The Ultimate Guide to Washing Machine Cleaning

The Ultimate Guide to Washing Machine Cleaning

Deep clean your washer the right way
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Like any other appliance in your home, your washing machine needs regular cleaning to keep it running smoothly and your clothes smelling fresh. This guide will walk you through the simple steps to deep clean your washer, whether it's a front-loader, a top-loader, or equipped with a self-clean cycle, using effective cleaners that are likely already in your cupboards, such as vinegar or bleach.

Why Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?

It's important to keep your washing machine clean for a few key reasons.

First, the damp environment is ideal for germs and mold to grow. When they do, they can make your washing machine, and your clothes, start to smell musty. Secondly, every time you use laundry detergent and fabric softener, some of it doesn't rinse away and starts to build up inside the machine. This buildup can cause stains on your clothes that are hard to get out. It can also lead to mildew, which appears as black spots on your fabrics and can cause allergic reactions for some people.

When you clean your washing machine regularly, you remove these lingering residues and stop mold in its tracks.

How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?

The right cleaning schedule for your washing machine depends on the type and how you use it:

  • Standard Washers: A thorough cleaning is advised at least twice a year to prevent residue from affecting the machine's performance and cleanliness of your clothes.
  • Machines with Automatic Dispensers: If your machine has dispensers for things like detergent and fabric softener, you should clean these parts once a month. Doing so prevents these dispensers from getting blocked with dried-up product.
  • High-Efficiency Washers: These machines are designed to save water and energy. The flip side is they can be more prone to residue buildup because they use less water. To prevent issues, clean your high-efficiency washer every three months. If you have hard water, or you use your washer a lot, you might need to clean it more frequently. Hard water has minerals that can create more residue, and heavy use can lead to more grime and odors.

What Types of Cleaners Are There?

When it's time to clean your washing machine, you have several options, ranging from homemade solutions to commercial cleaners. Each cleaner type has its strengths and specific uses:

  • Bleach: This is a strong and effective germ-killer and is particularly good for sanitizing your machine. When you need a thorough clean that tackles bacteria and viruses, bleach is a reliable option.
  • Vinegar: White vinegar is excellent for breaking down hard water deposits and soap scum. It's a natural descaling agent, which makes it useful for improving the efficiency of your machine. However, vinegar is less potent than bleach when it comes to killing germs.
  • Baking Soda: This common household product is great for neutralizing odors and refreshing the inside of your washing machine. While it can help clean by gently scrubbing away dirt, it doesn’t offer the same level of disinfection or deep cleaning as bleach.
  • Commercial Cleaners and Detergent Tablets: These are specifically formulated for washing machines, taking the guesswork out of the cleaning process. They often come as tablets or liquids and can be very convenient—just pop one into the machine and run a cycle.

Safety Tip: Never mix bleach and vinegar. This combination creates dangerous chlorine gas, which can be harmful to breathe, even in small amounts. When using bleach, always ensure your space is well-ventilated, and if you switch to using vinegar afterward, make sure the bleach is completely rinsed away first.

What You’ll Need to Clean Your Washing Machine

No matter what kind of washing machine you have at home, here are the basic tools you'll need to get it sparkling clean:

  • Cleaner of Your Choice (commercial cleaner, homemade mix, etc.)
  • Empty Spray Bottle (for your cleaning solution)
  • Scrubbing Brush or Soft Sponge (depending on the level of scrubbing needed)
  • Putty Knife or Scraping Tool (for stubborn residue)
  • Small Bucket and Absorbent Towels (for water or spills)

Getting Ready to Clean Your Washing Machine

Before you start cleaning, make sure to turn off your washing machine. Then carefully pull the plug out of the socket. This is a safety step to make sure you're not mixing water and electricity. Once unplugged, take the power cord and ensure it's not dangling where it could potentially get wet or trip someone. You can use a piece of tape to stick it up high on the back of the machine or somewhere else safe and dry.

How to Clean a Top-Load Washing Machine

A thorough cleaning of your top-load washer means attending to the agitator, inner basket, and drain pump filter, along with the tub cover and machine's exterior.

The Ultimate Guide to Washing Machine Cleaning

How to Clean the Agitator on a Top-Load Washing Machine

  1. If your machine has a compartment for fabric softener, take that piece out and let it soak in warm water and your chosen cleaning solution. Scrub away any residue after soaking.
  2. Look to see if the agitator in the middle is held down by a screw or if it can be lifted straight out. If you can remove it, do so carefully.
  3. Thoroughly clean the agitator and the space beneath it with your preferred cleaner. If the agitator is in pieces, clean each one individually.

How to Clean the Tub Cover on a Top-Load Washing Machine

  1. Access the tub cover by lifting the main top of the washing machine. Refer to your user guide for instructions on how to do this.
  2. Clear out any obstructions in the drain holes and wash the tub cover with your chosen cleaning solution.
  3. If the tub cover is removable, take it off to clean it, being careful with the rubber gasket that seals it.

How to Clean the Inner Basket on a Top-Load Washing Machine

  1. With the tub cover off, you can now see and clean the upper part of the inner basket where grime can build up. Apply your cleaning solution and use a brush to scrub away any debris.
  2. Clean the upper area of the outer tub where dirt can accumulate.
  3. Check for any deposits around the water inlet area, spray on your cleaner, and clean thoroughly.

How to Clean the Drain Pump Filter on a Top-Load Washing Machine

  1. Find the filter, typically located at the bottom front of the washer, and prepare to catch water spillage with towels and a bucket.
  2. Open the cover and if there's a hose, drain the water into your bucket.
  3. Unscrew and remove the filter, being mindful of any water that may escape.
  4. Clean the filter of all foreign objects and rinse well with water, using your cleaner as needed.
  5. Inspect and clean the filter housing, ensuring the seal is intact.

How to Clean the Outside of a Top-Load Washing Machine

  1. Prepare a cleaning mix with water and your preferred cleaner.
  2. Wipe down the washer’s exterior surfaces, including the door and control panel, using a sponge.
  3. For the door seal, gently wipe inside the folds to remove any trapped debris or buildup.
  4. Dry all the surfaces with a clean towel.

How to Clean a Front-Load Washing Machine

Cleaning a front-loading washing machine involves attention to the dispenser tray, drum, door gasket, glass, drain pump filter, and exterior surfaces.

The Ultimate Guide to Washing Machine Cleaning

How to Clean the Dispenser Tray on a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Slide out the detergent dispenser as far as it goes and press the tab to fully remove it.
  2. Soak the tray in warm water mixed with your preferred cleaner for about 10 minutes.
  3. Scrub with a cleaning brush to remove any buildup and rinse well.
  4. Wipe the empty space in the machine where the tray goes with a damp cloth.
  5. Slide the clean dispenser tray back into place.

How to Clean the Tub on a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Distribute your chosen cleaning agent throughout the drum of the washer.
  2. Run the washer on the highest temperature setting.
  3. After the cycle, introduce another round of your cleaner into the drum and run a second hot cycle.
  4. Perform a final rinse cycle with just water to clear out any remaining cleaning agent.

How to Clean the Door Bellows on a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Create a mixture with water and your selected cleaner.
  2. Pull back the rubber seal around the door and apply the mixture with a cloth or soft brush.
  3. Thoroughly clean the seal and wipe down any excess cleaner with a wet cloth.

How to Clean the Door Glass on a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Fully open the door.
  2. Apply your cleaner to the door glass.
  3. Use a cloth to clean the glass, making sure to remove any smudges or buildup.

How to Clean the Drain Pump Filter on a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Locate and open the compartment for the drain pump filter, which is typically at the front lower section of the washer.
  2. Remove the filter and take it to the sink, then use a brush with your cleaner to clean it.
  3. After cleaning, rinse and allow it to dry. Wipe the filter housing in the machine with a damp cloth using your cleaning mixture.
  4. Once both the filter and housing are clean and dry, reinsert the filter and close the compartment.

How to Clean the Outside of a Front-Load Washing Machine

  1. Prepare a mixture of warm water and a small amount of your chosen cleaner.
  2. Dip a sponge into the solution and wipe the entire exterior of the washer.
  3. With a clean, damp cloth, go over the surfaces once more to remove any cleaner residue.
  4. Use a dry cloth to dry off the washer to complete the process.

How to Use the Self-Clean Cycle on a Washing Machine

Modern washing machines often come with a self-clean cycle, a feature designed to make maintenance easier and more efficient for users.

How to Use Detergent Tablets in a Washing Machine

Detergent tablets, or washing machine cleaner tablets, are formulated to clean the inside of your washing machine. They often contain ingredients that break down the residue and are sometimes combined with a pleasant fragrance to leave your machine smelling fresh. Affresh is an example of a detergent tablet. Follow these steps to use them:

  1. Check the manufacturer's instructions to see if they recommend using a tablet with the self-clean cycle—some may suggest it, while others may warn against it.
  2. If using a tablet is recommended, simply place the tablet in the drum or detergent drawer (as directed by the tablet's packaging) before starting the self-clean cycle. The tablet will dissolve and circulate throughout the machine during the cycle, cleaning and deodorizing your washing machine.

How to Activate the Self-Clean Cycle on a Washing Machine

To activate the self-clean cycle, you'll usually find a button or a specific setting on your washing machine's control panel labeled 'Self Clean', 'Clean Washer', or something similar. Here’s what you typically need to do:

  1. Locate and select the self-clean cycle on your washing machine's setting. The cycle will use a preset program tailored to clean the machine itself.
  2. Start the cycle. It's best to let it run uninterrupted, and it might take more time than your regular laundry cycles.

Additional Maintenance Tips for Your Washing Machine

  • Avoid Overloading Detergent: It might be tempting to add extra detergent for heavily soiled laundry, but this can actually lead to more residue and higher risk of malfunctions. Stick to the detergent amount recommended in the washer's manual.
  • Allow for Airflow: After each wash, leave the machine door slightly open or lift the lid to promote air circulation. This simple step helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew by letting moisture evaporate.
  • Remove Laundry Promptly: Don't let damp clothes sit in the machine after the cycle ends. Transferring them to the dryer or hanging them up to dry immediately will keep that musty odor at bay.
  • Deal with Pet Hair and Debris: If you have furry friends at home, make sure to leave the door open until the drum is completely dry. Then, use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment to clear out any pet hair or debris.
  • Clean Spills Quickly: Lastly, maintain the cleanliness of your machine by wiping down the controls, door handle, and any areas where detergent or fabric softener has dripped with a damp cloth right away. This prevents sticky buildup and keeps your machine looking new.

After following these steps, you might have noticed some worn out or damaged parts along the way. If that’s the case, don’t fret—we have genuine washer replacement parts that will fit your model and get your laundry routine back on track.

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Content Team
The PartSelect Content Team has a passion for DIY and we pride ourselves on being a resource for quality, expert content to help you accomplish any DIY project. Alongside our expert repair technicians, our team of experienced technical writers works to provide safe and reliable information on all tasks and jobs around your home. We spend time learning about the problems and projects that our customers are working on, and we make it our job to answer key questions and provide resources for every step along the way. Repairs and DIY projects are what we do, and the PartSelect Content Team wants to help you do them, too.
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PUBLISHED ON November 09, 2023
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