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How to clean a washing machine

Have you ever noticed gunk that builds up around your washing machine’s door? Or, perhaps you’ve discovered grains of sand accumulated inside the machine’s drum. Dirt and grime inside your washing machine can impact your machine’s performance and the cleanliness of your clothes.




30 minutes

What You Need

  • A damp cloth

  • Liquid antibacterial soap

  • Vinegar or bleach

  • Stainless steel cleaner

  • Glass cleaner

To avoid damaging your washer or your clothing, you need to maintain and care for your machine properly. That’s true whether it’s a front-load or top-load machine, brand new and beautiful, or the reliable one you’ve had for years. Maintaining your washer can also help to make your clothes fresher, help your machine last longer, and remove washing machine smells. We’ve put together some tips on how to clean a washing machine, as well as some cleaning methods to avoid.

Is it time for an upgrade? You can also check out our guide to the best washing machines.

how to clean a washing machine ge washer thumber

How to clean a top-load washer

Step 1: Leave the door open after you remove your clothes and allow your washer to dry out completely when you’re not using it. This helps prevent mold and mildew from growing in your washing machine.

Step 2: Use a damp cloth and a small amount of liquid antibacterial soap to wipe the inside of your machine.

Step 3: Wipe up any dirt, spills, and grime from your machine’s exterior and from the door jamb with a damp cloth and mild soap or Clorox wipes.

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dteurope / 123RF Stock Photo

How to clean a front-load or high efficiency (HE) washer

Step 1: Leave the door ajar after you remove your clothes, and allow it to dry out completely when you’re not using it. This helps prevent mold and mildew from growing.

Step 2: Clean the washer door by wiping it down with a damp cloth. You can use a small amount of vinegar or heavily diluted bleach (one part bleach to 10 parts water) to help remove any built-up gunk.

Step 3: Gently pull back the seal between the door opening and the drum to check for foreign objects; remove any you find. After that, check for stains or dirt buildup. Note that many rubber washer seals have both inner and outer layers. Clean and inspect them both, since hair, grime, and objects can get stuck in many places.

You can clean dirt buildup using either washing machine cleaning wipes or a solution made of bleach and water (around ¾ cup of bleach mixed with one gallon of water). Make sure you remove any leftover bleach solution with a damp cloth. Finally, allow the washer to air dry completely with the door open for at least an hour or two.

Step 4: Now it's time to clean the inside of the washing machine. For example, most HE washers have either a “clean cycle” or a “clean with Affresh cycle.” To run a clean cycle, add ¼ cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser and run an empty load. To clean with Affresh, add an Affresh cleaning tab directly inside of the washer drum and run an empty “clean with Affresh cycle.” If you don’t like Affresh, don’t worry: There are plenty of other laundry sanitizer options out there, including Tide Washing Machine Cleaning Pouches.

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

How to clean a self-clean or smart washing machine

Step 1: Wipe down the control panel with a damp cloth to remove any fingerprints or loose detergent that’s seeped into cracks.

Step 2: Does the water hose on your washing machine have a filter? If so, remember to clean it out once or twice a year. To do so, soak the filter in water until it is clean (make sure the threaded connector is also submerged). Wipe around the filter to remove any debris. Then, allow the filter to dry completely in a shaded area.

Step 3: Clean the dispensers. Rinse the inserts in warm water to remove traces of accumulated detergent and other laundry products. Then clean the recess with a toothbrush to remove residue. Finally, give the interior a wipe-down with a damp cloth to remove any larger deposits.

Step 4: Go ahead and run your washing machine’s self-clean cycle. However, keep in mind that some washers (mostly Samsungs) have lights that switch on to indicate that your washer needs a thorough cleaning. Many older washers do not have this special feature, so you’ll have to figure out for yourself if and when your washer needs cleaning and implement the self-clean cycle manually.

It’s often a simple process only involving the push of a button, but it can vary between machines. In most cases, it’s probably best to dig up your instruction manual to learn how to do it. Remember that self-clean cycles don’t require cleaning agents, so there’s no need to dump any products into the washer before you start the self-clean cycle.

What not to do

It’s best to avoid using harsh cleaners, notably those that contain ammonia, as they can damage your machine. You should also shy away from anything too abrasive, like gritty cleaners or scouring pads. Those who prefer a particularly light touch can use white vinegar with a damp microfiber cloth, although this sometimes creates odor problems, so use it sparingly.

Don’t just run a clean cycle but ignore the other steps. It’s a good idea to clean your HE washing machine every 30 wash cycles and follow all of the steps to make sure you don’t let dirt and grime accumulate in other parts of your appliance. Wiping your machine down with wipes isn’t difficult, and it’ll keep your clothes cleaner and your machine running better.

Avoid using abrasive cleaning products on your machine’s controls, and never apply bleach to stainless steel exteriors. Also, it’s a very good idea to take out any laundry before cleaning.

Maintenance tips

Change the fill hoses on your machine every five years, per the recommendation of GE Appliances. It’s a good idea to label your fill hoses, indicating the date you replaced them.

We also asked GE for suggestions on how to clean top-load washing machines properly. They suggested we use Tide Washing Machine Wipes once a month to clean and freshen the unit and to refer to the washing machine owner’s manual for additional cleaning and maintenance instructions.

It’s best to use HE detergent when you have an HE washer and to avoid using too much detergent, as this can cause excess buildup. Lastly, use warm and hot water washes periodically (but not all of the time), as warmer water can help control soil and detergent buildup, per the recommendation of Maytag. Remember, even a simple wipe-down after each load can help keep your laundry clean.

Stainless steel cleaner, glass cleaner, and vinegar are at the top of our favorites list when it comes to cleaning stainless steel washing machine exteriors. Remember to wash with the grain when cleaning stainless steel. Better Homes and Gardens suggests the nifty trick of adding a few drops of rubbing alcohol to eliminate fingerprints. Samsung recommends cleaning metallic washer exteriors with a damp, soft cloth with a bit of Cerama Bryte mixed in.

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Erika Rawes
Smart Home Evergreen Coordinator
Erika became a professional writer in 2010, and her work is published all over the web on sites ranging from USA Today to…
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