How to Sanitize and Disinfect a Washer and Dryer

What's wrong with my washer
Photo: E+/Getty Images

The condition of your washer and dryer has a significant impact on the level of cleanliness of your laundry. The build-up of residual detergent and fabric softener can trap body soil and bacteria that causes terrible odors and transfers back to your clothes. Dryer drums can be coated with oily residue or even chemicals that transfer back to your clothes. And, of course, dryer lint not only effects how well your dryer functions; it can also cause fires that destroy property and threaten lives.

Routine cleaning of a clothes dryer is simply removing the lint after every load and quarterly checks and cleaning of dryer vents. And routine cleaning of clothes washers, both top-loading and front-loading models is also a simple process that should be done monthly.

But there are situations that require more extensive cleaning to ensure that the laundry appliances are sanitary and safe to use. Washers need to be disinfected after:

    The same attention to cleaning should be given to clothes dryer drums after drying certain types of contaminated fabrics.

    How to Sanitize and Disinfect a Washer with Chlorine Bleach

    1. Set the water temperature for the washer to the hottest setting.
    2. Add 1 cup chlorine bleach to the empty washer drum (both front load and top load models). Do not add any clothes.
    1. Set the washer to a full cycle with hot water rinse if available.  Allow to run through the entire cycle.
    2. When the cycle is complete, inspect the interior of the washer. Carefully check the rubber seals and gaskets for signs of residue build-up or mold. Mix a solution of chlorine bleach and water. Dip a cloth or soft-bristled brush in the solution and remove any build-up. Rinse with plain water. Set the washer to the rinse/spin cycle to ensure all of the bleach is removed before doing a load of laundry.
    3. While inspecting, always check any detergent/fabric softener dispensers and give them a thoroughly cleaning.
    4. Finally, clean the exterior of the washer - top, front and sides with a solution of chlorine bleach and hot water. Rinse with clean water.

    How to Sanitize and Disinfect a Washer without Chlorine Bleach

    If you do not have or do not wish to use chlorine bleach, there are other types of disinfectants that will also clean your washer. 

    NOTE: Oxygen-based bleaches (Oxiclean, Clorox 2, OXO Brite are brand names) do not provide disinfectant qualities when used in home laundry processes.

    How to Sanitize and Disinfect a Dryer

    If laundry contaminated by bodily fluids, poison oak or ivy, pesticides or any type of chemicals has been placed in a clothes dryer on low heat or the air-only cycle, there is the possibility of cross-contamination with the next load of laundry.

     If chemicals or petroleum products were involved, there is even the possibility of fire.

    First, using gloves, remove any lint from the lint screen. The lint can actually be contaminated and cause irritation. Dispose of properly.

    To clean a dryer drum, mix a solution of chlorine bleach or one of the other disinfectants and water. Wearing protective gloves, wipe down the entire surface of the dryer drum, the rubber seals and gaskets and the interior of the dryer door.

    It is very important to then rinse all surfaces with plain water. Finally, toss in a few old towels or rags and set the dryer to high and allow to run for ten minutes.

    Finally, wipe down the outside of the dryer with a disinfect solution and rinse well with a cloth dipped in clear water.

    Additional Tip for Laundry Appliance Safety

    If a washer or dryer has been through a flood or fire, have a technician check the appliance before cleaning or using.