Okay. I am a certified neat freak. I dust, vacuum, scrub, scour and tidy up my house on a daily (if not hourly) basis. (If you’re wondering if I’m type A, the answer is a resounding “yes”.) But despite being called Mr. Clean by those closest to me, I recently learned a big secret: I should be cleaning my washing machine. (Mind blown, people.)
So, I ran down to my laundry room, and realized...hmm yeah...the machine’s kind of dirty and there’s definitely a lingering moldy smell. Upon more research, I learned that this is a common problem; the grime, dust and debris that comes off the clothes can get stuck in the hoses and pipes, hindering the washing machine from running future loads with the same level of efficiency. Who knew?
Well, now that I’m an expert on how to clean a washing machine, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about keeping this essential home appliance pristine.
How often should you clean a washing machine?
I have to admit, I thought I was doing enough with the occasional wipe down of my washing machine. It turns out that it’s recommended to do a deep clean at least every four months, but The Spruce even encouraged homeowners to make running a cleaning cycle part of their monthly routine, especially if they have a high-efficiency washer.
A good rule of thumb can be to devote time to intensely scrubbing down your washing machine once a season, but run a cleaning cycle once a month or whenever you detect a funky smell. Mold and mildew can build up fast, especially in the rubber gasket of a side-loading washing machine.
Following these cleaning tips will not only help keep your clothes smelling fresh and clean, but it will also keep your machine running at peak efficiency.
What you’ll need
A quick internet search about what you need to clean your washer will bring up hundreds of different results. But ultimately, the best product for the job is determined by your household’s chemical preferences, budget and the severity of the grime and mildew you need to remove.
You’ll be pleased to learn that some of the most commonly used products to effectively get rid of dirt and buildup in your washing machine are probably in your cleaning cabinet right now. DenGarden explained how some common household goods can be used in the deep cleaning process:
Run a cycle with white vinegar and baking soda for general cleaning and deodorizing.
If the above solution doesn’t cut it, try sodium percarbonate (typically sold as oxygen bleach), which is stronger than baking soda but safer than liquid bleach.
Try an enzyme detergent to remove sticky residue.
Use citric acid when you need a stronger agent to get rid of mineral deposits, soap scum and other buildup.
Let hydrogen peroxide soak in the machine for a few hours and then run a cycle with it to reveal a squeaky-clean drum.
Try chlorine bleach in a warm- or cold-water cycle to remove odors.
Experiment with different ingredients until you find the ones that work best for your washing machine.
Sometimes these DIY cleaners simply don’t do the trick. If you have an especially dirty washing machine or there's a smell that just won’t seem to stop lingering, Good Housekeeping recommended investing in a specialty cleaner like Affresh or Tide Washing Machine Cleaner.
These store-bought solutions typically have the perfect balance of liquid chlorine bleach and other chemicals to simultaneously clean and get rid of odor, so make sure to follow the instructions for use.
If you’re looking to forgo harsh chemical cleaners, you can still freshen up your washing machine with natural ingredients you might already have around the house. Wellness Mama suggested using a combination of washing soda, borax, vinegar and essential oils to do the trick.
Simply put the washing soda and borax in the drum for one cycle, and then use the vinegar and essential oils in place of detergent in a follow-up cycle. Natural oxygen bleach is a borax alternative, and germ-fighting essential oils like tea tree oil are the best option for cleaning your washer and leaving it smelling fresh.
For your deep clean, you should also keep some other tools on hand to help you defeat the dirt. A toothbrush can be helpful for scrubbing those hard-to-reach places, like tight rubber seals where grime can build up the most. Use old towels to clean up any mess and a microfiber cloth for a final wipe down of the machine.
How to clean a washing machine
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the deep clean. With your cleaning products in hand, you’re ready to get to work. It’s important to note that if you have a washing machine with a self-clean function, simply run a load on that setting and you're all set.
For those who aren't as lucky, the following steps will do the trick:
1. Run a hot cycle with vinegar
To effectively clean the tub of your washing machine, DenGarden recommended filling the washer drum or dispenser with ½ cup of baking soda and 1 liter of white vinegar. These products can also be substituted with any of the previously mentioned home supplies for a similar outcome. For a front-load washer, add the vinegar to the detergent dispenser and baking soda in the fabric softener dispenser and begin the wash cycle with hot or warm water for the best results.
For a top-loading machine, let the water run and then add the cleaning products, have the cycle operate for about a minute and then let the mixture soak for an hour before allowing it to finish.
2. Scrub in and out
Then, mix vinegar and water or use your go-to multi-purpose cleaner to scrub the washing machine drum, detergent dispensers and door seals with a damp cloth. When you're done with the interior, wipe down the exterior to remove dust, detergent spills and other debris from the machine's surface.
Pro tip: This is when a toothbrush can be helpful for getting into the nooks and crannies of your washing machine.
3. Clean the filter
After that cycle, you will want to clean the washer’s filter. CountryLiving explained that it’s usually just a small door on the lower front of your machine. Keep some paper towels on hand and be prepared for some water to come out with the filter. Then remove any hair or extra items it has collected, rinse it under hot water, scrub with a toothbrush and return it.
4. Run another hot cycle
Complete the process by running one last cycle, but this time don't use any vinegar or detergent. Give it a final wipe down and let it air dry to keep that moldy smell from returning.
Routine maintenance keeps your clothes smelling fresh
To keep your washing machine as fresh as possible between deep cleans, follow these maintenance tips:
Keep the door or lid open after running wash cycles to prevent mold and odors.
Rinse and dry rubber door seals after every wash.
Be careful not to overload dispensers with detergent and fabric softener.
Use specialized detergents for high-efficiency washers.
Always be on the lookout for other common washing machine problems. Sometimes, the smell of mildew can mean it’s not draining water properly and a hose is clogged.
Along with regularly cleaning your whole house and appliances, you can be prepared for life’s little messes (and emergency breakdowns) by having a home repair plan in place. See how plans from HomeServe can help with the costs of covered repairs.