How to clean a washing machine – your step-by-step guide

Clean laundry starts with a clean machine

Vertically stacked washing machine and tumble dryer
(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Knowing how to clean a washing machine may not be at the top of your list of priorities, but it really should be. After all, those damp conditions are a perfect breeding ground for germs and odours, so if you want clean clothes and sheets, then you first have to ensure your machine is at its best.

Thankfully, cleaning your washing machine won't take up too much room in your cleaning calendar. Give it a deep clean every few months and top up with quick and easy regular maintenance and not only will the machines work better for longer, but your laundry will be looking and smelling as fresh as anything.

How to clean a washing machine

Our step-by-step guide on how to clean a washing machine is packed to the brim with advice on cleaning the filter, impellers, and the drain – as well alternative cleaning methods, too.

Throw in the importance of adding salt and cleaning the outside of the appliance (not to mention some advice on preventing bad smells), and you really do have everything you need to know about cleaning a washing machine.

Vertically stacked washing machine and tumble dryer

(Image credit: Future PLC/Bee Holmes)

What you will need

As with many things in life, it's always best to be prepared before diving into any big cleaning job.

To that end, we recommend sourcing the following equipment ahead of cleaning your washing machine. You'll thank us later.

Most important of all? You will absolutely need to locate the manual before you can really get going with how to clean a washing machine. While you may have a perfect filing system for instruction booklets, or everything gets shoved into that unorganised box full of warranties, if it's gone wandering, remember that most of these are fairly easy to locate in PDF format if you simply Google your appliance model name.

Your step-by-step guide:

Cleaning equipment at the ready? Manual close at hand? Old toothbrush looking nervous?

Excellent; you're ready to learn how to clean a washing machine. Let's go!

Green utility room with silver washing machine

(Image credit: Future PLC/Rachel Smith)

1. Read the manufacturer's guidelines

Before diving into the cleaning process, it is incredibly important that you familiarise yourself with the manufacturer's guidelines. 

'You’ll easily be able to find these in your washing machine's user guide or manual,' says Olivia Young, product development scientist at Astonish.

'Different machines are likely to have specific cleaning recommendations based on the make and model. So make sure you have given these a good read to avoid any damage and ensure you maintain your appliance safely and correctly.'

2. Clean the detergent drawer

The detergent drawer can be a haven for germs, encrusted washing powder and mould. Thankfully, it's incredibly easy to clean.

'Turn off your washing machine before doing anything,' says Lucy Rhead at Gtech. 'Then, grab an old toothbrush and ordinary antibacterial spray to scrub away any build-up you can see – both inside the drawer and the drawer cavity, too.'

Feeling lazy but in no real rush? James Hwang at Studio has an even simpler solution. 'Remove the drawer entirely and leave it to soak in warm water for a few hours,' he advises, adding that you can scrub away any stubborn residue once this is done.

Remember: make sure to let the drawers dry completely before reinserting them into the machine, warns Olivia – only then are you good to go!

Grey kitchen with patterned flooring, white washing machine and tiled splashback

(Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole)

3. Clear out 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 – making it a one-stop destination for germs.

It is also warm and humid, making it an ideal breeding ground for dodgy smells that will infiltrate the machine... and your laundry.

'Clear out the filter by removing the emergency drain tube and catch any trapped water with a bowl,' says Lucy. 'Carefully release the filter cover, and anything that is trapped should drain out with the water.'

It's important to note that clearing out the filter differs by manufacturer, so you should always check your washing machine manual first before tackling this one.

'Once you’ve checked over your manual and released the water, you can clean the filter with a damp, but not sodden, cloth,' says James. 

Repeat this cleaning routine every few months to prevent leaks.

4. Rinse the drum

cleaning washing machine

(Image credit: LG)

When sussing out how to clean a washing machine, don't forget that seemingly sparkling clean drum: it's another germ hot-spot. Thankfully, all you need to do is run the machine empty on a hot wash.

'Add a cup of white vinegar and put it on a high temperature cycle,' advises James. 'This will remove any dirt build-up and will leave the drum smelling fresh and clean.'

Lucy adds that you should 'give your washing machine a hot empty clean every few months, ideally around 60 degrees' to 'kill any germs and get rid of odours and scum build-up' and this will make how to clean the drum of a washing machine even easier come the next deep clean.

5. Wipe down the door seal

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. 

'Wipe down the seal of the door after each wash so your fresh clothes aren’t picking up old detergents and grime when you remove them from the drum,' advises Lucy.

If your washing machine seal already has a build-up of mould and mildew, you can still 'get rid of this instantly, simply spray Astonish Mould & Mildew Blaster across the seal and wipe with a damp cloth,' adds Olivia. 

'It will work its magic in no time and your machine will be ready to go,' she says.

6. Leave the door open between washes

Once you’ve emptied your washing and hung it out to dry, possibly one of the worst things you can do is shut the door. With that in mind, it's important to leave it open between washes. 

'Mould and mildew grow rapidly in warm and wet environments due to the moisture that builds up – which is exactly what happens if you shut the door!' says Olivia.

To avoid this, she suggests that you 'keep it slightly ajar so that air can circulate inside the machine and dry it out'. 

'Try to remove clean clothes right after the end of a cycle,' adds James. 'This will prevent moisture from building up which can cause odours and germs to fester.'

washing machine with cabinet and shelf

(Image credit: Armac Martin)

7. Lather, rinse, repeat

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, 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, Lucy urges that you try to do it at least once a month. Just try not to wait until it starts smelling too bad, please...


kitchen with washing machine and drawers

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Colin Poole)

How do I get rid of the smell in my washing machine?

'To quickly get rid of odours in your washing machine, use 60ml of bicarbonate of soda to 60ml of white vinegar, pour into the dispenser and run an empty cycle,' says Lucy.

'To double up, add 2 cups of white vinegar to the drum and run a hot cycle for extra fresh clothes.'

To make your clothes smell even fresher, James suggests you 'mix your favourite essential oil with some water and add to your clothes before a warm cycle,' too.

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. And being aware of how to clean the drum of a washing machine is crucial to this.

'The drum is an essential part of your washing machine, so it needs to be looked after to ensure your clothes come out fresh and clean,' says Olivia. To do this properly, she advises you use products that you would typically use to clean your clothing – which means there’s no need to buy additional washing machine cleaning products.

'Try a stain remover such as Oxy Active,' she says, adding that you 'simply need to pop two scoops into an empty drum, then set the cycle on a high wash at 40-60 degrees.'

Alternative, Olivia suggests you 'opt for a cleanser such as Protect + Care Laundry Cleanser'. Adding two scoops of this to your washing machine drum and setting the cycle to hot wash 'will kill 99.9% of bacteria, preparing your machine to tackle its next load of washing'.

Utility room with washing machine, sink and storage

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

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 which promises to remove mould, banish bad smells and eliminate limescale.

However, if you keep on top of how to clean a washing 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.

How do you clean a washing machine with baking soda and vinegar?

The one and only Mrs Hinch uses bicarb and white vinegar to clean her own washing machine.

Sharing her top tips in an Instagram Story, the cleaning expert explains that she ports a capful of white vinegar into the drum of her washing machine, along with a scoop of bicarbonate of soda, before putting it on a quick spin cycle to leave the inside sparkling clean.

You can, if you're particularly savvy, chuck any used cleaning cloths into the machine before you do this: pure multi-tasking magic.

Once you've got the deep clean worked into your routine, your machine will start working better than ever, and the daily upkeep will be down to a minimum.

Deputy Editor

Jennifer is the Deputy Editor (Digital) for Homes & Gardens online. Prior to her current position, she completed various short courses a KLC Design School, and wrote across sister brands Ideal Home, LivingEtc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Country Homes & Interiors, and Style at Home. 

With contributions from