The dirt that disappears from your clothes, towels, and sheets has to go somewhere, which means grime can build up inside your washing machine over time. Without regular cleaning, the appliance might also harbor leftover detergent, hard-water deposits, and mold or mildew around the lid. This can leave a residue on laundry or cause items to emerge from the wash with a funky smell. To ensure your freshly washed clothes and linens are as clean as possible, follow these steps on how to clean a washing machine.
How Often to Clean a Washing Machine
A top-load washer should be cleaned at least twice per year. If you live in a hard water area, you should clean it every three months to prevent mineral deposits. High-efficiency top-load washers and front-load washers use much less water than standard machines and need to be cleaned more often—usually every month. Your washer should be cleaned more often if you have exceptionally heavily-soiled clothes or live in a hot, humid area (where mold will be more of a problem). In addition to cleaning the washer drum, each dispenser should be cleaned every month to six weeks to keep it working well.
What You’ll Need
Equipment / Tools
Distilled white vinegar
To clean a standard top-load clothes washer, ensure there is no laundry in it and no detergent or fabric softener in any dispenser. Do not add any detergent to the washer during this process.
Be sure not to add both bleach and vinegar at the same time as that could produce toxic chlorine gas, which is dangerous in even small amounts1. If you have an exhaust fan in your laundry area, turn it on, or open windows to ensure good ventilation.
Fill the Washer With Hot Water
Use the washer settings to fill the drum of the washer with hot water, stopping it before it agitates. Use the hottest temperature setting on your machine.
Add Chlorine Bleach
Add 1 quart of chlorine bleach to the hot water, but no detergent.
Run a Complete Wash and Spin Cycle
Allow the washer to run through its longest wash and spin cycle and that it goes through a complete rinse and drain. Make sure the bleach is completely removed before the next step.
Fill Again With Hot Water
Use the washer settings to fill the drum of the washer with hot water, stopping it before it agitates.
Add Distilled White Vinegar
Add 1 quart of distilled white vinegar to the hot water.
Run a Complete Wash and Spin Cycle
Run the longest wash and spin cycle again and allow the washer to rinse and drain.
How to Clean a Front-Load Washer
Front-load washers need a little different cleaning technique because they not only harbor soil but can develop bad odors that transfer to clothes. Follow these tips to both remove the dirt buildup and the mold and mildew that can form from using too much detergent and fabric softener and too much moisture remaining in the machine after each use.
Add Chlorine Bleach to the Dispensers
Add 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the detergent compartment of the dispenser drawer. Next, fill the bleach dispenser compartment with chlorine bleach to the highest level.
Run a Normal Cycle
Set the washer to the normal cycle setting with warm water and allow the machine to run a complete cycle.
Wipe Seals and Door
When the cycle is complete, use a soft, absorbent cloth to dry around the washer door opening, flexible gasket, and door glass. This will help ensure any mold residue (which would be killed by the bleach) is removed.
How to Clean Washer Dispensers
Newer washers have handy built-in dispensers for detergent, fabric softener, and bleach. These need to be cleaned regularly so they dispense accurately. Too much detergent causes overflowing suds; too much fabric softener can leave blue or greasy-looking spots on clothing and bleach can actually ruin colored clothing.
Empty the Washer
Be sure the washer is empty of laundry.
Heat the Vinegar
Heat one cup of white vinegar in the microwave or in a small saucepan.
Pour Vinegar Into the Dispenser
Pour the heated vinegar into the dispenser and allow it to sit for a few minutes to loosen any buildup.
Run the Washer Through a Normal Cycle
Next, run the machine using a normal cycle. The vinegar will be dispensed into the wash water, where it will help remove any buildup before being rinsed away.
Clean the Removable Dispensers
If you have removable dispensers, they can be submerged in warm vinegar and then rinsed with clear water and replaced in the machine.
Tips to Keep Your Clothes Washer Clean Longer
Leave the lid of a top-load washer open after you have run a load. This allows the drum and seals to dry out and lessen the risk of growing mold and mildew.
After washing heavily-soiled clothing, wipe the drum with a nonabrasive household cleanser and then rinse thoroughly with water. Or, repeat the entire cleaning cycle using chlorine bleach.
Little brown spots on your laundry may be rust from your washer. Use a flashlight to check your washer basket carefully for chips in the finish. You can either replace the washer basket (which is expensive) or get a kit to repair and repaint the porcelain coating. Follow directions carefully, and you may be able to get a few more years from your washer.
Never store or place laundry products on top of the washer at any time. Spills can damage the finish or electronic controls.