How to clean a washing machine

Want to know how to clean a washing machine? This quick and easy step-by-step guide will help get yours good as new again.

Updated 18 September 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time7 minutes

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Learning how to clean a washing machine is essential for fresh, sweet-smelling clothes.

It can seem a little counterintuitive to have to clean cleaning equipment, but if you’ve ever ended up with clothes that smell after you wash them, one of the main culprits is often a less-than-pristine machine.

Washing machines work hard, what with all those loads of stained and dirty laundry. Over time, soap scum and detergent can build up and start causing problems, leading to less efficient wash cycles and a smelly washing machine.

Thankfully, cleaning a washing machine at home is relatively quick and easy – you don’t need specialist materials, just some common household items and a little bit of time and elbow grease. Let’s get started.

How to clean a washing machine in 4 easy steps

The best way to clean a smelly washing machine is to do a maintenance wash – an empty wash on the hottest setting.

While you don't have to do all the below steps every time, getting into the habit of running an empty wash regularly (step 4) will help remove odours, limescale and soap scum as well as kill germs.

Ideally, you should clean your machine every 2-3 months.

1. Clean the washing machine drawer

Gloved hands cleaning a washing machine drawer with a toothbrush

The detergent drawer sees all sorts of cleaning solutions and softeners poured into it – deposits of old detergents mixing together and clinging to the drawer can lead to pretty unreliable laundry results, as well as potentially blocking your machine entirely.

So it’s as important to know how to clean out washing machine products as it is to know how to clean the washing machine itself. Here’s how:

  • Give the drawer a good scrub with washing up liquid and hot water. Use an old toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies.

  • If you’re able to remove the drawer (your machine’s manual should have details for how to do this), try soaking it in hot, soapy water for 15 minute before placing it in the detergent drawer of your dishwasher and running a hot wash.

  • If there’s mould growing, use a specific mould and mildew product first, which can be applied to the problem area and wiped off easily.

2. Unclog the filter

Gloved hands cleaning a washing machine filter under running water

Most washing machines will have a filter to catch any fluff, coins, hair grips or whatever else is lurking in the forgotten depths of your pockets. It can normally be found on the front of the washing machine behind a small hatch.

By keeping your filter free from blockages, you can prevent a build up of water, which is often to blame for leaks and water damage to both your machine and kitchen floor.

To clean the filter, simply unscrew the filter cap and pull out anything that’s clogging it. You can also try soaking the filter in hot water if you find the blockage difficult to budge.

3. Clean the rubber seals

Dirty rubber seals on a washing machine

Like the detergent drawer, these seals can often get gunked up and become a haven for dirt, mildew, detergent residue and the odd coin or hair clip.

Start by cleaning the area with hot water and detergent, paying particular attention to the inside of rubber seals and surrounds. Then, simply wipe with a clean dry cloth and make sure there’s no residue left before your next wash.

If it's been a while since you cleaned the rubber seal (or this is your first time), you may need to check out our guide to deep cleaning washing machine seals.

4. Run an empty hot wash

Once you’ve cleaned your washing machine’s heavily trafficked areas, it’s important to then run an empty cycle to rinse the drum clean of detergent before using it to wash clothes and other items.

The hot water should be enough to get things clean and ready to go again, but if there are strong smells or you fancy a deeper clean, you might want to add vinegar or soda crystals (see our tips below for more).

How to clean a washing machine with soda crystals

Soda crystals are a natural compound that have been traditionally used in cleaning all around the home for over 100 years.

They can be used to soften water, loosen dirt and dissolve grease. They’re also free from enzymes and phosphates, making them a good option for people who suffer from sensitive skin issues such as eczema or psoriasis.

Here’s how to effectively use soda crystals on your washing machine:

  1. 1

    Make sure your washing machine is empty.

  2. 2

    Place 500g of soda crystals into your washing machine drum.

  3. 3

    Run the longest, hottest cycle. This will eliminate dirt, grime and bacteria.

  4. 4

    If this is the first time you’ve cleaned with soda crystals, you might want to repeat steps 2-3 a few times.

Top tip: Soda crystals aren’t just great for cleaning your washing machine, they can also keep your machine working smoothly if you use them during laundry cycles too.

Just add a some sodas crystals to your regular wash (around 25g for medium water, 50g for hard or 100g for very hard water), alongside your usual laundry detergent, either in the drum or drawer of your machine.

How to clean a washing machine with vinegar

Is there anything vinegar can’t do? White vinegar is a powerful natural cleaner that's great at removing odours and grease so is a brilliant way of deep cleaning a machine that gets a lot of use or hasn’t had a maintenance wash in a while, as it will handily blast through residue build up.

Simply add two cups of white cleaning vinegar to the detergent dispenser and run the machine on empty on its hottest wash.

Once it’s worked its magic your machine should look all new and shiny again.

Impressed? You'll want to check out these other clever ways of cleaning with white vinegar around the home.

How to clean a washing machine with baking soda

Is the inside of your washing machine drum looking a bit worse for wear? Make a simple paste using baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda)and water and apply it to the inside of the machine using a sponge or cloth to get it sparkling again.

This is also a handy way of removing anything that has become stuck to the inside of your machine (here’s looking at you, chewing gum).

You can also combine baking soda with vinegar for the ultimate washing machine deep clean:

  1. 1

    Start by adding two cups of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser.

  2. 2

    Set your machine to run a hot cycle, making sure it’s completely empty.

  3. 3

    Allow the machine to run for a minute or two, then add 1/2 cup of baking soda before letting the machine run again.

  4. 4

    After another minute or so has passed and water has started filling the drum, stop the cycle and allow the water to sit in the machine for 30 minutes, before restarting the cycle and completing the wash.

  5. 5

    Run another hot cycle to rinse the machine thoroughly.

This isn’t the only way bicarb can come in handy come laundry time either – you can also use baking soda to make a natural DIY fabric softener.

Tried a deep clean and your clothes still aren’t coming out right? You might want to explore other reasons why your washing machine isn’t working properly.

How to deep clean your washing machine?

Deep cleaning your washing machine is essential for maintaining its performance and hygiene. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you achieve a sparkling clean appliance:

  1. 1

    Gather Your Supplies: You'll need white vinegar, baking soda, a microfiber cloth, an old toothbrush, and a bucket.

  2. 2

    Empty the Drum: Remove any clothes or items from the washer drum.

  3. 3

    Run a Hot Water Cycle: Set your washing machine to the hottest water setting and let it run empty. Add 2 cups of white vinegar during the cycle. This helps disinfect and remove residue.

  4. 4

    Scrub the Seals: Dip the toothbrush in a vinegar-water solution and scrub the door seals, including the folds and crevices, where mold and mildew can hide.

  5. 5

    Clean the Dispenser Drawers: Remove detergent and fabric softener dispensers (if possible) and soak them in warm, soapy water. Clean the compartments and replace them once dry.

  6. 6

    Wipe Down the Exterior: Mix baking soda with water to form a paste and use it to clean the exterior, knobs, and buttons. Wipe with a damp cloth.

  7. 7

    Run a Rinse Cycle: Finally, run a rinse cycle with hot water to remove any remaining residue or odors.

Deep cleaning your washing machine every few months can help prevent mold, mildew, and unpleasant odors, ensuring your clothes come out fresh and clean.

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