There's little point in running a washing cycle if your washing machine itself isn't clean, and it turns out that a rather large proportion of people don't know how to clean a washing machine or do it regularly at all. The reason they need cleaning is that washing machines process vast quantities of water, so mildew and the like is inevitable at some point. Let's be honest, we've all opened the door to shove our dirty load in only to be greeted by a somewhat musty smell – that's a sure sign that your washing machine needs a clean.
How do you clean a washing machine?
Cleaning a washing machine is more than just wiping the inside of the drum and saying ‘job done’. Firstly, you can buy washing machine cleaner, which you use in three ways. Remove the detergent drawer and leave it to soak in the solution to remove any unwanted soap scum. Meanwhile, pop some of the solution onto a clean cloth and wipe around the rubber seals on the door. You'll want to be thorough here, and anyone who has neglected their washing machine might find some rather unsightly gunk coming up. Once you've got as much off as you can, wipe it down with a cloth soaked in hot water. Wipe the same clean, hot water-soaked cloth around the inside of the drum too. Finally, you empty the rest of the washing machine cleaner into the detergent drawer–which has now been cleaned and put back in the machine–and run the machine on a cycle at a minimum of 60 degrees Celsius.
Once it's done, as with any washing cycle, make sure to leave the washing machine door open until the drum has cooled and no condensation will form on the inside of the door (if you shut the door immediately after running the machine, you are essentially creating a breeding ground for mould and bacteria, so always let the machine air before you close the door fully).
Most washing machines have a filter on the bottom left or right of the machine. This will be a round portal with a handle below the main drum door where lint and soap scum are collected. Ensure the machine is turned off and remove the filter, then wipe it clean with a cloth or kitchen towel, before removing the screen and soaking it in hot water for ten minutes. While it soaks, check the compartment for excess lint and then put the whole thing back together again.
Is bleach or vinegar better to clean a washing machine?
If the thought of washing machine cleaner and extra chemicals does not appeal, you can follow the exact same process with baking soda and vinegar. The results will be exactly the same, however white vinegar is most definitely the more environmentally friendly option (and it's more affordable too). Just remember to never mix both bleach and vinegar together or even use them at the same time, as this can cause a dangerous reaction and release chlorine gas.
How often should you clean a washing machine?
According to Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, you should clean a washing machine once a week. Wipe down the outside of the machine with a cloth dampened with mild dishwashing liquid and water, rinse it with plain water and wipe dry. Wipe the inside of the machine with a damp cloth to remove lint, debris and soapy residue.
Additionally, you should run an empty, hot cycle in your machine once a month to freshen it up, but clean it with solution every two to three months. If you are seeing black spots arise on the rubber seal sooner than that, or a musty smell starts to appear, then take that as a guide that it's time for a deep clean. As for the filter, every three months is sufficient to keep things running smoothly.
Before going on holiday, shut off the water supply at the faucet and drain water from the hoses if the weather is going to dip below freezing.
How to clean the outer shell of your washing machine
“It is not uncommon for both top and front-loading washing machines to develop a ring of mildew around the rubber door seal,” Martha explains. “This is more likely if you live in a humid climate or have a laundry room that is poorly ventilated, conditions that mildew requires to thrive.”
To avoid mildew in the first place, clean inside the rubber lining of the drum window with a damp cloth. This helps prevent black marks and residues that could get on your clothes. Also, avoid keeping damp clothes sitting in the washing machine for extended periods of time.
Remove mildew by cleaning the rubber seal with a solution of 1 cup chlorine bleach to 2 cups warm water. Wearing protective gloves, wipe the lower portion of the door seal with a soft cloth soaked in the bleach solution. Then follow up by wiping down the entire seal.
How to save energy with your washing machine
"A majority of the power used by a washing machine is devoted to heating the water," writes Martha Stewart in her Homekeeping Handbook. So you can significantly cut down energy consumption by using a colder rinse for clothes that aren't very dirty.
This article was originally published on House & Garden UK