How to Clean a Washing Machine

A woman tentatively sniffing laundry pulled from a washing machine.

Like most people, I was a little daunted at the thought of cleaning a washing machine. Then I sat down and did my research. First of all, most new washer models have a self-cleaning function. I did not know that, though I probably should have gleaned it from the salesman. He was talking very fast at the time, and all I heard was gibberish.

Anyway, even without that function, cleaning a washing machine is fairly easy. As far as the exterior, all you will need is a spray bottle of soapy water and a rag. The interior is a little more complicated but the best part is that it’s not by much! If you’ve got a washing machine that starting to be a bit odoriferous, then read on!

Clean a Washing Machine

  1. bottle of vinegarGather your cleaning materials. All you will need to clean a washing machine is white vinegar (or lemon juice) and bleach. I recommend Heinz® All Natural White Vinegar because, well, it’s all natural. It’s organic, only lacking in pretension. Seventh Generation has an eco-friendly bleach that will work well for the second ingredient. Granted, its eco-friendly because it’s chlorine free, but it will still work for what you are trying to accomplish here. You’ll need about 2 cups of each for a top-loader, or 1 cup each for a front-loader.
  2. front loading washing machineRun the washer. Regardless of which type of washing machine you fancy, set the water temperature to hot. For top-loaders, let the washer fill about halfway before pouring in the vinegar or lemon juice. Close the lid and let it run through its entire cycle. For front-loaders, pour the vinegar or lemon juice into the dispenser. Start your wash and let it go to town.
  3. washing machine control panelRun the washer again. Leave the water temperature set to hot. For top-loaders, let the washer fill to about halfway again, then add in the bleach. Close the lid and let it run through its entire cycle. For front-loaders, pour the bleach into the dispenser, start your wash, and let her go.
  4. bleach receptacleThis is mostly for front-loading washing machines.Open the receptacle were you put your detergent and remove it (most have a way to remove it underneath). Rinse it thoroughly, and place it in a solution of water and bleach. Soak it in a solution of water and 2 capfuls of bleach. Let it soak for about an hour before removing it from the solution. Rinse it off and allow it completely dry before replacing it. Be sure to replace it. Seriously.
  5. spray bottle shooting out stylized starsClean the outside of the washing machine. Combine 2 tablespoons of dish soap and 2 cups of water in a clean spray bottle. Spray down the top and sides of your washing machine and scrub using a clean, white cloth.
  6. Vacuum cleanerVacuum under the washing machine. Plug the vacuum in, turn it on, and use the hose attachment to clean out the underside of the washing machine. Lastly, empty out the water lines leading to the washing machine. Some washing machines have a little door, at the base of the front, which allows you to do this without a lot of work. Consult the owner’s manual that you know you kept for just such an occasion.

Alternative Method for Cleaning Top-Loading Washers

This option really only works for top-loaders, but it is worth a look. Run the washing machine full of hot water. Right when it starts agitating, add 3 or 4 cups of white vinegar and about ¼ cup of baking soda. Let it run its course until the washer straits to drain. Before it drains, advance it to the spin cycle. If your washer doesn’t function as such, simply let it drain. Turn off the machine and unplug it. Wipe the interior completely with a wet cloth. Plug the machine back in and run it through a full wash and rinse cycle with warm water. Then you’re done!

Natural Products for Cleaning a Washing Machine

Bottle of Seventh Generation BleachSeventh Generation Bleach. Eco-friendly and chlorine-free, which makes it less caustic, easier on your skin, and better for the environment. Plus it was handcrafted by blind Tibetan monkeys in the twelfth century. Okay, the last part isn’t true, but the rest of it is.

Bottle of Seventh Generation Dish SoapSeventh Generation Dish Soap. If I haven’t espoused this strongly enough before, I will now. This stuff is almost as versatile as baking soda, but tastes twice as awful, so don’t eat it. A fine detergent for cleaning the outside of your washing machine with.

Bottle of Seventh Generation DetergentSeventh Generation Laundry Detergent. Have you ever noticed how unscented laundry detergent still has a scent? Well, the Seventh Generation unscented laundry detergent does not, in fact, smell. It’s fabulous. Also, it’s good for the environment. You can order it in powder from Amazon or in the liquid detergent option.