Essential Housewares & Appliances
Full Menu
Essential Housewares & Appliances
Abstract Brushed Metal Background
bgblue / Getty Images

The Ultimate Guide


How to Clean a Clothes Washer

clean a washing machine
Jevtic / Getty Images

A clothes washer is an amazing piece of equipment. You simply throw in dirty clothes, add some detergent, turn a dial and magically come back later to clean clothes. Ever wonder where all that dirt goes? Most of it rushes away with the washing and rinsing water down the drain, but some soil and body oil lurks in your machine and can cause laundry to appear dull and gray.

If your washer is not cleaned regularly, you may even begin to see white streaks or powdery white residue left on dark clothes. That is leftover detergent, fabric softener and dirt from your washer that is now on your "clean" clothes.

How to Clean a Washing Machine

Cleaning a standard top-loading washer is simple. For a top load washer, fill the drum with the hottest water temperature on your machine. Add one quart of chlorine bleach, but no detergent. Allow the washer to run through its longest wash and spin cycle. Immediately fill the washer with hot water again and add one quart of distilled white vinegar. Run the longest wash and spin cycle again. You're done and the washer is freshly clean.

Do not add both the bleach and vinegar in the same cycle because toxic fumes could form. Plus the vinegar rinse ensures that there are no bleach droplets remaining that could damage the next load of laundry you put in the washer.

Using the bleach and vinegar in the hot water cycle washes will clean away bacteria, soap scum and mineral deposits from the washer drum and hoses. This is especially important if you live in a hard water area and should be done every three months. Every top load washer should be cleaned at least twice per year.

High-efficiency top load washers use much less water than standard machines and need to be cleaned more often - usually every month. It is also helpful to leave the washer lid open between loads to allow all moisture to evaporate.

Front load washers need a little different cleaning technique because they not only harbor soil but can develop bad odors that transfer to clothes. Follow these tips to both remove the dirt build-up and the mold and mildew that can form from using too much detergent and fabric softener and too much moisture remaining in the machine after each use.

Clean Washer Dispensers, Too

Newer washers have handy built-in dispensers for detergent, fabric softener, and bleach. These need to be cleaned regularly.

Each dispenser should be cleaned every month to six weeks to keep them working well. You certainly don't want them dumping too much product in your wash load or failing to empty at the correct time. Too much detergent causes overflowing suds, too much fabric softener can leave blue or greasy-looking spots on clothing and bleach can actually ruin colored clothing.

To clean dispensers, be sure the washer is empty. Heat one cup of white vinegar in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Pour the heated vinegar into the dispenser and allow it to sit for a few minutes to loosen any build up. Next, run the machine using a normal cycle. If you have removable dispensers, they can be submerged in warm vinegar and then rinsed with clear water and replaced in the machine.

Spots on Your Laundry

If you begin to notice little brown spots on your laundry, it may be rust, probably coming from your washer. Use a flashlight and look over your washer basket carefully to check for chips in the finish.

Many washers have spin or washer baskets that are replaceable but that is expensive. Kits are also available to repair and repaint the porcelain coating. You must follow directions carefully, but you may be able to get a few more years from your washer.

If you see black or white flakes on your freshly washed laundry, that is residue from built-up laundry products and body soil and it is time to clean the washer.