GLENDALE, Ariz. — Laundromats are for cleaning laundry, therefore a mat must be clean, in and of itself.

You want to wow a customer when they walk in, not just visually with a clean, beautiful, well-laid-out store, but with what they can smell as well.

Some mats smell terrible. The smell of rotting, wet lint and debris creating sewer gas in the drain lines is usually the primary cause. Basically, there is a linear “compost pile” that is lining the bottoms of the drain lines.

It’s all about routine maintenance. To correct this, you must make sure your drain lines are snaked periodically with a “blade” on the snake head, to scrape up decaying matter sticking to your drain lines, and wash it away. Obviously, snaking your lines on a schedule also greatly lowers the chances of a backup.

You may also have wet, rotting lint behind your bulkheads, underneath washers that have leaks, and in any drain line collection tanks.

In short, do not allow wet lint to accumulate in your mat! Dry lint doesn’t smell.

Therefore, not only should you remove as much wet lint as possible, you should fix any leaks inside, under, and behind your washers.

You don’t really want any leaks anyhow. A leak inside your washer will accelerate rust on any ferrous metal in the machine such as screws, steel panels, washer frames, clamps, mounting bolts, steel bases, etc.

Note that your plumbing should have traps and vents exiting out to the roof installed according to code. Nearly all codes require this, so most likely you are OK there.

Ridding your mat of wet lint should greatly reduce your negative smells.

If you still have trouble with smells you can’t seem to control, you could buy a commercial ozone generator online for a couple hundred bucks and run it every night. Your mat will smell fresh in the morning. These generators have timers on them to allow you to customize them to your needs. Just make sure the one you buy can handle your specific cubic footage. I consider this a last resort, though, since you are not really fixing the cause of the odor.


Some mats have problems with negative odors coming from neighboring businesses. If you are located in a building that contains foul-smelling stores such as fish stores, certain types of food stores, certain restaurants, gas stations, car repair shops, etc., you need to address this.

The nature of Laundromat dryers is to draw a great deal of makeup air into the equipment from outside your mat. The negative air pressure created by your dryers can even draw air in through openings in building walls and can be a problem if your mat is in the same building with a foul-smelling neighboring business.

Unfortunately, these smells are drawn right into the dryer, causing a customer’s newly washed laundry to possibly pick up the smell.

Even odors that are normally pleasant can be a turnoff for customers. For example, who wants their laundry to smell like a barbecued steak? This can badly impact your business. Many restaurants will locate their kitchen exhausts on their roof. If your makeup air vents are downwind from their exhausts, you may need to find a way to relocate your vents as far away as possible.

I’ve seen mats that will run their makeup vents along their roof and then turned halfway down the back of their building to get them away from restaurant exhausts as well as their own dryer exhausts!

If you’re lucky, you may be able to convince your neighbor to redirect their exhaust away from your business, or to work with you to clean up and disinfect their basements, back rooms, trash receptacles, etc.

Most will not want or care to spend money to fix your odor problem, even though they know that they are the cause of it. Sometimes they have to be pushed. I recommend approaching your landlord to compel the offending business to do what’s necessary to fix the problem. You may have to chip in some money yourself to get this done, because it must be done. You’ll get your money back in more business if you can solve this odor problem.

(By the way, you know how to tell if your mat has negative air pressure? While most of your dryers are operating, open a perimeter door that does not have a door closer on it, or disconnect the door closer. Open it about 6 to 10 inches. If it slams shut, your mat needs more makeup air vents.)

Other possible causes of repellent odors:

  • Vagrants with body odor.

You simply have to keep them out of your mat (refer to my earlier column, How to Deal with Loiterers, for tips).

  • Customers with body odor and/or bad-smelling laundry.

No easy answer here. In my stores, we opened the doors and turned on the fans when these customers showed up. Luckily, the really bad ones are few and far between. Ceiling fans come in handy to help dissipate these localized odors.

  • Pungent smells coming from dumpsters and garbage cans, especially during the summer.

These odors are caused mostly by bacteria consuming food-laden garage, and can be a big turnoff! I found that you can control these odors by pouring a generous half bleach/half water solution into these garbage receptacles. Bleach kills the bacteria and therefore the odors they emit. The odor should go away for about a week.

Now, once you’ve rid your mat of the stink, turn this negative into a positive!

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!