in the washer. 

Understanding the cause of the smell is necessary so you can take steps to get the vomit smell out of your laundry and make it smell fresh and clean again.

I wrote a guide on what to do if your laundry smells like bleach as well that may interest you to read next.


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