How To Deep Clean Your Washing Machine

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Washing machine cleaning tables don’t deep clean all the areas in your washer where mold and mildew grow. Use household ingredients to finish the job.

Person following steps to deep clean a washing machine pulls gasket back to reveal mold

Doesn’t it seem like a machine regularly filled with soapy water ought to clean itself in the process? Unfortunately, washing machines are not self-cleaning, especially if you only launder with cold water, as many people opt for these days. If not maintained properly, your washer will develop mold, mildew, and bacteria that can cause it to smell and keep it from properly cleaning your clothes.

How Often Do Washers Need Deep-Cleaning?

In most households, you should deep clean your washer once a month. There are situations where you may need to do it more often, such as when you find a dirt ring at the top of the drum or around the door gasket or any time you wash a load of oil-stained or greasy work clothes. In humid environments or homes without air-conditioning, you may find your washer starts to smell of mildew more often. You can prolong the time between deep cleaning by using washing machine cleaner tablets, but you’ll still need to clean the gaskets and lid every month.

Deep Cleaning Top-Loading Washing Machines

Time Required: 10 minutes plus 2 wash cycles.

Cleaning your top load washing machine will keep it from smelling bad, kill mold and mildew, and remove grimy buildup.

Equipment and Materials You’ll Need

  • Microfiber cloths
  • Old toothbrush or soft-bristled brush
  • Bucket or deep bowl
  • Towels
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • All-purpose cleaning spray
  • Baking soda

Step 1: Clean the Gasket

Combine 1 cup of hot water and 1 cup of white vinegar in the bucket. Dip a microfiber cloth into this mixture and scrub the hard rubber gasket at the top of the tub barrel. Once you’ve removed all the buildup, wipe it with a fresh cloth dampened with plain water. Never use straight vinegar to clean the gasket, or you may damage it.

Step 2: Clean the Dispensers

If your bleach and fabric softener dispensers are removable, take them out and wash them in a sink of hot, soapy water. Use an old toothbrush to clean any grime in the corners. Rinse and then let them air dry. While they dry, clean the area where the dispensers ordinarily go using a damp microfiber cloth. Once the dispensers are dry, reinstall them in the machine.

Step 3: Clean the Washer Tub and Lid

Run the wash cycle on the hottest water setting using the highest water level. Add 2 cups of white vinegar as the tub fills, but do not add detergent or any other laundry product. Once the cycle finishes, open the lid and clean it with an all-purpose cleaner.

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Step 4: Clean the Agitator

If your top-loading washer has a central agitator, remove it and wipe it inside and out using all-purpose spray and a microfiber cloth. Use scissors to carefully snip away any tangled threads or hair you find stuck on the agitator, then put it back in place.

Step 5: Rinse

Steps 3 and 4 loosened hidden grime. To finish deep cleaning and deodorizing your top-loading washer, pour 1 cup of baking soda (bicarbonate) into the tub with two towels, then run a cold water wash/rinse cycle with the highest water setting. The towels will scrub any hidden grime we’ve loosened, while the baking soda will neutralize any remaining vinegar and finish deodorizing your washer.

After cleaning your washing machine, inspect your washing machine’s hoses. Replace them every three years or immediately if you see signs of wear.

Deep Cleaning Front-Loading Washing Machines

Time required: 10 minutes plus a complete wash cycle

Follow the steps below to deep clean your front-loading washing machine naturally, get rid of odors and grime, and leave it smelling fresh.

Equipment and Materials You’ll Need

  • Lint-free cleaning cloths
  • Old toothbrush or soft-bristled brush
  • Bucket
  • Several towels
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • All-purpose cleaning spray
  • Baking soda

Step 1. Clean the Gasket

Place a thick, folded towel on the floor in front of your machine to protect it from moisture. Add another for your knees if you like. Spray the rubber gasket inside the door with all-purpose cleaner and wipe it with a fresh cloth. Using your fingers, gently expand the gasket and repeat inside the ridges.

Step 2. Disinfect

In the bucket, combine 2 quarts of hot water and 1 cup of white vinegar. Dip a cloth into this mixture and wipe the gasket and grooves, saturating them well. Let this mixture sit in place for several minutes while you proceed with the next step. Never use undiluted vinegar or bleach on the gasket in your machine’s door or you may damage the rubber seal.

Step 3. Clean the Dispensers

Remove the soap and fabric softener dispensers and wash them in a sink with hot water. Use the scrub brush to loosen any soap scum. Rinse the dispensers well and let them air dry. Dip a clean cloth into the vinegar water and wipe the area where the soap and fabric softener dispensers usually go. Put the dispenser containers back once they’re dry.

Step 4. Sanitize Your Front-Loading Washer

Fill the clean, empty detergent dispenser with white vinegar. Do not add additional detergent, bleach, or fabric softener at this time. Run the machine using the hottest setting (usually “sanitize”) or the self-cleaning cycle if it has one.

Step 5. Clean the Exterior

While the machine runs, clean the outside with all-purpose cleaner and fresh microfiber cloths. At this point, you can pick up the towels on the floor and empty the contents of the bucket.

Step 6. Dry the Gaskets

The previous step may have loosened hidden grime, so finish deep-cleaning your front-load washer by drying the interior of the machine with a clean towel. Use a microfiber cloth to dry the gasket, including between the folds.

Tips to Keep Your Washer Clean

The tips below will help keep your washing machine clean and smelling fresh between deep cleanings.

Washing Towels in Bleach Does Not Clean Your Washer

People sometimes believe that washing a load of towels in hot water or with bleach is enough to clean their washing machine. But, as the CDC explains, a high load of organic matter can overwhelm a disinfectant’s ability to eliminate germs. So, the bleach swirling around in the water with your dirty towels might get them clean but won’t be enough to also disinfect your washer. You still need to deep-clean your washing machine — and here’s how to deep-clean your towels, too.

Use the Correct Detergent

If you prefer washing in cold water, choose a detergent specifically designed for cold temps since it won’t leave an odor-causing residue in your machine. High-efficiency (HE) washing machines also need special detergents that are designed for use with less water. Using a standard detergent in an HE machine leads to residue and buildup in your machine and also on your clothes.

Use the Right Amount of Detergent

If you’re not using a laundry pod, you’re more able to adjust the amount of detergent you use. Clothes that aren’t too dirty don’t need a lot of detergent, so use less to avoid leaving residue. Heavily soiled loads, like gardening clothes or stinky sports uniforms, need the full amount indicated on the detergent’s instructions. If you do use pods, you’ll find the manufacturer’s instructions often recommend using more than one pod for such loads.

Stop Using Liquid Fabric Softener

Liquid fabric softeners work by coating clothes with a petroleum-based surfactant. They’re designed to leave a light coating on fabrics. If you use cold water, it’s like trying to wash a greasy dish in a sink of cold water — it’s just not going to get clean. If you’re concerned about static cling, use vinegar in the rinse cycle. (The smell will disappear when your clothes dry.)

Let it Air

After use, leave your washing machine door or lid open for at least an hour so the inside has a chance to dry completely. In homes with curious children or pets, try a magnetic washing machine door hook to hold the door open only wide enough for air.


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20 Comments

  1. Melissa@TheHappierHomemaker says:

    Thank you for this…I have been looking at my gunky top loader every day for a week knowing something must be done but not knowing where to start.  No excuse now!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome! I cleaned mine today, and now I don’t want to do laundry because I don’t want to mess it up again. 😉

  2. Thank you for this article, I have everything on hand so I don’t have to go to the store, my HE washing machine stinks and is grimy, now I can go in there and fix it…I wrote everything down step by step, now I’m ready…

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m glad you have everything on hand. Good luck, and let me know how it turns out!

  3. Hi Katie Berry Sorry I know this article hasn’t been commented on for a little while, but I just wanted to ask you mean distilled malt vinegar when you say white vinegar. I would like to wash my machine, but don’t want to use the wrong vinegar! Thanks

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh heavens, NO! Malt vinegar is best on fish and chips, Shabana! I suspect you’re probably more familiar with the phrase “purified vinegar”. Malt vinegar contains barley, and is a lovely source of flavour, but is not suitable for cleaning.

  4. I was wondering if when you use vinegar instead of fabric softener, you’re clothes end up smelling like vinegar?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      No, the vinegar smell disappears in the rinse and definitely is gone by the time they’re dry.

  5. We’re renters, and our wash machine isn’t hooked up to hot water and I don’t think it’s ever been cleaned. You suggested running on the hottest setting, but that’s just not an option for us. Any alternatives? Thanks so much! I moved out of my mom’s last year and your blog has really helped me keep my place tidy.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Alicia,
      How frustrating not to have hot water to do your laundry! You can still clean the machine, though.

      Run a cycle using the highest water fill setting and cold water. Don’t add clothes, detergent, or fabric softener, but add either 1/2 cup chlorine bleach or 2 cups of distilled white vinegar once it’s filled. (Don’t add both — you’ll create chlorine gas!) Let the cycle finish running, and you’ll have disinfected the washer tub and hoses.

      Finish up by wiping the gasket, door, knobs, handles, and exterior with disinfecting cloths, and your machine will be fresh and ready for use.

  6. I have cleaning vinegar. Google says a top loader user about 40 gallons. The chart on the back of the vinegar says 1/2 cup per gallon that would mean 20 cups of vinegar to clean it. 2 qts is 64 oz which 8 full cups. So is a whole 2 qts bottle of cleaning vinegar going to damage my washer or can I dump it in?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That much vinegar is excessive and can damage the hoses and mechanics in your washer. Just use the 2 cups in your top loader as discussed.

  7. Zein Jallad says:

    What else would you recommend as a fabric softener? I live in a country where we don’t have the fabric softener sheets!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I add distilled white vinegar to my rinse cycle, and it softens close while eliminating static cling. Or, you could follow my tips here for homemade dryer sheets.

  8. Elizabeth Long says:

    Is it ok to clean the inside of your washer with Lysol all purpose spray if you rinse it out after cleaning it is?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’d recommend checking the packaging label and the company’s website for approved uses.

  9. Bren Ferns says:

    Thanks Katie for your tips on cleaning top load washing machines. If my machine does not have hot water wash, then what is the option and will baking soda clean the wash tub. How much of baking soda to be used for deep Cleaning?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You can use cold water if your machine doesn’t have hot but may have to repeat the deep-cleaning if you notice lingering residue. Either way, use the 1 cup of baking soda specified in the steps.

  10. Holly Moore says:

    Pet hair!!!
    How do I manage per hair in the laundry more effectively? Wipe out machines between washes, dryer balls, vacuum inside machine? Shake out clothes before washing?
    We love our long hair German Shepherd but need so many pet hair mitigation solutions, it’s a insane!
    Any tips you have would be so appreciated!