How to Clean Your Washing Machine

A rainbow selection of shirt hanging over the edge of a white washing machine basin.
What You'll Need
White vinegar
Baking soda
Old toothbrush
Bleach (optional)
Cleaning cloth
Microfiber cloth

Washing machines take a lot of abuse over the years. While these appliances are designed specifically for cleaning, it doesn’t take long before they need a washing of their own. If your washing machine hasn’t been cleaned in over a year then it’s probably due for a good scrubbing. Thankfully, cleaning your washing machine is an easy process that can be completed in no time.

Step 1 - Fill the Basin With Hot Water

Turn the washing machine on so that the basin is filled with water. Select the hottest water temperature and longest cycle for the deepest clean. If you regularly clean your washer, you can pick a shorter cycle, but make sure you are using the hottest water setting available.

Step 2 - Add Vinegar to the Water

A washing machine with a liquid bleach reservoir.

Once the washer is filled with water, add 2 to 4 cups of white vinegar. Let this solution sit in the washer for 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the vinegar to do its work. You can also use bleach, but never mix it with vinegar because the combination will create toxic fumes damaging to your lungs. If your washer features a dispenser for fluid, simply pour the vinegar or bleach directly into the appropriate slot. If your washer is a front loader, then follow the same steps and just run a cycle with vinegar without letting it sit.

Step 3 - Add Baking Soda to the Mix

Allow the vinegar to agitate for a few minutes. Then, open the lid and add about a cup of baking soda to the mix. If possible, stop the washer after the baking soda is mixed in and allow the solution to sit for 30 minutes. This will allow the cleaning mixture to loosen up dirt and grime around the agitator, making it easier to scrub clean later.

Step 4 - Clean the Exterior of the Machine

While the baking soda, vinegar, and water do their magic, remove any loose parts, like fabric softener dispensers, and place them in a soapy solution. Clean these items with an old toothbrush, as well as the space along the top of the agitator and any other accessible areas. You can also take this opportunity to clean the outside of the machine—just be careful not to close the lid so that the baking soda is able to sit in the basin for a while.

Step 5 - Run a Cycle With the Cleaning Solution

An empty stainless steel washing machine basin.

Once the cleaning solution has sat for 30 minutes, close the lid and start the cycle. While the washing machine is running, clean the lid, top console, and dials with a mixture of vinegar and water. You can alternatively use bleach, although it's a good idea to avoid using harsh chemicals whenever possible.

Step 6 - Run a Second Cycle With Vinegar

After the cycle is complete, run another cycle with 2 to 4 cups of vinegar. This will help remove any loose bits of grime the first cycle broke free. You can also hit the center agitator with a cleaning cloth between the cycles to speed up the process. You should start to see a visible difference in the cleanliness of the machine, especially if the washer hasn’t been scrubbed in a long time.

Step 7 - Wipe the Basin Clean

An opening washing machine with a striped cloth hanging out of the basin.

With the second cycle done, use your microfiber cloth to clean away the last bits of residue. A vinegar solution is a great option for this step and will help remove any of the more stubborn stains. With the washing machine sparkly clean, replace any parts you removed and run a short cycle to filter any remaining vinegar.

Maintenance Tips

There are several things you can do to keep your washer clean throughout the year. For starters, avoid using too much detergent as this will help deter the buildup of residue. To prevent mildew from accumulating, keep the lid to your washer open in between loads. Finally, it's always a good idea to periodically sanitize the inside of the washer with bleach and hot water. This will help kill mildew and mold spores that typically grow in moist environments.