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How to Clean a Washing Machine

Over time, dirt, mold and detergent residue can build up in your washer. Learn how to clean a washing machine to ensure your appliance operates the way it should and your clothes emerge as clean as possible.

Why You Need to Clean Your Machine

Today we're sharing our tips for how to clean a washing machine. Yes, even this appliance needs to be washed—and running laundry cycles doesn't count. Dirt and grime from dirty clothes has to go somewhere, and it often accumulates inside the appliance. Detergent also builds up over time, leaving the machine sticky or slimy. Worst of all, the constant moisture in the machine makes it a breeding ground for mold and mildew. These contaminants can affect your washer's performance, leaving clothes not as clean as they should be or having an odor even after being washed. Over time, this repeated exposure to contaminants can affect the longevity of your clothes. Additionally, dust and dirt can collect on the outside of your washer, leaving you without a clean surface on which to fold clothing or set clean laundry until you have a chance to put it away. We'll walk you through a few different methods to remove dust, dirt and detergent residue from the inside and outside of your washer to ensure its performance for years to come. We'll also cover how to clean both front load and top load washers, which require slightly different washing methods.
Washer

What You'll Need

Before you get started, make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand for easy cleaning. Luckily, you probably have many of these items at home already. There are a few different combinations you can use to clean your washing machine:
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Bleach
  • Soft cleaning cloth
  • Clean, unused toothbrush
  • Spray bottle (optional)
Depending on what you have on hand, you can clean your washing machine a few different ways. When using vinegar, pour 1 cup of distilled white vinegar directly into the drum on top loading model. Run a high-temperature cycle all the way through. Once the cycle is done, you can also run a rinse cycle to be sure any residue is gone. If your appliance is front loading, fill the bleach dispenser with about 1 cup of vinegar. From there, you'll follow the same steps: run a high-temperature cycle and then a rinse cycle. You can also use vinegar on a paper towel or cloth to wipe out the detergent and bleach dispensers to remove any sticky residue.
If you're opting to use baking soda to clean your machine, you'll follow similar steps. Those with a top-load machine will sprinkle ½ to 1 cup of baking soda into the drum, then run a high-temperature wash cycle. If your appliance allows you to lift the lid to pause the cycle, do so; letting the baking soda and water sit will help break up residue that's harder to remove. After it's sat for up to an hour (depending on how much time you want to invest or the soil level in the machine), you can let the cycle finish. With a front load washing machine, you'll want to dispense the baking soda into the detergent compartment. For added cleaning power, you can also pour in some vinegar. Choose the hottest wash cycle available and run an additional rinse cycle to ensure the washer is clean.
With liquid bleach, you'll add ¾ cup bleach to the drum in a top load machine; in a front load model, you'll add bleach to the detergent tray and the bleach tray. Next, run the empty machine on the highest temperature wash available. If it's possible to pause the cycle on your machine, you should do so once the wash basket has completely filled with water. Once the cycle is over, you can also run a rinse cycle to be sure you've removed the bleach.*Note: never mix bleach and vinegar. However, you might want the next load of laundry you do after cleaning with bleach to be whites in the small likelihood there's bleach residue left in your machine.

Cleaning the Outside of Your Washer

Now that you've removed mold, mildew and detergent buildup from the interior of your appliance, it's time to turn to the exterior. We often use the top of the machine to fold laundry or set down already-folded clothing or towels until we have a moment to put it away. Imagine your frustration upon realizing you've set a pile of clean white towels on top of a dusty, dirty machine. So yes, cleaning the exterior of your washer is just as important as it is inside. As with the interior, distilled white vinegar is a simple and affordable way to clean the outside of a washing machine. A clean white cloth and a toothbrush are all you need to scrub every nook and cranny to keep your appliance looking like it did the day you brought it home. Adding the vinegar to a spray bottle is easier and less messy than trying to pour the liquid from the bottle onto the cloth. A soft cloth is better to use than paper towel to avoid scratching the finish. Spray vinegar on the window of your front load washing machine's door and wipe away with the cloth; you'll be able to see inside the appliance much easier and it will look brand new.

Cleaning A Front Load vs. Top Load Machine

Removing dirt and buildup from the inside of a top loading model is simple; as seen above, you can really just dump in your cleaning product, run a cycle, and be done. However, there are other components to consider if you own a front loading washer. Despite their modern features and reduced energy consumption, front loading machines do have drawbacks, the biggest one being buildup in the gasket. Be sure to wipe down the gasket after each cycle (or as often as you remember) to reduce moisture buildup. It will also help if you leave the door of the appliance open when you're done washing your clothes. Additionally, the compartments for detergent, bleach and/or fabric softener are also prone to product buildup, which can impact the functionality of the appliance—it also doesn't look very nice.

Alternative Ways to Clean a Washing Machine

Items like vinegar and baking soda are incredibly affordable and you likely already have them at home. However, if you're looking for an easier way to clean these appliances, you can also purchase cleaning tablets or liquid cleaners from popular laundry detergent brands. They're not as cost-effective as the methods described above, but they offer an even more hands-off way to disinfect your washer. No matter which method you choose, the most important factor is safety; again, be sure to not mix bleach with other cleaning agents and be cautious of any fumes. Choose the method that works best for your lifestyle and budget and clean your washing machine frequently to ensure proper functionality and the cleanest laundry possible.
Person's hand holding a green microfiber cloth cleaning the inside of a front load washer

Q & A Summary

How often should I clean my washing machine?

You should clean your washing machine about once a month. Wipe down the exterior of the appliance more often to keep it clean.

What should I use to clean my washing machine?

You can clean your washer with liquid bleach, vinegar, baking soda or a mixture of vinegar and baking soda.

Why do I need to clean my washing machine?

The buildup of contaminants can affect the efficiency of your machine and even affect the cleanliness of your laundry after a wash cycle. Dust, dirt, detergent residue and mold can build up in your washing machine; the dirt that is washed away from clothing can build up inside your appliance. Additionally, those with a front load washer must contend with the moisture and mold that can accumulate around the gasket.

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