How to clean a washing machine, because yes, it totally needs it

Don't be wishy-washy about this

Washing machines on pink sudsy background
(Image credit: Future)

Cleaning your cleaning tools feels kind of like a weird cleaning Inception. It might be strange, but ensuring your appliances are looking and feeling fresh will save you a lot of stress and super annoying fees from your landlord. If you're a li'l puzzled at how to clean your washing machine, don't sweat — it's not as difficult as it sounds. 

While it's probably way down your to-do list, it's actually a chore worth thinking about. You might assume that running a few loads each week is all it takes to clean out the machine, but without fully deep cleaning it, you can end up with a smelly washer and even stinkier clothes. We have all the steps and supplies you'll need for cleaning your washing machine, and peep our how-to video below for extra tips.

Good to know

Time: About two hours. It depends on your washing machine's cycle settings!

Difficulty: Easy

Helpful hints: If you don't want to buy special washing machine cleaners, household staples like baking soda and white vinegar are perfect for the job.

Here's what you'll need

How to clean a washing machine

Step 1: Check the manual and cycle settings

As a first step, read your washing machine’s manual for instructions on how to clean it; some manufacturers mention that certain cleaning and descaling products are a major no-no, so better be safe than sorry, bestie! You don't want an angry landlord on your hands. 

Now is also a good time to check the hottest setting you have on your washer and to see how long that cycle is. That'll give you a good idea of how long this process will take as a whole.

Step 2: Clean the detergent drawer

Pop out the drawer where you pour your detergent and rinse it in your sink. Use an old toothbrush to get all of the grime and mold off. If it's still looking gross after this step, leave it to soak in hot soapy water. Clean out the cavity it sits in with a microfiber cloth and toothbrush. This'll ensure mold is removed and doesn't contaminate the drawer again. You'll be surprised how nasty this part of your machine gets!

Step 3: Clean the rubber seals

Despite it constantly getting soaked and covered in soap, the seals around the door and drum of your washing machine can gather a nice little family of mold and mildew. Grab a microfiber cloth and get it damp with vinegar or dip a toothbrush in baking powder to serve as your cleaning tool. Wipe or scrub the seals and gently lift them up to clean underneath. You can also use a toothbrush to get any grime that's stuck on there. Once you've cleaned it, dry it with a fresh microfiber cloth.

Step 4: Run your washing machine's hottest cycle

Once these parts of your washing machine are clean, you can basically leave it to do the rest itself. Find the hottest cycle it has, make sure no clothes are inside, add your washing machine cleaner, like Tide's individually-wrapped powder packets, which you can get on Amazon, and press start. 

Some newer models have a dedicated washing machine cleaning cycle designed to run safely without popping anything in. Just double-check the manual online to decode the washing symbols and make sure you've picked the right setting. 

Step 5 (optional): Disinfect your washing machine

Cleaning a washing machine with bleach isn't as scary as it sounds. It's one of the best cleaning supplies out there and is hard to beat when it comes to blasting bacteria and germs. 

Add half a cup of bleach (we grab a bottle of Clorox from Walmart usually) directly into your washing machine's drum, and half into your detergent drawer. Run an empty hot cycle. If you can pause your wash once the machine has filled with water, do so for about an hour. Then start the cycle again. Run an extra rinse cycle to ensure all the bleach has been removed. Once it's finished, wipe down the inside of the washing machine door and dry out the seals. 

WARNING: Always be extra careful when working with bleach so it doesn't end up on your skin or in your eyes. It's also best to double-check that your washing machine can be cleaned with solutions like bleach or white vinegar (just read the manual). You don't want to damage anything or void the warranty! 

Step 6: Clean the washing machine filter

If you didn't even realize your washing machine had an accessible filter, you're not alone. It usually sits beneath the drum, almost touching the floor. To clean the washing machine filter, pull it out like the detergent drawer and scrub it down. Feel free to soak it in hot water and use a toothbrush to slough off grime. Be sure to clean out the area it sits in, too.

Check your washing machine's instructions to find out how to remove the cover if it's fixed, and how to remove the filter. The user manual should also explain how to clean the filter. You may need to place a bowl or tray on a towel beneath it to catch leaks from the drain. Replace the cover carefully.

Step 7: Wipe down the window and exterior

Use a microfiber cloth and hot soapy water to wipe down the washing machine window and the buttons or screen of your washing machine. These parts can get really dusty and full of detergent-y fingerprints. Once you're done with this, you have a sparkling clean washing machine!


How often should you clean your washing machine?

You'll want to give your washing machine a little TLC after every use. All that's required is wiping down any water from the seals, removing lint from your dryer filter, and leaving the door and detergent drawer open to prevent mold and nasty smells.

Once a week (or monthly if you really want to push it), do the full cleaning routine outlined above and disinfect your washing machine. Keeping on top of your washer's condition leads to fewer problems and clean-smelling clothes.

How do you fix a smelly washing machine?


Wondering why your washing machine smells? There could be a few reasons, but cleaning it out with a specialized cleaner or white vinegar and baking soda should help get rid of any gross smells. That being said, the best method is preventing odors from happening in the first place. To do so, leave your detergent drawer and washing machine door open after use. Use only the amount of detergent necessary, and keep parts like the filter and seals clean.

What cleaning products should be used in a washing machine?

We love using products that are almost always in your pantry (like baking soda and vinegar), but there are plenty of picks out there specially made for deep cleaning your washer that we've tested and would recommend. When it comes to shopping, the most common types are:

Specialty cleaning products: These are standard cleaners that do what you'd expect and remove surface-level grime

Germ killers: Perfect for disinfecting and sanitizing, these help rid your washing machine of germs and bacteria.

Protectants: Solutions labeled with this clean and also protect the drum and plastic parts of the machine. 

Hard water softeners: These are perfect if you live in an area with hard water. They contain active polycarboxylates, and that's how they protect your machine from limescale.

Household ingredients: Items like baking soda and white vinegar can be really useful to have on hand for cleaning your washing machine.

Laundry time! Now that you have a cleaning routine, stick to it and take care of your washer for the best results. Oh, and try to keep this as a daytime chore. Even if you have one of the quietest washing machines, you don't want to be running a wash cycle when you're trying to snooze.

Step-by-step video on how to clean a washing machine

Melissa Epifano
Former Global Editor in Chief

Hi, I'm former editor of Real Homes. I cut my teeth in New York City, covering fashion and beauty but eventually made my way into the world of homes. I've spent several years writing and editing for The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, Forbes, MyDomaine, People, InStyle, Real Simple, Lonny and more. I track trends like it's a competitive sport but am equally excited about covering products and style ideas that stand the test of time.

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