How to keep your washing machine clean

Carlton Boyce / 17 January 2017

These seven steps should keep your washing machine in good health!



Now, I’m not judging you but I bet your washing machine is a bit stinky, isn’t it? Is the detergent dispenser clogged with old powder? Is there a build-up of black mould underneath it? Does the drum itself whiff a bit?

I bet it does. Because you, like me, have probably never thought about giving your washing machine a good clean. After all, why would you? Doesn’t a washing machine keep itself clean? Isn’t the clue in the name?

Well, no. Your washing machine will suffer from all sorts of smelly, gungy nasties but the good news is that cleaning it isn’t hard - and doing so on a regular basis will also help to prolong its working life.

Here’s our seven-part guide to keeping your washing machine clean.

1. Check for a cleaning mode

Some modern washing machines will have a dedicated ‘cleaning’ mode. If yours does, then simply follow the instructions in the owner’s handbook. 

You’ll probably need to buy and use a special tablet or cleaning solution but it’s still worth doing it at the manufacturer’s specified intervals, as the extra cost of using the right product will be more than offset by the machine’s improved performance and extended life.

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2. Run an empty hot cycle

Because modern detergents and washing machines are so effective at removing grime and dirt from our clothes, most of us use a relatively low temperature for our everyday wash. 

This allows dirt to build up that would have been washed away had we used a hotter wash from time to time.

So simply running the hottest wash with an empty drum will go a long way to keeping it clean. Just run it once a month or so and don’t bother using any detergent or washing powder; it’s the hot water that’ll do the trick, rather than the soap! (Some people recommend adding a cup of white vinegar to help cut through the grime, but I’ve never found it to be necessary.)

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3. Remove the detergent tray

The dirtiest part of my washing machine is always the detergent tray, so my next job is to give it a thorough clean.

But first, you’ll need to turn off the power to the washing machine as you’re going to be pulling bits out of it and generally fiddling around. While all modern washing machines have interlocks that prevent them running if the door is open, I’m a cautious person, and you should be too.

With everything turned off, you can pull out the detergent tray. Mine has a tongue that needs depressing to release it but yours might have a different arrangement. If so, your owner’s manual or a quick Google search (YouTube is great for these kind of things) should come up with instructions on how to remove it.

Once it is out, cleaning it is simply a matter of scrubbing it in the sink with warm, soapy water. I use an old toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies and while the first time might take a few minutes as the old detergent seems to get almost baked on, subsequent sessions should take only seconds.

4. Check the door seal

The second dirtiest part of your front-loading washing machine is likely to be the door seal. If you open the door and gently pull the front lip towards you, you will be amazed at the gunk and detritus in there, some of which is almost certainly mould and mildew.

Cleaning it is easy; simply take out anything that shouldn’t be in there (which will be small coins in the main if your family is anything like mine) and then wipe it with a damp cloth. Stubborn stains can be removed with a proprietary kitchen cleaner but I’ve never found it necessary to use anything other than soapy water.

It’s worth checking it for tears and nicks while you’re there; it’s far better to replace a damaged seal now than to suffer the inconvenience and expense of a leak at a later date.

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5. Clean the filter

Your washing machine will have a filter on the drain pump, which needs removing and cleaning every now and then too.

Mine is hidden behind a flap on the front of the machine and can be unscrewed and pulled out relatively easily. Your machine might be different, and so you should check the manual to see how to clean yours; if you get it wrong you could end up with water all over the floor. (You’re way ahead of me here, aren’t you?)

Mine is always full of fluff and gunge, which shows that it’s doing its job. I had a chat with a washing machine repairman recently, and he told me that this is the one thing that hardly anyone does but it is the one cleaning task that makes the biggest difference to the longevity of the appliance.

6. Leave the door ajar

Now that your washing machine is nice and clean you should leave the door and detergent dispenser tray slightly ajar. This lets air circulate and helps prevent smells building up in there.

Of course, if you’re mildly OCD like me, you’ll find this the most difficult part of the whole process…

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7. Use less detergent

Modern washing powders and detergents are so effective that you could probably use much less of them than you are currently using - and I know that you’re just following the instructions on the packet but the manufacturers have a vested interest in encouraging you to use more than you really need to.

So why not try and reduce the amount, especially when you’re running an everyday load that isn’t that dirty? Using less detergent is better for the environment, your pocket, and your washing machine!

That’s it, that’s all there is to keeping your washing machine in good health. I try to run through this every month or so, and I’ve got it down to a ten-minute job now I know what I’m doing.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.