How to Clean a Washing Machine

person scrubbing the inside of a washing machine

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Is your washing machine looking or smelling grungy? You may have never considered cleaning something that you thought was basically cleaning itself every time you used it, but washing machines get dirty just like anything else. They can grow mildew, develop build-up from detergents and hard water and collect fingerprints and smears. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to clean a washing machine. Here's how it's done.​

Materials Needed

  • Vinegar or lemon juice
  • An all-purpose cleaner
  • A cleaning rag
  • An empty spray bottle (do not reuse bottles that have held other chemicals or cleaners)

How to Clean Each Part of Your Washing Machine

  • Exterior of your washer machine: Wipe down the exterior of your washing machine with vinegar or your favorite all-purpose cleaner. Vinegar is an easy and inexpensive choice that is natural, and it does a great job of removing fingerprints and detergent build-up. Lemon juice works just as well. Pour some vinegar or lemon juice into a clean spray bottle to spritz and wipe away grime, or use it to soak a cleaning rag and wipe down your washing machine. Be sure to wipe down every part of the machine, including the knobs.
  • Tub: Pour two cups of vinegar or lemon juice into the tub, and run the washing machine through a complete cycle on the longest, hottest setting to remove odors, stains, and detergent build-up. If you have hard water, the acid in the vinegar or lemon juice will also help to remove mineral deposits.
  • Lid or door: Scrub around the edge of the lid or door with vinegar to remove mildew, dust and detergent build-up. You may want to use an old toothbrush or a small scrub brush to get into all the grooves and tight spots.
  • Rubber door seal: If you have a front-loader, gently pull back on the top of the rubber door seal, and check for mold. Use vinegar to remove any that you find. An old toothbrush can also come in handy for this area.
  • Bleach and fabric softener dispensers: Remove the bleach and fabric softener dispensers, and scrub them in the sink. Then, dry them thoroughly and return them to the machine. While you have them out, take a minute to scrub around the opening with an old toothbrush and some vinegar.
pouring vinegar inside of the washing machine
​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Other Helpful Tips

  • To prevent mildewing, leave the lid open between loads, so your machine has a chance to dry out. This may not be possible if you have small children or pets. 
  • Commercial fabric softeners leave build-up in the machine. Make vinegar your fabric softener of choice instead. Once you make this switch, the inside of your washing machine won't need to be cleaned as frequently—if at all.
  • While you're cleaning your washing machine, inspect the washer hoses to make sure they're still firmly in place and in good condition. They should be replaced every few years, so they don't fail. Hose failure is common and costly. Spend a few bucks now to avoid spending a bunch of money later.
  • Give your dryer some attention, too. Wipe down the exterior. Then, remove the lint tray, and give it a thorough scrubbing in the sink to remove all the built-up lint. Continue scrubbing and rinsing until water drains through the screen freely. This may take several rounds if you use fabric softener. It tends to build upon the screen. When you're done, pull out your vacuum and clean the dryer vent. Lint build-up is a leading cause of house fires, so this is an important maintenance task. Put it on your to-do list at least once a year, more often, if you have a large family or furry pets.
wiping down the exterior of the washing machine
​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

More Appliances That Need Cleaning

Other appliances in your house probably need your attention, too. It's important to learn all the steps to keep your appliances clean and running efficiently. So review the steps you need to take to clean your dishwasher, microwave, and refrigerator.

Watch Now: How to Clean a Front-Load Washer to Prevent Odors