How to Clean a Top Load Washing Machine

View into top load washer with automatic detergent dispenser

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Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Even with the gallons of water that run through a washer with each load of laundry, it still needs to be cleaned. Each load of dirty clothes leaves a tiny bit of soil, bacteria, mineral deposits from the water, and residue from detergent and fabric softener. The residue left in washing machines can create odors, food for mildew growth, white streaks on dark clothes, and leave all fabrics looking dull or gray. While front-load washers have a reputation for build-up that causes odors, high-efficiency and standard top-load washers can develop the same issues and should be cleaned regularly.

How Often to Clean a Top Load Washing Machine

Every type of top-load washer should be thoroughly cleaned at least twice per year. If you have automatic dispensers and use them for each load, they should be cleaned monthly to prevent clogs. Since the same mineral deposits that form in the washer tub can also clog washer hoses, if you live in a hard water area, you should clean the washer every three months.

Because high-efficiency top-load washers use much less water than standard top-load machines with a center agitator, they should be cleaned more often—at least every three months. If your laundry loads are heavily-soiled with grease or dirt or if you live in a hot, humid area where mold is an issue, monthly cleaning is recommended.

If someone in your home is ill or has a compromised immune system, while the likelihood of contamination from bacteria or a virus is low if the clothing is dried on high heat, take the time to clean the washing machine more frequently.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Old toothbrush or small scrub brush
  • Measuring cup
  • Small bowl
  • Microwave or stovetop
  • Sink or bucket
  • Small saucepan

Materials

  • Chlorine bleach
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid

Instructions

  1. Empty the Washer

    Check to make sure that the washer drum is completely empty of clothes. The dispensers should also be empty with no detergent or fabric softener in the reservoirs.

  2. Select the Water Temperature and Cycle Settings

    Set the water temperature to the hottest water setting. Select the largest load setting and the longest wash cycle available.

  3. Fill the Washer With Water

    Allow the washer drum to fill with hot water but stop the cycle before it begins to agitate.

  4. Add the Chlorine Bleach

    Add one-quart (four cups) of liquid chlorine bleach to the washer drum.

    Warning

    Do not add the distilled white vinegar with the chlorine bleach. The combination of products can produce toxic chlorine gas, which is dangerous in even small amounts. If you are sensitive to the odor of chlorine bleach, open windows to ensure good ventilation or turn on an exhaust fan in your laundry area if you have one.

  5. Run the Complete Washer Cycle

    Allow the washer to run through its longest wash, rinse, and spin cycle. It is important that the chlorine bleach is completely removed before the next step.

  6. Clean Detergent and Fabric Softener Dispensers

    If your dispensers are not removable, heat one cup of distilled white vinegar in a microwaveable cup or in a small pan on the stovetop. It should be very warm but does not need to be boiling. Pour the heated vinegar into the dispensers and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes to loosen any residue.

    If the dispensers are removable, they can be submerged in a sink or large bucket filled with hot water. Add one cup of heated distilled white vinegar and allow them to soak for 15 minutes.

    After 15 minutes of soaking, use an old toothbrush or small bottle brush to remove any remaining residue that you see in the dispensers.

    Replace removable dispensers in the washer before moving to the next step.

  7. Fill the Washer Again With Hot Water

    With the freshly cleaned dispensers in place, fill the drum of the washer again with hot water. Be sure the settings are still on large load and the longest wash cycle. Stop the cycle before the washer begins to agitate.

  8. Add Distilled White Vinegar

    Add one quart (four cups) of distilled white vinegar to the hot water in the drum.

  9. Complete the Wash and Spin Cycle

    Allow the washer to complete the wash, spin, and drain cycle.

  10. Clean the Outer Housing of the Washer

    Now that the interior of your washer is fresh and clean, take the time to wipe down the outer housing. Mix a solution of warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Dip a microfiber cloth in the solution and wring out most of the water.

    Wipe away dust, grime, and laundry product drips from the top and sides of the washer. Pay extra attention to knobs and electronic panels.

    Open the lid and dip an old toothbrush into the cleaning solution to get into corners and tight places on the lid.

Tips to Keep Your Top Load Washer Clean Longer

  • If you live in a humid area, leave the lid open after each load to allow the drum and seals to dry out and reduce the risk of mold and mildew growth.
  • Never place laundry products on top of the washer at any time. Spills can damage electronic controls.
  • Use a flashlight to check your washer basket carefully for chips that can leave rust spots on clothes. Repair kits are available to repaint the porcelain coating. Follow the directions carefully to extend the life of the washer