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How to wash your washing machine

Posted by AMH Team

7m read time

Jan 20, 2022

With all the focus going into how to wash clothes, it’s easy to forget that our washing machines need to be washed, too. Learning the proper methods for cleaning a washing machine is an important step for anyone using a laundry unit at home. Keep your washing machine running effectively with our complete guide below:



Benefits of cleaning a washing machine


Your washing machine takes a lot of punishment. Just think of all the things we do to our clothes! From dirt and grime to stains and everything in between, cleaning them is not always a walk in the park. After a while, all those materials start amassing within the washing machine. And that can introduce more gunk, reducing the effectiveness of the machine. 


Here are three benefits to washing your washing machine:


Removing bacteria and other build-up.

Residue, chemicals and other materials from laundry detergent and soap can get stuck inside your washing machine, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. If you let those bacteria linger, it can spread to other parts of the machine and onto your clothes, making washes less effective.


More effective washes.

When bacteria clog the components of your washing machine, it reduces the effectiveness of a wash. Detergent will be weaker and water less hot, which in turn will negatively impact what you put in the machine.


Cleaner clothes that smell fresh.

Few things in life beat the satisfaction of putting on a warm shirt that just came out of the dryer. But if your washer is full of bacteria, that warm shirt might also contain mildew, which will introduce a musty scent that isn’t pleasant for anyone. Using a washing machine cleaning solution, whether a store-bought product or a homemade variety, can help ensure the smells you catch from your shirt make you smile.  



What you’ll need to clean a washing machine


Although there are several cleaning products that contain bleach, they’re not your best options. Bleach is toxic, carries a strong odor and can create build-up in septic machines. Instead, choose something that’s both better for the environment and you. Here’s a handy list of what you’ll need for a washing machine cleaning DIY solution:


White vinegar.

The acidity of white vinegar works to disinfect and sanitize any surface. Additionally, it can help remove odor and assist in unclogging and cleaning the insides of pipes, so you can safely pour it into your machine.


Baking soda.

White vinegar and baking soda go together like peanut butter and jelly. After you use white vinegar to clean your machine, baking soda can strip away soap residue and block out any other unpleasant smells. 


A microfiber cloth.

A cloth will be helpful in removing excess dirt and dust from the top of the machine, as well as from larger surfaces inside.


A toothbrush.

For smaller nooks and crannies in and around the washing machine, the bristles of a toothbrush can help dislodge grime—just choose a different toothbrush than the one you brush your teeth with!


A medium-sized or larger bowl.

Chances are you’ll have excess water build-up when cleaning your washing machine. Having a bowl nearby lets you catch that water instead of watching it pool onto the floor.


Now that you’ve got your gear ready, it’s time to do this thing!



Step-by-step instructions for cleaning your washing machine


Cleaning a front-loader washing machine is a bit different than cleaning a top-loader. Below are step by step instructions for each.


Cleaning a top-loader washing machine


  1. Set your washer to the hottest setting for the largest load and turn it on. If you need to choose a cycle, a regular slow one works well.


  1. As water is filling up, add 3-4 cups of white vinegar into the basin.


  1. After the basin is full of water, close the lid and let the machine agitate for 1-2 minutes. Turn the machine off and open the lid.


  1. At this point, you can go one of two routes: either let the vinegar and water sit (with the machine off) for an hour. Or add ½ cup of baking soda into the basin as well, and let the machine agitate for another 1-2 minutes. Then, open the lid and let the vinegar, water and baking soda sit for at least an hour.


  1. While this mixture is soaking, take time to clean any removable parts, like the bleach and fabric softener wells or, in some cases, the agitator. Use your toothbrush to clean tough-to-reach areas, like under the lid and around the rim of the drum. If you still have time left over, use a microfiber cloth to clean the outside of the machine, but keep the lid open the entire time.


  1. After an hour has passed, close the lid and run the machine as normal. Use this time to clean any remaining parts of the machine you may have missed, like the dials, timer and console.


  1. If you didn’t add baking soda earlier, do one more wash with ½ cup of baking soda in the basin. If you did use baking soda, running the washer with plain hot water will help kill any bacteria remaining in the machine.


  1. Use a clean cloth to wipe out the inside of the basin and remove any final residue or particles. To prevent mildew and keep the washing machine fresh, leave the lid open until the next time you do a load of laundry.


Cleaning a front-loader washing machine


  1. With a front-loader washing machine, start by cleaning the gasket—the rubber padding at the front of the washer—with a cloth soaked in white vinegar and water, and sprinkle baking soda into the gasket as well. This area is a hotbed for build-up, so the baking soda helps remove some of those trapped particles.


  1. Pour 3-4 cups of white vinegar and sprinkle around ½ cup of baking soda into the machine.


  1. Set your washer to the hottest setting for the largest load and start running it. If you need to choose a cycle, a regular slow one works well.


  1. After the first cycle ends, run another cycle using only hot water to give the machine a final rinse and kill off any remaining bacteria.


  1. Clean the inside of the drum with a cloth and wipe off the outside of the machine using a white vinegar and water mixture. About two cups of water and one cup of vinegar should be a nice balance.


Your first washing machine cleaning is done! Don’t just make this a one-time thing though. Keep some washing machine cleaning hacks and maintenance tips in mind for future washes.



Washing machine cleaning maintenance


After you’ve cleaned your machine one time, you’ll quickly see the benefits on your laundry and want to turn it into a regular habit.



So how often should you clean your machine?


That depends on how often you use it, but a safe bet is to do it at least once a month. If you do laundry more frequently—think several loads per week—aim for a bi-weekly cleaning of your washing machine.


And, just like you’d regularly check the lint filter on a dryer, give the drain filter a thorough inspection at least once a month. Bring a bowl or other container with you, as excess water might spurt out and you don’t want a big puddle on the floor.



The tight spaces are the most frequent places for bacteria build-up.


Pay special attention to the detergent drawer and the door seals. Keep both the door and detergent drawer slightly open between washes. This technique lets the machine air-dry out, which can help prevent mold from forming and reduce the likelihood of mildew. If you’ve ever encountered that, you know it doesn’t smell very good!


If things get really bad, there are washing machine mildew and mold remover options out there, though you can easily create the washing machine cleaning DIY solution outlined above.



The way you do laundry can also impact the freshness of your washer.


It’s easy to go overboard when loading up the machine, but try not to do extra-large loads of laundry. In those situations, your washer must work harder than usual to clean all the clothes, and the pipes and drains of the machine can more easily become trapped with gunk.


Additionally, don’t let wet clothes linger in your machine and keep the lid open between washes. It happens—you put a load of laundry into the washing machine, and then something pops up that causes you to forget about the clothes. Unfortunately, after a wash, the clothes are damp and sitting in a humid environment, which is a popular place for bacteria to congregate.


When you do laundry, set a timer to remind yourself to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. Some machines already have an option for this, but a timer on your phone or computer works just fine, too. And if you do forget about a wash—say, you go to a movie or a concert in between without moving clothes from washer to dryer—run a second cycle before putting your clothes in the dryer.


Bottom line


You don’t have to wait until spring to start cleaning your washing machine. A more efficient washing machine can help lower your energy bill year-round. Plus, those fresh clothes will feel even more warm and cozy, which is especially comforting in the winter months.  


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