How to Clean a Washing Machine the Right Way

a person wiping down a washing machine

The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

You may think your washing machine is self-cleaning, but there can be a buildup of grime, mold, leftover detergent, and mineral deposits from hard water. This can cause laundry to appear dull and gray, or leave white streaks on dark clothes. Using a commercial cleaner like affresh appliance cleaner or bleach and vinegar in separate hot water cycle washes will clean away bacteria, mold, oil, dirt, soap scum, and mineral deposits from the washer drum and hoses. Newer washers have handy built-in dispensers for detergent, fabric softener, and bleach.

Your washing machine deserves to be cleaned, too, and we're here to share how. Here is how to properly clean your washing machine in 6 easy steps.

How Often to Clean a Washing Machine

A top-load washer should be cleaned at least twice per year. If you live in a hard water area, you should clean it every three months to prevent mineral deposits. High-efficiency top-load washers and front-load washers use much less water than standard machines and need to be cleaned more often—usually every month. Your washer should be cleaned more often if you have exceptionally heavily-soiled clothes or live in a hot, humid area (where mold will be more of a problem). In addition to cleaning the washer drum, each dispenser should be cleaned every four to six weeks to keep it working well.


Watch Now: How to Clean a Front-Load Washer

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft cloth


  • Chlorine bleach
  • Distilled white vinegar


chlorine bleach, vinegar, and cloths
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

To clean a standard top-load clothes washer, ensure there is no laundry in it and no detergent or fabric softener in any dispenser. Do not add any detergent to the washer during this process.


Be sure not to add both bleach and vinegar at the same time as that could produce toxic chlorine gas, which is dangerous in even small amounts. If you have an exhaust fan in your laundry area, turn it on, or open windows to ensure good ventilation.

  1. Fill the Washer With Hot Water

    Use the washer settings to fill the drum of the washer with hot water, stopping it before it agitates. Use the hottest temperature setting on your machine.

    filling the washer with water

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

  2. Add Chlorine Bleach

    Add 1 quart of chlorine bleach to the hot water, but no detergent.

    adding chlorine bleach to the drum

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

  3. Run a Complete Wash and Spin Cycle

    Allow the washer to run through its longest wash and spin cycle so that it goes through a complete rinse and drain. Make sure the bleach is completely removed before the next step.

    setting the wash cycle

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

  4. Fill Again With Hot Water

    Use the washer settings to fill the drum of the washer with hot water, stopping it before it agitates.

    filling the washer again with hot water

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

  5. Add Distilled White Vinegar

    Add 1 quart of distilled white vinegar to the hot water.

    adding distilled white vinegar to the washer drum

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

  6. Run a Complete Wash and Spin Cycle

    Run the longest wash and spin cycle again and allow the washer to rinse and drain.

    Allowing the washer to complete a full cycle

    The Spruce / Jorge Gamboa

How to Clean a Front-Load Washer

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 buildup 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.

  1. Add Chlorine Bleach to the Dispensers

    Add 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the detergent compartment of the dispenser drawer. Next, fill the bleach dispenser compartment with chlorine bleach to the highest level.

    person adding chlorine bleach to a washer dispenser
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
  2. Run a Normal Cycle

    Set the washer to the normal cycle setting with warm water and allow the machine to run a complete cycle.

    person running a washer cycle
    The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
  3. Wipe Seals and Door

    When the cycle is complete, use a soft, absorbent cloth to dry around the washer door opening, flexible gasket, and door glass. This will help ensure any mold residue (which would be killed by the bleach) is removed.

    person wiping down the washer
    ​The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 

How to Clean Washer Dispensers

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

  1. Empty the Washer

    Be sure the washer is empty of laundry.

    Front loading washing machine door and drum wiped down with gray towel

    The Spruce / Olivia Inman

  2. Heat the Vinegar

    Heat one cup of white vinegar in the microwave or in a small saucepan.

    dissolving mixture over heat

    The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

  3. Clean the Dispenser

    Pour the heated vinegar into the dispenser and allow it to sit for a few minutes to loosen any buildup. You can also use one full cup of hydrogen peroxide instead.

    Hydrogen peroxide added to washer dispenser in washing machine

    The Spruce / Olivia Inman

  4. Run the Washer Through a Normal Cycle

    Next, run the machine using a normal cycle. The vinegar will be dispensed into the wash water, where it will help remove any buildup before being rinsed away.

    selecting the right temperature

    The Spruce / Kori Livingston  

  5. Clean the Removable Dispensers

    If you have removable dispensers, they can be submerged in warm vinegar and then rinsed with clear water and replaced in the machine.

    Washing machine dispensers cleaned with small orange nylon brush by hand

    The Spruce / Olivia Inman

Tips to Keep Your Clothes Washer Clean Longer

  • Leave the lid of a top-load washer open after you have run a load. This allows the drum and seals to dry out and lessen the risk of growing mold and mildew.
  • After washing heavily-soiled clothing, wipe the drum with a nonabrasive household cleanser and then rinse thoroughly with water. Or, repeat the entire cleaning cycle using chlorine bleach.
  • Little brown spots on your laundry may be rust from your washer. Use a flashlight to check your washer basket carefully for chips in the finish. You can either replace the washer basket (which is expensive) or get a kit to repair and repaint the porcelain coating. Follow directions carefully, and you may be able to get a few more years from your washer.
  • Never store or place laundry products on top of the washer at any time. Spills can damage the finish or electronic controls.
Article Sources
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  1. Some Things Just Dont Mix: Poison Control Tips for Chemicals. Missouri Poison Center.