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Yes, You Should Clean Your Washing Machine, and Here’s How

A woman wiping down a front-load washing machine.
Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock.com

You might not think about cleaning your washer, but even a cleaning machine needs some care sometimes. With these easy tips and a few common household products, you can keep your washing machine (and laundry) squeaky clean.

It’s a washing machine’s job to remove all the sweat, dirt, grime, bacteria, and anything else that lands on your clothes. Of course, between all of that, the residue from detergents, and the humid environment inside, a washing machine often needs a good wash itself.

Luckily, all you need to give your washing machine a bath are a few common household products.

How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?

You might not think about cleaning your washing machine very often. After all, using it literally involves hot, soapy water every time. To really keep it clean, fresh, and sanitized, however, you’ll want to start a regular cleaning routine.

Depending on how often you use your washer, consider running a cleaning cycle about once a week, or more if you use it a lot, or if you’ve just done a particularly grimy load.

As with any other appliance in your home, your washing machine would also benefit from an occasional deep clean once or a few times per year. This especially helps remove any moisture and/or detergent buildup, both of which can lead to mold, mildew, and nasty odors that can then permeate your clothes.

Tip: To reduce the risk of mold, mildew, or odors, leave your washing machine’s door or lid open for a few hours after each load to allow the moisture to evaporate.

How Do You Clean a Washing Machine?

A woman pouring bleach into her washing machine

Some washing machines have a “clean” or “self-clean” cycle built-in, which automates the process. For machines that don’t, you can easily do it yourself. You also probably already have the main ingredient you’ll need right in your pantry: white vinegar.

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar

Handy for cleaning many common household appliances, including your washer.

Just follow these easy steps, and your washing machine will be fresh in no time:

  1. Set your empty machine to run a hot cycle.
  2. Add 2 cups of white vinegar.
  3. After the cycle completes, use a 1 part vinegar to 4 parts warm water solution to wipe down the corners of the machine. Don’t miss the door/lid opening and the inside “lip” of the door, as detergent and residue can really build up in those areas.
  4. Run another empty, hot cycle of plain water.
  5. Leave the door or lid open for a few hours to let the water evaporate.

If it’s time for a deep clean, ordinary household bleach is the way to go. These steps are similar to those above, but the bleach provides added sanitizing power:

  1. Set your empty machine to run a hot cycle.
  2. Instead of your usual detergent, add 2 cups of bleach. If your washer has a built-in dispenser, pour the bleach into it.
  3. Run another empty, hot cycle of plain water.
  4. Wipe down the door or lid, seal, and any other corners where water and residue might linger.
  5. Leave the door open for a few hours to let the water evaporate.

Clorox Regular Bleach 64 oz - 2 Pack

Perfect for cleaning and sanitizing your washing machine.

How Can You Eliminate Odors From Your Washing Machine?

Someone dumping baking soda into a top-load washing machine filled with water.

Buildup in a washing machine can result in a musty, mildewy smell that lingers and can even permeate your clean laundry. Depending on the type of washing machine you have, certain areas of the appliance are more likely to be the culprit.

For example, if you have a front-loading washer, the inside of the drum and the tight seal along the door are prime areas for moisture and mildew to accumulate and form. In a top-loading machine, keep an eye on the crevices in the drum, especially along the center agitator.

Always start by cleaning and sanitizing your washing machine, as we outlined in the previous section. If an odor persists, then it’s time to try another method to specifically target that.

While there are plenty of products marketed specifically to make your washer smell fresh, you can get the same effect with a couple of classic, inexpensive household products: vinegar and baking soda.

Warning: Vinegar and bleach should never be mixed, as they produce a toxic gas. If you’ve already sanitized your washer with bleach, make sure you run at least one or two clear cycles before adding vinegar and baking soda.

Once you’re ready to banish that stinky odor, simply follow these steps:

  1. Mix equal parts of baking soda and water (1/4 cup of each should work for most machines).
  2. Pour the mixture into your machine where you would normally put the detergent.
  3. Add 2 cups of white vinegar to a front-loading or high-efficiency machine, or 4 cups to a standard, top-loading machine.
  4. Run an empty cycle on the hottest water setting.
  5. If the odor is particularly bad, pause the cycle once the tub has filled. and let it sit for 20-30 minutes before resuming.
  6. Wipe down the inside of the machine after the cycle finishes to remove any stubborn mildew spots.

Keeping your washer clean is an important part of your laundry routine. With these easy tips and a few common household ingredients, you’ll always have a sparkling-clean machine. By the way, you can use those same ingredients to keep your laundry looking and smelling good, too.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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