How to clean a washing machine – 7 ways to keep yours fresh and healthy

Clean clothes start with a clean washing machine so follow our top tips to ensure yours is at it's best

washing machine with wooden worktop and flower
(Image credit: Future PLC/ James French)

At first it might seem odd to clean an appliance that itself cleans your clothes, but thinking about it, of course it makes sense. You wouldn't wash in a dirty bath or shower so to ensure your clothes get the best wash possible, you'll need to know how to clean a washing machine.

Giving your washing machine a regular MOT will help banish mould, bad smells and clothes-ruining residues – and potentially prevent it breaking down to, so a little care and cleaning goes a long way.

Follow our guide, as well as top tips from the experts and your washing machine will be back to it's best in no time.

How to clean a washing machine

washing machine with wooden worktop and flower

(Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole)

1. Clean the detergent drawer

The detergent drawer can be a haven for germs, encrusted washing powder and mould and it's a little space that can get dirty faster than you would imagine, considering this is where you put the formula designed to clean your clothes and linens!

For the best results, remove the entire drawer and set to work with an old toothbrush and an ordinary domestic cleaner. If you are unsure about how to remove your drawer, consult the user manual. Don't forget to clean the drawer cavity too. It'll be spotless in mere minutes and your clothes will feel fresher instantly.

2. Clean the filter

The debris filter is there to protect your washing machine's pump by stopping lint, stray tissues, coins and general dirt in its tracks. That means that, like the detergent drawer, it's a place where germs collect. It is also warm and humid so provides an ideal breeding ground for dodgy smells to infiltrate the machine... and your laundry.

The solution? Empty it regularly to remove the fluff and dirt that has gathered inside. The washing machine filter is usually located along the lower edge of the machine, behind a hinged cover. Check your user manual if unsure. Carefully free the emergency drain tube and place a bowl or pan on the floor below it.

Unplug and allow any trapped water to drain off. Replace the plug, remove the bowl and lay a towel on the floor. Carefully unscrew or release the filter cover. Any trapped debris should run out with the trapped water, but check inside the cavity to be sure. Wipe around with a cloth, clean any components and replace the cover. Check again that you have replaced the cover properly to prevent any accidental leaks.

3. Clean the drum

cleaning washing machine

(Image credit: LG)

Even if the inside of your washing machine looks sparkling clean, it's probably not. There are lots of nooks and crannies where germs can hide and fester. The best thing to do is run an empty wash every couple of months.

To clean the washing machine put it on a cycle while empty, adding detergent directly into the drum. It doesn’t have to be a long cycle it just needs to be hot. A hot wash should preferably be 60 degrees. This should kill germs, remove odours and stop soap scum and limescale building up in hard-to-see places.

Cleaning expert Lynsey Queen of Clean (opens in new tab) recommends using soda crystals, 'Pour 500mls into the drum directly and pop it on the hottest wash that your washing machine will.'

4. Prevent bad smells

Ever opened your washing machine door to be greeted with an unpleasant, musty smell? This may be because the damp conditions of a freshly-run machine are perfect for mould to grow.

Leaving the washing machine door open slightly after washes allows air to circulate around the drum, which helps stop germs breeding and reduces the associated damp scents. This is even more important during warmer weather in the summer.

Make sure your outside drain is also kept clear of debris and regularly cleaned as odours can feed back up into the machine.

5. Clean the door seal

washing machine with cabinet and shelf

(Image credit: Armac Martin)

When you're pushing your washing into the machine and pulling it back out again damp, it's easy to forget about the space between the door and the drum. That rubber seal that's stopping water from spilling out on to your kitchen or utility room floor is also a place for excess detergent and dirt to hide. If you let this build up, it does turn into mould and becomes increasingly difficult to remove.

Before and after each wash, use a damp cloth to give the seal a gentle wipe and that should be enough to keep this part of the machine in good nick. It also means your clean washing doesn't pick up fresh dirt as you take it out to dry.

6. Use the right detergent

When you're faced with the mind-blowing array of detergents lined up on the supermarket shelves, it's easy to think only about the effect they have on your clothes. Interestingly extra suds and liquid softeners have been linked to leaving a residue in the machine that may contribute to bad smells and mould.

In short, if you want to be kinder to your washing machine (and help it last longer) use powder rather than liquids. Knowing what to use and how to wash clothes helps achieve better washing results every time – it sounds so obvious, but you'd be surprised!

7. Regularly clean your washing machine

The best way to get the smell out of a washing machine, is to prevent it getting smelly in the first place. That means adding cleaning the washing machine to your list of household chores.

Lynsey Crombie, Queen of Clean, recommends cleaning your washing machine every other week. 'I clean my washing machine every other week. Especially in the summer when it's hot, and your washing machine starts to smell more easily,' she explains.

If you can't keep up with that, try to do it at least once a month. Just try not to wait until it starts smelling too bad.

kitchen with washing machine and drawers

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

Another useful care and cleaning tip is knowing how to clean a dishwasher, for sparkling crockery every time.

If your washing machine still smells funny there is a possibility it's beyond saving and you may need to buy a new washing machine.

Before you throw the towel in (pun intended) try out these handy tips on how to clean a washing machine, because it might just need some TLC to get your whites whiter.

How do I deep clean my washing machine?

'It’s important to make sure your washing machine gets cleaned regularly, as bacteria can build-up leading to unpleasant odours, says Susan Fermor, Marketing Director at Dr Beckmann (opens in new tab). 'We recommend washing your machine every 2 months, or every 30 washes to ensure the appliance stays clean and to reduce the risk of a build-up of limescale. Dr. Beckmann’s Service-it Deep Clean Washing Machine Cleaner thoroughly cleanses your machine and eliminates 99.9% of bacteria and microorganisms.'

'Pour the powder directly into the bottom of the empty dishwasher or drum of the washing machine, then select a standard cleaning programme and run the cycle. Home appliances are on a never-ending cycle, so using a specialised cleaner to banish the bacteria and microorganisms living inside will ensure your clothes and washing machine are left smelling fresh and hygienically clean.'

How do you clean a smelly washing machine?

While there are many specialist products you can buy to eliminate bad smells in your washing machine, opt for the more natural route and use basic store-cupboard items instead. Baking soda and white vinegar are the two ingredients you need, so grab the former and add 1/4 cup to 1/4 cup of water then pour this solution into the washing machines detergent dispenser. Next take 2 cups of white vinegar and add this to the drum, then run a high-heat cycle, while leaving the machine empty. The baking soda and vinegar combined, along with the high heat will banish any unpleasant smells and leave your machine clean and fresh.

What do you run through your washing machine to clean it?

If the vinegar and baking soda solution doesn't work for you or you want something a bit punchier, try something like the Dettol 5 in 1 Washing Machine cleaner (opens in new tab) which promises to remove mould, banish bad smells and eliminate limescale. But if you keep on top of cleaning your machine, leave the door ajar between washes and treat it with care and respect, you shouldn't have to reach for harsh chemicals too regularly which is good on all accounts.

Additional words: Holly Walsh