ISSUE 22  |  Summer Refresh

Domestic Science Tip: How to Clean a Washing Machine

June 04, 2015 4:00 PM

BY Justine Hand

Honestly, I didn’t know that cleaning your washing machine was a thing. I mean, it gets cleaned every time you wash your clothes, right? 

Wrong. If you think about it, your washing machine is constantly bombarded with bits of food, fibers, and other organic materials that can get caught in the nooks and crannies. Also the wet, warm environment inside your machine is a perfect breeding ground for mildew and mold, especially in the hard-to-reach areas, which may never completely dry. Third, detergents and hard water can build up, which can dull your clothes and clog the mechanisms. In short, all this grime equals a less than pristine machine.

To learn how best to naturally clean a machine, I turned to my friend Marnie, a laundry goddess who showed me the ropes in her own laundry room. 

Photography by Justine Hand.

Above: Just a few simple ingredients that you probably already have on hand are all you need to make your machine spic and span.


  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide (optional; use if you have mold)
  • rag
  • toothbrush

Instructions for Cleaning a Front Loader

(For top loaders see below.)

Step 1: Begin by wiping down the nooks and crannies outside the drum. Marnie is shown here using a rag dipped in a little vinegar. Make sure you don’t use anything abrasive on the glass or enamel as it can scratch. You can also soak any removable parts in a 2 to 1 water to vinegar solution.

Above: Eeeeww! This is the grime we got from wiping the rubber seal around the glass.

Above: Most front loaders have a rubber gasket. Using a toothbrush, peel back these layers and really get into the hard-to-reach spots. (Note the little bits at the bottom of the photo. Yuck!) If this area has mold or mildew, use a rag or brush dipped in peroxide to kill it, and then wipe it away. For any stubborn grime, you can also utilize the mildly abrasive power of baking soda.

Step 2: Once the outside is clean, tackle the inside. Depending on the size of your model, fill the liquid detergent dispenser with 1 or 2 cups of vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will help break down any hard water and soap scum and will disinfect the machine.

N.B. Helpful readers also suggested adding vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser as part of your normal wash.

Step 3: Set your machine on the sanitize or hottest cycle, full-load setting, and run–without any clothes in it.

Above: When you’re done, check the interior of the machine and wipe away any particles that may have come loose during the cycle. 

Step 4: Your machine may also benefit from an additional odor-and-soap-scum-fighting step. If so, add 1/3 cup baking soda to the drum and run the machine on hot again. To save water, you can alternate between baking soda one month and vinegar the next. Just be sure not to mix the baking soda (a base) and the vinegar (an acid) in the same cycle as they will neutralize each other. It won’t harm the machine, but you will lose the beneficial effects of each.

Above: That’s it. Now Marnie’s machine is truly clean. For best results, repeat this thorough cleaning process every four to six weeks. 

Instruction for Cleaning a Top Loader 

First fill your machine with with hot water (no clothes). Stop the cycle after it’s full and add 3 cups vinegar and stir or agitate the machine. Let sit one hour before you continue the cycle. While you’re waiting, use the mixture inside the machine as your exterior cleaning solution, or use a little baking soda and water. (Remember don’t mix vinegar and baking soda as their chemical properties cancel each other out.) With a rag and toothbrush, wipe down the exterior and scour hard-to-reach areas. You can also soak any removable parts in this vinegar bath, while you clean the outside. When you’re finished, close the lid and continue the wash cycle. 

Other Tips for Keeping Your Washing Machine Squeaky Clean

  • When the machine is not in use, always leave the door open to ensure that the interior dries thoroughly.
  • Never leave damp clothes in the washer–transfer them immediately to the dryer.
  • Keep the top surfaces free of lint and detergent.
  • Remove lint from the dryer screen after every use.

In the market for a washing machine? Here are 10 Front Loaders that we like. Go to Laundry & Utility Rooms for ideas, and take a look at Myles’ $65 DIY Laundry Closet.

For more green cleaning solutions, see 10 Ways to Use Vinegar in the Home.