How to Clean a Washing Machine (So It Doesn’t Reek)

Learn how to clean your washing machine so your laundry will actually get clean.

Washing machines clean clothing, but they are not self-cleaning. They will develop a buildup of grime, mold, detergent, and mineral deposits. This scum will cause your laundry to be dull and gray or may even cause white streaks on your dark clothing.

You’ll need to know how to clean a washing machine using bleach and vinegar so you can enjoy properly cleaned clothing and a machine that doesn’t stink.

How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?

A standard washing machine should be cleaned at least twice a year and possibly every quarter if you have hard water. This will remove any soapy residue in your machine and help prevent mineral deposits.

You’ll need to clean your washing machine more often, perhaps even once a month, if you have heavily soiled clothes because of a job or hobby. Hot humid climates also require that washers be cleaned more often to prevent the growth of mildew, mold, and bacteria.

HE (high-efficiency) washers require cleaning every month. This is because HE washers use much less water, so the soapy residue is not rinsed away.

Best Way to Clean a Washing Machine

There are three common ways for cleaning a washer using vinegar, bleach, or a commercial washing machine cleaner.

With Vinegar

Vinegar is an excellent DIY cleanser to use in your machine as it does a wonderful job at removing and dissolving soap scum and mineral deposits that have built up. Vinegar works for both top and front load washers. However, the two types of washers require different cleaning methods.

With Bleach

Bleach is another excellent cleaner you can use. Its primary purpose is to kill the mold, bacteria, and mildew that causes a dreadful stench in your machine.

Be cautious when you’re using bleach that you don’t allow it to come into contact with your skin or that you breathe the fumes. Also make sure that you don’t mix bleach with other cleaners, as this can create harmful gasses.

With Washing Machine Cleaner

You can also use commercial cleaning tablets such as Affresh Tablets or Tide Washing Machine Cleaner. The solution in the tablets will not only kill the bacteria but will also remove the mineral deposits from your machine. This allows you to remove the deposits from your machine without vinegar.

How to Clean a Washer

When you’re cleaning your washing machine, you usually begin by using bleach to kill all of the lingering mold and bacteria. Then you’ll follow up by using vinegar to make sure that all of the soapy residues that the mold and bacteria love to breed in has been rinsed away.

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Beginner

What You’ll Need

How to Clean a Top Loading Washing Machine

White top load washer and dryer

1. Fill With Hot Water

Set your top loader on its longest and hottest wash cycle. Then start your machine so that it fills with water. Keep an eye on it as you’ll need to stop your machine before it begins to agitate.

2. Add Bleach

Pause your machine and add 4 cups of chlorine bleach to the water. Do not add vinegar, detergent, or any other cleanser as you may create a harmful gas.

3. Restart Your Machine

Restart your machine and allow it to complete the full wash cycle. Make sure that your washer rinses and drains during the cycle.

4. Fill With Hot Water

You will again set your washing machine on its longest and hottest wash cycle and start it filling with water. Keep an eye on the water level because you’ll be stopping your machine when the tub is full.

5. Add Vinegar

Add 4 cups of white vinegar and allow the washing machine to finish the wash cycle.

6. Wipe Outside

When your washing machine has finished the wash cycle, wipe down the outside of your washing machine with a soft towel and soapy dishwater.

How to Clean a Front Load Washer

Open door of empty front load washing machine

When you’re cleaning your front load washer, you’ll first clean with bleach. Then you’ll move on to the instructions on how to clean a dispenser to clean your washer with vinegar.

1. Clean Gasket

Before you begin cleaning your front load washing machine, check the gasket at the front as small objects often get trapped in the gasket. Wipe it clean with a soft towel.

2. Add Bleach

Add ½ cup of bleach to the detergent compartment of your front load washing machine. Then fill the bleach dispenser to the highest level.

3. Wash Cycle

Run a normal wash cycle using warm water.

4. Wipe Machine

After the washing machine has finished the wash cycle, wipe the seals and doors with a soft cloth. Make sure that everything is dry, especially the gasket in the front. Your goal is to remove all the mold residue as the mold should have been killed by the bleach.

Also make sure that you wipe all the seals, doors, and inside of the drum.

How to Clean Washer Dispenser

The washer dispenser will also need to be cleaned so that it can dispense the detergent, bleach, and fabric softener accurately. Too much detergent will cause overflowing suds. Too much bleach can ruin colored clothing, and too much fabric softener leaves blue or greasy-looking spots on clothing.

1. Empty Washer

Make sure that your washing machine is empty and no articles of clothing are hiding in the drum.

2. Heat Vinegar

Heat 1 cup of vinegar either in the microwave or on the stove. The vinegar should be hot but not boiling.

3. Pour Vinegar

Clean the dispenser by pouring the heated vinegar into it and allowing the vinegar to sit for a few minutes. If you prefer, you can use 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide instead of vinegar.

4. Wash Cycle

Run the washing machine through a normal wash cycle. The vinegar will be dispensed into the wash water where it will remove the buildup and be rinsed away.

5. Clean Dispensers

If your dispensers are removable, submerge them in warm vinegar. Scrub them clean and rinse them well with water. Replace the dispensers in the washer.

Otherwise, wipe your dispensers clean with a soft cloth.

Deep Cleaning Services

A professional washing machine cleaning will help to maintain your appliance and check to see that your machine is in good working order. You’ll find the deep clean service at various appliance maintenance and repair shops such as Sears Home Services.

Why Does My Washer Smell After Cleaning?

Sometimes a washing machine will continue to smell after cleaning and may even smell worse. This is because the dirt and grime were loosened but not removed. Run your washing machine through the cleaning cycle a second time.

You can also clean your washer with baking soda instead of vinegar or bleach by adding 1 cup of baking soda to the drum before starting the wash cycle. The baking soda will help deodorize your washing machine.

If this doesn’t work, double-check to make sure that your drain is clean and the lint filter is not clogged.

Tips To Keep a Washing Machine Clean

There are a few things you can do that will help your washing machine stay clean and not develop mold, mildew, and bacteria in its crevices.

  • Leave the door of your washing machine open. This allows the drum and seals to dry which will reduce the growth of mold and mildew.
  • Dry the seals and gasket of your machine with a soft towel to reduce the moisture in your washer.
  • Don’t store laundry products on your washing machine as any spills may damage the finish or electrical components.
  • Clean your washing machine regularly.


Can Vinegar Damage Your Washing Machine?

Yes, vinegar can damage your washing machine as the acid eats away at synthetic rubber. Eventually, it may cause the hoses to leak.

Can I Use Oxiclean to Clean My Washing Machine?

Yes, OxiClean can be used to clean your washing machine. Open one pouch of the OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner and pour it into the drum of your machine. Do not add any detergent, bleach, or other cleansers. Run a normal wash cycle with hot water or start your machine’s clean cycle.

Can I Use Lysol to Clean My Washing Machine?

Yes, you can use Lysol Washing Machine Cleaner to clean your washing machine. Check the instructions on the side of the bottle. You usually pour half of the bottle into your washing machine. Don’t use any other cleansers or detergents.

Then run a normal wash cycle using hot water or start your machine’s clean cycle.

Why Does the Water In My Washing Machine Look Dirty?

Sometimes the water in your washing machine will look dirty because of iron deposits in the water. You could also have buildup in the intake valves or deteriorating old pipes.

Where is the Filter on a Washing Machine?

The filter on a washing machine is often located behind a small hatch at the front of the machine, at the end of the drainage hose, under the cover of the center agitator, or along the top rim of a top load washer. Check the user manual to find your machine’s specific filter location.

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About the Author

Sara Dennis

Sara Dennis is a coffee-loving freelance writer, homeschool blogger, and mom of six kids. In her free time, Sara loves reading books and researching more efficient and effective ways to keep a clean house, homeschool her children, and blog better while making a home for her large family.