How to Clean Your Washing Machine (Because, Ew, It Smells)

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File this one under housekeeping tasks you had zero clue you needed to do: Taking time during your cleaning schedule to wash your washing machine. Yep. Apparently, all those sudsy cycles can produce mold and mildew, which in turn cause your “clean” clothes to smell. That’s why we put together this handy guide for how to clean your washing machine—both top- and front-loading. 

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How Often Should You Clean a Washing Machine?

We know, we know. It seems silly to have to clean a machine that, well...cleans. But you should be cleaning this appliance about once a month. Signs that you're due for a cleaning include your clothes having a less fresh scent, a buildup of debris (like pet hair) around the seals or a buildup of soap residue or hard water (which can harbor and inspire bacterial growth). Think of cleaning your washing machine as a preventative measure—it'll keep things running smoothly and prevent malfunctions and issues down the road, like unreliable water temperature or odors. 

Which Parts of the Washing Machine Should You Clean?

  • Interior and exterior seals
  • Interior washer lid
  • Exterior washer lid and knobs/buttons
  • Washer drum/tub
  • Washer gasket (aka the rubber padding at the front of a front-loading washer)
  • Filters
  • Drains
  • Detergent and bleach dispensers

How to Clean a Top-Loading Washing Machine

1. Adjust the settings to the hottest water temperature and longest possible cycle.

Keep in mind that no clothing should be included in this small- or medium-sized load.

2. As the washer starts to fill, add four cups of white vinegar and one cup of baking soda.

Let it mix together as the washer fills. After about ten minutes or so, pause the cycle to let the combination sit for at least an hour.

3. While the mixture sits, dip the microfiber cloth in hot white vinegar.

You can use the microwave or stove to heat it up. Use the cloth to wipe down and clean the top of the washing machine, as well as all knobs and buttons.

4. Next, bust out that old toothbrush and get scrubbing. 

Use it on the detergent, fabric softener and bleach dispensers.

5. Resume the cycle.

Once it's finished, use the microfiber cloth to wipe down the interior and remove any remaining scum or buildup.

6. Repeat the process every one to six months.

The more frequently you use your machine, the less often you'll need to clean it (bacteria has less of a chance to grow if it's running every few days). It’s also worth leaving the lid of your top-loading machine open to prevent any mildew and mold from building up between washes.

How to Clean a Front-Loading Washing Machine

1. Use a microfiber cloth dipped in white vinegar to wipe the rubber gasket on the front of your washer.

You’ll be amazed how much debris and scum can accumulate in the crevices.

2. Adjust the settings on your machine to the hottest, longest cycle.

A small or medium load is fine.

3. Mix ¼ cup baking soda and ¼ cup water in the detergent tray and run a load.

Remember: no clothes! The washing machine should be empty.

4. When the cycle finishes, pop out the detergent tray and run it under hot water until it’s clean.

Then, pop the tray back in your machine, add one cup of white vinegar and run one final wash.

5. Repeat the process every one to six months.

It’s also smart to leave the door open, even just a crack, in between loads to minimize smells and prevent buildup of mildew and mold.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...

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Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...