How to Clean a Washing Machine

Is there a funny smell coming from your washer? Is that smelly mold being left behind on your clean clothes? Find out the 3 easy steps to cleaning your washing machine from Domestic CEO.

Amanda Thomas
4-minute read
Episode #47

I’ll be honest, the first time I was asked how to clean a washing machine, I thought the person who asked me this strange question was crazy. Why would a washing machine need to be cleaned? After all, it’s getting a good wash each time a load is washed, right?

Well, lo and behold, some washing machines do need to be cleaned. How do you know if yours needs cleaning? It’s pretty simple, just breathe through your nose when you open the door of your washer. Does it smell like fresh flowers? If so, you’re in luck! You don't need to wash yours. Does it smell like a teenage boy’s foot? Then, I’m sorry to say, you need to clean your washer ASAP.

Today I’m going to give you the 3 steps to getting (and keeping) your washing machine fresh and clean. They’re pretty easy, and can be done on the cheap. So stop putting it off and let’s get cleaning!

Step #1: Clean the Seals

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that smell coming from your washing machine has a nasty source and it’s likely mold and mildew. Front load washers are built with lots of rubber around the door to prevent water from seeping out. The problem is that those seals create spaces for soapy water to gather, and if it can’t dry out completely, it’s the perfect breeding ground for mold.

The first step to cleaning a washing machine is to get rid of the mold. To do this, all you need are a couple rags and a spray bottle with one part bleach and 10 parts water. Open your washer door and start feeling around the big rubber seal surrounding the door. You may be able to flip it inside out, or you may just need to curl your rag-covered fingers into the pockets it creates.

I would recommend making sure that you have a rag covering your fingertips when you do this, because there’s a good chance that your fingertips are going to meet a patch of slimy mold, and you’ll be less likely to scream at the grossness if your fingers are protected.

See also: How to Use Hydrogen Peroxide and White Vinegar to Clean Your Home

Once you figure out how to get behind that seal, it’s time to clean it. First, wipe all the way around the seal with a dry rag. If any mold or mildew comes off on your rag, continue to wipe until your rag comes out clean. Then, take your spray bottle and carefully spray behind the seal. If you aren’t able to easily spray the seal, saturate your rag and wipe around the seal. Finally, take a dry rag and wipe it again. I’m not a huge proponent of using bleach, but for this case I do recommend it. You can also try using hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar. If the mildew problem isn’t bad, they may do the trick. If they don’t though, bleach is going to be the cheapest, most effective option.

Step #2: Clean the Washing Machine Basin and Hoses

If you have mold and mildew growing behind the seal of your washer, there’s a good chance it’s growing somewhere else in your washer too. To clean the entire washer, you can buy a fancy, expensive washing machine cleaner product, or you can again turn to your jug of bleach. If you choose to use bleach, make sure your washer is completely empty (don’t want to chance bleaching a stray shirt!). Then pour a cup of bleach into the detergent compartment, and set your washer to run a long cycle (typically the sanitary setting, or choose a long time), with hot water, and an extra rinse cycle. If there is still a strong bleach smell when that cycle completes, you can run another empty cycle with hot water to rinse it out again. By the time the bleach and hot water are done, that mold won’t know what hit it!

Related: How to Clean Every Small Kitchen Appliance

Step #3: Keep Mold at Bay

Once you have the washer clean and smelling fresh again, it’s very easy to keep it that way by simply keeping the door open after the wash is complete. Many front load washers are so well-sealed that they aren’t able to air out with a closed door like top loaders. The door doesn’t need to be left wide open, just not latched. This will give it enough airflow to keep the mold from coming back, but it won’t be open enough to be noticeable.

Cleaning a washing machine is fairly simple, and well worth your time if you have a smelly washing machine. The whole process takes about 10 minutes of hands-on work, and a couple of hours running wash cycles. That’s less time than it takes to call your friend and complain about the funky smell coming from the washer, so grab some rags, a jug of bleach, and get rid of the stench today!

Just for fun: 5 Surprising Dishwasher Hacks

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.