Dirt, mold, and other grimy residue can build up inside your washer over time. Learn how to clean a washing machine, including front-loading and top-loading machines, to get your laundry as clean as possible.
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The dirt that disappears from your clothes, towels, and sheets has to go somewhere, which means grime can build up inside your washing machine over time. Without regular cleaning, the appliance might also harbor leftover detergent, hard-water deposits, and mold or mildew around the lid. This can leave a residue on laundry or cause items to emerge from the wash with a funky smell. To ensure your freshly washed clothes and linens are as clean as possible, follow these steps on how to clean a washing machine once a month. These instructions work for cleaning front-loading and top-loading washing machines, but there are a few special considerations for both types.

laundry room with front load washer and dryer
Credit: Reed Davis

How to Clean a Washing Machine

If your washing machine has a self-clean function, choose that cycle and follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean the inside of the machine. Otherwise, you can use this simple, three-step process to eliminate buildup in washing machine hoses and pipes and ensure your clothes stay fresh and clean.

Step 1: Run a Hot Cycle with Vinegar

Run an empty, regular cycle on hot, using two cups of white vinegar instead of detergent. Add the vinegar to the detergent dispenser. (Don't worry about harming your machine, as white vinegar will not damage clothes.) The hot water-vinegar combo removes and prevents bacteria growth. Vinegar can also act as a deodorizer and cut through mildew odors.

Step 2: Scrub the Inside and Outside of the Washing Machine

In a bucket or nearby sink, mix about 1/4 cup vinegar with a quart of warm water. Use this mixture, plus a sponge and dedicated toothbrush, to clean the inside of the machine. Pay special attention to dispensers for fabric softener or soap, the inside of the door, and around the door opening. If your soap dispenser is removable, soak it in the vinegar water before scrubbing. Give the machine's exterior a wipedown, too.

Step 3: Run a Second Hot Cycle

Run one more empty, regular cycle on hot, without detergent or vinegar. If desired, add 1/2 cup baking soda to the drum to help clear away buildup loosened from the first cycle. After the cycle is complete, wipe out the inside of the drum with a microfiber cloth to remove any remaining residue.

Tips for Cleaning a Top-Loading Washing Machine

To clean a top-loading washer, consider pausing the machine during the first hot-water cycle outlined above. Allow the tub to fill and agitate for about one minute, then pause the cycle for an hour to let the vinegar soak.

Top-loading washing machines also tend to collect more dust than front-loaders. To remove dust or detergent splatters, wipe the top of the machine and the dials using a microfiber cloth dipped in white vinegar. Use a toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach spots around the lid and under the rim of the tub.

Tips for Cleaning a Front-Loading Washing Machine

When it comes to cleaning front-loading washing machines, the gasket, or rubber seal around the door, is usually the culprit behind musty-smelling laundry. Moisture and leftover detergent can create a breeding ground for mold and mildew, so it's important to clean this area regularly. To remove grime, spray the area around the door with distilled white vinegar and let it sit with the door open for at least one minute before wiping clean with a microfiber cloth. For a deeper clean, you can also wipe the area with a diluted bleach solution. To prevent mold or mildew growth, leave the door open for a few hours after each wash to let the moisture dry out.

New to the market, washing machine cleaning tablets like Affresh ($11.99 for a 6-pack, The Home Depot) and liquid cleaners like Clorox Washing Machine Cleaner offer an alternative solution to use for monthly cleaning. However, steps should still be taken to clean the gasket and exterior, and often vinegar is a more affordable option.

By Berit Thorkelson and Jessica Bennett

    Comments (4)

    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    May 4, 2021
    I have been doing laundry for over 7 decades... at first we separated whites from colored (segregation ?).. learned from college aged kids, throw it all in at once. I have always was everything except wool in hot water. I wash silk in the machine. If the manufacturers did a better job of building their machines, we wouldn't have to be playing these "games" now. I bought a Maytag frontloader and got rid of it pretty quickly, you could not clean the mold from the door gasket, and they did not make you aware w/those new EXPENSIVE machines you needed to leave the door open. My last machine lasted over 20 years.. it was a Kenmore top loader. The Whirlpool one I bought last year has to have special cleaner for the inside???? wth is that about.. oh yeah, the ss tub is gunked up and I had to try to find a way to clean it, because I could not find what they said was needed in the stores. I am less than 5' tall, and practically had to climb in the machine to reach .. not easy at 83 years of age... what we have now is built in obsolescents so they can sell more product...
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    March 12, 2021
    Good also to add a cup of Dishwasher Powdered or liquid soap made to clean surfaces 100 percent lower cost than that other packaged washer drum cleaner that will take your money for the big spenders
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    June 16, 2020
    Consumer Reports (Feb 2020) says vinegar can harm rubber seals and hoses in washing machines and dishwashers, and advises against unless owner manual specifically allows vinegar. (Some types of rubber can handle the acid.) Google "can vinegar harm washing machines."
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    December 29, 2018
    Being allergic to fabric softeners I can not use them. Instead, I put several tablespoons of baking soda on top of the clothes and white vinegar in the fabric softener and bleach areas. The clothes come out of the drier clean and fresh.