Laundry 101: How to Clean Your Washing Machine

Somewhere along the way, I failed to pick up on the fact that cleaning your washing machine should be done with some regularity—not, like, never. I figured that the soap in the detergents kept it squeaky clean, and why wouldn’t anyone? Oops.

The thing is, soap residue and minerals in commonly used detergents are apt to build up in the washing machine, and over time, you might notice that your clothes just don’t seem to get as clean as they used to. My washer had just started to feel icky. And here I was just thinking that maybe I had been cramming too many garments in the same load and not letting the rinse cycle perform as efficiently.

I searched around and found about as many different approaches for cleaning a top-loading washer, but one tutorial, a two-step approach, seemed easy, inexpensive and do-able.

a top-loading washing machine being cleaned

Getting your laundry back on track starts with just two items*:
• 1 quart of bleach (many tutorials went without the bleach step, if you’re concerned about using harsh agents in your laundry)
• 1 quart of white vinegar

* Some of you might be thinking: But wait, isn’t it dangerous to mix bleach and vinegar? The answer is yes, but we will not be mixing the two here. Read on …

Fill the empty washer with hot water, as if you’re doing a large load of laundry. Add the quart of bleach, and let the full machine run for one minute to mix up the bleach with the water. Open the top of the machine and let it sit, all bleach-y and full, for an hour. At the end of the hour, shut the cover and let the machine run a complete cycle. (The water will drain out all the bleach, so it won’t have a chance to mix with the vinegar.)

When it’s done, start again. This time, when you fill the washer with hot water, add the quart of white vinegar to the water and down the bleach channel and let the machine run for a minute to agitate the water and vinegar. After that minute, open the top of the machine and again, let the hot water sit in the basin for an hour before you let the cycle complete.

cleaned washing machine

Not only did the process make the basement smell so fresh, but I noticed a big difference in how the inside of the basin felt. Smooth and clean, like after you exfoliate your face, no longer rough to the touch with the hard water spots and soap build-ups. It also only took about 2 hours and less than $3.

I’ve never had a front-loading machine, but there is a different way of cleaning those. Check out this tutorial if necessary. Now you’ve got laundry on the brain, don’t you? Here’s some more inspiration for your laundry …

Update a Laundry Room

Building a Laundry Table

How to Build a Laundry Caddy

80 Responses

  1. babsbasia says:

    okay- how about picking up your rotator in a top loader- and looking what's underneath!- mines- sort of broke off and i was very very surprised

  2. Guest says:

    Until I bought an LG washer two years ago, I have never heard of cleaning a "washing" machine. It does have to be cleaned, but no other washing machine that I've ever used or my parents before me ever had to be cleaned. We've had Whirlpool, Magtag, and GE washers and never had to clean them. It's almost an oxymoron to have to clean a washing machine, but I do clean the LG model as per the instructions. It's not a big deal to clean it, but it's a surprising change. LOL

    • nygirl2012 says:

      make sure you use HE liquid detergent. It will break the washer if you don't. Soap will accumulate behind the drum in the washer and break the drum support.

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  4. nellie says:

    i use white vinegar instead of clorox 4 white clothes also use white vinegar to clean dish washer i time a month do same in washing machine

  5. guest says:

    I use a clean scrub brush with laundry detergent on it to wash the sides of the machine and it gets rid of the scum easily. Not difficult to do either.

    • RMK says:

      Bacteria builds up between the drum (rotating part) and the bucket (stationery part). Unfortunately you can not get there with a brush… "Affresh" has chemical that kills bacteria. I have used it initially when we moved into the house to kill the smell, and now use it only about once every 2-3 month to prevent bacteria growth.

  6. RMK says:

    The cheapest and most effective way to clean it is to buy a product called "Affresh" sold at Home Depot for $9. One package contains 4 tablets (one tablet per cleaning). It has a pleasant lemony smell and works as described on the package. It only takes one step and one washing cycle instead of several steps and few hours.

  7. clare says:

    Gotta leave open to dry, maybe all the time. When I had my brand new Bosch front loader serviced at a couple of months old for the stinky smell (about 5 years ago) stupid service guy gave me the third degree on WHAT I was washing, WAS I using the new special HE detergent, was I using HOT(!) water, and if, heaven forbid I was using a FABRIC SOFTENER! It was MY fault of course. Now, the "magic" of keeping it "fresh" is shown on YouTube and there are yet MORE products to buy to clean the stupid thing. What is wrong with this picture. So much for "saving" water! Gotta run extra washes and smaller loads. I have had to add baking soda to each wash to get the towels to smell clean after drying and I learned to save up a bleach load to run once a week to battle the stink. P.S. Chlorine bleach IS chlorine gas …in liquid form. No such thing as "fresh bleach". I don't know about vinegar and bleach together, so run one, then the other. Don't want a snoot full of either. They should do different things. Vinegar should break down certain kinds of build up, lime scale, soap residue, etc. and perhaps freshen, altho' I don't like the smell. Bleach will kill (or limit the growth) of mildew and mold. The weird thing to me is that this is the machine to clean clothes, using less water and using cold water, but using it doesn't keep ITSELF clean. Why did my mom's old Maytag top loader NEVER need "cleaning"?

    • RMK says:

      Your washer has this smell because of bacteria (yes, bacteria) build up.
      The cheapest and most effective way to clean it is to buy a product called "Affresh" sold at Home Depot for $9. One package contains 4 tablets (one tablet per cleaning). It has a pleasant lemony smell and works as described on the package. It only takes one step and one washing cycle instead of several steps and few hours.

  8. not-a-chemist says:

    Mixing bleach and vinegar does release chlorine gas. It is potentially lethal. Better to use fresh bleach alone as old bleach may not be effective. Mixing the two is not advisable.

    • guest says:

      No both of these are acids and you would need a base like ammonia to create chlorine gas.

      • Guest says:

        No. Vinegar and bleach makes peracetic acid and table salt. This is not going to release chlorine gas. Bleach is a weak base,,and vinegar is a weak acid. The combination is really good at cleaning smelly trashcans, though.

    • kellysmtrimble says:

      Mixing bleach and vinegar can be dangerous, but the two aren't mixed here. They are used in two separate cycles of the washing machine, so the bleach drains out before the vinegar is ever added. We've added a note about this in the post. Thanks!

  9. glocker62p says:

    This is unnecessarily complicated. Set the machine to run max time for regular wash. Add 1qt. white vinegar, 1 qt. bleach and a "small load" amopunt of detergent. Set the controls to max water level and let it run. More than about 15 – 20 minutes does nothing.

    Make sure the first wash after this cleaning is bleachable and use normally with a full load of water.

    You're done.

  10. Cheryl says:

    As a person working in the domestic cleaning area for quite long I approve this method. It is 100% safe, easy and inexpensive. It would've been nice if you uploaded an image of the result. This is certainly useful, but I was looking for a more friendly method, because I don't like bleach. I think only vinegar is enough.

  11. Guest says:

    Next, DIY will do an article about how to clean the boogers out of your nose.

  12. bill says:

    I'd say not good…corrosive an kills bacteria that make it work..the sep/tank i mean..not sure about vinegar w/the tank but it's acidic acid not good for metal.rinsed really well might be ok..I'd do some more research.. I do have a friend that details cars among other things an swears by simple green, it's biodegradable an a great cleaner..might cost a few more bucks on the front end but save a machine..

  13. imc123 says:

    its a nice and good information thanks for sharing…..

  14. sheepy says:

    I put sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher once a week.

  15. Andrew says:

    with front load washers it's somewhat easier as some models have a "Self cleaning" program. you just need to run it once in a month or every 6 weeks and that is enough, the machine does everything by itself. I'm not sure if the same is available in regards to top load washers though. of course not every front-loader has this option from what I've seen, but the modern ones do.

    both of these sites contain comparison charts of front load washers and they list which front-loaders have this self-cleaning cycle available. hope it helps.

    • Heather says:

      I used the "self cleaning" program monthly. It doesn't remove the detergent inside the back of the machine, behind the drum. The part of the washer that you can't see. I used to run empty loads of bleach and hot water through the machine trying to "clean the washer". The most important part of the front load washer is the HE detergent. I learned the hard way with my LG Tromm front loader. I used to use any kind of liquid detergent that was on sale. My 4 year old front loader broker due to using non HE detergents. The detergents accumulate in the back of the washer on the drum support.One day my washer started to spin off balance and the machine started smoking. I took my washer apart (thank you youtube) and found 4 inches of detergent and mold caked on the drum support. My drum support was also snapped in half. The drum support is a cheap, crappy piece of metal that cannot handle the accumulation of soap. LG Wanted to charge me $500 to tear my washer apart and replace the drum support. The part is also called "the spider". I bought the part and fixed the washer for $80. I too though that all of the extra cleaning cycles were really doing something. Not the case.

  16. Shaun Mclain says:

    This is nice information blog. Thanks for Sharing.

  17. Jane says:

    A quart each of bleach and vinegar sounds like overkill to me. You shouldn't need both or so much. A quart of bleach would definitely not be advisable for homeowners who have their gray water venting out to their septic tank as bleach can kill off important active bacteria in the septic tank. Vinegar with baking soda will do a very good job of cleaning the inside of your washer and leave it smelling fresh, but I would suggest a couple of cups vinegar, rather than a whole quart.

  18. cathy says:

    I also leave my washer lid open after a load to let it dry out inside,,

  19. JLeann says:

    Isn't mixing bleach and vinegar as recipe for chemical fumes poisining? I was always told not to mix the two. I realize you are not pouring vinegar in a tub of bleach but I would think even down the bleach dispenser would not be good. Besides they make cleaners for this now. Just drop in a cube a run the clean cycle or run a regular cycle.

    • Kim says:

      I believe you are referring to never mix bleach and ammonia.

      • bill says:

        that's for sure..bleach is corrosive,vinegar is an acid..sorry a lil pun intended..i dropped a 200.00 spray gun vinegar once but never again.. :(

    • kay says:

      he didnt say to mix them, do the bleach step first; empty washer and repeat again with vinegar.

    • Guest says:

      You are correct, see the PDF. Bleach and vinegar should not be mixed as the result is chlorine gas. Even if it would be residual mixing from the dispenser.

    • mia says:

      That was my thought too. Generally, it's not smart to mix acids and bases without doing some research fist. And I agree, even if you aren't actually mixing them, the two still will come in contact in the dispenser.

    • Lisa says:

      Did you even read the post?. It said to run seperate cycles with each seperately….Geez.

  20. Laurie_March says:

    Cleaning the things that clean! Brilliant.

    Now about that gross pot scrubber…

  21. Carolin says:

    Sound great but how about my septic?

    • Laura says:

      CLR (Calcium Lime Rust) is septic friendly and cleans much more than just washing machines. Does not shorten the lifespan of a major ($$$) appliance.

    • Laura says:

      Use CLR( Calcium Lime Rust) Remover. Is septic tank friendly and works great! It also does not shorten the life span of Major ($$$) Appliance. Dish washers too.

    • David says:

      Bleach is a bacteria killer. As a biologist I cleaned bacteria-laden Petri dishes with bleach, and it destroys bacteria. Introducing that amount of bleach into a septic tank with hot water may significantly change the bacteria population in your tank, with unintended consequences.

  22. rachel says:

    I never gave much thought to this but I know I probably really need to do this!!! Thanks for the tutorial!

  23. rachel says:

    I never gave much thought to this but I know I probably really need to do this!!! Thanks for the tutorial!

  24. [...] my little faceted clay push pins shown below, you can read the full post here. I also wrote about how to clean a top-loading washing machine, because gross, do you realize how often you should really be doing [...]

  25. su stouffer says:

    I wash kitchen towels (whites) in LOTS of bleach and stop the wash cycle for a soak for at least one hour. Of course this means that the life span of my towels are significantly reduced. I follow this wash hot water only cycle to get the extra bleach out. Then, I follow this wash cycle with vinegar to cut the bleach smell. I wash actually curious when I read on your site that top load washers need to be cleaned – I've only heard about front loaders having this problem. Now I realize that stumbled on the fix for a problem I never had.


About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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