How to Clean a Front Load Washer to Prevent Odors

How to Clean a Smelly Front Load Washer

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Front load washers are gaining popularity in the United States, but some owners complain that front loaders are more likely to develop odors than top loaders. These high-efficiency washers that use less water per load are a standard design in Europe and around the world. But the use of, and transition from, standard top loaders to front loaders have been difficult for many in the U.S. This has resulted in washers that develop and hold unpleasant odors and have mechanical problems due to improper use and cleaning. Such issues can be largely avoided by proper cleaning.

Preventing Odors Before They Begin

One key way to keep a washer from becoming smelly is to use the proper amount of detergent. Over time, residue from commercial laundry detergents and fabric softeners may cling to the inside of the washer especially on and behind rubber door seals. In warm, humid weather or laundry room conditions, mildew or mold may form, particularly if you have forgotten damp clothes in the washer for a few hours. Keeping the washer clean is an important step in keeping your laundry fresh.

How Often to Clean a Front Load Washing Machine

Your washer should be cleaned monthly, or more often if you have exceptionally heavily-soiled clothes or live in a hot, humid area. And naturally, you should clean it whenever odors are apparent.

What You Need

Supplies

Liquid chlorine bleach
Hydrogen peroxide (optional)
Soft, absorbent cloth
Non-abrasive household cleanser
Small nylon brush
Mild detergent

How to Clean a Front Load Washer

  1. Run an Empty Laundry Cycle Using Bleach

    With the washing machine empty and dry, add 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach to the detergent compartment of the dispenser drawer, and also fill the bleach dispenser compartment with chlorine bleach to the highest level. Set the washer to the normal cycle setting with warm water and complete the cycle.

    • Note: If you do not want to use chlorine bleach, you can use one full cup of hydrogen peroxide instead. Or, use a commercial washer cleaner. Follow the package directions for amount to use and the proper procedure. Do not mix chorine bleach with other cleaners; the result can be toxic fumes. 
  2. Clean the Door and Drum

    When the cycle is complete, use a soft, absorbent cloth to dry around the washer door opening, flexible gasket, and door glass. These areas should be cleaned and maintained regularly to ensure a watertight seal. It is a good idea to wipe these down with a dry cloth after every load.

    Take the time to clean the inside of the door gaskets and the edges. If dirt and residue gets trapped, and mold may begin to grow on the backside of the gaskets.

    When extremely soiled or oil-soaked items have been washed, a dirty residue may remain on the drum. Remove this by wiping the drum with a nonabrasive household cleanser, then rinse thoroughly with water. Or, repeat the entire cleaning cycle using chlorine bleach.

    If your washer has any plastic in the drum, it may become stained from fabric dye. Clean these plastic parts with a nonabrasive household cleanser or repeat the bleach cleaning cycle. This prevents dye transfer to future loads.

  3. Clean the Dispenser Drawers

    Detergent and fabric softener may build up in the dispenser drawers and cause odor and operational problems. Residue should be removed once or twice a month. Never overfill the drawers to prevent damaging electronic components of the washer.

    Consult your washer's user manual to learn how to remove the drawer(s). Most have a safety latch, but can be removed easily. If the drawer has inserts for the bleach and fabric softener compartments, remove those from the drawer to clean separately.

    Rinse the drawer and inserts with hot tap water to remove traces of accumulated powders and liquids. If they are particularly coated with built-up residue, allow them to soak for ten minutes in hot water, then rinse. Allow the drawers to air dry.

    Use a small soft brush to clean the drawer opening on the washer. Remove all residue from the upper and lower parts of the recess.

    When the drawer and inserts are clean, return the bleach and fabric softener inserts to their proper compartments. Replace the dispenser drawer and run a short cycle, like the Prewash cycle without any laundry in the drum to completely flush the system.

    Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018.
  4. Clean the Outside of the Washer

    As part of your ongoing routine, wipe the top, and sides of the washing machine weekly, or after each laundry session. Often, merely wiping with damp cloth is all that's needed. When necessary, clean the exterior surfaces with warm water mixed with a mild soap. Never use harsh, gritty, or abrasive cleansers on enameled surfaces.

    • If the door or console becomes stained or if there is mildew growth, clean with a diluted chlorine bleach of 1/4 cup in one quart of water. Rinse several times with clear water.
    • You can remove any glue residue from tape or labels with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent.
    • Never store or place laundry products on top of the washer at any time. Spills can damage the finish or the electronic controls.
  5. Keeping your washing machine clean will prevent those unpleasant odors and make your machine function better.