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How to Clean Top Load Washer: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to clean your top load washer so it no longer stinks.

Nothing is worse than opening the lid of your washing machine only to be met with a foul odor. How can you clean your clothing in a filthy washing machine? Thankfully, this problem can be prevented and solved by simply making cleaning your top load washing machine a part of your regular cleaning routine.

So today, let’s discuss how to clean a top load washer.

Key Takeaways

  • Clean a top load washer every 3 months, or monthly in humid climates, using bleach and vinegar in separate cycles.
  • Run the washer with bleach to kill bacteria, then with vinegar to remove soap scum and mineral deposits.
  • Never mix bleach and vinegar, as it creates poisonous chlorine gas.
  • Regularly clean the drum, exterior, and lint filter, and leave the lid open to prevent mold and mildew growth.

How Often Should I Clean My Top Load Washer?

A top load washing machine should be cleaned at least twice a year. You should consider cleaning your machine every three months if you have hard water, as hard water will leave mineral deposits behind and potentially clog your water hoses.

Another reason to clean your machine more frequently is if you have high efficiency or HE machine. These machines don’t use as much water as regular top load machines making it likely that you have gunk building up. Clean an HE machine every three months.

If you live in a humid climate where mold and mildew grow easily, clean your top load washer every month to keep the mold and mildew from taking over your machine.

How to Clean Top Loading Washing Machine

Man holding top load washer lid and opening it for laundry

First, you will clean your top load washer with bleach to kill the bacteria. Then you’ll follow through by cleaning your machine with vinegar to remove the soap scum and mineral deposits.

Never mix the vinegar and bleach in an effort to save time. It creates poisonous chlorine gas.

  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Beginner

What You’ll Need

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Old toothbrush
  • Bowl
  • Measuring cup
  • Sink or bucket
  • Small saucepan
  • Stove or microwave
  • Spray bottle

With Bleach

The bleach will kill the bacteria which causes your washer to smell.

1. Empty Washer

Check your washing machine to make sure that it has been completely emptied. You don’t want an odd sock hiding at the bottom of the drum before you begin washing your machine. Also, check that there’s no detergent or fabric softener in the dispenser.

2. Start Cycle

If your top load washing machine has a self-clean cycle, select that cycle. Otherwise set your washer for the hottest water possible, the largest load, and the longest cycle. Start the cycle and wait for the machine to fill.

3. Add Bleach

When the machine is full but hasn’t started agitating yet, you will add 4 cups of bleach to the water. Close the lid so the machine agitates for 1 minute with the bleach in the water. Then open the lid or pause your machine.

Wait 1 hour to allow your machine time to soak with the bleach water. If your washer won’t allow you to pause the machine for an hour, don’t worry. Just allow your machine to finish the cycle normally.


Never mix bleach and vinegar as this creates lethal chlorine gas.

4. Complete Cycle

After the hour is completed, close the lid and allow the cycle to finish.

With Vinegar

Now, you’ll be deep cleaning your washing machine with vinegar. The vinegar will help to remove the soap scum and mineral deposits in your washing machine.

Don’t worry about mixing the vinegar and bleach as long as the cycle is completed. Part of the wash cycle is the rinse water which will have rinsed your washer. If you’re worried, you can always rinse your machine one more time to make sure that the bleach is gone.

1. Clean the Dispensers

Heat 1 cup of vinegar either on the stove or in the microwave. You need to vinegar hot, but not boiling.

If your dispensers are unable to be removed, pour the heated vinegar over the dispensers and then wait for 15 minutes.

Otherwise, remove your dispensers and place them in a sink or bucket. Fill the container with hot water and pour 1 cup of hot vinegar into the water. Allow the dispensers to soak for 15 minutes.

After the soaking is finished, take an old toothbrush and scrub your dispensers clean.

If you removed your dispensers, put them back in your washing machine before continuing.

2. Start the Cycle

Start a new cycle using either the self-clean or a wash cycle that’s been set to the hottest water setting possible, the largest load, and the longest cycle. Allow your washing machine to fill.

If you’d like extra cleaning power, add ½ cup of baking soda to your drum before starting the cycle. Using vinegar with baking soda creates a foamy cleanser that will scrub your machine.

3. Add Vinegar

When the washer is full of water, open the lid and add 4 cups of vinegar to the water. Close the lid and allow the machine to agitate for 1 minute.

Open the lid to pause the machine and allow it to soak for 1 hour. If your washing machine doesn’t allow you to pause for an hour, don’t worry about it. Just finish the cycle normally.

4. Finish the Cycle

After 1 hour, close the lid to finish the wash cycle.

Drum and Exterior

Now that you’ve deep cleaned your washer, it’s time to clean the drum and the exterior.

1. Make a Cleaning Solution

Fill a small bucket or a bowl with water and add a squirt of dish soap. Agitate the water until you have suds.

2. Clean the Exterior

Dip a microfiber cloth into the cleanser and wipe down the outside of your washing machine. Remove all the laundry product residue and gunk. Be sure to wipe down the knobs and electric panel.

Your goal is a shiny washing machine.

3. Clean the Lid

Open the lid of your washing machine. Dip a toothbrush into the soapy water to clean the crevices on the lid and at the top of your washing machine.

4. Clean Agitator

If you have a washer without an agitator, then move on to the next step. Otherwise, remove the top of the agitator and place it in the bucket or bowl of soapy water. Use an old toothbrush to clean it.

Then use the toothbrush to scrub the inside of the agitator with soapy water. Your goal is to remove as much of the gunk from the agitator as possible. Replace the top of the agitator when you’re finished.

5. Wipe the Drum

Use a clean and dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the drum and dry it. You should have a clean drum after the two cleaning cycles with bleach and vinegar.

Tips To Keep Your Washer Clean

Here are a few tips that you can follow to help keep your washing machine clean.

  • Leave the lid of your washing machine open to prevent the moisture from growing mold and mildew.
  • If you usually wash your laundry with cold water, periodically flush your machine by running a cycle of hot water. This will help to remove any residue that may be building up in your machine.
  • Don’t wash too small of a load of laundry as this may leave detergent behind. Also, don’t wash too large of a load of laundry as this may cause excess moisture to be left in the machine.
  • Wipe down the top area of your drum where the water splashes to keep the area clean and dry.
  • Clean your washing machine’s lint filter regularly.

How Do I Get Rid of Grey Sludge In My Washing Machine?

The gray sludge is caused by a combination of detergents and dirt in your machine along with the use of cold water to wash your clothing. The solution is to clean your washing machine.

How Do You Get Rid of Mold In a Top Loading Washing Machine?

Clean your washing machine using bleach to kill the smelly mold in your machine. Follow up by cleaning your washing machine with bleach. This will remove the residue left by detergents, fabric softener, and lint that bacteria love to use when breeding.

Just be sure not to combine vinegar and bleach which will create a poisonous gas.


Why Does My Top Load Washer Stink?

Your top load washer usually develops a musty smell because of a buildup of residue left behind by detergents, fabric softeners, and lint. Bacteria love this mixture and will breed causing your washing machine to stink. Use vinegar or baking soda as a homemade cleaner to deodorize your washer.

Can Vinegar Damage Your Washing Machine?

Yes, vinegar may eventually damage your washing machine. The acid eats away at the synthetic rubber hoses which may lead to leaks.

Can Bleach Damage Your Washing Machine?

Check your user manual to be sure that you can use bleach in your washing machine. Bleach is corrosive and needs to be diluted at a ratio of no more than 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.

Where is the Washing Machine Filter On a Top Loader?

Knowing where the washing machine filter is on a top loader is crucial for maintenance. Lift the lid and the filter should be in the center of the drum.

Can I Use Regular Oxiclean to Clean My Washing Machine?

You can use regular OxiClean to clean your washing machine. For the best results, mix one scoop of powder with water and pour it into the external chute when hot water begins to fill the drum.

Why Does My House Smell Like Rotten Eggs When I Do Laundry?

Your house smells like rotten eggs when you do the laundry because the drain is blocked. Water cannot flow away and so it sits and becomes stagnant.

How to Clean Washing Machine Top Loader

Clean your top load washer by first running a wash cycle of bleach and hot water. Then run a second wash cycle using vinegar and hot water. After these two cycles, your drum will be clean, the bacteria killed, and the soap scum removed. Your washer will no longer have a foul stench.

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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.