Most people believe that their washing machines are self-cleaning and don’t need any outside assistance. Of course, that thought changes the day they open their machine, and the scent of mildew and grime hits them. Just like anything else, washing machines need occasional cleaning. Grime, mold, excess detergent, dirt, and mineral deposits all accumulate in the washer over time. They can lead to foul smells and a less effective washing machine. Cleaning a washing machine is straightforward, though it does take a bit of time.

Cycle One

To begin cleaning a washing machine, turn the washer to its hottest setting, longest cycle, and the largest load. Fill the washer’s dispenser or drum with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. The most popular ratio is ½ cup of baking soda with 4 cups of vinegar. Some people choose to use bleach instead of baking soda and vinegar, but this is much harsher. Additionally, never combine vinegar and bleach. Let the washer run for a little over a minute before adding a mixture. Once you’ve added it, let it run for a few more minutes to agitate the mixture. Stop the cycle and let the mixture and water soak for an hour. After the hour ends, let the washing cycle complete.

clean washing machine vinegar firemanYU / Getty Images


Washing Dispensers

While waiting for the mixture and water to soak, you can take the time to clean the dispensers and edges of the washer. These are often the most filthy areas of the washing machine because they tend to accumulate leftover fabric softener and detergent. Because of this, it’s usually best to use an old toothbrush and heated vinegar to scrub the areas. Some washers have detachable dispensers, and you can soak them in vinegar separately.

washing machine clean dispensers NATTAKIT / Getty Images


Cycle Two

Once the water drains away following the first cycle, you can prepare for the second cycle. For this cycle, use the same settings as before but don’t add any mixtures. You can add a small amount of vinegar if you wish, but it isn’t necessary. If you feel like you used too much vinegar in the first cycle, you can use some baking soda to negate it. Let the cycle run to completion and then open the washing machine door. Leave the door open for over an hour to let the washer dry completely. By opening the door, you’re making sure all of the leftover water evaporates.

door open dry washer coffeekai / Getty Images


Wiping the Drum

After the second cycle, you can clean the drum itself. You should also take this time to wipe down the agitator in the center of the machine. Take a microfiber cloth and a small amount of vinegar. Gently wipe down the agitator and drum and remove any leftover stains or grime. If there are stains that you can’t get rid of, try creating a paste of baking soda and water. Use a non-scratching sponge and the paste to clean the stain. You may need to run another empty cycle to clean the remaining baking soda and vinegar.

clean washing machine drum oat_autta / Getty Images


How Often to Clean

If you’re a heavy user, consider cleaning your washing machine at least once a month. Alternatively, if you use your washing machine less frequently, you can wait longer between cleanings. The absolute minimum is two times a year. Maintaining a washer allows it to last longer and prevents any of your clothes from souring. Plus, it guarantees that you consistently get high-quality washes.

heavy user washing machine Antonio_Diaz / Getty Images


Differences for a Front-Loading Washing Machine

There are some key differences between cleaning a top-loading washing machine and a front-loading one. Notably, many front-loading washing machines do not allow you to stop them mid-cycle. Additionally, you can’t open the door and clean the interior during the first cycle. This also means that you have to add your cleaning mixture before letting the washer fill up slightly. Front-loading washing machines also have extra parts that may require cleaning.

front load washing machine Михаил Руденко / Getty Images


Cleaning the Gasket

One of the biggest differences between front-loading and top-loading washing machines is the presence of the door seal and gasket. You can wash down the exterior of these rubber seals with a microfiber cloth and some vinegar, but that may not be strong enough. Some washers allow you to remove them so you can soak them separately. Alternatively, you can soak some towels in vinegar and pack them into the gasket’s cavities. Let them soak for around an hour and then wipe the seal and gasket with your cloth. If necessary, you can use a toothbrush to remove residue and grime.

gasket door seal washer Lepro / Getty Images


Tips for the Future

There are many things you can do to make your washer stay fresh longer. Leave the lid of a top-loading washing machine open after you finish a load of laundry. This will allow it to dry better and lowers the risk of mold or mildew. After you wash a particularly dirty load, wipe the drum and rinse it with water. Never store laundry products on top of your washer. Not only will they spill and ruin the washer’s finish, but a widespread spill could damage the electronic controls.

store products top washer JazzIRT / Getty Images


What Creates Grime

Many people wonder where the grime inside their washer comes from. For most washers, it’s leftover detergent. Some individuals tend to use too much detergent because they want their clothes to be extra clean. The washer can’t wash away all of the detergent, so it slowly accumulates on the drum and inside the dispensers. Almost all fabric softeners leave behind residue, as well. If you use fabric softener with all of your loads, you may need to clean your washing machine more often.

excess detergent grime Manuel-F-O / Getty Images


Little Brown Spots

Occasionally, you may notice small brown spots on your clothes after you wash them. These spots may be rust. Use a flashlight and examine the inside of your washer. Look for chips in the finish or any obvious signs of rust. If you find it, there is no easy fix. You can buy a new washer or purchase a new washer basket. Unfortunately, both of these options are costly. You can also purchase kits to repair and repaint the coating, but this can be difficult. Choose whichever option is best for you.

repair basket washer AndreyPopov / Getty Images


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