To clean your clothes well, your washing machine itself needs to be clean. That may seem obvious, but it’s easy to let these things slip by when we’re busy.

Perhaps you’ve suddenly realised that washing machine maintenance is a good idea. Or, it might be that your machine is not working like it should, and you think cleaning could help before calling for professional washing machine repairs. Either way, we’re going to dive into how to clean your washing machine for best results.

Why it’s important to clean your washing machine

Not cleaning your washing machine might have worse consequences than just being icky. Besides not getting your clothes clean, it can affect how the machine performs and shorten its lifespan.

If you leave the machine too long without cleaning it, there’s a risk of mould and mildew taking hold. That can then spread to your clothes, leaving them unhygienic and smelly. What’s more, a build-up of grime in the machine can stop water from flowing as it should. Eventually that could lead to leaks and broken parts.

Unfortunately, the detergent that you put in the machine during a wash isn’t enough to clean the machine itself. That’s why you need to take a little extra time to keep the workings clean and bacteria-free.

How often should you clean your washing machine?

Just like cleaning anything else in your home, cleaning your washing machine should be a regular routine. If you’re wondering how often you should clean it, the answer depends on the model and how often you use it.

Washing machine manufacturers have different recommendations for how often to clean their machines. If your machine has a built-in cleaning cycle then you might want to run that once a month. Whirlpool recommends cleaning the machine once a month or every 30 cycles, whichever is sooner. Beko says every one to three months, depending on how often you use the machine.

Overall, aiming to clean your washing machine once a month is a good rule of thumb.

Signs that your washing machine may need cleaning

Sometimes you might not be able to clean your washing machine on a regular basis. You could be looking after someone else’s machine temporarily, for example, or perhaps you travel a lot. It’s good to know the signs that a washing machine needs cleaning, so you can do it whenever possible.

  • Bad smell from the machine: if your washing machine has a mouldy or musty smell, it means bacteria are breeding there.
  • Dark, slimy bits on the inside: you might find this in the door seal or the drum, where excess detergent has turned mouldy.
  • Dark spots on your clothes: this can be from mouldy detergent or limescale that has clogged your pipes, if you live in a hard water area.

A good clean should solve these symptoms. If it doesn’t, there might be a mechanical fault underneath the problems you’re seeing.

For example, smelly clothes could be a sign that the drum isn’t draining properly, leaving the clothes too damp. Black spots on your clothes could also be caused by a part of the machine breaking up. The engineer will be able to identify these faults when they come to fix your washing machine.

How to clean your washing machine

If your washing machine is in good condition, it shouldn’t take long to clean. There are five parts to clean: the drum, the door seal, the drawers, the filter and the outside.

To clean the drum you just need to put it on a hot or cleaning cycle. The other parts only take a few minutes each, so it’s not much effort in total.

1. Run a hot cycle

Your machine may have a built-in cleaning cycle. Check for this first. If it doesn’t have that type of cycle, you can run a hot cycle instead.

  1. Empty the washing machine.
  2. Add some washing machine cleaning product, following the instructions on the packaging.
  3. Select your machine’s ‘cotton’ cycle.
  4. Raise the temperature setting as high as it will go.
  5. Start the cycle and wait for it to finish.
  6. Open the door and wipe away any debris or excess water from the door seal.
  7. Leave the door open until everything inside dries out.

2. Clean the door seals

For regular cleaning you can use a clean cloth and a few drops of washing up liquid in warm water. Use these to gently wipe the fold of the door seal on top and underneath.

If there's already mould in the door seal, it might need a heavy-duty clean. You’ll need to wear household cleaning gloves for this.

First, mix a cup of bleach with a cup of baking soda and pour this into the detergent drawer. Then put another cup of baking soda into the drum, near the door seal. Next run a few hot wash cycles with the drum empty.

Still wearing your gloves, you can then use an old toothbrush to scrub any stubborn mould off the door seal.

3. Clean the washing machine drawer

The shape and features of the detergent drawer vary between washing machines. We recommend checking for advice from the manufacturer before cleaning the drawer. However, there's some basic cleaning advice that applies to most types of washing machine.

  1. In most machines, the drawer can come out completely. If so, pull it out.
  2. Check if the manufacturer advises against leaving the drawer to soak in warm water. If not, soak it for an hour or so.
  3. Clean the drawer with a scrubbing brush or an old toothbrush for smaller corners.
  4. Now clean the hole that the drawer came out of, using a scrubbing brush. Clean all sides, top and bottom.

4. Clean the filter

The filter on most front-loading washing machines is low on the front side, below the door. It might be visible or you might need to remove the bottom panel to see it.

On top-loading washers, the filter is usually under the agitator (the propeller-like column in the middle of the drum).

If the filter isn't there, check the appliance manual — filters can sometimes be in another part of the machine.

Not all washing machines have a filter, though. Some modern models have a self-cleaning pump which you can’t access easily.

Here are the steps to clean a typical washing machine filter.

  1. Turn off the washing machine and unplug it from the mains, putting the plug away so it won’t get wet.
  2. Put some old towels down around the machine to catch any water that comes out.
  3. Find the filter. It’s usually low on the front for front-loaders, or under the agitator for top-loaders.
  4. Take off the filter cover, if there is one. They can come off easily or, if they’re childproof, you’ll need something like a screwdriver to take off.
  5. Take the filter out. You might need to unscrew it by turning it, or it might just slide out.
  6. Wipe any lint or debris off the filter with a damp cleaning cloth.
  7. Fill a bucket or basin with hot water and a tablespoon of washing up liquid. Soak the filter in this water for 10 minutes.
  8. Use an old toothbrush or washing up brush to scrub the filter.
  9. Put the filter back in the machine, checking it won’t come loose.
  10. Run a short cycle on your machine while watching for leaks from the filter. If any water leaks out, take the filter out again and replace it more securely.

5. Wipe down the outside of the machine

This is the simplest part of the cleaning process. If you can pull the machine out from the wall and clean behind it, that’s ideal. Then clean the outside all over with a microfibre cloth and all-purpose cleaning spray.

On some machines, the control knobs are also removable for cleaning. If so, you can wash them in the sink.

Cleaning top-loading and front-loading machines

The same basic cleaning methods apply to both front-loading and top-loading machines. Besides these, you can leave the water and cleaning solution to sit in a top-loading drum for half an hour. This will help give a deep clean to the bottom of the drum.

5 tips for keeping your washing machine clean and smelling fresh

While cleaning is essential, a few other habits are also important to keep your washing machine hygienic.

1. Don’t leave clothes sat in the drum after a cycle

If you need to leave clothes in the machine overnight, that shouldn’t be a problem. Much longer than that is likely to breed bacteria and mould, though. Then you’ll just have to wash those clothes again, and your machine will get musty.

2. Don’t overload your machine

Packing the drum so full of clothes that they can’t move is counterproductive. The water won’t reach some of the clothes, meaning they will just dirty the drum. What’s more, your clothes won’t get washed.

3. Check the filter regularly

You should clean the filter every 3 months at the least. There might be coins, hair pins and other debris, as well as the build up of hair and fluff from our clothes. Removing these things from the filter regularly will save your machine some trouble down the line.

4. Clean leftover detergent from the drawer after every wash

Excess detergent in the drawer will form a crust over time that attracts mould. Make it easy on yourself by washing this away whenever you see it, before it turns nasty.

5. Wash clothes at a suitable temperature

It’s good to wash on a lower temperature when you can — this saves energy and will help cut your bills. However, you need to wash clothes at a high enough temperature to get them fully clean. Otherwise, the machine itself will get dirty and could start to smell bad.

About the author

Josh Allen

Josh is a copywriter at Domestic & General who works across our digital journeys and beyond. Starting out in journalism and travel writing 10 years ago, he's since turned his hand to technology and insurance. Josh is also a published short story writer with a novel in the works, and he's known to twang a tune on the guitar and banjo.

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