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How often should you clean your washing machine?

Just because our washing machines work hard to clean our laundry doesn’t mean that they stay clean. Soiled laundry can cause bacteria to accumulate in our washing machines, as well as mildew from constant humidity, and soap residue buildup from laundry detergent. Having a dirty washing machine can have the same effect on your clothes. So having a sparkling clean bacteria-free washing machine means not only a more pleasant laundry experience but also cleaner and fresher laundry. How often should you clean your washing machine though? Keep reading to find out how, and how often, to clean your washing machine! 

Modern grey laundry room with black and white tiles and plants

Why you should clean your washing machine

Washing machines clean the dirt from our clothing, but where does that dirt go? Most of the dirt will go out with the water as the washing machine drains, however, some remnants can be left behind. Because of this, washing machines can cultivate bacteria, mold, and fungus. Mildew is a type of fungus which grows in humid environments, consequently, mildew can flourish in appliances like washing machines if they are not cleaned regularly. Mildew is unsightly, and it can also have adverse effects on your health. Mildew “like mold, can cause health problems with prolonged exposure. While the fungi themselves are not toxic, certain species produce mycotoxins, which can cause mild to severe symptoms in humans”[2]. These symptoms can be cold and flu-like but can be more serious if you have a pre-existing condition like asthma. For this reason, it’s important to eradicate mildew as soon as it crops up. 

Because the washing machine can harbor mildew, this can then spread to your clothes. Mildew can cause skin and eye irritation, which is definitely not something you would expect from your clean laundry. Health effects aside, a dirty washing machine just doesn’t do the job as well as a clean one. Your clothes can come out musty, and not as clean as you would hope. So, to protect your health, keep your washing machine running in peak condition, and your clothes as clean as possible, make sure to add cleaning your washing machine to your regular cleaning schedule. 

Related: Why Does My Washing Machine Smell 

Woman starting load of laundry in washing machine

How often you should clean your washing machine

Now that you’ve added cleaning the washing machine to your list of chores, how often should you do it? Luckily, it’s not something that has to be done too often. Depending on who you ask, you should clean your washing machine anywhere from once a month, to once every 6 months. Courtenay Hartford[4], author of The Cleaning Ninja says once a month, in an ideal world of course. Hartford says “cleaning your washer should be viewed as more of a preventative measure than as something that you do to fix a problem once it arises”[4], and neglecting your washing machine could lead to an expensive repair. Dirt, hair, detergent build-up, and minerals from the water can eventually “clog up the inner workings of your machine, but it can also impact how the machine functions; this might mean unpredictable water temperature or transferred odors between clothes”[4]. A clogged or damaged washing machine can mean coughing up cash for a pricey repair or taking on a challenging DIY. To limit the risk, try to clean your washing machine once a month, or once every few months if you can manage it. 

White empty laundry machine with door open

What you will need to clean your washing machine

To clean your washing machine you will need a few simple ingredients that you may already have in the home.

White Vinegar – white vinegar is a natural disinfectant, it’s non-toxic and affordable. You will only need to use a cup for this cleaning project, so you can save the rest for cooking. 

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity

Baking Soda – Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda is a natural deodorizer and helps break down “organic compounds like dirt, [and] grease”[3]. It is also non-toxic and safe for the environment. 

ARM & HAMMER Pure Baking Soda 8 oz

Cleaning cloths: You most likely have a ton of cleaning cloths kicking around your home. You can use rags, microfiber towels, or sponges for this cleaning project. For extra detail work, you can use a scrubbing brush or an old toothbrush. 

Brimley Pack of 6 Reusable Swedish Dishcloths, Cellulose Sponge Cloths, Eco-Friendly Absorbent Dish Cloth, 100% Biodegradable (Lemon)

How to clean your washing machine

Step 1: Remove the detergent drawer from the machine and let it soak in hot soapy water to remove any built-up detergent or fabric softener. You can use scouring cloths or even an old toothbrush to scrub away any grime. Next, rinse the detergent drawer thoroughly to get rid of any soap residue, and dry it off using a cloth towel. 

Step 2: While your detergent drawer is soaking, you can clean the detergent drawer cavity. Using a rag or scrub brush, scrub out the drawer cavity to remove any soap build-up or potential mold. Allow the cavity to dry completely before reinserting the dry detergent drawer. 

Step 3: Use a cloth soaked in soapy water to wipe down the rubber seals of the washing machine drawer. Lots of lint, hair, and soap build-up can get caught in the crevices of the rubber seal. If you’re having difficulty getting into the nooks and crannies, use an old toothbrush or scrub brush to get into the folds of the rubber seal. 

Woman wearing pink rubber gloves cleaning washing machine

Step 4: To clean the drum of the washing machine, use a combination of white vinegar and baking soda. First, pour 1 cup (250ml) of white vinegar into the empty drum of the washing machine. Then, put 2 tablespoons of baking soda into the detergent drawer. Then you will need to run the washing machine on a hot wash cycle. After the cycle is complete, run a rinse cycle to get rid of any residue in order to protect your next load of laundry. 

Optional: Before running a wash cycle with white vinegar and baking soda, you can scrub down the inside of the drum with a cloth soaked in hot soapy water, to remove any difficult build-up. 

How often you should clean your dryer

Similarly, it’s important to clean your dryer, not only to keep your clothes clean but also for your own safety. Cleaning the drum of the dryer can be done less frequently since it does not harbor as much bacteria as a washing machine, as it is a dry environment, and only comes in contact with clean clothes. You’ll be relieved that you only have to clean the drum of the dryer once to twice a year. Unplug your dryer, and then use a cloth soaked in hot soapy water, or a multi-purpose cleaner and wipe down the drum and exterior of the dryer. Once you are done, throw in some clean towels and run a drying cycle to completely dry out the inside of the dryer. Cleaning the lint trap should be done between every load as it is a fire hazard. 

Cleaning the dryer vent however is a necessity that could not only save your dryer but also your life. Shockingly, “every year, dryer duct fires cause $35 million in damages, hundreds of injuries and even deaths”[1]. Make sure to clean your dryer vent every 6 months. 

Cleaning your laundry machine will save you money 

Have you ever finished a load of laundry, ready to put it in the dryer, but you catch a whiff and realize it needs another wash? These musty laundry smells can certainly be caused by a dirty washing machine, and you’re just wasting water (and money) by not cleaning your washing machine regularly. Cleaning your washing machine will make your laundry fresher and more sanitary, and it will also save you from having to call in an expert for costly repairs due to buildup and debris. Cleaning your dryer will not only keep your clean laundry clean while it dries but cleaning your dryer vent could also prevent a dangerous dryer duct fire. Though it’s always a bother to add extra chores to our laundry list, you’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run by cleaning your laundry appliances often! 


Article Sources:

  1. Bungalow. “How to clean your dryer vent – and why you need to in the first place
  2. Family Handyman. “If You Haven’t Cleaned This Appliance In A Month, You Better, Asap
  3. Live Science. “Why are vinegar and baking soda so good for cleaning?
  4. Marth Stewart. “How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?