It may seem a little counterintuitive to clean your washing machine, but if you’ve ever ended up with a load of laundry that has a pungent musty smell after you wash them, one of the main issues is often a grimy washer. Washing machines handle heavy-duty tasks, what with all those continuous loads of stained and dirty laundry. Over time, detergent, soap scum, dirt, and debris can build up and start affecting the machine’s functionality, leading to less efficient wash cycles and a musty-smelling washer.
Here is how to clean your washer in 5 easy steps:
Table of Contents
Step 1: Cleaning the outside of a washing machine
The outside of a washing machine can attract a lot of dust and dirt, so it’s essential to clean it regularly to maintain its sparkle without damaging the finish. Distilled white vinegar and a damp cloth will remove grime and water spots. Here are the cleaning directions to keep in mind when working on the exterior of your washer:
- Dispense a small amount of vinegar or mild detergent onto a clean, damp microfiber cloth
- Wipe the whole exterior surface in circular motions, adding vinegar to the cloth as needed.
- If there is any stuck-on debris, create a paste with baking soda and water and use an old toothbrush to gently scrub them away.
- When you’re finished scrubbing, use a clean, damp cloth to clean off the exterior surface.
Step 2: Cleaning the washing machine detergent drawer
The detergent drawer in a washing machine sees all kinds of cleaning solutions and softeners poured into it. With time, deposits of these detergents mixing and getting stuck to the drawer can lead to undesirable laundry results, as well as potentially causing the machine to break down entirely. Soap residue and old stagnant water can also make the drawer (also known as the soap dispenser) smell.
To clean the detergent drawer, fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and water. Spray down the drawer and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before using a toothbrush and microfiber cloth to remove all the detergent residue.
If the dispenser is removable, gently take it out from the washer (check your manual to get the exact instructions on how to remove it entirely). Soak it in hot, soapy water for about an hour or so, and then use an old toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies. If any mold or mildew is growing in the dispenser, apply a specific mold and mildew product to the problem areas before soaking in soapy water. Rinse thoroughly under running tap water and then dry with a tea towel. Before putting the detergent drawer back, clean out the cavity where you took it out from – it’s likely there’s some hidden soap residue and mold there, too.
Step 3: Cleaning the gasket
The gasket is the rubber strip found on the door and inside the washing machine that provides a tight seal when you shut the door. Like the detergent drawer, the gasket often accumulates grime and can become a haven for detergent residue, mildew, dirt, hair, and the odd coin.
Start by cleaning the gasket with a damp cloth dipped in warm, soapy water, paying particular attention to the insides of the rubber strip. Remember also to wipe around and underneath it. Be careful when you lift the gasket away from the metal to clean underneath it as you may accidentally unseal or rip it. If you’re having difficulty removing residue with a cloth, try using an old toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. If you use mildew cleaner, be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands, as these chemicals can irritate your skin.
Step 4: Cleaning the washing machine filter
Washing machines have filters that can get clogged with fluff, hair, coins, and other types of debris. The filter can be found beneath the drum door behind a small hatch. It’s essential to keep your filter clean and free from blockages to prevent a buildup of water, which is often what causes leaks and water damage to both your washing machine and floor.
Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions to find out how to remove the filter cover if it’s fixed and how to remove the filter itself. The manual should also provide details on how to clean the filter. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Open the filter cover (this is typically located on the front and at the bottom of the washing machine). Inside, you’ll see the filter and draining tube.
- Lay down a towel, and then place a bowl on top of it.
- Uncap the drainage tube and let the water drain into the bowl, then recap the tube.
- Unscrew the filter by turning it counter-clockwise, and then gently pull it out to remove. Use a small brush to remove any lint or debris, then rinse the filter under running water.
- Reinsert the filter and screw it back on to secure it. Close the filter cover.
Step 5: Cleaning the washing machine drum (8 simple methods)
1. Using soda crystals
Soda crystals are a natural compound that has been historically used to clean different areas of the home. They can be used to dissolve grease, loosen dirt, and even soften water. Soda crystals are free from phosphate and enzymes, making them an excellent option for people with skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema. Read on to discover how to use soda crystals on your washing machine effectively:
- Make sure the washer is empty
- Pour half a pack (500g) of soda crystals directly into the washing machine drum
- Run the longest, hottest cycle to effectively eliminate grime, dirt, and bacteria
- If this is the first time you’re using soda crystals to clean your washing machine, you might need to repeat the process a few times.
In addition to cleaning your washer, soda crystals can also be used to keep the machine working smoothly, especially if you toss them in during laundry cycles.
2. Using distilled white vinegar
Distilled white vinegar is a powerful natural ingredient that effectively removes pungent odors and grease buildup, making it ideal for deep cleaning a washing machine that gets regular use or hasn’t had a maintenance wash in a long time.
To use it on your washing machine, add two cups of vinegar to the detergent dispenser and then run the machine on empty on the highest setting.
3. Using baking soda
If the inside of your machine is looking a bit worse for wear, it might be worth using baking soda to clean it. Make a paste using baking soda and water and carefully apply it to the inside of the washer using a soft cloth or sponge to revitalize it.
Alternatively, you can combine baking soda with vinegar for a deeper clean:
- Add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the detergent dispenser
- Set the washing machine to run empty on the hottest cycle
- Allow it to run for about a minute or two before adding ½ a cup of baking soda and allowing it to run again
- When water starts to fill the washing machine drum, pause the cycle and allow the water to sit in the machine for about half an hour. Restart the cycle and complete the wash.
- Finish by running another hot cycle to rinse the washing machine
4. Using vinegar and Epsom salts
Epson salts are one of the most underrated cleaning agents. While they’re effective for treating various skin conditions, they can also clean washing machines. Epsom salts are made up of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen – this chemical composition is naturally antibacterial, making it ideal for disinfecting the inside of your washing machine. Epsom salts also offer a simple scrubbing action that can help loosen grime and dirt in the drum. Here are some guidelines to follow when using it for your washer:
- Add a cup of epsom salts to half a cup of vinegar, stir it up slightly, and then add directly to the drum
- Run the washer on the hottest cycle, remembering to pause the machine when water starts to fill up in the drum to allow the saline solution to soak for at least 30 minutes.
- Restart the cycle and complete the wash
5. Using bleach
If you frequently use bleach for cleaning around the house, then using it to clean your washer might not seem like a daunting task. Bleach is a potent cleaning agent that removes mold and dirt from both the washing machine’s washer drum and detergent drawer.
- Add half a cup of household bleach directly into the washing machine drum, and another half a cup into the detergent drawer.
- Run an empty hot wash, and pause the machine for about an hour once it fills with water.
- Restart the cycle and let the wash complete before running an extra rinse cycle to get rid of all the bleach.
- Once it’s finished, wipe down the seals and the inside of the door
6. Using laundry detergent
You can also try running maintenance clean with a laundry detergent instead of a specialized washing machine cleaner. While your regular detergent should work fine, a natural, plant-based detergent marked as “concentrated” is usually the best option as they are typically stronger, and you don’t use a lot of it.
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7. Using sodium percarbonate
Sodium percarbonate is sometimes known as “oxygen bleach” or “laundry bleach.” It effectively freshens up washing machines by eliminating pungent odors. Sodium percarbonate is stronger than baking soda but safer than household bleach, and it’s an excellent choice for weekly washing machine cleaning.
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8. Using vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a reducing or chelating agent which binds tightly to metal ions. That means that it is particularly effective for cleaning the buildup associated with hard water such as limescale, rust, detergent buildup, and soap scum. Here are guidelines on how to use vitamin C to clean your washing machine:
- Bring a pan of water to boil, allow it to simmer, and then dissolve approximately 200 grams of Vitamin C/ascorbic acid powder. To increase the cleaning power of the solution, opt to add 100 grams of citric acid powder to the solution.
- Pour the warm solution directly into the washing machine drum and pour a bit of it into the drawer as well.
- Run the machine empty on the hottest wash.
- Never use citric acid undiluted on plastic washing machine drawers as it could cause corrosion.
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Top-load vs. front-load washing machines
A front-load washer requires users to load clothes through an opening found at the front of the washer. Most of these machines come with a glass panel door, and they also typically feature a separate detergent drawer, where you can load the washing powder.
On the other hand, a top-load washer is a machine that features an openable door at the top. This is the entry that you use to load the clothes. Some models come with glass panels, but many of them have a variety of covers. These washing machines are designed in such a way that allows you to pour the laundry detergent directly into the machine with your laundry.
If a front-loading washer fits your home, it might be a better option than a top-load one for most individuals. This is because front-loaders are more efficient at removing stains and use less energy and water (even when compared with high-efficiency top-loaders).
Despite these perks, front-loaders are generally less popular than top-loaders because they are high-maintenance, amongst other reasons. If you use too much detergent, the wrong type of detergent, or too much fabric softener, or inadvertently allow the gaskets and drums to stay wet between washes, mold, and mildew will start to develop in your washer, and you’ll begin to notice a damp, musty smell. Contrarily, top-loaders rarely end up smelling like mildew because the unsealed top door allows moisture to evaporate out easily.
While the odor is one of the most common issues when dealing with a front-loader, it’s easily preventable. Make sure to wipe out the gasket and door between every use. You’ll also want to run an empty self-cleaning cycle with a specialty drum cleaner or chlorine bleach.
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Fortunately, cleaning your washing machine is a relatively quick and easy task – you don’t need specialist chemicals and materials, just some everyday household products and a little bit of time and patience on your end.