Best washing machine cleaner: 5 buys for a spotless washer

The best washing machine cleaner is essential for keeping your washing machine sanitized, efficient, and fresh

washing machine with rattan laundry bin and shelving in a laundry room
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Even your washing machine needs a good scrub every once in a while, and using a washing machine cleaner is a simple and effective way to improve the cleanliness – and even lifespan – of one of your most-used appliances. 

If you're looking for the best washing machine cleaner to help dislodge the dirt and detergent residue that builds up in your washing machine over time, while also keeping the drum mildew-free and fresh-smelling, keep reading.

This guide has our top-rated washing machine cleaners for effectiveness, ease of use, and value. Not only do these products remove dirt and unpleasant odors, but they also kill germs and mold spores, making your washing machine as good as new again. They won't damage your washer, either. 

Check out our selection of the best washing machine cleaners to buy right now and don't miss our guide to the best washing machine, too.

The best washing machine cleaners

oxi clean washing machine cleaner box

(Image credit: OxiClean)

1. OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters

The best washing machine cleaner overall

Best for: Eliminating odors
Type: Powder
Size: pack of four pouches (four-month supply)
Cost per clean: $1.87
Reasons to buy
+Safe for septic systems+Removes odor-causing buildup+Added fragrance-free
Reasons to avoid
-Second-highest cost per clean

OxiClean's Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters will help keep your laundry smelling fresh by removing odor-causing buildup. 

Why we like it

If you've ever taken your clean laundry out of the washing machine only to find that it still doesn't smell very fresh, a dirty washing machine could be the culprit. This OxiClean washing machine cleaner is specifically designed to breakdown the buildup that causes musty odors in the washing machine, and it makes good on its promise. 

While it has anti-microbial properties thanks to its active ingredients (sodium percarbonate and disodium carbonate), it's still septic-system safe when used as directed.

Finally, this product is added-fragrance free, so is great for those with skin sensitivities, and it doesn't leave behind a strong smell.

How to use it

The cleaner comes in powder form in a small packet. It's easy to use (and you only need to do it once a month-ish). Simply add the contents of the packet to your washer drum and run the clean cycle (or if your machine doesn't have a pre-programmed clean cycle, run a normal wash cycle with hot water). 

Do not add laundry or other detergent during the clean cycle. When the cycle is done, wipe the drum, door, rubber gaskets and seals clean of any residue. Then, leave the door open so the machine can air out and dry. 

The verdict

This is a great maintenance cleaner, especially if you have a front-loader that tends to get that signature mildew smell, but if you're dealing with a strong odor (for example, if you left your wet clothes in the washing machine for a few days), you'll need to use one pouch per week for three weeks for the best results.

affresh washing machine cleaner

(Image credit: Affresh)

2. Affresh Washer Cleaner - 5 Pack

The best washing machine cleaner - tablet

Best for: A thoroughly hygienic washing machine, with no germs left behind
Type: Tablet
Size: 250ml
Cost per clean: $1.99
Reasons to buy
+Removes limescale to improve the performance of your washer+Effectively gets rid of odors
Reasons to avoid
-Some reviewers say tablets don't always dissolve-Highest price per clean

The Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner is a similar product to the OxiClean version. They have similar active ingredients (the Affresh cleaner users sodium carbonate, OxiClean uses sodium percarobonate), which both create an effervescent cleaning foam, except the Affresh cleaner comes in tab form. Like the OxiClean cleaner, Affresh's washing machine cleaner has rave reviews from around the internet.

Why we like it

This product is awesome for getting rid of everyday mold and mildew smells that tend to build up when you leave the washing machine door closed for just a little bit too long. It also has a light, lemon-y scent that's pleasant but not overpowering and doesn't linger for multiple wash cycles (something we've found with a number of other washing machine cleaner brands).

Note that some reviewers say the tablet doesn't full dissolve in a single wash cycle (choosing a hot water setting should help, though). We haven't experienced this when we tried it, but it's why this cleaner was slightly nudged out by the OxiClean version, since the powder formula completely dissolves every time. 

How to use it

Simply pop the tab into your machine's drum, whether it's a front or top-loader, and run a cleaning cycle or normal wash cycle on hot. Then, wipe the inside of the machine down when the cycle is done.

The verdict

For best results use once a month in the washing machine on its own and let the formula reach hidden areas, killing bacteria and getting rid of any bad odors to leave your machine – and laundry - smelling fresh. 

washing machine cleaner

(Image credit: Glisten)

3. Glisten Washer Machine Cleaner, Fresh Scent

The best washing machine cleaner for mineral buildup

Best for: Tackling buildup from hard water
Type: Liquid
Size: 12 oz.
Cost per clean: $1.61
Reasons to buy
+Removes mineral buildup+Eliminates odors
Reasons to avoid
-It has a strong scent

The Glisten liquid washing machine cleaner removes mineral and detergent build-up along with mildew and odors.

Why we like it

If you live in an area with hard water, mineral buildup or limescale can shorten the life of your washing machine. This cleaner tackles both mineral residue, as well as odor causing buildup.

Many reviewers also noted that this cleaner came recommended to them from service technicians or friends who'd used it with great results. 

How to use it

To start, pour the product on a clean cloth and wipe out the machine's rubber seals or any hard-to-reach areas where buildup has accumulated. Then, if you own a front-loader, pour a half-a-cup of the cleaner into your machine's detergent dispenser, or if you own a top-loader, pour it straight into the drum (like all washing machine cleaners, do not add clothes or detergent when cleaning your machine). Then, run the machine on a clean cycle or normal cycle using the hot water setting. It's recommended to use this cleaner monthly. 

The verdict

A fantastic preventative solution for new washers, especially if you prefer using low temperature wash cycles that don’t dissolve detergent as easily as a hot wash, which in turn leaves a residue behind. It's also a great maintenance cleaner for washers that take a lot of wear and tear thanks to heavily soiled uniforms, daily loads of kids clothing, hard water, etc.

washing machine cleaner

(Image credit: Hiwill)

4. Hiwill Washing Machine Cleaner Effervescent Tablets

The best washing machine cleaner for deep cleans

Best for: A deep-clean
Type: Tablet
Size: 32 packets
Cost per clean: $1.37
Reasons to buy
+Low cost per clean+Designed to soak into the machine for extra cleaning+Unscented
Reasons to avoid
-Only available on Amazon

If you're looking for a value product that gets results, check out the Hiwill Washing Machine Cleaner. It's a generic cleaner that's available only on Amazon, but reviewers love it for its efficacy and comparatively low price. 

Why we like it

For one, it's a budget-friendly pick. The tablets comes in a large 32-pack, and it's recommended you use two or three tabs per cleaning. If you only need two, one box of cleaner will last you more than a year and cost just $1.37 per cleaning. The manufacturer also features regular coupons on Amazon (we recently saw one for 30 percent off) so the cost can get even lower. 

It also claims to tackle everything from mildew and mites, to rust and grease. Plus, it's unscented, which is a plus for anyone with sensitive skin or who doesn't use fragranced products. 

How to use it

This product requires a slightly more involved approach that's designed to help deep clean your machine. After you add the tabs to your washer and start the cycle, it's recommended that you pause the washer when the water level is at it's highest point so the cleaner can soak for two-to-three hours.

After soaking, resume the wash cycle and let it complete as usual. 

The verdict 

An excellent choice for Amazon Prime members looking for a value product and a deep clean.

best washing machine cleaner

(Image credit: Amazon)

5. Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner

The best eco-friendly washing machine cleaner

Best for: Eco-friendly washing
Type: Tablet
Size: pack of 24
Cost per clean: $1.24
Reasons to buy
+Eco-friendly ingredients+Lowest cost per clean on our list
Reasons to avoid
-Some reviewers say they need to use this product more frequently than once per month-Only available on Amazon and eBay

The Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner is designed to clean both the drum and drainage system of your washing machine with eco-friendly ingredients. 

Why we like it:

This cleaner uses a similar active ingredient to the OxiClean and Affresh cleaners (sodium percarbonate), which is an eco-friendly compound. But, the Eco-Gals product contains few other ingredients, and all of them are earth-friendly. We double checked them on the Environmental Working Group website's to be sure. 

Besides being green, this product works like a charm, too.

How to use it

Like most of the other cleaners on this list, you simply add the product to your washer drum and run a hot wash or clean cycle. The only difference with this one is that you have to add two tabs each time you clean, instead of just one. 

The verdict

This is a great pick for those looking for an environmentally-friendly product that'll keep their machine clean.

What are the best washing machine cleaners to buy?

To come up with our list of the best of the best, we used a combination of user reviews and our personal experience. We also took into account the price per clean (calculated by dividing the price by the number of times you can clean your machine with one package)

Our top pick? OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters. It not only cleans inside the appliance but helps to protect the washer by removing residue buildup, and it has an almost-perfect 4.7 out of five stars from reviews on both and Walmart. It's also the one we buy over and over again thanks to its effectiveness, safety, and low price.

Can't get your hands on the OxiClean version? The Affresh Washer Cleaner offers similar results at a comparable price point. Reviewers love it, and it's got hundreds of five-star reviews on Bed, Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, and more. 

How to buy the best washing machine cleaner 

By keeping the inside of the washing machine clean, you’ll benefit from an appliance that won’t break down every few years or need a new part, which in turn saves you money and hassle in the long term. Here's what to look for in a good washing machine cleaner.

Does it tackle buildup?

In order to keep your washing machine working properly, it’s important to clean the inside regularly. Not only does this deal with any unpleasant odors resulting from moisture, mold and mildew, but it will also help prevent detergent residue and mineral build-up, the enemy of any appliance that uses water, especially if you live in a hard water area. 

Does it tackle odors?

A good washing machine cleaner will tackle odors inside the appliance caused by soap scum, grease and grime from clothes, which will in turn leave your laundry smelling fresh. 

Does it kill germs?

Look for a cleaner that doubles up, removing stinky odors as well as descaling, cleaning and helping to protect plastic inner workings and the drum itself makes sense. But some solutions are antimicrobial, too, killing germs at the same time, while others can also be used in dishwashers.

Alternatives to washing machine cleaner

All of the washing machine cleaners on our list will do a good job of cleaning your appliances. Having said that, there's plenty of room to experiment with DIY washing machine cleaners. Our top picks for this task are baking soda and dishwasher tablets. Simply put either (or both!) into your washing machine tray and run your machine on the hottest cycle. If you already own a dishwasher, that's one less product you need to buy.

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Kaitlin Madden
Kaitlin Madden

Kaitlin Madden Armon is a writer and editor covering all things home. In addition to Real Homes, she's written for Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Refinery29, Modern Luxury Interiors, Wayfair, The Design Network, and lots more. She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, two sons, and black lab.