It can be easy to overlook cleaning the things we use to clean other things, but major appliances like washing machines do need to be cleaned and properly maintained to optimize performance and to ensure the safety of your household.
Cleaning a washer will prevent the buildup of laundry products and soil that can leave clothes dingy, even right out of the wash, and prevent odors from taking root in the machine — and in your laundry. We spoke to experts about how, and how often, to clean top loading washers and front loading washers.
Lindsay Jones, a brand manager at Maytag, provided step-by-step instructions for cleaning a top loading washing machine. She recommends cleaning a washing machine regularly: “Staying on top of cleaning your washer means you don’t give residues a chance to take up residence in your machine.”
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Start by cleaning the tub, using a washing machine cleaner like Affresh or 1-quart liquid chlorine bleach. Run the washer’s cleaning cycle, followed by a rinse and spin cycle, to remove residue from the cleaner. Leave the washer door open to let the tub dry.
Important note: If using bleach, do not also use products containing ammonia or vinegar, as they cause a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed with chlorine bleach.
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Pull out the dispenser drawer(s) until you feel resistance, or, if they are removable, take them out of the unit. Wipe them clean with a damp cloth, and use a toothbrush to scrub any stubborn buildup. Removable parts may also be soaked in warm water to loosen and remove residue; wipe well after soaking.
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Open the lid and clean in and around the door using a damp cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe the exterior of the machine clean. Avoid the use of abrasive or harsh cleaners when cleaning outside surfaces as they can cause scratching and other damage.
Top loading washers with an agitator will need a deeper cleaning. “To fully deep clean a washing machine, you’ll need to clean the filter and the agitator,” Gina Perry, senior merchant of cleaning at The Home Depot, says. “This procedure varies from one machine to the next.”
Consult the machine’s owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to remove the washing machine agitator and filter, and unplug the machine before removing any parts. Typically, Perry says, these are the steps for removing and cleaning a washing machine filter.
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Use a socket wrench to remove the bolt holding the agitator; from its base, lift the agitator out of the machine.
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Place the agitator and filter into a bucket, utility sink or bathtub filled with hot, soapy water or in a cleaning solution made from 2 cups of vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup water.
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Use a soft bristle scrub brush to scrub down the parts. Rinse thoroughly, then dry them with a microfiber cloth. Replace the filter and agitator in the washing machine.
“Due to their setup,” Perry says of front loading washing machines, “they tend to be more prone to bad smells than top load washers.” Perry provided step-by-step instructions for cleaning a front loading washing machine to flush out unwanted mold and mildew growth and odors.
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Start by cleaning the tub, using an HE washing machine cleaner like Tide Washing Machine Cleaner on a normal cycle with the hot water setting.
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Once the cleaner load finishes, scrub the door gasket with an old toothbrush to remove buildup and debris, then use a cloth to wipe it clean with vinegar. Pull out the dispenser drawer(s) until you feel resistance, or, if they are removable, take them out of the unit. Wipe them clean with a damp cloth, and use a toothbrush to scrub any stubborn buildup.
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Wipe the inside of the tub and the door with a microfiber cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe the exterior of the machine clean. Avoid the use of abrasive or harsh cleaners when cleaning outside surfaces as they can cause scratching and other damage. Return detergent trays and parts to the machine and prop the door open to allow everything to dry thoroughly.
The frequency with which to clean a washing machine depends on a few factors, including the size of your household and what the machine is used for. Households with many members, or ones that use the washing machine to launder cloth diapers, outdoor work clothes or other heavily soiled textiles, will need to clean a washer more often.
“If you start to notice foul odors or leftover detergent/film in your washing machine, it’s probably time to give your appliance a deep clean,” Perry says.
The sniff test is a good way to determine if your machine is due for cleaning, but establishing a regular cleaning schedule can also be helpful. “Ideally you should be cleaning your washing machine monthly,” Jones says, which is a good rule for large households or machines that are used for heavy-duty washing. For smaller households that launder less frequently, Jones says to clean the machine every 30 wash cycles.
If you frequently launder heavily soiled items, Gary Childers, a fabric care scientist and appliance expert at Procter & Gamble, recommends making use of the washer’s extra rinse cycle to help extend time between cleanings. “Households with above average soiled laundry may experience odors in the machine that others do not,” he says. “Extra rinse options on the machine may help reduce the rate at which these odor-causing residues form inside the washer.”