If you’re a normal human, and we suspect you are if you are reading this, then the notion of cleaning your washing machine is likely a novel idea. It probably occupies the same space in your mind as cleaning your vacuum. After all, if you clean your washing machine, aren’t YOU then the washing machine? 

If that realization didn’t set off an existential crisis, then you should read on because, in this article, we will be covering how to clean your washing machine. 

Your Dirty Laundry (Machine)

We know it sounds a little redundant, but knowing how to clean yours is important if you want truly clean clothes. No amount of expensive laundry detergents or all-natural products will make up for a dirty washing machine.

Even the best, most high-tech, touchscreen, fancy song playing washing machine unit needs a little tender love and care every once and a while.

If you have never done this before, it’s high time you started. But chances are you are not alone. Cleaning things that clean always sounds ironic, but these are often some of the dirtiest places in your house. Laundry specifically can be contaminated with all sorts of germs. 

You might recall the hysteria at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic about health care workers getting undressed before entering their homes, and for a good reason. 

Soiled laundry can hold germs from bodily fluids to food and debris, all of which can be a source of pathogenic bacteria!  For COVID-19, though, studies quickly showed that it is harder to catch the virus from a soft surface, such as fabric, than it is from frequently touched hard surfaces like doors or faucets.

In any case, other harmful bacteria can still live on your dirty laundry, including those that cause stomach bugs and flu viruses, so it is best to wash your laundry frequently and on the proper cycle. Since you are constantly putting that dirty laundry into your machine, experts recommend that when you are done doing a load of the family’s laundry, you clean the washing machine, too. This is especially important when washing items from a family member with a stomach bug or contaminated work clothes since that bacteria may persist in the washing drum and contaminate the next load of clothing.

It is also a great idea to clean and disinfect the clothes hamper and other surfaces that come in contact with soiled laundry. And don’t forget your dryer!

Spin Cycle

Beyond the concern of viruses and bacteria on your clothes, washers get buildup from detergent and oils from your clothes that need to be removed every so often in order for the machine to be most effective.

Not to mention, the warm environment is a breeding ground for mildew and mold, especially in hard-to-reach areas that may never be completely dry. Detergent and water can also build up and clog mechanisms and leave your clothes less than clean. You may also wind up with something called hard-water deposits around the lid.

If you are anything like me, you’re thinking, “Wouldn’t hard water just be called ice?” Apparently, the name is not that literal. Hard-water deposits are created by minerals in the water. No, not that tasty mineral water you can buy for five dollars at check-out, minerals from the water that collects on plumbing fixtures and clog faucet aerators.

Not only do these look bad, but they can also impair the function of your water fixtures and laundry machine.

Does this sound like a familiar situation: 

Have you had first-hand experience with a dirty laundry machine in an apartment complex? Maybe some of your white shirts were coming out of the wash with large, coffee-colored stains on them. It turns out that after years of use, the unit had a gasket that was leaking some sort of oil into the machine basin.

This was likely due to an aforementioned hard-water deposit affecting one of the plumbing fixtures. That oil was showing up on the lighter clothes because the machine hadn’t been cleaned in years!

Three shirts were ruined in the very wash you trusted to clean them. It always seems to be the ones you love who hurt you, doesn’t it?

Obviously, dirty clothes are the opposite of what you want when you pull them out of a machine that is supposed to be cleaning them. Plus, you don’t want to shorten the lifespan of your washer by not maintaining it regularly.

Washing machines are a big investment, and like any big investment, you should want to keep them operating at peak levels for as long as possible. 

The good news among this sad tale of ruined shirts and smelly clothes is that laundry machines are actually pretty easy to clean! You only need time and a few household ingredients. 

Delayed Start?

Now that you know your white shirts are in danger and you can get viruses from your soiled linen, you are probably wondering how often you should clean your machine. Of course, if your laundry is smelly or white shirts are being ruined, you should hop on it right now and start cleaning. But we all know it’s best to be prepared instead of waiting for disaster to strike.

You should be cleaning your washer regularly. How regularly depends on what kind of washing machine you are using and the types of products you are using on the clothes you put inside it. If you are a user of plant-based products, those tend to rinse cleaner and leave less residue, so you should be good to only clean your machine once a year.

On the other hand, if you are using petroleum-based detergents, fabric softeners, or fragrances, you will have to clean your machine more often. Plan on doing so every three to six months to be on the safe side.

Now that you know if and when you have to clean, it’s time to learn HOW.

Washing Your Washer

On some newer model washing machines, you might see the option called “self-clean.” Click that cycle and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions to clean the inside of the machine. 

Additionally, you can also use a simple process to get your washing machine working as well as the day it was awkwardly brought through your front door by the delivery drivers.

There are a few options when it comes to cleaning. You can use bleach or white vinegar and do a wash, but you might also want to have the following for a deeper, part-by-part clean:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide (if you think you have mold)
  • Rag
  • A toothbrush or other scrubbers

Some people will advise against using bleach because it is a harsh chemical, but the choice is really yours.

Florence and the Washing Machines

The first thing you will want to do is wipe down the nooks and crannies outside the drum. Dip your rag in a little vinegar and wipe away. You will quickly see how dirty that rubber seal is once you wipe it.

Second, run a regular empty cycle on hot water using two cups of white vinegar instead of detergent. Add the vinegar to the detergent dispenser so it can clean the internal parts that might have lingering soap scum. Run the wash on the hottest cycle possible. 

Once the basin is full of hot water, let it sit for an hour before letting the cycle complete.  The combo of hot water and vinegar removes and prevents bacteria growth. Vinegar can act as a deodorizer and cut through mildew odors. You can also add a pound of sodium borate cleaner to the drum before starting the wash for a deeper clean.

Next, when the cycle is done, get to scrubbing the inside and outside of the machine. In a bucket or a laundry room sink, mix ¼ cup vinegar with a quart of warm water. Dip a sponge, rag, or toothbrush into the mixture to clean the inside of the machine.

Take extra time to clean all the detergent dispensers. If any are removable, soak them in the cleaning mixture. Wipe down the exterior of the machine as well.

Once that is complete, run a second hot cycle. This time, don’t add any detergent or vinegar but break out the baking soda. Add a half cup of baking soda to the drum to help clear away the buildup loosened front the first cycle.

Once this wash is complete, wipe down the drum with a rag to pick up any remaining residue. Leave the door open so it can air dry.

Keep It Clean

Congrats! Your washing machine has been washed. You yourself are now a washing machine. To keep your machine clean, always remember to leave the door and soap trays open when you are between loads. Also, never leave damp clothes in the machine. 

For more tips, tricks, and articles, come back to Bulbhead, especially if you’re looking for everything you need for a deep clean