It may sound counterintuitive, but this appliance needs some extra TLC on a monthly basis.

By Caylin Harris
Updated January 07, 2021
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It might seem counterintuitive to regularly clean an appliance you use to clean other items, but it's still important to do—especially when it comes to your washing machine. As for how often to give this laundry room workhouse a wipe down? In an ideal world, says Courtenay Hartford, the author of The Cleaning Ninja ($9.99, amazon.com), you should be cleaning your washing system about once a month.

laundry room
Credit: Getty / Choreograph

"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," she explains. "If you start to notice that clothes come out not smelling as clean as they should, it's time to clean your machine. You might also notice buildup of various types of debris (pet fur, leaves, etc.) around the seals—that's a visual cue that you might have forgotten to run a good cleaning cycle for the last few months." Beyond debris, soap residue from your detergent and bath products, as well as minerals from your water, can build up and create an environment for bacteria to grow over time. Not only can this residue eventually clog up the inner workings of your machine, it can also impact how the machine functions; this might mean unpredictable water temperature or transferred odors between clothes.

How to Clean Your Washing Machine

To start the cleaning process, wipe out the interior and the seals around the door of the machine with an all-purpose cleaner. For top-loading machines, remove debris from any filters or drains around the seal, explains Hartford. If you have a front-loading washer, identify the drain filter (which should be located behind a small front-facing door near the bottom) and shake it over the trash; rinse it well before replacing it. Have a big bowl handy to catch any excess water that drains out when you remove the cap from the drain tube.

Fight Odors

If you're noticing unpleasant odors in your machine or clean clothes, specifically, Hartford recommends trying a washing machine cleaner like Affresh ($11.99, bedbathandbeyond.com); simply follow the package instructions. Before you do so, however, double-check to see if your machine has a cleaning setting. If not? "The cleaning process can be as simple as running an empty hot water cycle through your machine with two cups of vinegar poured into the drum just before you press start," explains Hartford. "The vinegar and hot water together are enough to wash away a small amount of soap residue buildup."

Maintaining a Clean Machine

Going forward, try to keep the door open about an inch between laundry cycles to allow for more airflow; letting the inside of the machine dry out will slow down bacteria growth. Wipe your machine's seals a little more often and clear the filters and drain around the seal, as well, so less of that debris gets swept down into the main drain filter inside your machine. "It's worth noting that a machine that's used regularly—every day or every other day—doesn't give bacteria a chance to grow and create unpleasant odors," says Hartford. "So you'll probably find that your problems with smelly laundry will decrease greatly." Now there's one silver lining to doing load after load of laundry.

Comments (4)

Anonymous
February 13, 2021
I never have washed my washing machine, but I use an upright and always leave the lid up and make sure everything is out. Now that I live alone, I usually wash three loads on a weekend day ( sheets, towels, and personal attire). I use a quality detergent and have never had any problem with odor. The dryer, on the other hand, often has lots of dog fur in the filter, so obviously the washer isn't catching everything!!!
Anonymous
February 6, 2020
I use the Allfresh once a month, it cleans my machine very well!
Anonymous
February 6, 2020
I cleaned my washer yesterday! I used a cup of baking soda instead of spending the $ on the cleaner. Added it to tub, a bit in the front seal area and a bit in the detergent tray. Ran it on cleaning cycle. Followed by 1 cup of vinegar in same areas, same cycle. Wiped out when completed. Now it shines!
Anonymous
February 6, 2020
I cleaned my washer yesterday! I used a cup of baking soda instead of spending the $ on the cleaner. Added it to tub, a bit in the front seal area and a bit in the detergent tray. Ran it on cleaning cycle. Followed by 1 cup of vinegar in same areas, same cycle. Wiped out when completed. Now it shines!