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A washing machine works hard to clean your clothing and linens, but did you know your washing machine needs some TLC every once in a while as well? If your fabrics are starting to smell musty, even after going through the wash, it’s probably time to use a washing machine cleaner. Washing machine cleaners come in the form of tablets, liquids, or powders, and you'll want to consider one that's compatible with your machine and plumbing.
Our top pick is the Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner because it's affordable, easy to use, and can thoroughly clean all parts of your washing machine.
Here are the best washing machine cleaners for keeping your laundry routine fresh.
Best Overall: Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner
Easy to use
Cleans all parts of washing machine
Can leave residue
Requires extra rinsing
Our favorite washing machine cleaner is the Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner in tablet form. It's affordable, will get into all of the nooks and crannies of your washing machine, and it works for a variety of machine types. To use, simply put a tablet into the washing machine drum and run the machine. Affresh works with top-loaders, front-loaders, and high-efficiency machines, and the company is owned by Whirlpool, a trusted appliance maker in its field.
The cleaning power of the Affresh tablet is designed to get into the washer pump, valve, basket, drum, wash tub, agitator/filter, and drain hose. Take note that if any residue is left after the clean cycle is complete, you should wipe it out before running a load of laundry. We recommend running at least one or more cycles to make sure all residue is rinsed away, especially from the areas that are hard to see. This can increase your water usage if you need to clean your washing machine often, but it will ensure that your dirty clothes become sparklingly clean when it's time to do laundry.
The Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Value Pack includes six tablets, so you can purchase a pack and not have to think about it again for several months. This cost-effective cleaner is easy to use (just throw it in) and works for just about every machine. This versatility and ease make it a great choice for any household.
Best Budget: Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner
No strong odor
Full year supply
Tablets wrapped in plastic
The Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner is as friendly to your budget as it is to the environment. They're also very easy to use. The cleaners come in tablets that you can put directly in your washer’s drum. They foam up during the hot cycle and get into the drum and drainage components of your washer to ensure a deep clean. The tablets are made of non-toxic sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium percarbonate. However, the tablets come wrapped in plastic, so if you're trying to reduce your plastic footprint, be mindful of that.
Each box comes with 24 tablets, which is enough to last an entire year. The tablets themselves are quite small so you will likely need to use two each time you clean your machine, but even with this slight inconvenience, this pack will still likely last you through the year. These tablets don’t have a strong smell, which is also a nice change from other chemical-based cleaners.
Best Liquid: Lysol Washing Machine Cleaner + Sanitizer
Cleaner and sanitizer
Kills most bacteria
Removes soap scum
Difficult to pour
Two uses per bottle
Lysol is known for its effective cleaning products so it’s no surprise that its liquid washing machine cleaner is a top performer. This cleaner sanitizes and removes up to 99.99% of bacteria in your machine. This is an excellent cleaner if you want to deep clean your machine or if you have recovered from an illness and laundered contaminated clothes or towels. Because it sanitizes, you can be sure that any extra germs left behind in your machine are removed. On top of that, it also removes soap scum and grime.
Liquid washing machine cleaners are a bit trickier to use than tablets. The Lysol container has a twist-top lid to help with easy pouring, but if you're prone to spilling laundry ingredients, take extra caution. It may require two hands and careful measuring. One bottle is enough for two cleanings, which is a bit pricier than some of the other options on our list. Also if you have a septic system, you may want to opt for a different cleaner since it isn’t specifically listed as safe for septic systems.
Best Tablet: Plink Washer & Dishwasher Freshener & Cleaner Tabs
Washing machine and dishwasher-compatible
Made in the USA
Small packet size
Want a cleaning tablet that can do double duty? The Plink Clothes Washer and Dishwasher tablets work for both washing machines and dishwashers, leaving behind a clean machine and a lemony-fresh scent. To use, place one tablet in either the washing machine or dishwasher (or both!), and run it through a hot water cycle. This cleaner gets into the inner parts of the washing machine and removes build-up that can cause odors. The lemon scent then freshens the washing machine or dishwasher. If you are sensitive to chemical scents, this may not be the right cleaner for you.
However, for the convenience of a toss-in tablet that can be used for multiple appliances in your home, this cleaner can’t be beat. It is septic safe and can be used on all types of washing machines, so its versatility makes it an excellent option for those short on cleaning supply space or anyone who loves a multi-tasking cleaner.
Best Powder: OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner
Can use with standard and HE washing machines
Easy to use
Need to wipe residue out of machine
May discolor clothes
The power of OxiClean powder is specially formulated to target residue and buildup in your washing machine. OxiClean makes excellent clothing stain removers, so it makes sense that their washing machine cleaner is also top-notch. This powder comes in pre-measured pouches, making it super simple to use. Just tear one open, empty it into your washing machine, and run a hot cycle. The smell is quite strong, so take caution if you are sensitive to smells. OxiClean recommends using one pouch per month, which makes this a cost-effective solution to keeping your washing machine clean. If you subscribe for shipments through an online retailer, you may be able to save even more money.
The OxiClean powder is safe for all washing machines and septic systems, so you won’t need to worry about any damage to your existing setup. However, you should wipe out any extra residue from the washer drum before running a load with clothes to keep it from tarnishing your laundry. It’s best to have a towel designated for this purpose, as it might get stained or discolored by the powder. Also, be sure to keep the pouches away from kids and pets.
Best Wipes: Better Life Naturally Filth-Fighting All Purpose Cleaning Wipes
No chemical scents
Can be used for other household cleaning chores
Requires manual cleaning power
Doesn’t clean interior parts
Wipes are not the preferred method to clean a washing machine for most people because of the extra work that is involved. The benefit of using wipes, however, is that most can be used for other cleaning purposes around the home as well. The Better Life Naturally Filth-Fighting All-Purpose Wipes can be used to clean the inside of your washing machine drum as well as other household appliances such as microwaves, door handles, or countertops. These wipes are scented with essential oils, which might be preferred for those who are sensitive to chemical fragrances.
This cleaning solution is safe for septic systems but you should not flush the wipes. Instead, discard them in the garbage. These wipes can clean out the washing machine drum but can’t reach the inner workings of your machine, so you are limited by what you can reach. If you have a particularly big or deep washing machine drum, it could be difficult to reach all of the surfaces to clean them well. If this is the case, opt for a tablet or liquid cleaner.
Best Eco-Friendly: Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner
Powder and wipes included
Good for all washing machines
Lemon fresh scent
Need to use two packets for non-HE machines
If you want an environmentally-friendly choice that has two cleaning options—powder and wipes—the Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner is the cleaner for you. It's made of natural citric extracts, citrus oil, and sodium bicarbonate. This cleaner comes with four to eight pre-measured powder packets as well as wipes. The powder reaches all of the interior parts as well as cleans the drum itself. Just empty one packet into the drum and run a cycle on clean or hot. After you've cleaned the interior of the machine with the powder, the wipes do double-duty by cleaning door gaskets on front-loading machines or detergent trays.
This cleaner has a fresh lemon scent that might be strong for those who don't particularly love a citrus scent, and not suitable for feline friends living in your household. Katie Berry, The Spruce's Cleaning Review Board member, notes, "Citrus is harmful to cats, so they tend to avoid it." As a result, "they may start using other spots in your home as a restroom every time you clean your washer," if their litter box is located in the same room.
Like many washing machine cleaners, this pick also can leave a residue. You can use the included wipes to buff away residue left behind, though, or run extra cycles of water through the machine. You can use this on all washing machines as well, but Lemi Shine does recommend using two pouches per cleaning on non-HE machines.
Best Heavy-Duty: Renuv Washing Machine Cleaner
Good for all washing machines
No dyes or scents
A little pricey
Doesn’t have a fresh laundry smell
For those who need something to really get in and clean a lot of build-up or dirt and grime, the Renuv Heavy Duty Washing Machine Cleaner will do the trick. These giant tablets are slow-release so they foam up over time for maximum cleaning power. They are also dye-free and scent-free so the ingredients in the cleaner are simply there to clean, resulting in less residue that you need to wipe or rinse away after the cleaning cycle is done.
These are a tad pricey for 6 tablets but considering the size, they are a great value. You won’t need to use more than one tablet per cleaning, even for non-HE washing machines. Renuv recommends using one tablet per 30 laundry cycles. Depending on the size of your household and how often you do laundry, this may be once a month, once every two months, or more.
Best for Eliminating Odors: Glisten Washer Magic Washing Machine Cleaner and Deodorizer
Effectively removes odors
Cleans the gasket and detergent drawer
Doesn’t leave behind residue
Have to manually pour into machine
The Glisten Washer Magic Washing Machine Cleaner and Deodorizer is a top-selling washing machine cleaner because it is one of the best at removing grime and build-up, resulting in fresh, clean clothes. If you worry about mold, mildew, or other bad odors in your washing machine, give this cleaner a try. It is safe for all washing machines, including HE machines, and septic systems.
One of the best parts of the Glisten cleaner is that it doesn’t leave behind residue. It can even clean the washing machine door gasket and detergent tray. This means less scrubbing and wiping for you after the cleaning cycle is done. It is a liquid cleaner, so be ready for some maneuvering to actually pour it in. Depending on your washing machine setup, this may be more difficult than using a toss-in tablet. This cleaner is also more expensive than most tablets, but the great performance is worth the high cost if odors are an issue for you.
Our top pick is the Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner. These tablets are easy to use, compatible with all types of washing machines, and are affordable. If you are looking for a tablet that will clean all parts of your washing machine, inner workings, and drum, this is the one to try. For a budget-friendly option, consider the Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner. With one purchase of the 24-pack of tablets, you can get a full year’s supply of washing machine cleaner tablets that are safe for your system and mother nature.
What to Look for in a Washing Machine Cleaner
Washing machine cleaners come in tablet, liquid, and powder form. You can also use all-purpose cleaning wipes to clean your washing machine, although this method won't be able to get into the inner workings of your machine. “Make sure to find something that will clean out the inside of the machine and the drain,” says Marisol Wilkens, a residential cleaner with over 20 years of experience.
Tablets are the most convenient to store and use, although powders and liquids don't take up too much room, either. Wipes take the most effort to use, but they can be used on other household appliances and messes, too.
Washing machine cleaners can have a strong scent so take note if that is something you are looking to avoid. Some cleaners come in unscented forms, but you may still find a residual odor. Eco-friendly cleaners that use essential oils for their scent are often the preferred choice for those who are sensitive to chemicals and smells.
Many washing machine cleaners work for top-loading washing machines, front-loading machines, and high-efficiency machines but you should always double-check. Tablets tend to be the easiest to use in a wide variety of washing machines. Front-loading washing machines have door gaskets that can easily get grime, mold, and mildew built up, so look for a cleaner that targets these areas or use a wipe to manually clean them.
If you have a septic system, make sure that your washing machine cleaner is septic safe. Using any chemical in your plumbing, including some washing machine cleaners, can cause damage to your septic system which will result in potentially smelly, and often very expensive, problems for you. Septic safe washing machine cleaners will almost always state that they are septic safe on the packaging.
How do you use a washing machine cleaner?
The specific steps to use a washing machine cleaner will vary based on the type. For tablets, simply throw a tablet into the machine (usually in the washer drum) and run a clean cycle. Some washing machines have a specific setting for cleaning. If your machine does not, just run a warm cycle with only the tablet in the washer. It is a good idea to run a rinse cycle or two before you resume your normal laundry chores.
For liquid or powder washing machine cleaners, pour the cleaner directly into the drum of your washing machine. You should still run a rinse cycle after washing the machine and before using it to clean laundry.
Cleaning your washing machine with wipes takes more effort since you will manually wipe the inside of the machine. You may even need to get a small step stool to reach all of the interior portions. Like with the other types of cleaners, you should run a rinse cycle before washing clothes or linens to make sure any residue is rinsed away.
Katie Berry, The Spruce's Cleaning Review Board member, additionally notes that, if you have a top-loading washing machine, "you'll need to wipe the underside of the lid and the space at the top of the drum, even if you use a tablet." If your washing machine also has a central agitator with a built-in detergent cup, she recommends wiping that cup clean, as well.
How often should you use a washing machine cleaner?
For most people, using a washing machine cleaner once per month keeps their machine in great shape. If you notice mold or an unusual smell, you can clean your washing machine more often. Front-loader washing machines need cleaning more often than top-loaders because water can accumulate in the gasket on the front and cause mold issues.
Can you use a washing machine cleaner in your dishwasher?
While a washing machine cleaner uses similar cleaning agents to a dishwasher cleaner, the two items cannot be used interchangeably unless specified. Washing machine cleaners are often larger or more concentrated because a washing machine is usually bigger than a dishwasher. Dishwasher cleaning tablets, liquid, or powder are recommended in specific amounts for standard dishwasher sizes.
Many companies that make washing machine cleaners also make dishwasher cleaners. If you find a product that you like, look for one from the same manufacturer.
Why Trust The Spruce
This article was written by Katie Begley, a freelance writer specializing in home and family products. She has been writing for The Spruce since 2019, and is passionate about finding the best ways to keep her home clean and organized without spending all day doing chores. For this article, she researched products currently on the market that are effective, easy to use, and affordable. She also spoke with Marisol Wilkens, who has been cleaning residential spaces professionally for over 20 years.