How to Clean a Washing Machine: Make Your Washer Sparkle Again

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Clean Washing Machine Drum

Have you been noticing a musty scent in your washer or even in your clothes after washing? Or perhaps the washer doesn’t drain properly after washing. It may be time to give the wash a wash!

For a basic clean you will need:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Cleaning tub
  • Sponge, rags, or paper towels

For a deeper clean include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Citric acid
  • Old tooth brush

You’ll want to clean your washing machine once a month for heavy use or several times a year for lighter use.

Cleaning the Gasket

Water takes longer to evaporate out of the gasket, so this part of the washing machine can quickly build up molds and bacterias. Here are several steps to clean your gasket. 

  • Dampen a rag with white vinegar. Rub it along the gasket and in the crevices to remove all gunk.
  • For a deeper clean, you can use paper towels or rags soaked with hydrogen peroxide and place them inside the gasket. Let it sit for an hour. Remove from the gasket and clean out any remaining gunk with a paper towel or toothbrush.
Cleaning a washing machine gasket with a cloth

Cleaning the Drum

Top loading washing machine

Start your washing machine on its hottest setting. Before one spin cycle, add a quart of vinegar to the water in the drum. Let the hot water/vinegar mixture sit for about an hour. Finish the cycle using the hottest temperature setting.

Front loading washing machine

Add 2 cups of vinegar into the detergent dispenser and run a cycle at the hottest temperature. Then add ½ cup of baking soda to the drum and run another cycle on the hottest setting. Wipe down the inside of the drum when you are done. 

You can add essential oils to not only clean but also make it smell amazing.

If your washer is very dirty, there are stronger solutions that you can use including hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, or bleach.

Alternative methods

Citric acid

Use a cup of citric acid to clean the drum. Citric acid is derived from citrus fruits, and while much stronger than vinegar, is not harmful. Add this mixture using the instructions above. You can mix with a ½ cup of baking soda as well to create a cleaning mixture.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide takes longer to work, so cleaning may require two cycles in a front loading washer and three hours of sitting in a top loading washer (instead of just one). Use one quart of hydrogen peroxide and the same method we described for vinegar.

Hydrogen peroxide, unlike bleach, does not leave toxic fumes, so it is safer to use. 

Bleach

You can use one quart of bleach and use the method described above. Do not set the washer to its hottest setting, however, because bleach works better in warm and cool temperatures.

A word of caution with bleach: it is strong enough to damage parts of the inner mechanism of the machine. In addition, bleach can kill off bacteria in septic tanks. Use sparingly. 

Cleaning the Dispenser

Remove the dispenser from the washing machine. If you have difficulties, consult your manual. Clean by scrubbing in a tub of hot water and vinegar.

Soaking the dispenser for 10 minutes can loosen up the build-up that often forms on dispensers. 

When you take out the dispenser check to make sure there isn’t any mold inside the compartment that holds it. If there is, clean it with the hot water/vinegar mixture. 

Cleaning the Filter 

If you have a front loading washing machine, the filter is usually accessible from the bottom of the front face.

 Front Load Washing Machine Filter

If you have a top loading washing machine, check under the agitator, which is the piece that juts up from the bottom in the center of the drum. The filter should look something like this.

Top load washer machine filter

Remove necessary components to retrieve the filter, using a screwdriver, coin, or key as needed. 

To clean the filter, you can soak it in hot water and vinegar, or may need to use a soft brush, such as a toothbrush to get out finer debris. 

Once the filter is clean, and you have returned it to the machine. Give a test spin to make sure that the washer doesn’t leak! An improperly installed laundry filter can cause leaks. 

Clean the filter every 3-4 months for best performance.

Ongoing Maintenance

Now that your washer machine is clean, there are several ways you can keep it from getting dirty in the future. 

Open the door after washing

Doing so allows the washer to dry. And a dry washer means no mold! If you have children, be sure to keep them away from the open door. If this is not possible, keep the door shut and resort to cleaning the machine more frequently.

Take clothing out when the washer finishes

This is really a win-win. Leaving damp clothes in your washing machine prevents odors from developing in your clean clothes, and prevents mold and bacteria from growing. If you have trouble remembering to take out your clothes, consider setting a timer on your phone. 

Don’t use fabric softener

Fabric softener can leave extra residues that increase mold and bacteria growth. 

Use the correct amount of detergent

It’s very tempting to use more detergent than needed. More soap equals more clean, right? Too much detergent can cause a build-up that doesn’t help the cleaning process, so it is critical to use the appropriate amount.

Plus, too much detergent can lead to too many suds, which can damage the washer over time. 

Consider using water softening tablets

Hard water can create undesirable build-ups that you can prevent this by using water softening tablets. 

Conclusion on How to Clean a Washing Machine

Cleaning your washing machine should take little more than some vinegar, a couple of spins, and some common sense. Be sure to clean it once a month to once every several months, depending on how often you use it. Once your washing machine is clean it should clean your clothing more effectively and improve the longevity of the device.

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