How to clean a washing machine to get rid of mould, dirt and bad smells quickly

You might not think yours needs a clean, but think again...

washing machine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Washing machines are an important item in every household, and just like the clothes that go into them, they too need to undergo a cleaning process.

The thought of a dirty washing machine may get your head in a mess, but quite a lot of people do not realise the importance of ensuring it undergoes a proper cleaning cycle - just like we would do when cleaning a kitchen. If you’ve ever caught a bad smell coming from the machine (and you can’t blame the clothes), then it is time to get it thoroughly cleaned. 

In fact, it’s actually no surprise that over time our beloved washing machines - much like many other kitchen essentials - can omit a really bad odour. From the dampness of clothes to the stickiness of laundry detergent - if you've ever caught a whiff of rotten eggs or worse coming from it, then it’s time to take action as soon as possible!

Even though you rely on your washing machine to clean everything from the dirtiest towels to the dog’s fur-stained blanket, in order for it to continue to do its job well and provide you with the freshest of linen (yes, you really can put your best pillow in there!), it needs to be as clean and shiny as possible. 

And it’s not just about letting off a grim smell; if your machine is not in tip top condition then you can guarantee your clothes won’t be either. All the debris that is clogged up in the machine can produce stains and horrible muck on your precious items. And if you are someone who prefers to wash clothes at a low temperature for economical reasons, this might provide the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and germs to form. We know - it’s enough to have anyone desperate to get cleaning! Here's our guide on how to clean a washing machine. 

How often should I clean my washing machine?

Even though it is not something many of us regularly do, cleaning out your machine should be a monthly chore that you should get used to doing. Like other kitchen appliances, the same applies if you're wondering how to descale a kettle - or how to clean a dishwasher. Fortunately, it can be accomplished via a very simple process - in fact, there are several different methods you could try. They will vary from household to household and depend on what machine you have, as many newer models have their own in-built washing cleaning cycle. 

Of course, many supermarkets sell cleaners you can simply pop in the appliance and set to work themselves but if you'd prefer to give it a thorough DIY seeing-too, here is a guide to the best way to freshen up your washing machine. 

How to clean a washing machine in five easy steps

washing machine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This eco-friendly method is super cheap and foul-proof and does not require you to go out shopping. Unlike other methods, it also does not require you to use bleach. It is more than likely that most of the ingredients you already probably have in your kitchen cupboards!

What you will need: 

  • Two cups of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • A sponge scourer

Directions: 

  1. Start by mixing together the bicarbonate of soda and water in a small bowl. This will make a mixture that resembles the detergent for cleaning the washing machine. Pour the vinegar into a measuring cup and head over to your washing machine.
  2. Add the bicarbonate of soda mixture to the detergent container of your machine and pour the vinegar into the machine’s drum. Set your washer to normal load at the hottest water setting. Close the door and start the machine, letting it do all the hard work for you. The baking soda and vinegar naturally break up mineral deposits and any mold growth while cleaning and refreshing your washing machine.
  3. Use a clean scouring sponge to rub around the opening of the washing machine, removing stubborn mold or residue. Wipe clean with fresh water.
  4. Once the process has finished, the result should be a sparkling clean washing machine that smells good. Just be sure to give it a clean once a month to keep your clothes smelling fresh and your machine working in perfect condition.
  5. And continue to keep the mold at bay; all you have to do is keep the washing machine door open after the wash is complete, as many domestic machines are so well sealed they don’t get as much air as top-loading machines. The door doesn’t need to be left wide open, just kept off the latch to give it enough airflow to keep the mold from coming back. Easy! 

Quick tips for maintaining your washing machine between cleans

If you want to keep your washing machine in tip-top shape, it can help to bear in mind a few top tips for maintaining its freshness between cleans...

  • Every time your washing machine begins to get a bit smelly, you can add soda crystals to your detergent drawer and put it on a hot and empty wash. This will help to kill bacteria and remove any built-up grime. It’s best to do this often, to keep on top of your machine’s cleanliness.
  • The detergent drawer itself should never be overlooked when cleaning; get the drawer sparkling clean by simply rinsing it with washing up liquid.
  • Use white vinegar to clean the machines drum and doorway - and for difficult to reach parts use an old toothbrush to scrub.
  • Leave the washing machine's door and drawer open as often as you can to give it a good airing - and perhaps deploy one of the best air purifiers to really get rid of any excess moisture.
  • If you can easily get underneath the rubber of the door, give it a clean often, as a lot of muck can get stuck inside it. If you have soda crystals they work brilliantly in doing this job too. 
  • If there is any really stubborn mould, sprinkle a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda over it and then scrub with a vinegar soaked toothbrush.