Exactly how to clean a washing machine filter (and how to find it in the first place)

Yup, that exists and needs cleaning ASAP

A gray washing machine filter pattern on a purple bubble background
(Image credit: Future)

Okay, confession: I didn't realize how many factors go into doing laundry correctly until I moved into my first apartment, which is blessed with a built-in washer and dryer. 

For example, just like dryers, apparently washing machines have filters (???), and it's important to know how to clean a washing machine filter and do so on a regular basis to keep your laundry in its best shape.

There's so much more to washing your clothing, towels, blankets, and sheets than dumping in the detergent and hitting the start button, like clearing out your dryer lint, cleaning your washing machine, and taking steps to prevent detergent buildup and smells.

So, if you're like me and didn't know your washing machine had a filter, let alone how to clean one, don't sweat it. We've got you covered with a guide on exactly how to clean your washing machine filter and how often to do it.

Good to know

Time: 15–20 minutes, plus the time of your washer's quick cycle

Difficulty: Intermediate (only upgraded from being easy due to the first step, so don't worry!)

Helpful Hints: The hardest part of figuring out how to clean your washing machine filter is finding the filter itself. Not every washing machine has a removable filter, so start by checking if yours does. If not, your machine should just have a cleaning cycle or quick cycle you can run without any laundry to clear out the filter easily.

If you don't have your washing machine's user manual, look up the model number and the guide (and filter location) should be fully available online.

Here's what you'll need

How to clean a washing machine filter

Step 1: Find your washing machine filter

Grab your washing machine's user manual to figure out where the filter is. Follow the instructions to remove the filter, and set aside to start the cleaning process.

Tip: If you can't find the manual or your landlord never gave it to you, Googling your washing machine's model should give you the same instructions.

Step 2: Remove the lint

Using your dry paper towel or cleaning cloth, gently remove as much lint and dirt as you can from the filter. Dampen the cleaning cloth and wipe the filter down a second time, carefully picking up any larger pieces of lint.

Step 3: Soak the filter

In your sink, mixing bowl, or bucket, make a cleaning solution using hot water and a tiny amount of dish soap (about a teaspoon is perfect). Let the solution bubble up, and soak the filter in it for about 10 minutes, allowing the hot water to start to break down any dirt and detergent buildup.

Step 4: Clean the filter housing

Cleaning your washing machine filter doesn't do much if it's just going back into a dirty space. While you have the filter soaking in your cleaning solution, dip your cleaning cloth into the same solution and wipe down the inside of the filter's housing. 

Tip: If you want to get your washing machine's filter housing super-clean, do a second pass with your favorite bathroom cleaning spray (personally, I use this eucalyptus and mint-scented one from Method, which you can grab from Target). Your washing machine is similar to the material of your shower or bathtub, so using a bathroom spray will work well.

Step 5: Scrub with a soft brush

Carefully remove the washing machine filter from your cleaning solution (don't burn your fingers!) and let it cool off if needed. Use tongs or heat-proof gloves if the water is still steaming. Grab your soft cleaning brush or toothbrush, and gently scrub the outside of the filter and its mesh to dislodge anything stuck and get every element of your filter clean.

Step 6: Replace the filter

Once it's soaked and scrubbed, you can put the filter back in its housing to get your washing machine ready for the hard work it puts in. You don't have to stress about the filter or housing being dry before you replace the filter because they're about to get wet again in the next step anyways.

Step 7: Run a quick cycle

To make sure the filter has been put back into the machine securely, you'll want to run a quick load of laundry on your machine's shortest setting. This will flush out any last bits of lint or debris in your filter and housing, and help you know if the filter is in securely for IRL laundry day.

FAQs

Where is the filter in my washing machine?

I spent a solid hour trying to figure this one out, so here's exactly what I did to find the filter so you don't have to go through the same struggle.

First, see if you still have the washing machine manual (if you're in a rental or not-so-organized like me, chances are the answer is no). If that's a no-go, try searching your washing machine model, and the term "filter location." This should pull up your user manual and helpful diagrams pointing out exactly where the filter is, and how to remove it. 

If you're still not sure, try checking YouTube. Someone may have posted a video of the location and removal process for your exact machine model already!

Are you supposed to clean your washing machine filter?

If your machine has a filter that can be removed, the answer is yes, you should def be cleaning it. Ideally, you should clean your washing machine filter at least every three months, and even more frequently if you run a lot of laundry cycles, have pets, or are involved in outdoor sports. Depending on your lifestyle, dirt, hair, and lint can build up in your machine's filter quickly, so keep an eye out for any signs you need to clean it sooner.

What happens if you don't clean washing your machine filter?

In the short term, the impact of not cleaning your washing machine filter will be on your clothes, towels, and sheets. Red flags you'll notice when it's time to clean the filter are clothes coming out of your washing machine and smelling funny or not feeling clean, white streaks of detergent on your laundry, or lots of leftover lint in the machine. 

In the long term, you're more likely to see issues with your washing machine itself. When the filter is dirty, your machine has to work harder, use more water and energy, and you'll likely find yourself running laundry multiple times in a row since it's not cleaning properly. Long story short: cleaning your washing machine filter is good for your clothes, your machine, and your wallet.

Nishaa Sharma
Freelance social media editor

Hi! I’m the former social editor at Real Homes and a freelance social media expert bringing you the latest and greatest in home trends, interiors aesthetics, and celebrity finds. When I’m not scrolling or filming the best home decor for your small space, you can find me exploring the cutest villages and brunch spots, or snuggled up on the sofa with a new recipe, my husband, and our puppy, Ebble.

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