How To Keep Your Washing Machine Clean: Smell, Mold & Germ-Free

Emily May/flickr

Is this the mark of a veteran homeowner (or a true grownup): you finally know how to keep your washing machine clean? Seems like I, personally, have been doing it all wrong. Since I “graduated” from the corner laundromat to a washer of my own, I swipe it down with a damp cloth  once in a blue moon, but apparently there’s more to good machine hygiene  than that.

Forget the old rumors about cell phones being a major source of germs; your washing machine (especially a front loader) has got them beat, unless you take proper care. In fact, to achieve clean, fresh, hygienic clothes, you have to re-learn how to keep your washing machine clean … the right way.

Here’s what I learned:

How To Keep Your Washing Machine Clean: 7 Essential Do’s and Don’ts

  1. DON’T overstuff your washing machine. Overloading does not permit clothes to tumble freely throughout the wash and spin cycles, leaving your laundry wet to the touch (not just damp) once it has done spinning. This will tend to result in moisture buildup in the washing machine drum, creating a humid environment which can foster mold growth.

  2. DON’T overdo it with detergent and softener, either. For a high efficiency washer, use HE laundry detergent; follow the manufacturer’s directions for recommended type and amount. Avoid liquid fabric softener; instead, add a softener sheet to your dryer or better yet, an eco-friendly wool or rubber dryer ball. Overloads of both detergent and fabric softener can result in a mold-friendly residue on the washing machine interior.
    dryer balls Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/flickr
  3. DON’T leave wet clothes sitting in the machine. No matter how busy you are, either transfer clothes to the dryer -- or clothesline -- right away, or stash them temporarily in a laundry basket. This simple step will keep both your washer and your clothes fresher and pleasanter-smelling.

  4. DO let your washer air out between loads. Wipe the gasket to dry it and remove any pet hair or other gunk. Then leave the door or lid open. (If you have curious small children or pets, use one of the cute little gadgets available to prop open the machine partially or install a lock on your laundry room.) For a front loading machine, pull out the detergent dispenser drawer halfway. 
  1. DO clean your washer regularly. Every 40 loads, run your machine on SANITIZE or a special setting such as Samsung’s PURE. Add bleach, white vinegar*, or hydrogen peroxide as recommended, but DON’T mix these chemicals and DON'T add soiled clothing. This is “me time” for your washer, a long-cycle, high temperature soak. Alternatively, use a washing machine cleanser like Affresh. You might also need to pull out and scrub the detergent compartment – phew!!

    washer controls Rogan Josh/morgueFile
  2. DO take special care when someone is ill. Run the SANITIZE cycle to kill germs in your washing machine after you've done a laundry load of clothes for a sick housemate. Wash your hands well, too – both after loading the washer and after transferring wet clothing to the dryer.  

  3. DON’T forget to keep your laundry area dry. A small, cramped laundry room, particularly one without a window, is likely to need some extra ventilation. Find a reliable handyman to install an exhaust fan (and possibly a dehumidifier as well) to pull out moist air.

*CAVEAT: White vinegar, especially in undiluted form, has been known to damage some synthetic rubber gaskets. Always check your washing machine user manual to see whether it is safe.

detergent dispenser Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/flickr

Laura Firszt writes for

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