How and when to clean a washing machine

Believe it or not, you’re going to want to clean your washing machine. Here’s how and why.

Key tips to remember

  • Clean your machine once a month
  • Vinegar and water are usually all you need
  • Skip the bleach. It’s toxic and unnecessary
  • A one-hour soak can break up funky junk
  • Think preventively and cleaning will be easy

Clean a washing machine? It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Well, the cold, hard truth is that a washing machine does not wash itself. Unfortunately, all those soapy bubbles that help clean your clothes do not work the same magic on the machine. All kinds of dirt, food, grime, tissues, lint and substances you don’t even want to hear about can collect inside your machine, in all sorts of small, dark places that are difficult to see or get to. 

Over time, this can lead to problems. Your clothes might start to get less clean, which is often your leading indicator. If you don’t act accordingly, you might end up with a mold factory full of mildew smells at best or with a malfunctioning machine clogged up with detergent and minerals at worst. Fear not, dear reader. All you need is one solution: Clean your washing machine regularly, every month. You’ll keep it working stronger, more effectively and without peculiar odors for longer.

How to clean a washing machine

Cleaning the washing machine with vinegar is simple, easy and your most important rule to remember. Even if your machine has a self-cleaning function, and even if you use that self-cleaning function diligently, it’s always a good idea to clean your washing machine yourself regularly. While some folks use a bit of bleach, we don’t recommend it because it’s not eco-friendly. If you insist on using bleach, never mix it with vinegar. That’s not a party you want to start — trust us. Your best bet is to stick with white vinegar. A spray bottle filled with a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water should serve you quite well for a wide variety of DIY home-cleaning projects, and it’s also perfect for the task at hand. Grab a few rags and a toothbrush, some baking soda, and maybe a little hydrogen peroxide, just in case you need to clear out any mold.

How to clean a washing machine: Top-loader

Cleaning a top-loader washing machine, which tends to collect more dust than a front-loader, begins with filling your empty machine with hot water. Once full, stop the cycle, add 3 cups of white vinegar, and stir it with a big spoon or a grill spatula. Let sit for about an hour, and while you’re waiting, grab one of the rags or your toothbrush for cleaning. Dip one or both into the vinegar-and-hot-water solution inside the machine, and use them to clean the washer’s exterior. The toothbrush will help you get inside little nooks and crannies, especially around the lid and the rim of the basin. 

If there are any loose or removable parts, you can soak them in the same solution inside the machine while you clean the exterior. If you prefer, you can use baking soda with the rags and toothbrush instead, but don’t mix it with vinegar because their chemical makeups, when combined, cancels out one another. After the hour passes and the exterior is clean, turn the cycle back on. Once the basin is clean and the cycle is over, make a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water, and spray it over the gaskets and dispensers before wiping it all down with a clean, dry rag.

How to clean a washing machine: Front-loader

Cleaning a front-loader washing machine is a bit more of a headache because a front-loader tends to have more spots for water to collect unintentionally. Unfortunately, if that water is dirty from load after load of clothing grit, the mold and mildew process can accelerate quickly. As with the top-loader, skip the bleach and break out clean rags and a toothbrush for cleaning. Mix that 50/50 vinegar-water solution, and spray it around the machine, working your way from the outside in, getting into all the gaps and every place you can reach. Meanwhile, grab a bucket and make a 2-to-1 vinegar-water solution. Use this to soak any removable parts.

Work your toothbrush around the main rubber-gasket seal, peeling back the layers to get into those tough-to-reach spots, particularly around the lowest part of the seal, where water is most likely to stick around after a cycle. Consequently, this is also the most common spot from which mold, mildew and musty smells will originate. If you spot any mold or mildew, switch to hydrogen peroxide, killing the microbes and stopping the spread. If you come up against some spots that just don’t want to come clean, try baking soda because its abrasive properties will be helpful as you scour away.

Once you finish with the washer’s outside and gasket, pivot to the inside of your machine. Pour a cup or two of white vinegar directly into the detergent dispenser and the fabric-softener dispenser. Run the machine while empty for a complete cycle on the hottest setting for a full load. The added acid will disinfect the supply lines and break up any deposits left over from minerals, detergent or soap scum. After the cycle, inspect the interior carefully, and wipe it down to catch any remaining junk that might’ve been knocked loose. If you want to take another step toward eliminating odors, add about a one-third cup of baking soda to the basin and run it through another hot cycle. As you get into a cleaning routine, try alternating cycles with baking soda and vinegar.

Keep in mind

Whichever machine you have, there are some preventive steps to keep in mind that can help your washer stay cleaner. As a result, it will run more smoothly and make your monthly cleaning routine easier. Try to remember to let the moisture evaporate more readily by leaving the door open for several hours after every wash load. It won’t hurt anything if you leave it open until the next time you do laundry, and you’ll be less likely to cultivate mold cultures and the smells that accompany them. Be sure you also remove wet clothes as soon as the cycle ends and get them in the dryer before they can mildew. Always wipe down the machine to keep lint, water and detergent off your clean clothes, and don’t forget to clean the lint tray after every load.

If you feel inspired now and find yourself interested in more tips for maintaining your washing machine or perhaps another of our handy articles about avoiding common appliance problems, we have plenty of useful information to share. If you’d like a few additional washing machine and dryer maintenance tips or are starting to wonder why you should consider a Cinch home protection plan, we’re glad to have you here and encourage you to read more about what we have to offer.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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