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.

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 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 jam with a damp cloth and mild soap or Clorox wipes.

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.

What not to do: It’s best to avoid using harsh cleaners, notably those that contain ammonia, as harsh cleaners 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.

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

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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: 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.

Maintenance tips: 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.

What not to do: Don’t only run a clean cycle and then neglect the other steps. You should try to clean your HE washing machine every 30 wash cycles, and follow all of the steps to make sure you aren’t allowing dirt and grime to accumulate in other parts of your machine. It’s easy to wipe your machine down with wipes, and it’ll keep your clothes cleaner and your machine running better.

How to clean a self-clean or smart washing machine

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Step 1: Wipe down the control panel with a damp cloth for 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: Next, you’ll need to put your washing machine through a self-clean cycle. Some self-clean cycles, such as those on Samsung washers, have an indicator light that turns on when the washing machine senses it needs to be cleaned. However, most washing machines, especially older models, just require you to turn the self-cleaning cycle on manually. Since the process can differ from model to model, you’ll need to dig out your instruction manual to see how you should do it. Self-clean cycles are typically designed to work without a cleaning agent, so don’t add anything to the washer before you begin.

Maintenance tips: Clean the outside of stainless steel machines using stainless steel cleaner, vinegar, or Windex. When you clean stainless steel, it’s best to go with the grain. You can also use a little bit of rubbing alcohol to dissolve oily fingerprints, per Better Homes and Gardens. Also, if you have a shiny metallic finish on your washer’s exterior door, you can clean that surface using a small amount of Cerama Bryte and a clean, damp, non-abrasive cloth, per the recommendation of Samsung.

What not to do: Don’t use harsh or abrasive cleaners when cleaning the control panel, and avoid using bleach cleaners on stainless steel surfaces. And, if you’ve got any laundry in your machine, you’ll want to take it out before you run the self-cleaning cycle.

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