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How to Clean a Washing Machine in 30 Minutes or Less

A quick guide to removing mildew so your laundry always smells fresh.

Architectural Digest

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Photo illustration showing washing machine, laundry, laundry detergent, etc.

With these cleaning tips, washing machine mildew won’t stand a chance. (Illustration: Samantha Hahn/Getty Images)

Knowing how to clean a washing machine is one of those cleaning hacks you may not consider until a sour smell is coming from the laundry room. A washing machine can be a breeding ground of germs, even when its job is to do the opposite. Think about it: Your washing machine works hard to keep your household in order. Everyday items—from sweaty workout clothes to bed sheets to seemingly endless towels—can lead to a less than clean washing machine if you don’t maintain it.

“People still don’t know that washing machines need to be cleaned regularly,” says Alessandro Gazzo, content manager at Emily’s Maids, a house cleaning and maid service in Dallas. “They associate ‘machine for cleaning’ with ‘auto-cleaning,’ and that is not the case.” It’s important to clean a washing machine regularly because they can become a breeding ground for bacterial growth. “Anything from soap scum, detergent, fabric softener, and fiber residues, plus hard water can clog the drain,” he adds. What’s more, if you don’t know how to clean a washing machine, mildew can build up over time, which is not only gross, but can also cause the wash tub to smell. Gazzo recommends cleaning your washing machine regularly and deep cleaning it every three to four months.

AD shares top cleaning secrets for how to deep clean both front-load washers and top-loading washers using a DIY cleaning solution of white vinegar and baking soda. The best part: Wiping away dirty residue won’t take you longer than 30 minutes. Add these cleaning methods to your to-do list once every four months, and your washing machine will stay at the top of its game cycle after cycle. Plus, if you know how to clean out a dryer vent, then laundry day might even be something you look forward to.

Is bleach or vinegar better to clean a washing machine?

Chlorine bleach and white vinegar are common cleaning ingredients proven to deal with mold, mildew, and everyday gunk. White vinegar is highly acidic, so it’s an excellent way to kill unwanted slimy accumulation that tends to grow in a wet environment. Bleach, on the other hand, is an oxidative agent (that’s why it gets your towels bright and white). When it comes to cleaning a washing machine, your cleaning solution depends on the issue at hand. “If you have mold or mildew, both vinegar and bleach are effective, but bleach is more effective,” Gazzo says. “For removing odors, I would say vinegar.”

Some people, however, prefer white vinegar because it’s not as harsh as bleach. Unless, of course, your washing machine has been completely neglected, and is now a breeding ground for bacteria and germs, and you want a power cleaner. In that case, you can set the washing machine to a normal wash cycle with hot water and add a quarter of a cup of bleach. If you do go with bleach, check your washing machine manual to make sure it is compatible.

What is the best way to clean inside a washing machine?

To get started, you’ll need a few common household items: a spray bottle, distilled white vinegar, baking soda, a microfiber cleaning cloth, and an old toothbrush. Even though you’ll have the same cleaning supply list for a front-loading and a top-loading washing machine, the method is a little bit different.

People also tend to forget to sanitize the drain of both a top-loading and front-loading machine. To clean the drain, first make sure the washing machine is off. Then carefully disconnect the drain from the pipe, or perhaps your washing machine’s drain is attached to the laundry room sink. Either way, once the drain is disconnected, place it into an empty tub or wash basin and allow excess water to drain out. Check to see if there is any gunk stuck inside. You might have to use a drain snake to dislodge it. Then soak the drain in vinegar to remove mildew surrounding the drain opening. For stubborn grime, use an old toothbrush with a bit of baking soda. Wipe away the residue with a damp cloth.

Check if your washing machine has a filter, particularly if you have an older model. If you don’t see it right way, check the owner’s manual as washing machine filters can be in several locations, like the end of a drain hose, along the drum rim, under the agitator cover, or even on the outside of a washing machine inside a small hatch. The filter can look like a mesh or something with small holes to catch lint.

How to clean a front-load washer:

For a super quick washing machine refresh that will take you less than 30 minutes, add white vinegar to a spray bottle and spritz the inside of the drum. Wipe all around the washer drum with a microfiber cloth, leaving no surface untouched. Next, wipe down the rubber gaskets—also known as the seals around the door. As you wipe around them, you’ll probably find gunk, mildew, lint, and even hair.

For a regular cleaning of a front loader, you can clean it with a white microfiber cloth and bleach mixed with Dawn dish soap, especially around the rubber seal. “Set the washing machine to the highest water and temperature setting and run a full cycle with one cup of white vinegar and around five drops of lavender essential oil,” Gazzo suggests. When it comes to the quarterly deep clean of a front-loading washing machine, follow the same process but this time, instead of vinegar and essential oil, use two cups of washing soda and two cups of borax. Let sit for an hour and then run a full cycle. “During that hour the washing soda and borax will soften up the minerals and residues enough to deep clean the drain and the washer drum,” Gazzo says.

How to clean a top-loading washing machine:

Set your washing machine to the highest and hottest water setting. Add in four cups of white vinegar, and start a cycle. Once the washing machine is filled up and barely started, pause it and allow the water and white vinegar to soak the drum for an hour. When the first rinse cycle has ended, pour in a cup of baking soda and turn your top loader back on for one more powerful cycle with the hottest settings. And when that’s done, leave the top open to let it air dry.

What should I run through my washing machine to clean it?

Once you’re finished wiping down the inside of your front loader, you should run distilled white vinegar through it. Measure out two cups of distilled white vinegar and pour them directly into your washing machine’s liquid detergent dispenser. Set your front-loading machine on its longest cycle with the hottest water. When the cycle has finished, sprinkle half a cup of baking soda directly into the drum of the washing machine and run it on the same settings (highest and hottest). For a top-loading washing machine, a hot setting cycle with white vinegar will do the trick.

To help prevent soap scum buildup, Gazzo likes to use eco-friendly products like white vinegar instead of fabric softener. “Vinegar won’t leave any soap or fat residue on the drums or the drain,” he says.

How do I clean a smelly washing machine?

The quickest way to get rid of a washing machine smell is to tackle the surfaces and any areas where water may pool, creating a hospitable environment for mold, mildew, and bacteria. Spritz white vinegar onto a damp cloth and run it along the top and bottom of the lid of the top-loading washing machine, the sides, and the front of the washer until you’ve touched every square inch of your appliance. Then, use an old toothbrush to get into the dirty nooks and crannies of your machine’s detergent and fabric softener dispensers.

To get rid of smells from a front-loading machine, use soapy water or an all-purpose cleaner to thoroughly clean out the residue from the rubber seal around the door. Afterwards, spray white vinegar onto a microfiber cloth and clean the outside and inside of the door until it shines. Be sure to get the entire front of the machine, including the knobs and control panel, where hard water may be visible. Always leave the lid open to allow the machine to air dry. It’s good practice to have a microfiber cloth nearby and wipe down the area of the door after every load. 

If you have a particularly smelly washing machine, even if you deep clean several times a year, do a monthly cleanse with Affresh (which is available on Amazon). Affresh is a slow-dissolving tablet made of oxygen-based bleach and sodium carbonate. To use it, select the tub clean cycle—or a normal cycle if your washer doesn’t have a cleaning cycle built in—and pop in an Affresh tablet without any clothes. As the cycle runs, Affresh suds up and gets inside all the nooks, crannies, and crevices before rinsing away.

For general washing machine maintenance, know that you don’t need to add more detergent if the laundry is especially soiled. Adding extra detergent does more harm than good, since it can actually leave soapy residue on clothes and cause unnecessary wear to the washing machine. Check out your washer’s instructional manual for how much laundry detergent to use. These days, concentrated liquid detergents require a fraction of what you’re used to putting into detergent dispenser. To get grimy clothes and towels extra clean, use the sanitize cycle instead of adding extra detergent. The sanitize cycle washes clothes in the hottest water in an extended cycle that is designed to kill bacteria.

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This post originally appeared on Architectural Digest and was published September 15, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

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