How to clean a washing machine: 6 step guide to banish mould and bad odours

With many of us ticking tasks off our cleaning to-do list, the only thing left is the washing machine. How do you clean it? How often should you clean your washing machine? All your questions answered…

Washing machine
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eliminate bad odours and get rid of mould for good with our easy guide on how to clean a washing machine.

Clothes can sometimes come out of the washing machine damp or smelling musty - especially if you leave your wet clothing in the washing machine. This happens due to a build up of dirt, limescale or detergent, so your clothes are coming out with this residue on them even though they've been through a full cycle wash.

A dirty machine can also have an unpleasant smell that can be a sign of other problems, like mould growing, which is why you need Mrs Hinch cleaning tips on how to clean a washing machine and how to clean with vinegar.

How to clean a washing machine

No one quite knows how to clean with readily available household products and minimal fuss like Sophie Hincliffe, AKA. Mrs Hinch. These are her tried and tested techniques to getting a perfectly clean washing machine every time.

1. Gather everything you'll need

To clean a washing machine you will need:

Cleaning a washing machine doesn't take long to do, explains Mrs Hinch: "I would like to give the washing machine a quick clean, nothing too drastic because I do this often so it doesn't build up that much."

2. Remove the detergent draw

Take the detergent draw out of the washing machine completely, place it in the sink and then clean it with the bathroom spray.

"I use Flash bathroom spray to clean this because it removes soap scum, perfect for removing old fabric softener," Sophie says.

3. Clean the drawer cavity

Surprisingly, the space where the drawer sits can get really dirty, so "pop in a scoop of bicarb and spray white vinegar in the drawer."

High Angle View Of Person Using Washing Machine

Put bicarb in your washing machine drawer to clean it out. (Credit: Getty)

Clean out the drawer thoroughly, making sure that you tackle the sides and top of the space as well using a sponge or scrubber. After this, rinse away any remaining dirt with some water.

4. Clean out the rubber rim around the door

This is one of the main places that mildew and other nasty smells builds up as it gets trapped here between washes.

For this, Mrs Hinch recommends spritzing the rim with Flash bathroom spray and using the moppet sponge as it's "perfect for this, it gets right in there."

5. Drain the filter

This is going to involve water spilling out onto the floor, so this is where the baking tray and tea towel or cloth comes in.

Man using a washing machine

Credit: Getty

"Next, time for the filter!" Sophie says in the video, "Put your baking tray down and tea towel, it catches the water. Or use your cloth."

A baking tray is the perfect size normally for just fitting snugly between the bottom of the washing machine and the floor, so it catches all the water. Then "clean the filter [using Flash bathroom spray] and screw it back on."

6. Wash out the drum

This is the easiest bit of the whole process, as Mrs Hinch just adds bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to the drum (along with all the dirty cloths used).

Dry off the drawer, put it back into the machine and then give the front of the machine a spritz with either the Flash bathroom spray or a window and glass cleaner for shine. If you've got any scrapes on the washing machine, you can try to use this genius hack to get rid of scratches.

With all the parts of the machine back together and the dirty clothes inside, put the machine on a quick wash.

Alternatively, you can use bleach to clean the drum of the washing machine. It's a good way to deep clean a washing machine, especially if you've never cleaned it before, or if the machine has been exposed to more bacteria than usual - such as blood or dirt.

woman putting clothes in machine

Credit: Getty

To do this, add 60ml of neat bleach to your detergent drawer and then run your machine on a hot cycle. After this is done, put it on an extra rinse to make sure that any remaining bleach residue has been filtered out. Take a sniff inside the drum and if you can still smell any bleach whatsoever, run another empty cycle.

There are a couple of things to be aware of though. Bleach is very reactive, so it's important to only use the 60ml amount and not to add any other cleaning products to the drum or drawer when you are doing a bleach wash. If you do, it could create a lot of foam which could end up coming out of the machine or causing other mechanical issues.

Sometimes though, this method is better avoided altogether. "Personally I don't use any strong bleach cleaners," Mrs Hinch explains, "Because I worry it will come out on my clothes in my next wash load, this has happened to me before. Plus I always have these products in the house anyway so it's a win-win, no need to buy anything extra." 

Best products to use to clean a washing machine

Along with the products recommended by Mrs Hinch, we love these cleaning favourites for giving the washing machine a good clean.

  • Dettol Anti Bacterial Washing Machine Cleaner, £2.50 - BUY NOW
  • Astonish Bathroom Cleaner, £1.38 - BUY NOW
  • Method Antibacterial Spray, £3 - BUY NOW
  • Ecozone Magnoball (anti-limescale), £9.48 - BUY NOW
  • Spontex Handy Sponge, £1.50 - BUY NOW
  • Duzzit sponge scourers, £2 - BUY NOW

How often should you clean a washing machine?

Giving your washing machine a clean every month is a good idea, according to Curry's repair advice service.  "We recommend doing it once a month. If you’re starting to get little black spots building up inside your door seal, or you can see sludge when you gently pull the door seal back, it’s time for a wash."

Woman putting clothes in the machine

Credit: Getty

This will help eliminate any lurking bacteria, but if your machine has been exposed to bodily fluids like blood, then you should wash it straight afterwards on the highest temperature, with diluted bleach added to the machine.

How to keep your washing machine fresh between cleans

To keep your washing machine fresh between cleans, Curry's recommends leaving the door open between washes to ensure that there's only limited mildew build-up over time and cleaning the rubber rim around the door regularly to prevent mould festering in the crevices.

You should also run the empty hot wash cycle (normally about 60 degrees) once a month, or enable the machine's own cleaning cycle.

If you're washing a lot of dirty, heavy-duty items such as outdoor work clothes, it's a good idea to give your washing machine a refresh every once in a while.

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Mariana Cerqueira
Lifestyle Editor

Mariana is a lifestyle writer who has written for and My Imperfect Life. She joined the team as an intern after completing her journalism MA at City University. After six months spent writing about food, celebrity news, and family trends, Mariana left to write for Healthy Food magazine - but returned in 2017, to join the Future team once again. In her spare time, you’ll find Mariana in the kitchen cooking for her friends.