How to Clean a Washing Machine

Everything needs cleaning from time to time, even the machines we use to clean with! The washing machine can quickly build up dirt and grime, causing a foul odor if not cleaned regularly. These odors can transfer to your clothing and the problem snowballs. Cleaning your machine regularly will help to keep it fresh and ready for use.

What You Will Need

  • Lemon Juice, Lime Juice or Vinegar
  • Borax
  • Spray Cleaner
  • Paper Towels
  • Q-tips
  • Bucket
  • Vacuum with hose attachment

Important Safety Tip: Before attempting to clean your washing machine, it is important to UNPLUG YOUR MACHINE. NEVER attempt to clean your washing machine when it is still plugged in as you run the risk of electrocution!

Cleaning the Washing Machine:

  1. Start by using the spray cleaner and paper towels to wipe down the top, front, and sides of the washing machine. This step alone makes a big difference in the appearance of your machine.
  2. Next, we will work on cleaning out the inside of the machine.
  3. Spray some cleaner onto a couple of paper towels and use it to wipe down the underside of the lid, and under the lip of the washer.
  4. Now it’s time to clean the basin of the washer. Fortunately, the machine will do most of the work for you. You will need to run several cycles to get the machine completely clean.
  5. Begin by filling the washing machine using the hot water and largest load setting.
  6. Add 2 cups of lemon or lime juice if you have rust problems or 2 cups of vinegar for odor problems. If you have both problems, run a cycle of each.
  7. Allow the washing machine to run through a complete wash and rinse cycle.
  8. Fill the washer a second time with hot water on the largest load setting.
  9. Add 2 cups of bleach to the water. This will aid in stain removal.
  10. Allow the washing machine to run through a complete wash and rinse cycle.
  11. If all of the stains are removed, run an additional cycle without adding anything to the water. This will allow any remaining residue to be rinsed away thoroughly.
  12. Remove the bleach dispenser and fabric softener dispenser and soak them in a bucket of warm water.
  13. When they have soaked long enough to loosen most of the build-up, remove them from the water and lay them on a paper towel.
  14. Spray them with the spray cleaner and wipe away any dirt using the paper towels. Use Q-tips to remove dirt from corners and tight areas.
  15. Dry the dispensers and return them to their original places in the machine.
  16. Use the vacuum with the hose attachment to vacuum all around and under the washing machine. A large amount of dust tends to accumulate behind the washer and dryer, so take extra care in vacuuming all the dirt away, especially from cords and electrical outlet areas. This not only makes it cleaner, it helps to alleviate a possible fire hazard.
  17. This is a good time to check the hoses and make sure they are securely attached. If not, you may be mopping the floor soon too!

Additional Tips and Advice:

  • If you have stubborn stains on the inside of your machine, there are cleaning products designed for washing machines that are available at most hardware and home improvement stores.
  • If your clothes have picked up the odor from your machine, wash them with a cup of borax.
  • Front loading washers tend get a build-up over time that leads to unpleasant odors. There are natural cleaners available to remove the fungus and get rid of the odor. However, to keep it away, you may need to change your detergent and/or fabric softener.


  1. Jim says:

    I need specific instructions on cleaning a front loader.

  2. Frank V. says:

    In your article, “How To Clean A Washing Machine,” you suggest adding two cups of vinegar to help eliminate odor. Is this safe for front loaded HE washers? Which dispenser should the vinegar be poured into? Your answers would be very much appreciated. Thanks!

  3. Glynnda says:

    Sorry that this is so late… put the vinegar in the basin (where the clothes go) and it should be safe.

  4. Angela says:

    Would love instructions on cleaning a front loader. My rim is mildewy and has some kind of slime around it. I try to clean it, bleach it, use vinegar, peroxide…does anyone else have this problem? If I don’t do a load everyday, the next day, there is a horrible smell when I run a load! How often should I clean the trap below? Is that part of the problem? Help!!!

  5. Rick says:

    My cat suddenly refuses to go into the laundry room which is also where her food, water, and litter box are! Looks in that room like there is a snake in there! Perfectly happy just outside the room. The only thing I can find is a sudden increase in amount (and smell) of mildew (black stuff) around the rubber seal of my Neptune front loader. So, we start doing even more to get this stuff off, using all the help sources mentioned here and elsewhere. Keep you posted. Any tips?

  6. Sea-J says:

    Oh my gosh…my clothes are also starting to smell. I lost my job and cleaning lady last May. I had no idea it was my washer. I looked inside of my washer and there is a big black streak of mildew that won’t come off. No one told me that you are suppose to keep the door open to prevent mildew. Thanks for the tip. The black looks nasty and smells nasty. Why doesn’t Neptune use a different material for their inside liner? Duh…

  7. Rachel says:

    Most front-loading machines have a self cleaning cycle. Add the vinegar/bleach or lemon/lime to the basin and run that cycle. You can also run a “rinse” cycle afterwards for peace of mind that your clothes won’t be bleached or smell fruity later. :) Also, leave the door open as often as possible to dry when not using it. There will always be water in the seal of the door and this will get slimy and smelly if it never gets to dry out. I regularly use a Clorox wipe in the seal on the door as well as the inside of the door to get rid of the dirt from my husbands clothes so my clothes don’t smell like his. Also, there’s a trap on the lower front of the washer that traps, uh, stuff. I’ve never found anything in mine, but this can also be drained and cleaned regularly. Just be sure you either have a towel ready or the floor slopes towards a drain/can get really wet, as quite a bit of water comes out.

  8. Laurel says:

    I keep getting brown, flaky stuff all over my clothes when they come out of the washer. It is a top load washer. What do I do to get rid of it?

  9. Lesa says:

    Me too! From time to time, I find brown flaky stuff all over my clothes when I raise the lid of my washing machine. What is the deal? It looks like wet sawdust. There is no smell of any sort.

  10. DC says:

    Will these tips remove fabric softener build-up from the ‘guts’ of the machine? The top dispensers have since been cleaned, and now I’m wondering how to get to where it actually dispenses into the wash to soften? There must be some disassembling involved. Thank you.

  11. Bev says:

    Which laundry detergents are you speaking about? I don’t know how to identify the detergent as a possible problem because there are no product names shared. Perhaps you could suggest a couple that will avoid fungus, mold, etc.? Presently, I use Kirkland detergent, no water softener, and have a Kenmore front-loader (about 10-yearsold). I wiped it down with vinigar, wiped around seal, and keep door opened, but clothes and the washer smell like dirt! Please help if you can. Thank you,

  12. Melanie says:

    Dirt gets trapped behind the washing machine drum, which is likely the cause of the bad smell. That’s why the cleaning process calls for running the washer with an empty load; so the vinegar or bleach can clean the back of the drum that you won’t be able to clean just by wiping. Using hot water will also help to kill the mold. If you have ongoing mold, fungus or odors, it is safe to say that your laundry detergent is ineffective against them. Borax has anti-fungal properties and can be found in some laundry detergents, particularly Seventh Generation. Others include Mrs. Meyer’s Laundry Detergent, Caldrea, Norwex and Planet Ultra Powdered, as well as the Borax detergent by 20 Mule Team.

    Source: Wikipedia – Borax
    Source: PinStripes and PolkaDots – Detergent List with Ingredients

  13. Chuck says:

    Let’s talk about WHY there’s a musty, moldy smell coming from your front load washer…Everyone uses too much detergent! First, make sure your using the HE (High Efficiency) Detergent and only use 2 tablespoons for a full load…NOT A CAP FULL!
    These new washers are only using a fraction of water verses what the old washers were using so you don’t need to use that much detergent. By using too much detergent it creates a residue build up on the inner tube that you don’t see and it keeps building up and building up until it gets moldy; that’s whats causing the smell. Also, when your done using your washer for the day, LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN! When you close the door, your sealing in the moisture, which can also cause mold to grow.
    Some of the new front loaders now come with a Fan Dry option that runs a desktop computer type fan that draws fresh air in and circulates it around the two drums to air dry it. GE & some Whirlpool/Maytag models have this option.

    Remember…”LESS IS BEST” for detergent and leave the door open when done.

  14. Monica says:

    I have the same problem as Laurel & Lesa. Help needed please.

  15. Sylvia says:

    Hi. I have a top load washing machine. I clean it very regularly, but after evry wash, I get black flakes all through my washing. What does this mean? Can someone please help in this matter? Thank you.

  16. Nancy says:

    I am also struggling with the brown flakes from my older (2001) Maytag/Atlantis. I have tried to clean around the inside top rim where they seem to come from. I try to get my little finger up there and wipe it out, but it still happens. What do we do?

  17. Jess says:

    Occasionally I see hard white flakes in my top loading washer. I can hear them when they fall off the clothes & hit the washer basin as I’m removing the washed clothes. It sounds like tiny pebbles hitting the bottom. I figured it’s dried powder detergent as I have very hard water & may use too much detergent at times. Or, I guess it could be lime or calcium build-up due to the hard water. Will this cleaning method take care of that too? I’ve never noticed brown or black flakes like several other people have mentioned…

  18. Angie says:

    I am also seeing the brown flakes on my clothes and inside the washing machine after I was the clothes and it is making it so I don’t want to use the machine anymore. Can anyone tell me how to get rid of this problem??

  19. Rouba says:

    I also get the brown/black flakes. I almost took apart my whole machine looking for the problem. I have a top loader. I found that the hose which drains the water back into the sink was filled with these flakes also. I figured it might be coming from there. After cleaning the hose using one of those long bristle brushes that we used to use to clean baby bottles (sorry don’t know what they are called, but they can be found at any hardware store) and reattaching, I found the problem went away. You could also just replace your hose.

  20. Kim says:

    We also suffered from the problem of clothes smelling very unpleasant immediately after they were washed. It was obvious the washing machine had something wrong (Samsung Front Loader). Much research on the interest and the suggested treatments did not help.

    I reverted to my swimming pool knowledge and after viewing a video showing what caused the problems, we treated our machine in the following way.

    Our machine has a Trommel Reinigung program (drum cleaning program; we are in Germany). So, using this program, we put the machine through four consecutive cycles:

    Cycle 1 : using a supermarket drain cleaner (caustic soda / sodium hydroxide would also work). This is very good for removing the greasy/fatty building up that causes the stink problem. Some of the liquid cleaners may cause a foam problem - use small amounts.

    Cycle 2 : using white vinegar (about a liter) and with the drum cleaning program

    Cycle 3 : using cloudy ammonia (it may be difficult to buy, in Germany you can by it from hardware stores in the paint section under the name Salmiak Geist/Ammoniak). Be careful and DO NOT BREATHE in the fumes. This product is very good at removing fat… but it is harsh.

    Cycle 4 : using a cheap supermarket powder designed for dishwashers. We used quiet a lot, about 1 full tea cup of powder. The cheap powders have the strongest cleaning agents.

    Maximum heat should be used for each cycle (95 degrees if possible).

    In the future, we will use sodium bicarbonate and sodium per carbonate at least once per month in conjunction with the special drum cleaning program.

    After this process, we appear to have solved our stinking washing problem.

    As we understand the problem, it is caused by the new technology washing liquids... and low wash temperatures.

  21. Portia says:

    My washer does not smell like mildew; it smells like dirt from my boyfriend’s work clothes. And vinegar does not work. What do I do?

    Check it out! We’ve answered your question! Yay!

  22. Sharon says:

    We have hard water and are concerned about deposit buildup damaging the machine. How do you clean deposits from the machine? Do you recommend weekly cleanings? Will the cleaners damage any seals?

  23. Melanie says:

    This is the article you need: How to Remove Limescale. How often you need to clean the deposits will depend on how quickly they build up. White vinegar is often used in washing machines as an alternative to fabric softener, so you could adopt that practice in hopes of keeping your machine more clean as well. The usual recommendation for that is 1/2 cup of white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser or added to the rinse cycle.
    Source: Green Idea Reviews – Using Vinegar as Fabric Softener – Does it work?

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