Most of us don’t think about cleaning our washing machine.
It’s supposed to clean clothes, so how can it get dirty?
But over time, mildew, soap scum, and dirt build up in our washers. That’s a problem.
If you don’t clean the washer, then it doesn’t get clothes as clean.
And the washer will start to smell.
And then “clean” clothes can start to smell, too.
Yuck. Just gross.
Because of all the folds in the gasket around the door of front-loading washers, they’re often the worst. Lint from clothes, dirt, and moisture get trapped in the door seal. That leads to mold and mildew. And that leads to the gross, musty, funky smell.
But top loading washers get dirty too. Using too much detergent or detergent that doesn’t work well can cause a buildup in the drum that keeps clothes from getting truly clean. When you use too much detergent and fabric softeners, water isn’t able to completely rinse them all away. The washing machine drum then gets coated with a layer of soap scum that actually attracts dirt and grime from dirty clothes. Then in the warm, moist washing machine, this soap scum makes a great place for growing mold, mildew, and bacteria. Quite the opposite of what we want our washing machines to do.
Thankfully, just like we can use essential oils to make fantastic DIY laundry detergent, stain fighter, and fabric softener (find my favorite DIY laundry recipes here), we can also use essential oils to clean the washing machine itself.
Which Essential Oils to Use?
Essential oils are wonderful natural cleaners, but there are so many to choose from. Which oils are best for cleaning washing machines?
Ideally, you want to use essential oils that are antifungal (kills mold and mildew), antibacterial (helps kill bacteria), and/or antimicrobial (disinfects and helps inhibit microbial growth).
Here are the best essential oils I’ve found for cleaning washing machines:
- tea tree (aka melaleuca)
Use these essential oils alone or in combination. I love using lavender, lemongrass, and tea tree together for a fresh clean scent that brightens up the whole house. See the cleaning instructions below for more details and ideas for essential oil blends to try.
3 Steps to a Clean Washing Machine
Getting your washing machine clean and keeping it that way is pretty simple. It just takes an occasional deep cleaning followed by regular weekly cleaning and some preventative care.
1- Deep Clean – Do this about once a month or when you notice a problem. See “Step 1: Deep Clean Washing Machine” below. You’ll deep clean the inside and outside of washer to remove all mold, mildew, detergent buildup, and other gunk. Be sure to clean the drum, detergent dispenser, gasket, and control panel. This occasional cleaning will make a big difference in how the washer smells, cleans, and looks.
2- Regular Cleaning– Do this quick clean about once a week to keep the washer clean and working at its best. See Step 2: Weekly Cleaning” below. You’ll use a DIY essential oil spray to clean the washer door, gasket seal, and outside. Just a few quick sprays and a wipe and you’re done. Super easy!
3- Preventative Care– Simple things like not overloading washing machine and using the proper amount of detergent will help keep your washer running optimally. See below for a full list of easy preventative care to-dos.
Step 1: Deep Clean Washing Machine
First, deep clean the inside of washing machine.
- Start with an empty washing machine. Put 1/4 cup borax and 1/4 cup washing soda in the drum/tub of the washing machine (the drum/tub is the part where you put clothes)
- Put the washer on the hottest water setting you have. If washer has a cleaning setting, then use that as it will be the hottest setting.
- Select the largest load size
- Run the washer
- If you have a top-loader washing machine, stop the washer before the rinse cycle and let the cleaning solution sit in the tub for about an hour
- After the cycle finishes, put 2 cups of white vinegar and 20 drops tea tree essential oil in the detergent dispenser tray. If you prefer to not use tea tree essential oil, you can substitute with another antifungal essential oil such as thyme, peppermint, clove, cinnamon, or oregano.
- Next, run another wash cycle on hottest water setting.
- When cycle is done, wipe out drum/tub with clean microfiber cloth.
Second, deep clean the outside of the washing machine and the gasket.
- Put on rubber gloves
- Mix the following in a bowl: 1 cup hot water, 2 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup borax, 1/4 cup washing soda, 10 drops tea tree essential oil, and 10 drops peppermint essential oil.
tip: The borax and baking soda may form some little “rocks” or hard bits at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t worry about this. Just try to mix it together as best you can. The liquid part of the cleaning solution will still work great even if all of the borax and baking soda are not incorporated.
- dip a clean microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution
- Clean the outside of the washing machine making sure to wipe down the control panel, inside of the detergent dispenser, all cracks and crevices, lid/door, and all exterior surfaces including top & front of the washer. Dip cloth in solution and ring clean regularly throughout cleaning process. If washer is especially dirty, you may need to dump out dirty cleaning solution, rinse bowl and cloth, then make a new batch of cleaning solution to finish job. Hard to reach spots can hide bacteria and mold. Use a toothbrush to reach tough spots if needed.
- For front-loading machines, use cloth to clean gasket/seal around door. Repeat until gasket is completely clean making sure you clean in between every fold of the gasket. This is where mold and mildew tend to grow easiest, so you want to be sure that it is completely clean.
Step 2: Weekly Cleaning
- mix the following in 8 oz spray bottle: 3/4 cup white vinegar, 10 drops tea tree, and 5 drops peppermint essential oil
- using a microfiber cloth and this spray, wipe down washing machine door/lid
- for front-loading machines, spray the seal/gasket of the door and wipe clean, making sure to get in-between all the folds of the gasket
- clean the soap dispenser/tray
- wipe down the top and front of washer, making sure to get control panel and any knobs
- let air dry
Step 3: Preventative Care to Keep Your Washing Machine Clean & Smelling Great
Doing just a few simple things can help keep your washing machine clean. I love that because it means I don’t have to do the deep cleaning as often. Yay!
- Use hot water to wash clothes whenever you can. Hot water not only helps get clothes clean, it also helps clean the washing machine itself. The hot water kills bacteria and microorganisms, making it harder for mold and mildew to start growing.
- Don’t overload washing machine. Putting too many clothes or linens in washers makes it harder for the washer to get them clean. Overloading the washer also makes it harder for the machine to get rid of all the detergent, dirt, and grime. Without enough space to properly move around, detergent, dirt and grime often gets trapped in clothes and also in the washer itself.
- Only use the amount of detergent recommended for your washing machine. If you use too much detergent, it will stay in machine and cling to walls, causing buildup and odors.
- Use a laundry detergent that actually cleans your clothes. I’ve experimented with lots of homemade laundry detergents over the years, and unfortunately, most of them just do not work. The clothes can come out looking clean, but when you soak those “clean” clothes in a sink or tub, it’s disgusting how much dirt and soap is still trapped in them. Thankfully, after all those failed DIY experiments, I finally figured out how to make homemade laundry detergent that works. Find my powdered laundry soap recipe here and my liquid laundry detergent recipe here
- Remove clothes from washing machine as soon as cycle finishes. Forgetting and leaving clothes in the washer for too long is one of the biggest contributors to washers getting that stinky, skunky smell. At the end of a wash cycle, clothes are damp and crumpled together. That’s fine for a few minutes, but leave them like that for a few hours or overnight and mold is almost certain to start growing. If you occasionally suffer from this laundry neglect, try this: Add 2-3 drops of lemon essential oil to the load and rewash the clothes. Voila, problem solved. Not only will the clothes smell fresh and clean, they’ll actually be fresh and clean. Find more great essential oil tips like this here
- Avoid using store-bought fabric softeners. They can cause buildup on clothes and washing machine. That buildup contributes to odors. Instead use my homemade essential oil fabric softener (recipe here)
- Keep washing machine door/lid open after every wash to let air circulate and to help water evaporate so that mold and mildew doesn’t grow.
- If you live in a humid area or have reoccurring mildew problems with your washer, run a fan or dehumidifier in the laundry room.
Where to get supplies
borax– Walmart/Target laundry aisle or find online here
super washing soda – Walmart/Target laundry aisle or find online here
white vinegar – grocery store or Costco has a great deal on a giant bottle of vinegar
free printable of how to clean washing machine instructions
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