How to Clean and Maintain Your Washing Machine

Mitchell Fisher By Mitchell Fisher Updated 24 May 2022
Washing machine

A washing machine is an integral part of any household, and for good reason. Most people usually get through a load of laundry every four or five days if they live alone, and a load every two days or so if they live with a partner or family.

That’s a lot of washing machine usage, and all of those spin cycles cause a lot of moisture buildup in the drum as well as many of the components, which can lead to mildew and mould.

Luckily, we have a few incredibly easy-to-follow tips on how to clean a washing machine so that you can get rid of any traces of unpleasant grime buildup. There are very few actual tools needed, so as long as you stick with us for a little bit, we’ll tell you everything you need to do to get started.

Cleaning a Front-Loader

The basic supplies that you’ll need in order to clean your washing machine are the following:

  1. A small sponge
  2. A spray bottle or a small water bucket
  3. An old disposable toothbrush
  4. A dry cloth
  5. Baking soda
  6. A bottle of distilled white vinegar

The choice of whether you go for the spray bottle or the water bucket is up to you. If you have a spray bottle that you can use, then you’ll need to fill it with the mixture that we describe and spray it on the inside of the drum before washing it with the sponge.

If you don’t have a spray bottle handy, then all you need to do is fill a bucket with the same mixture, and simply dip the sponge into it before scrubbing the drum. Both methods work just as well so feel free to choose whichever you find more convenient for you.

1. Use the Vinegar

The reason we’re using vinegar is that it’s made out of acetic acid, which is known to be great for breaking down dirt, grease, and grime. It’s also a lot more eco-friendly than most commercially available cleaning solutions.

First, measure two cups of distilled vinegar, pour it into the detergent dispenser of your washing machine, and turn it to the hottest temperature setting that you have. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but the machine should be empty while you’re doing this.

The vinegar won’t damage your washer, and the only thing that it’ll really do is get rid of any bacterial buildup in the drum of the machine and the dispenser itself. Vinegar is also a great deodorizer, so it’s a great way to get rid of any unpleasant smells that you might have detected in your washing machine.

2. Get the Toothbrush and Sponge

After the cycle is finished, open the door, and let it dry for a bit. While the washing machine is drying, mix half a cup of water with half a cup of white vinegar in a spray bottle or a simple bucket.

You’ll want to get a rolled-up towel for your knees, and then kneel and start scrubbing the inside of the drum. The first cycle should have done a decent job of loosening or getting rid of a lot of the grime, but now you’re going to have to get in there and go through it a bit more thoroughly.

Spray the inside of the drum with the vinegar mixture and go over the entire thing with the sponge. If the soap or detergent dispensers are removable, spray them as well and go over them with the toothbrush. Otherwise, you’ll only really need to use the toothbrush for those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies inside the drum.

You should pay special attention to the rubber gasket on the door since that’s where most of the mildew is likely going to be. Pull back the rubber flaps just slightly and go all the way around the rim with the toothbrush to get all of the grime that’s on the inside.

Next, wash the inside of the door as well as the outside of the washing machine, making sure to go over all of the switches and knobs with the toothbrush. And finally, take your dry cloth and go over the outside of the machine to make sure that it isn’t wet.

3. Use the Baking Soda

Baking soda is very effective at removing any sort of bad smells from the inside of your washing machine, so after the wash cycle with the vinegar is finished, and without waiting for the drum to dry, measure out half a cup of baking soda and pour it directly into the bottom of the drum. Close the door and put the machine on the hottest wash cycle again.

After the wash cycle has finished, you’re going to take your cloth and wipe away all of the residue that’s left on the inside of the door and in the drum itself.

When you’ve gotten most of it, make sure to leave the door open in order to let your washing machine dry.

Cleaning a Top-Loader

The items that you’ll use are all the same as with the front-loader washing machine, but the methods are slightly different.

1. Use the Vinegar and Baking Soda

Top-loaders use a lot more water and they fill up the entire drum in order to wash the clothes, so you won’t need to use two cycles with them—only one will do the job.

  • Add two cups of distilled vinegar to the detergent dispenser and turn the machine on the hottest cycle;
  • After a few minutes have passed, the drum should be full and the vinegar should be integrated with the water;
  • Pause the cycle at around the five-minute mark and open the lid;
  • Add half a cup of baking soda and turn the machine back on;
  • After another five minutes, pause the cycle again and let it sit like that for about an hour;
  • Let the washer finish its cycle and wait for the water to drain;
  • Take a dry cloth and wipe off as much of the leftover residue as you can;
  • Keep the lid open and let the washing machine air dry.

The baking soda and vinegar combo should get rid of any bacteria that might be present in the drum. If you want to be very thorough, you can also go over the inside with a sponge and the vinegar and water mixture, but it’s not really necessary since the wash cycle already covered the entire drum, and it’s not easy to reach inside of a top-loader to properly wash it.

2. Use the Toothbrush and Sponge

After you’ve cleaned out the drum, it’s time to turn your attention to the door and the outside of the machine. Some people prefer to clean the outside while they’re waiting for the vinegar and baking soda cycle to finish, while others prefer to do it afterwards, so it’s up to you when you do it.

You’re going to take the mixture that’s half white vinegar and half water, and you’re going to spray the outside of your watching machine using a spray bottle. Then you’re going to scrub the entire thing with a sponge and go over it with a dry cloth to finish off. Keep in mind that the switches, the removable dispenser, and all of the cracks will need to be cleaned with a toothbrush.

The final step is cleaning the door of the washing machine, and you’re going to do that by using a sponge on the inside and the outside, and by scrubbing the rim and the rubber gasket to make sure that there’s no leftover grime in the rubber folds.

The outside of the washing machine doesn’t get nearly as dirty as the inside and it’s likely that all you really need to clean are a few fingerprint marks. This means that this step is entirely optional if you don’t feel like doing it. We’d still recommend it every once in a while since it only takes a few minutes and it makes your washer look a lot nicer, but as that’s the only benefit, it’s entirely up to you.

How Often Should You Clean a Washing Machine?

As we said earlier, grime collects due to moisture, so the more you use the washing machine, the more buildup you’ll end up seeing. However, it really shouldn’t be necessary to clean your washer more than once a month even if you use it every single day.

Keep in mind that this is only a recommendation, and if you feel like your appliance is due for a little TLC, or if it starts smelling a bit rank, then you should probably give it a good scrub every two or three weeks.

At the very least, though, you should try to stick to the one-month cleaning routine even if you only use the washer once a week. Moisture can accumulate quickly, and setting aside a few hours of your time once a month really isn’t all that inconvenient. Plus, it’s always easier to clean it while there’s very little buildup, whereas letting it stew and accumulate for too long will make the grime a lot tougher to clean.

What About the Self-Cleaning Function?

A lot of top-loader and front-loader washing machines come with a self-cleaning feature that rinses out and automatically cleans the inside of the washer itself. The effectiveness of this feature varies greatly depending on the model and brand of machine that you buy, but they’re usually decently reliable and should do a pretty good job at cleaning out the drum.

However, they don’t clean inside the dispenser, they can’t cover the grime that accumulates on the rubber seals on the door, and they definitely can’t clean the outside of the washer.

If you do have this feature on your washing machine, then you can skip all of the instructions on how to clean a washing machine drum that we went over, but you’ll still need to clean the door, the dispenser, and the outside manually.


It’s pretty easy to learn how to clean a washing machine, and after your first time doing it, you’ll just know the procedure by heart. It’s incredibly easy, takes very little time or effort, and it’s vital in ensuring that your machine stays mildew-free.

If you’re unsure about the effectiveness of something as simple as white vinegar and baking soda, then you can also try any commercial products that are marketed as washing machine cleaners.