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How Clean is your Washing Machine?

Just because you fill your machine with laundry detergent doesn’t mean you don’t need to clean the washing machine itself. It sounds counterintuitive, but while your machine is ridding your clothes of dirt, it doesn’t always rid itself of that same dirt or a buildup of detergent residue. Plus, the new HE machines are especially prone to developing mold and mildew, especially if you live in an area of high humidity, which can lead to an odor developing both in the machine itsef and on your “clean” clothes. Here’s how to clean a washing machine.

How Often Should You Clean a Washing Machine?

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the washing machine once a month. A quick internet search and survey of friends and family will confirm that the majority of us are still wrapping our heads around the idea of cleaning the machine in the first place.

Before Cleaning: Identify Your Machine and Select Your Cleanser

The type of washing machine you have will dictate which method you use to clean it. HE front loaders and top loaders need one approach; top-loading non-HE machines need a slightly different approach.

Before you start, decide what type of cleaner you want to use: white vinegar, bleach or a commercial cleanser. Using vinegar to clean a washing machine is nontoxic, and it’s readily available. Some manufacturers recommend bleach or other chemical cleansers, so check the manual for your machine. If you are using a commercial product, follow the label’s instructions for the recommended amount.

How to Clean a High-Efficiency (HE) Washing Machine (Front or Top Loader)

A monthly cleaning is especially important if your HE machine has developed an odor. Wiping down the inside of the washer will do nothing to elimate the odor. Many newer high-efficiency machines have a clean cycle, which makes the process even simpler, but the basic procedure is the same whether you have that or not.

  1. Chose the “clean” cycle. If you machine doesn’t have this, select the hottest water setting.
  2. Choose the added rinse cycle if it’s available.
  3. Fill the bleach dispenser with your cleanser choice
  4. Fill the tub to the highest level (this will probably be automatic with the clean cycle) and run the machine.
  5. If you don’t have a second rinse cycle, run the rinse cycle again manually.

Once the cycle has ended, us a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar to clean the gasket that seals the door and the area around it. Finish by wiping down the controls and the outside of the machine with a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar or an all-purpose spray.

How to Clean a Top-Loading Washing Machine

Although older top loaders don’t generally have a cycle for cleaning, you can easily create your own version. It involves a bit of a wait time between beginning the cycle and ending it, so use that time to clean other areas that won’t be reached by the water in the tub.

  1. Choose the hot water setting and the longest cycle.
  2. Fill the tub to the maximum level, then pause the machine.
  3. Add 4 cups of white vinegar or 1 cup of bleach to the water and let the machine agitate for a minute or two.
  4. Pause the washing machine and let it sit for an hour. Dip a microfiber cloth into the soaking solution, wring it out and use it to clean the top of the drum and agitator and the inside of the lid.

If you can remove the bleach and fabric softener dispensers, do so and clean the areas beneath them with the cloth and cleaning solution as well. If they are fixed in place, clean them and the area around them. Finally, clean the control panel and the outside of the machine with the cleaning solution or an all-purpose spray. Use a dry microfiber cloth to dry and polish the surface.

5. Restart the machine and finish the cycle.

Daily (or Almost Daily) Care

The experts also have some advice for preventing a buildup of dirt and odors between cleanings. If mold and mildew are a problem, leave the machine’s door or lid open after you finish a load of laundry so that the interior will dry out completely. Before you do this, make sure curious children and pets can’t get into the machine, especially if it’s a front-loading one. Some machines have latches designed to keep the door ajar without leaving it wide open.

As a final tip, be sure to use the correct amount of detergent for your loads!

Here’s to clean clothes and washing machines. We hope this was helpful.

Marianne Lipanovich, contributor for Houzz