How To Clean A Washing Machine…Without Hurting The Environment!

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Finding out how to clean a washing machine naturally can help reduce chemical waste and prolong the life of your appliance, which will benefit both your pocket and the planet. What’s not to like?

Many vegans try to do all they can to protect the environment, and that stretches way past simply changing their diet. Things like cleaning chores, however, can easily get overlooked, which is why I decided to put together this post.

Hopefully, once you’ve read through it you’ll be able to do away with bleach and other harsh cleaning products that pollute our waterways and cause harm to numerous species along the way.

If you follow the maintenance tips as well, you’ll also cut down the amount of time you spend doing this boring job as well, which is always welcome!

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how to clean a washing machine, though, let’s take a quick look at why it’s important that you do and what causes your drum to hum in the first place.

Why do washing machines get dirty?

Dog with his head in a full basket of dirty laundry.

Obviously, keeping anything clean is important (who wants to live with dirty stuff?), but regular washing machine sanitization can easily get left. After all, it’s supposed to be a cleaning machine…why would we need to clean it?

Well, over time, our washers can see a lot of pretty gruesome stuff. Everything from diapers and underwear to other unmentionables such as vomit and pet stained bedding can be thrown into our washing machines without much thought.

Naturally, with yucky stuff like this, bacteria can build up and take hold inside your drum and detergent tray. These unwelcome microorganisms are invisible, but they can soon lead to those all-too-familiar washing machine smells, which if left for too long can start to transfer to our clothes.

Mold and mildew can also build up in washers that haven’t been regular cleaned. Naturally, these are more visible than bacteria, so it’s often the sight of these that triggers us to clean our appliances, but we really should be more proactive.

Why keeping your washing machine clean is important

Repairman fixing a front loading washing machine.

As you can imagine after reading the above, keeping your washing machine clean should be a regular household chore.

Aside from the aforementioned transference of smells to your clothing, contamination can also occur. Microbiologist Dr. Charles P. Gerba actually says that your clothes may well be coming out of your washer dirtier than when they went in! (1)

Unfortunately, however, Dr. Gerba recommends cleaning your washing machine with bleach, which we’d like to avoid if at all possible. One key way to do this is to keep on top of things by cleaning your washer on a regular basis (more on this in the next section).

The reasons why you should keep your washing machine clean don’t end there, though. Leaving your washer dirty for prolonged periods can actually shorten the appliance’s lifespan.

Residue from fabric softeners and detergents can build up and clog vital parts of the machine, and you should also check the appliance’s lint trap and water filter regularly, too, should your machine have them. For those without, the regular cleaning cycles mentioned later in this article should help keep your washer in great condition. (2)


How often do you need to clean your washing machine?

So, now we know just how important keeping your appliance spick and span is, the next question to answer is, “How often should I clean my washing machine?”

There’s no lower limit for cleaning your washer, you can clean it as often as you want, but who wants to make this a daily chore? I usually do mine every six to eight weeks on average, largely dependant on what has gone into the drum.

Many manufacturers, however, recommend that you clean your washing machine on a monthly basis, so you may want to stick to that. (3)

How to clean a washing machine naturally

Jar of baking soda and a bottle of white vinegar on a dark wood desk.

Getting rid of washing machine smells and gunk is fairly simple if you make it a regular part of your cleaning regimen, however the steps will differ according to the type of appliance you have.

How to clean a front load washer with vinegar and baking soda

This baking soda comes in eco-friendly packaging

Cleaning a front loading washing machine is easy. All you need to do is add a cup of white distilled vinegar like this to the empty drum and a few of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda to the detergent drawer and then run a standard wash on the very highest heat setting for the longest period of time your appliance allows.

If you haven’t run a cleaning wash for a while (or ever!) you’ll need to keep watch as the machine does its thing. You may well notice a fair amount of suds as the vinegar and bicarb go to work on the residual washing detergent buildup within the washer.

This isn’t anything to worry about, but it pays to keep an eye on things just in case. Again, regular cleaning will help prevent excessive sudding (is that even a word?).

Once the wash has finished, take a look inside the drawer to make sure it’s sufficiently clean. Washing powder can be stubborn, so you may need to remove the drawer altogether and clean it by hand. You can do this in your dishwasher, or the sink if you don’t have one.

On occasion, you may need to give the gasket a once over with an old toothbrush or scouring brush. Again, you can use distilled vinegar for this job, but it’s wise to do this before running the wash as this will help remove any excess vinegar you may miss when wiping clean with warm water.

Front loading washing machines will also commonly have filters that require attention. Failing to clear washing machine filters is a common cause for problems with front load washers and can end up with you needing either a repair or even a new machine. Therefore, it’s well worth learning how to do keep yours clean.

Check your manual for details on how to do this as appliances will vary.

How to clean a top loading washing machine with vinegar and baking soda

Lucy’s distilled white vinegar is great for both cleaning and cooking

Cleaning a top loading washing machine is fairly similar to that of a front loader. You’ll need both the distilled white vinegar and baking soda, but the amounts you use will be different as top loading washing machines will generally be larger than their front loading counterparts.

First, give the rim and lid of your top loader a wash down with a damp cloth to ensure that it is free from dust and residue. You use either a mild dishwashing liquid for this or a vinegar and warm water solution in a spray bottle to get your appliance grime-free and ready for the main event.

Next up is the tub. Set the washer to the longest, hottest setting for the largest load and wait for the water to start filling the tub. Tip in three or four cups of distilled white vinegar and half a cup of baking soda straight into the tub and let the washer run.

As with the front loader, the vinegar and baking soda combo will go to work on any bacteria, mold, grease, and general dirt present in your appliance’s tub and pipework. Nice!

Finally, you’ll want to check the agitator and dispenser cup for residue. Remove the dispenser unit from the agitator and either place on the top shelf of your dishwasher or rinse clean in hot soapy water in your sink. Dry thoroughly.

Before replacing, give the agitator a quick going over with an old toothbrush to remove any excess detergent residue that may have built up, then clip your dispenser back in place. Job done!

Washing machine maintenance: How to keep your washer smelling fresh

Kitten asleep in a clean washing machine front loader drum

As with so many other odd jobs around the house, what you do day-to-day can have a big impact on the amount of work you’ll have to do when to task comes around…keeping your washing machine clean is no different.

Here are a few washing machine maintenance tips to follow if you want to make your life a whole lot easier:

  • Give heavily soiled clothes a rinse before placing in the washing machine.
  • Use the smallest amount of detergent you can get away with – excess washing powder or liquid can build up inside your appliance.
  • Remove the laundry as soon as the wash has finished.
  • Wipe down the door seal gasket to remove any pooling water.
  • Check detergent drawer on front loading machines to pooling water. Gently remove the tray and tip away the water if present.
  • Leave both the drawer and door open for a few hours after the wash finishes to allow the interior to dry out naturally. For top loaders, leave the lid up for a while.

These tips take no time at all, but they can help keep your washing smelling fresh and clean, which in turn will mean your clothes will, too.

About The Author:
Lisa Williams
Happy Happy Vegan editor

Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.

Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!

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Teddy bear inside a clean washing machine drum.
  1. Kim Carollo | Dirty Laundry? How Nasty Germs Survive in Your Washer |
  2. Wendy Graham | This Common Laundry Product Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good |
  3. Caylin Harris | How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine? |

4 thoughts on “How To Clean A Washing Machine…Without Hurting The Environment!”

  1. Hey Lisa,

    I know this post isn’t brand new, so maybe something’s changed, but Arm and Hammer aren’t cruelty free since they do animal testing.

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