When Was the Last Time You Washed Your Washing Machine?

Never? Us too.

June  7, 2022

Though it might sound absurd that a washing machine designed to clean everything from clothes to baby bottles needs cleaning itself, it makes complete sense. If you think about it, a multitude of undesirable leftovers can—and will—build up inside your machine. The first culprits that come to mind are the dirt and grime from your soiled clothes, which can accumulate over time. But there are others like leftover detergent, hard water mineral deposits, mold, and mildew—none of which should really be in there. You know that funky odor that sometimes follows your laundry as you transfer it to the dryer? That’s what not cleaning your machine can lead to.

Here’s exactly how to clean your washing machine.

1. Run an Empty Cycle (or Three)

There are two schools of cleaning methods when it comes cleaning your washing machine: bleach and vinegar. If you’re a fan of bleach in the laundry sphere, you’re in luck because it might just be the hardest-working product for sanitizing. If you want to avoid bleach and its harsh chemicals, though, white vinegar is a good alternative with powerful deodorizing and bacteria-killing properties.

Whichever one you pick, the instructions remain the same. Add two cups of liquid bleach or white vinegar to the detergent dispenser and run an empty cycle with hot water. For those who want a double-duty clean, complete one empty cycle with bleach and a second empty cycle with vinegar. Follow this up with a third empty cycle using a cup of baking soda, which can help neutralize any remaining bleach or vinegar and eliminate any persistent buildup. If you use your washing machine frequently, you should go through this routine monthly.

2. Scrub the Gasket

For front-loading washing machines, cleaning the gasket or rubber seal around the door is pivotal. Moisture gets trapped in this area, which means mold and mildew love to live there. Be sure to wipe it down after each load to keep it dry. If your gasket is as icky as we imagine (we’ve been there), dampen a rag, microfiber towel, or even a nylon brush with diluted bleach or white vinegar and scrub, scrub, scrub. Also, leave the door open for an hour or two after cleaning and each laundry cycle so the gasket dries out.

3. Remove and Clean Trays

Any removable trays or wells, like those for fabric softener and bleach, should be taken out and cleaned in the sink because buildup can occur in these spots, too. Before returning the trays, clean their slots as well. Aim to do this once each season.

4. Wipe Down the Exterior

Using your favorite all-purpose cleaner, give the exterior of your washing machine a good once-over. Dust and detergent spills that gather on the outside of the machine have a sneaky way of making their way inside during laundry day, so it’s better to keep the surface spotless.

5. Dry the Interior

Once your cleaning endeavor is complete, wipe down the interior of the machine with a dry cloth to make sure all the moisture and scum is completely gone. If it remains damp and dirty in there, all your work was for naught.

This post was updated in June 2022 with more details on how to clean your washing machine.

Will you be adding this to your cleaning schedule—yay or nay? Tell us in the comments.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.


Kelly August 8, 2023
Thanks for your sharing, it is helpful to me, and I also want to know how can I clean a bottle washing machine(, do you know any solution?
hursleyalicia March 23, 2023
Thanks for the awesome project! I love having clean laundry again. It's inspired me to clean the rest of the house starting with my carpet. I mean, I'm bringing in a carpet cleaner for that but I will clean the rest on my own haha Thanks again for sharing.
[email protected] December 4, 2022
Where do you put the baking soda when you use that after cleaning the machine on a top loader
truefresh October 17, 2022
True Fresh Dishwasher Cleaner Tablets are easy to use. Simply place one in the detergent dispenser and run a normal cycle. For best results, use every month or as needed -
RedFraggle286 June 21, 2022
yes i am adding bleach or white vinegar. the washing machine cleaners are expensive. love this idea
Smaug June 9, 2022
I bought some washing machine cleaner and used my machine's clean cycle regularly for a while, but the cleaner seemed awfully expensive and the cycle used an unconscionable amount of water, so I tried skipping it and nothing noticeable has built up over a couple of years, anyway. I do a load with bleach every week and leave the machine open to dry out when I'm done, and that has sufficed.
Dubai E. June 3, 2021
I read your blog. it was amazing. I like Your blog. I too love appliances more than anything. You Have a real interest in washing machines. you write well. the blog was helpful. it solved some of my problems. I hope to see more from you.
FrugalCat September 6, 2020
My front loader has a cleaning cycle that takes over 3 hours.
Mary-Ann August 14, 2020
Been doing something like this but have missed on the cleaning of the detergent trays. Thanks for the tips!
HalfPint August 13, 2020
The newer washing machine models have a self-clean function. Mine will alert me to clean after 40 wash cycles. Then it's a simple matter of selecting Self-Clean and starting the cycle (3 hours long, with very hot water only). It's been 18 months since we purchased this washer and this function has been a pleasant surprise.
CamiSu August 13, 2020
Whatever you do do NOT run it with bleach and vinegar at the same time, Acids turn the bleach into chlorine gas which can, and given the chance, will kill you. I was not thinking the last time I cleaned my washer (and was reading some somewhat dubious instructions and had one in the tub and the other in the dispenser and realized what I was doing as I pushed start. I got out fast and still smelled a bit of it as I hit the front door
Kitchen B. August 10, 2020
Yep! I did this a few weeks ago. I also cleaned the inside of the door not just the outside
Panos August 10, 2020
Good advice. However you should warn people to not mix bleach and vinegar. This will produce chlorine. Deadly.
jenna1999 February 10, 2021
here is an easy way to clean your wash machine