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How to Clean a Washing Machine

Banish errant soils, product residue, odors, and bacteria from the washer to ensure that laundry comes out as fresh and clean as possible.

A stacked washer dryer in a closet. Lukas Scott

Your washing machine is one of the hardest-working appliances in your home, doing load after load every week. Yet while it’s easy to assume that the detergent you use cleans the washer along with your laundry, the reverse may well be true: Product residue can cling to the washtub, door, gaskets, and inner workings, as can remnants of dirt and grime from clothes and linens.

This can invite a brew of nasty odors, mold, mildew, and bacteria that can leave laundry less than fresh. What’s more, allowing gunk to build up in the machine could shorten its lifespan.

How Often Should I Clean My Clothes Washer?

Clearly, it’s important to clean the washing machine regularly (manufacturers recommend once a month). While it’s not a particularly taxing chore, the approach you take will depend on:

  • The type of washer—For most front-loading machines, the cleaning agent goes into the detergent dispenser. For top-loaders, the cleaner is tossed into the washtub (aka drum) while it fills with water. Front-loaders may require more frequent cleaning, since the horizontal drum position makes it more likely for excess water to pool, potentially leading to odor and mold/mildew. Top-loaders with agitators instead of impellers may need special attention.
  • What the manufacturer recommends—While we’ll offer general guidance below, consult your owner’s manual or the brand’s website and follow instructions for your particular model. Diverging from manufacturer directions could void a warranty.

Instructions for Cleaning Your Washing Machine

Step 1: Choose a cleaning product

There are reliable commercial products designed to clean the washtub, but a variety of basic household staples can be used as well. The pros and cons to consider:

  • Commercial cleaning products typically come in tablet form (like Renuv Heavy Duty Washing Machine Cleaner) or as powder-in-a-pouch (such as OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner). There’s no measuring involved, making these the most convenient option. Not just easy, these products are formulated to get rid of grease and mineral deposits.
  • Using the likes of hydrogen peroxide, borax, or liquid chlorine bleach is far more budget-friendly. (The Renuv product cited above costs about $15 for six tablets, while OxiClean runs about $7.50 for four pouches.) The general guidelines here involve liquid chlorine bleach for the tub and gasket, with dish soap and water for other parts.

Step 2: Do the drawer

Pop out the front-loader’s removable dispenser drawer (consult the manual for the how-to) and clean all parts well with warm water and a touch of dish soap, employing an old soft toothbrush for any stubborn gunk. Next, use a moistened cloth to clean inside the compartment where the dispenser drawer fits. Wipe everything till thoroughly dry, replace the parts, and reinsert the drawer. If the dispenser drawer isn’t removable, gently go over accessible areas with a damp cloth and soft toothbrush, then wipe with a fresh rag to dry.

Step 3: Free the filter

A small but vital component of the washer, the drain filter protects the pump by keeping hair, lint, and other potentially clogging debris out. It’s typically located near the bottom, on the front or back of the machine, behind a small cover. Have an old towel and low-sided container on hand to catch any water leakage when removing the filter. To clean, give it a good shake over the trash can and then rinse it under the tap.

Step 4: De-gunk the gasket

Press down on the rubber gasket that lines the door of your front-loader at the bottom midpoint of the door, and remove any foreign objects (e.g., rubber bands, coins, guitar picks). Wipe the entire gasket pocket well using a rag moistened with water and a touch of bleach to banish any icky buildup.

Step 5: Clean the door and exterior

Remove dust, lint, or crud from the sides and top of the machine, using a microfiber cloth or damp, slightly soapy rag. Rinse with a plain water-dampened rag, and use a fresh rag to dry. For a front-loader, wipe the outside and inside of the door with a damp rag or microfiber cloth. For a top-loader, lift the lid and clean both sides, paying special attention to the lip—a notorious lint collector—with a soft toothbrush or moistened, slightly soapy rag. Then rinse with plain water and dry.

Step 6: Tackle the tub

Do the drum when it’s empty and dry.

  • A late-model machine with a tub clean cycle will have the water temperature, time, and action pre-programmed, so simply choose this cycle, adding bleach to the fill line of the dispenser. Note that this cycle may take an hour and a half to complete.
  • For a front-loader without a tub clean feature, pour about half a cup of bleach into the dispenser and run the machine at its longest, hottest cycle.
  • For a top-loader, set the machine to its longest cycle with hot water and pour half a cup of bleach directly into the drum as it fills. Then pause the cycle and let the solution sit. If the machine has an agitator instead of an impeller, consult the manual for cleaning directions. After about an hour, restart the cycle and let it finish.

Step 7: Run an additional rinse and spin

When the cleaning cycle is complete, set the machine for a second rinse and spin. If you neglect to do so, any residual bleach in the tub could fade or mark your next load of colored or dark laundry. When the cycle finishes, leave the front-loader’s door open or the top-loader’s lid up to dry.