Cleaning Guides

How to Clean a Washing Machine and Get Rid of the Smell

While doing your daily chores, you put the dirty laundry in the washing machine, pouring in a ton of detergent and fabric softeners. However, when the cycle is over, a strange, unpleasant smell seems to come out of your machine and it just won’t go away. Before you start browsing through appliance shop catalogues, try to remember the last time you actually gave your washer a good scrub. If no such memories come to mind, then maybe it is time for a nice, thorough cleaning.

Table of Contents:

So, if you:

  • Want to learn how to clean your washing machine and its components;
  • Are wondering how to get rid of the nasty odours;
  • Are looking for maintenance tips,

Then read on!

In this article, you’ll find information on how to clean your washing machine correctly, so that nasty stench disappears.

How do I know that my washer is dirty?

Besides the obvious reasons, like the visible dirt, there are many other factors, which indicate that your washing machine is in need of a deep clean. Here is what to look out for:

  • Nasty odour – the build-up of bacteria plays a big part in the development of mould – the main culprit for the unpleasant smell in your washing machine.
  • Slimy, dark-coloured residue – It’s formed mostly from the plastic parts of tide pods, soap scum residue, and parts of washing detergents like softeners. You can find those marks around the door seal, the detergent drawer, and inside the drum itself. It’s important to prevent such build-up as it will not only affect your machine but your clothes, as well.
  • Dark spots on the laundry – when the appliance is mucky, the clothes will no longer leave the machine spotless and smelling nice, but exactly the opposite – covered in stains.

If you live in an area with hard water, there is also a big possibility that there is a lot of limescale build-up. Limescale can cause various breakdowns in your washing machine which may lead to unnecessary repairs and call out charges.

What you will need:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Microfibre cloth
  • Old toothbrush

How to clean your washing machine naturally

Most families in the UK rely on front-loading washers because this type of appliance requires less water and energy than top-loaders. However, they also tend to develop mould and nasty smells, due to their many compartments. Usually, there is a manual that explains how to clean your washing machine drum properly and remove those nasty smells without causing any damage.

Keep in mind that many manufacturers advise against using descaling products and cleaners. If you ignore this, you might invalidate your warranty.

Now, let’s move on to how to clean a smelly washing machine with the help of vinegar and baking soda.

How to clean a front loading washing machine

  1. Make a cleaning solution from 2 tablespoons of baking soda and ¼ cup of filtered water.
  2. Prepare two cups of white vinegar.
  3. Pour the vinegar into the washing machine drum and the soda solution inside the detergent drawer.
  4. Set the washer on normal load, to the hottest water setting you have.
  5. Run another cycle with clean water to rinse the washing machine.

How to clean a top loading washing machine

  1. Fill the appliance with water.
  2. Pour half a cup of soda bicarbonate and 2 cups of white vinegar in the drum.
  3. Start the machine on a normal wash cycle. The soda and the vinegar will disintegrate all the built-up residue in the drum and hoses.
  4. Run a cold water cycle to rinse and wipe up the insides with a microfibre cloth.

How to clean a washing machine rubber seal

The gasket is the perfect place for mould and mildew to develop from leftover detergents. To enjoy clean laundry, you have to clean your washing machine door seal frequently. This will keep mould and dirt at bay. Here is how it’s done:

  1. Dip a cloth or an old toothbrush in a diluted vinegar solution.
  2. Scrub off the residue from the rubber gasket.
  3. Wipe the seal with a clean damp cloth to remove any excess vinegar.

Take your time cleaning, especially if there is already a bit of built-up residue. This will not only take care of the seal but will also make sure that your laundry won’t pick up any dirt when you’re taking it out of the machine. If you have encountered excessive mould or dirt build up on your washing machine rubber seal you can also read our detailed guide on the subject.

How to clean the detergent drawer

Tight spaces and lack of light are the perfect conditions for bacteria to develop, so make sure to include the washing machine drawer in your cleaning checklist.

Luckily, the tray can be easily removed and cleaned outside of the washer. If a lot of dirt has built up, use a toothbrush to clean all the corners of your detergent drawer, and remove the encrusted washing powder. You can use a paste of baking soda and water or just regular dish soap.

Another option is to place the entire drawer in your dishwasher and clean it this way. While you are waiting, you can clean the drawer cavity with a damp microfibre cloth or a regular towel.

How to clean your washing machine filter

The filter ensures that lint, stray tissues, and bigger pieces of dirt are not sucked in along with the water, obstructing the flow. It’s also the perfect place for a germ party, so you should keep an eye on it and clean it frequently.

One of the things you need to do regularly is empty the filter – do this at least once every two weeks. If you are not sure where it’s located, check your washer’s manual.

And when it’s time to clean it, here is what you should do:

  1. Locate the emergency drain tube and remove it.
  2. Place a bowl on the floor right below it.
  3. Remove the plug and let the water drain off completely.
  4. Put in a new plug and replace the bowl of water with a dry towel.
  5. Unscrew the filter cover. There might still be some debris left in the cavity, so check carefully.
  6. Wipe the insides and all the other filter components thoroughly with a damp microfibre cloth.
  7. Replace the cover and check twice to ensure that you have put all the parts back correctly.

For more details on the process, you can check out our dedicated post “How to Clean a Washing Machine Filter“.

How to clean the exterior of your washer

Now that you have finally finished cleaning all the interior bits and parts of your washing machine, it’s time to take care of the outside.

  1. Start by turning your appliance off.
  2. You can choose between a normal all-purpose cleaner, vinegar or lemon juice.
  3. If you go with white vinegar or lemon juice, pour half a cup into a spray bottle.
  4. Apply the chosen cleaning solution, starting from the areas where the most dirt has accumulated.
  5. Let it sit for a couple of seconds and wipe it with a microfibre cloth or a sponge.
  6. Carefully rub the corners, knobs and around the buttons.
  7. Wipe again with a clean cloth.

But.. what if your machine still stinks?

So, you followed all the instructions from above and your washer still smells like the bottom of a lake. Don’t lose hope! You can still remove the bad smell from your washing machine and here is how:

Clean your appliance with bleach

If you need a quick way to remove every living thing inside the washer, try using bleach:

For a front-loader

  1. Pour exactly two tablespoons of bleach directly into the drawer of the washing machine.
  2. Run it on the hottest cycle.
  3. If your washer has developed mould problems, you might have to repeat the process at least two times. 
  4. When you are satisfied with the results, rinse with clean, cold water.

For a top-loader

  1. First, fill the drum with hot water and pour a cup of bleach inside. 
  2. Let it agitate the water for 10 minutes. After that, discard everything. 
  3. Rinse thoroughly with another water cycle to ensure that there is no bleach residue inside.
  4. Repeat the process if needed, so you don’t accidentally ruin your clothes next time you wash them.

Sanitise it with essential oils

For this technique, you will need clove oil. You can find this type of oil in most chemists and health food stores. No matter if you have a front or a top-loader, just pour 10 drops of clove oil directly into the drum and start the machine on the hottest setting. Make sure to open all doors and windows while the cycle is running. This step is important because the smell of clove oil is extremely potent.

Bad odour might also come from the clogged drain hose. To maintain the state of your appliance, make sure to regularly check the drainage system. 

How often do you need to clean a washing machine?

If you live alone and you tend to use the washing machine two times a week at the most, once a month should be more than enough to keep your appliance in top shape. If you have a family with kids and pets, you should clean it a bit more often. Greasy and heavily soiled clothing speeds up the dirt build-up process in your washer, as well as the need of washing machine services. You can read more on this subject in our “How Often Should You Clean a Washing Machine” post.

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What if I live in an area with hard water?

Hard water can cause your washing machine a lot of trouble. We all know that it is the main reason behind the build-up of limescale, which can lead to corrosion of the heating elements. It also creates the perfect environment for bacteria to develop. Still, there is a way you can reduce its negative effect on your washer – just try adding water softening tablets and use special hard water laundry detergents. For more tips on limescale removal, check out this post.

How to keep your appliance clean and well-functioning

If you want to have the best results with each wash, you need to know how to keep your washing machine clean. These regular maintenance tips will help you:

  1. Follow the dosing instructions on your laundry detergent. Even if it sounds tempting, using more of the product will not make your clothes cleaner, but will surely damage them along with the appliance.
  2. Even if you don’t live in a hard water area, add a softener to the inflow pipe, or use water softening tablets with each wash. This will decrease the amount of limescale build-up.
  3. Whatever you do to the washer, there will still be a bit of dirt build-up, but don’t worry. Run the washing machine with hot water on empty once a month to remove all the unwanted residue.
  4. If your washing machine vibrates when in operation, read our helpful post on the topic. It’ll explain why your appliance is rocking and what can you do to reduce the vibrations before reaching out to a professional.
Rinse your heavily soiled clothes, first, before sticking them in the washer to prevent dirt from building up inside the drum.

Does cleaning your washer take too long?

Not everyone has the time to pay special attention to their washing machine with each house clean. For all of you busy bees out there, we have a regular domestic cleaning service. This is an hourly-based service, which you can order as frequently as you need.

If your washing machine needs some extra care, the cleaner will handle the task to ensure that both its interior and exterior parts are in clean condition. So, scratch off the washer from your “To-do” list and leave the hard work to us.


  • Maintenance is very important if you want to prolong your washer’s life.
  • You don’t have to use special and expensive detergents when cleaning your washing machine. Vinegar and baking soda are perfect for both cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Be careful if you use bleach to sanitise the appliance.
  • If cleaning the washing machine doesn’t fit with your busy schedule, consider having a regular cleaner to do it instead. This way, you will not only cross the washer’s maintenance off your list, but many other weekly chores, as well.


We hope you found this article on how to clean your washing machine and get rid of bad smells useful. Share your experience with this problem in the comment section and happy cleaning!

Header image source: Shutterstock / FotoDuets

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