Have you ever taken your clothes out of the washing machine and smelled stale mildew instead of your favorite springtime meadow laundry detergent? If so, it’s probably time to clean your washer.
Over time, soapy laundry detergent, hard water, and grime can build up in the interior, which can eventually decrease the effectiveness of the washer. Mold, mildew, and bacteria that hide in the door seams and crevices can also be contributing to that musty smell.
Your washing machine works hard to keep your clothes, bed linens, and towels clean, so it’s only fitting that you clean and maintain it so it can continue to function properly.
How to clean your washing machine with store-bought cleaners
Amazon and your favorite hardware store sell washing machine tablets that clean and freshen the washer interior. These cleaning tablets are simple to use because they require only four easy steps:
- Remove all clothing or other items from the washer.
- Place one tablet into the washer tub. Do not place it in the dispenser.
- Select the “Clean Washer” cycle. If your washer doesn’t have this option, running the longest cycle with the hottest water possible will do the trick.
- Remove any residue that may be left behind after the cycle has finished.
Those grass-stained soccer uniforms and dirt-caked gardening clothes are ready to be washed in a sparkling clean machine.
These tablets are #1 recommended by noteworthy appliance companies such as Whirlpool, Maytag, and Amana, so you can rest assured they won't damage your expensive washing machine.
5 ways to disinfect your washing machine with household cleaners
Household cleaners such as white vinegar and baking soda may seem overused, but that’s because they are so versatile and effective. They are the dynamic duo that will easily cut through grime, kill bacteria, and deodorize unpleasant smells. These two cleaners are extremely powerful and natural and nontoxic. If you have children or pets, white vinegar and baking soda are great options for safe cleaners.
Here is how to use them to sanitize your washing machine:
- Empty the machine of all clothes and other items. Pour two cups of white vinegar in the detergent dispenser, then run a cycle on its hottest water setting.
- Mix 1/4 cup of vinegar with a quart of warm water. After the cycle has finished, scrub the inside of the machine with this mixture and an old toothbrush or scrubber. Doing so will loosen any grime, hard water deposits, and bacteria hiding inside of the washer. Old toothbrushes are great for reaching into small areas like the detergent dispenser tray and the seams of the door. If the dispenser tray is removable, you can soak it in a bowl of warm water and vinegar, then scrub it with a toothbrush.
- Wipe down the exterior of the washing machine using a soft rag. Dust or stray drippings of detergent can adhere to the outside of the machine, making it look dirty and feel sticky.
- Run another empty cycle on its hottest water setting, except without vinegar this time. Add about 1/2 cup of baking soda to the drum to help clear away any of the buildup that was loosened from scrubbing.
- By now, your washing machine should smell fresh and be free of any dirt that prevents water and detergent from effectively cleaning your clothes.
How to clean your washing machine with bleach
The hot water rinse with vinegar and baking soda usually proves successful, but if your washing machine still smells like mildew, it may be time to bring in the big guns. Bleach is a great option because its strong disinfecting power can cut through mold and bacteria like no other. Bleach is extremely potent, so you don’t need a lot of it to effectively kill the viruses, fungi, and bacteria that might be lurking in your washing machine.
- Empty the machine of all clothes and other items. Pour 1/4 cup of bleach into the detergent dispenser, then run a cycle on its hottest water setting with an extra rinse cycle to wash away the bleach.
- Run another empty cycle (just hot water) if you smell any trace of the bleach afterward to ensure that you don’t accidentally damage your clothes.
Bleach is great for brightening stained whites, but it could stain colored and black clothes. Nobody wants to pull their favorite navy blouse out of the washer and realize that the lingering bleach tie-dyed their shirt with unflattering yellow splotches. Leave the tie-dying for summer camp.
It’s important to remember that you should not mix bleach with any other chemicals. When bleach is combined with ammonia or vinegar, it will create gases that are extremely dangerous to inhale. Running an empty hot water cycle after sanitizing with vinegar and baking soda and before using bleach will ensure that no toxic gases are created.
How to keep your washing machine clean longer
Now that the inside of your washing machine is basically clean enough to eat off, how can you keep it from smelling like mildew and collecting grime in the future?
- Leave the door open between washes.
After every wash, you should leave the door of the machine slightly open. This will dry the remaining moisture and air out the interior. Doing so will prevent mildew and mold from growing, which contributes to that musty smell.
- Run a hot water cycle regularly.
Washing laundry in cold water is not only beneficial for the environment, but it also prolongs the life of your clothes. However, running a laundry cycle in hot water about once a week will kill off any bacteria hiding in the interior. Bedsheets and towels are actually best washed in hot water, so killing bacteria should be a good enough motivation to do a load of linens each week.
- Remove wet laundry as soon as possible.
How many times have you thrown in a load of laundry, then went to bed or left to run a few errands? It’s never pleasant to pull soggy, mildewed clothes out of the washer. Leaving wet clothes to sit for hours (or even days) creates a breeding ground for bacteria and allows mold to grow inside your machine.
Set timers on your phone so that you're reminded when your laundry finishes. It might even be helpful to set a goal to not start any loads after 8 p.m. so that you won’t forget about the clothes in the washer before you go to bed, or end up waking up in the middle of the night to switch over the laundry.
- Use minimal products.
While it sure feels good to dump various detergents, stain removers, and fabric softeners into the washing machine to freshen the laundry, they could be contributing to the reduced efficacy of your machine. The buildup of the excess products can clog your drain and stick to the interior walls. That soap surplus remaining inside of the machine could also ruin your clothes. When combined with the added detergent, the excess soap will quickly degrade the material.
- Use the correct products.
Most newer models of washing machines are high-efficiency certified, which means they reduce the amount of water and energy needed to do a load of laundry when compared to conventional washers. High-efficiency detergent is specially formulated to support this eco-friendly function in your washer.
Using regular detergent, which produces a lot of suds, can derail the cleaning performance, overextend the length of the wash cycle (which defeats the point of an HE washer), and cause the machine to overflow with soapy water. Double-checking the label before purchasing detergent can save you from suffering through a preventable flood.
It might seem like a chore to have to maintain your washing machine beyond the laundry sorting, washing, drying, and folding, but it is definitely worth it. Make sanitizing your machine a habit to curb smells and bacteria, keep your clothes in better condition, and prolong the life of your washer.