Skip to main content

How to clean a washing machine: Your complete guide

Follow these steps for a fresh, sanitary laundry experience

Close-up of a laundry basket and washing machine
Cris Cantón / Getty Images

Cleaning your washing machine might not be at the top of your cleaning to-do list, but it should be. A fresh, sanitary machine ensures your clothes come out fresh and spotless every time. In this guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about how to clean washing machines, including the best cleaning agents and practical steps to get the job done.

What is the best thing to clean a washing machine?

Laundry sanitzer
AePatt Journey / Shutterstock

When it comes to cleaning your washing machine, there are several effective products you can use. Each has its benefits and works in slightly different ways. Here’s a look at some of the best options:

  • Bleach: Bleach is a powerful disinfectant that can kill bacteria and mold. It’s particularly useful for cleaning the drum and rubber seals. However, use it sparingly as it can be harsh on your washing machine’s components.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: This is a milder alternative to bleach. It disinfects and deodorizes your washing machine. It’s safe to use on all parts of the machine and doesn’t leave a strong chemical smell.
  • Vinegar and baking soda: This combination is a popular and natural cleaning method, particularly in your laundry routine. Vinegar breaks down detergent residue and kills mold, while baking soda helps scrub away grime and neutralize odors.
  • Borax and washing powder: Borax is a natural mineral that works well with washing powder to clean and deodorize your washing machine. This combo is also used in homemade laundry detergents. It’s excellent for removing soap scum and hard water deposits.
  • Commercial washing machine cleaner tablets: These tablets are specifically designed to clean washing machines. They are easy to use and effective at removing residue, mold, and odors. Simply follow the instructions on the package for the best results.
Recommended Videos

How to clean a washing machine in 6 steps

Close-up of textile in laundry machine
I-ing / Shutterstock

Cleaning your washing machine regularly can extend its lifespan and improve its performance. Here are the basic steps to clean your washing machine:

  1. Empty the machine: Make sure there are no clothes left inside the washing machine before you start cleaning.
  2. Clean the dispensers: Remove and wash the detergent and fabric softener dispensers. Soak them in warm, soapy water and scrub away any residue.
  3. Clean the drum: Run an empty cycle with hot water and add your chosen cleaning agent (bleach, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or a commercial cleaner). This helps disinfect and remove any buildup inside the drum.
  4. Wipe down seals and gaskets: Mold and mildew can accumulate in the rubber seals and gaskets. Wipe them down with a cloth soaked in your chosen cleaner. Pay special attention to hidden areas where grime tends to collect.
  5. Clean the filter: The filter can trap lint, hair, and other debris. Check your washing machine’s manual to locate and clean the filter regularly.
  6. Rinse and dry: Run an additional rinse cycle to ensure all cleaning materials are thoroughly washed out. Leave the door open to allow the machine to air dry, which helps prevent mold and mildew growth.

How to clean a smelly washing machine

Baking soda and vinegar in glass jars
focal point / Shutterstock

If your washing machine has developed a foul odor, it’s time to take action. Here are some tips to eliminate unpleasant smells:

  • Run a hot water cycle with vinegar: Pour 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum and run a hot water cycle. Vinegar is excellent at breaking down residue and eliminating odors.
  • Use baking soda: Add 1/2  a cup of baking soda to the drum and run another hot water cycle. Baking soda helps neutralize odors and scrub away grime.
  • Clean the door seal: Wipe down the rubber door seal with a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar. Make sure to get into all the nooks and crannies where mold and mildew can hide.
  • Leave the door open: After each wash, leave the washing machine door open to allow air to circulate. This helps to prevent moisture buildup and reduces the chance of mold growth.
  • Clean the filter: A clogged filter can contribute to bad smells. Clean it regularly to prevent debris buildup.

Regularly cleaning your washing machine is essential for maintaining its efficiency and extending its lifespan. Whatever cleaning product you decide to use, the key is consistency. Follow the steps outlined in this guide to keep your washing machine fresh and in perfect working order. Remember, a clean washing machine means cleaner clothes and a more hygienic home. So, make it a habit to clean your washing machine regularly and enjoy the benefits of fresh, clean laundry every time.

Veronica Sparks
Veronica Sparks is a writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who loves writing about gardening, home décor, and DIY life. She’s…
Cabinet refacing: Your complete DIY guide
Try this simple DIY solution for revamping your kitchen cabinetry
Kitchen with navy blue cabinets and bold lighting

A full kitchen remodel isn’t always necessary, and for some homeowners, it isn’t a feasible solution for elevating their kitchen design. Thankfully, there is another option. Cabinet refacing can be a great choice for homeowners aching for a kitchen refresh without the need to break the bank by replacing all the kitchen cabinets.

But what is cabinet refacing? Does this DIY project save money on kitchen redesign? Here’s everything you need to know.
Cabinet refacing vs. a full remodel

Read more
How to clean an oven in one afternoon with oven cleaner you make
Say goodbye to harsh chemicals and hello to a pristine oven
Open oven door on silver stove

Let’s face it: cleaning the oven is not a fun task. It's one of those cleaning tasks we forget about or avoid for months at a time. If only our ovens could clean themselves, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the grime and buildup from past meals coating the racks. Even self-cleaning ovens require you to scrub baked-on food and grease with a sponge and water before starting the cleaning cycle.

That being said, manually cleaning your oven doesn't have to be a stressful task. If you’re looking for a quick and simple solution to clean your oven in just a few hours, we’ve got you covered: Take a look at our tips for how to clean your oven without any harsh chemicals.
Choose an eco-friendly option for your appliance

Read more
Say goodbye to dirt and odor: Learn how to wash pillows like a pro
Most people's pillows aren't even close to clean. Here's how to wash yours
Woman hugs pillows

Even if you succeed in choosing the right pillows for your maximum comfort and rest, you may not have considered the cleaning steps you'll need to take later to maintain their wonderful fluff and freshness. It may be the last thing anyone wants to think about, but the pillows where we place our heads at night are basically breeding grounds for bacteria and other microorganisms.

The average person spends one-third of their life asleep. During that time (it’s gross, but all too true), our skin and saliva can, shall we say, free themselves from the body, promoting the growth of bacteria inside our pillows and pillowcases in the process.

Read more