Have you ever opened your washing machine to put in a load of washing, only to discover there is a nasty smell or visible mold? This is not an uncommon occurrence, as washing machines are the ideal environment for mold to grow – damp, dark, and warm, and with a regular supply of dirt from clothes and residue from the detergents and fabric softener that the mold can feed off.
We don’t advise that you try to wash your clothes in your moldy washing machine – they may come out smelling just as bad as the machine itself and be quite difficult to return to normal afterward. Your best bet is to get your washing machine clean and sparkly and fresh again before you try to use it.
Mold problems in washing machines are common, but especially bad in high-efficiency (HE) washing machines, due to the excessive soap residue created in them. Whether you own an HE or a normal washing machine, and whether it is a top- or front-loading model, these tips will help you always keep your washing machine clean and ready for use.
How to Clean Your Washing Machine
There are four product options you can choose from to clean your moldy washing machine: chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or a commercial washing machine cleaner. Under no circumstances should you mix any of these substances with any other, as they will produce toxic fumes that could cause respiratory problems or worse. Use only one of these to clean your washer at a time.
Many people prefer to use more natural products for their cleaning these days and would rather not use chlorine bleach. If you are one of those people, you may want to start with vinegar, and progress to more astringent measures if you don’t get satisfactory results.
If you choose to use a commercial cleaner, be sure to read the package instructions carefully, and follow them to the letter.
What You Will Need
- A plastic container to mix your cleaning solution in
- A soft-bristled scrub brush
- A soft, absorbent cloth
- Protective gloves (and a mask if you are working with bleach)
- Your choice of cleaning agent – white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine bleach, OR a commercial washing machine cleaning solution.
1. Make sure there is nothing in your washing machine, clean or dirty, as it would likely be damaged in the cleaning process.
2. If your detergent and fabric softener drawers are very caked with soap residue, now would be a good time to get these thoroughly cleaned. Most are simple to remove, but if you are unsure of how to remove them, check the user manual for your machine.
3. Once you have the drawers removed, run them under the faucet and rinse them with warm water. If this doesn’t do the trick, you can soak them in a bucket of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, before giving them a gentle rub with your fingers to remove the last of the residue.
4. Set your machine to a wash cycle with the largest water output that it has, and at the highest temperature. Pour your chosen cleaning agent into the drum and run the machine for the full cycle to clean the interior and the drainage pipes.
5. Once the machine’s cycle is complete, allow it to cool down. Then dip your soft-bristled scrub brush in a solution of your chosen cleaning agent and water, and gently use it to clean away any mold and dirt the wash cycle may have missed. In front-loading washing machines, you will want to pay special attention to the gasket that seals the door, as the rubber seal easily catches dirt, soap residue, and water in its folds.
6. Rinse the machine on a short cycle to clear away any dirt you have removed, then dry inside the machine well with your soft cloth. Remember to dry inside all the folds of the gasket, as well as anywhere inside the machine that you can reach.
7. Locate the lint filter on your machine and remove it. Carefully brush off the lint and dust that have accumulated there and wipe away any mold you find with a cloth dipped in your cleaning agent and water solution. Give the lint filter a good rinse, then allow it to air dry fully before returning it to the machine.
Your washing machine is now spotless, smelling fresh, and ready to make your clothes clean and fresh, too. However, it’s a good idea to try and keep your washing machine this way, rather than letting it get into a bad state again. So, create a washing machine cleaning schedule for the future, making sure to clean it once a week if you use it very often, or at least once a month.
You can skip some of the steps above on your regular cleanings, just running a hot cycle with your cleaning agent, but remember to always clean out the folds of the gasket very well if you have a front-loading washing machine. If your washer has a self-cleaning cycle, that may be sufficient for a weekly clean, if paired with a more intense monthly routine.
How to Prevent Mold Build-Up in Your Washing Machine
There are several ways to prevent or minimize future mold build-up in your washer, the most obvious being regular cleaning and maintenance. Follow these tips to always keep your washing machine spotless:
- Never leave clothes in the washer when the cycle is finished – the extra warmth and moisture will quickly breed mold.
- Always leave the door or lid of your washing machine open when not in use, so the interior can dry out properly.
- Use the minimum amount of detergent you can get away with and still get your clothes clean – excess detergent creates too much foam, and this results in more soap residue.
- Keep your laundry room dry, and ensure it has good air circulation – use fans or central air for air circulation and a dehumidifier for any moisture released by your washing machine and dryer.
- Switch out your fabric softener for distilled white vinegar – it has no negative and some positive effects on your washer and will remove soap residue from your clothes and soften them.
- After each washing day, clean away any dirt and debris caught in the machine and in the gasket and dry out the machine well.
What are the Causes of Mold in Your Washing Machine?
As we mentioned before, mold thrives in warm, dark, and damp places, especially where a smorgasbord of food is provided on a regular basis in the form of dirt, soil, and soap residue. The most common ways that mold will find its way into your washing machine are easily preventable.
- Do not wash moldy clothes in the washer before cleaning them by hand in a white vinegar solution. The mold from your clothes could settle into the hidden parts of your washer and thrive there.
- Do not use the wrong detergent. For example, you should not use HE detergent in normal washing machines. These detergents create an excess of soap suds, which leave more residue behind.
- Do not leave your machine closed when it is damp, as the dark, warm environment will cause mold to grow. Always leave the lid or door open between uses.
- Do not leave your wet clothes in the machine. Remove them immediately after washing to avoid creating a perfect environment for mold to thrive.
- Do not avoid regularly cleaning your machine, and don’t let this important task fall by the wayside.