Routine upkeep and sometimes extensive cleaning of your washer and dryer are necessary to ensure that the laundry appliances are sanitary and safe. Read on to learn how to sanitize these appliances, especially after your clothes have come in contact with a bacterial or viral illness, poison ivy, pesticides, or chemicals.
If a washer or dryer has been through a flood or fire, have a technician check the electronics of the appliance before cleaning or using it.
Equipment / Tools
- Rubber gloves
- Scrub brush
- Cleaning cloths
- Old towels
- Bucket or other container for mixing
- Chlorine bleach, pine oil, phenolic disinfectant, or quaternary disinfectant
How to Sanitize a Washer With Chlorine Bleach
The buildup of contaminants, residual detergent, and fabric softener can trap bacteria and other debris in a washing machine. This can transfer back to your clothes, causing odor and potentially spreading disease. But you can get rid of it with a special cleaning using chlorine bleach.
Set the Washer Water Temperature
Set the water temperature for the washer to the hottest setting. Be sure the washer is empty.
Add Chlorine Bleach
Add 1 cup of chlorine bleach to the empty washer drum (both front-load and top-load models). Do not add any clothes.
Set the Washer Cycle
Set the washer to a full cycle with hot water rinse if available. Allow it to run through the entire cycle.
Scrub the Interior Components
When the cycle is complete, inspect the interior of the washer. Carefully check the rubber seals and gaskets and the inside of the appliance door or lid for signs of residue buildup or mold. Also, check any detergent or fabric softener dispensers. Mix a solution of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water. Dip a cloth or soft-bristled brush in the solution, and scrub these areas to remove any buildup.
Do a Final Rinse
Set the washer to the rinse/spin cycle, and allow it to run to ensure all of the bleach is removed before doing a load of laundry.
Clean the Exterior of the Washer
Finally, clean the exterior of the washer—top, front, and sides—by wiping it down with a solution of a mild cleanser and hot water. Rinse with clean water, and dry with a soft cloth.
How to Sanitize a Washer Without Chlorine Bleach
If you don't want to use chlorine bleach, you can use pine oil, phenolic disinfectants, or quaternary disinfectants to clean your washer. Pay attention to the usage directions on product labels, and follow the same steps for cleaning with chlorine bleach as listed above.
Choose one method of cleaning and disinfecting a washer and dryer. Never mix cleaning chemicals.
How to Sanitize a Dryer
If contaminated laundry has been placed in a clothes dryer on the low heat or air-only cycle, there is the possibility of cross-contamination with the next load of laundry. Plus, if certain chemicals or petroleum products were involved, there is even the possibility of fire. The dryer should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Remove Lint From the Dryer Screen
Wearing gloves, remove any lint from the lint screen, and safely dispose of it. The lint can be contaminated and cause skin irritation, among other issues.
Mix a Cleaning Solution
To clean a dryer drum, mix a solution of 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water. If you don't wish to use chlorine bleach, mix a solution of pine oil, phenolic disinfectant, or quaternary disinfectant, following label instructions.
Wipe Down the Interior Dryer Drum
Dip a cloth or soft-bristled scrub brush into your cleaning solution. Then, wipe the entire surface of the dryer drum, the rubber seals and gaskets, and the interior of the dryer door.
Rinse the Interior Drum
It is very important to rinse all surfaces with a clean cloth dipped in plain water. Then, toss in a few old towels or rags, set the dryer to high, and allow it to run for 10 minutes to remove any residual cleaning solution.
Clean the Exterior of the Dryer
Finally, wipe down the outside of the dryer with your cleaning solution, and rinse well with a cloth dipped in clean water.
Bockmühl, Dirk P., et al. Laundry and Textile Hygiene in Healthcare and Beyond. Microbial Cell, vol. 6, no. 7, July 2019, pp. 299–306. doi:10.15698/mic2019.07.682
Selection and Use of Home Cleaning Products. New Mexico State University.
Comparing Different Disinfectants. Stanford University Environmental Health & Safety.
Clothes Dryer Safety. Iowa State University Extension.