Since electricity is now so very expensive, I have started washing all my laundry in cold water.
There is no exception to this rule, even for whites, because I just can't afford the cost now. I wrote a whole post recently where I share exactly how I do my laundry almost for free. Washing in cold water is essential for saving money on washing!
While washing cold helps to reduce the electricity bill substantially, cold washing temperatures can play havoc with the machine because bacteria can linger inside. If I don't run a maintenance cycle at least monthly, the machine starts to smell, plus the laundry gets a bit musty if I don't immediately take the washing out at the end of a cycle.
If you have a smelly machine right now, be assured that there is a very effective way of getting it fragrant again and all it takes is a couple of household items that you probably already have in your cupboard.
Today I am going to share exactly how I keep my washing machine in pristine condition.
Here is a quick low down in case you don't have time to read the whole post:
Add a cupful of washing soda crystals or baking soda directly to the drum. Then add a cupful of distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment. Set your washer to the hottest setting and run a full cycle.
I have read several articles around the internet that advise running two cycles. One with baking soda and a second with vinegar. I have never found that necessary. Running just one cycle and adding vinegar to the rinse water seems to work just fine. Why run two cycles when you can do it in one?
I sometimes use affiliate links. When you click these links and make a purchase, I may get a small commission. It won’t cost you anything but it helps me to run this site.
Why clean your washing machine?
You should clean your washing machine at least monthly in the following circumstances:
- You regularly wash at cold temperatures. Cold temperatures don't kill as much bacteria in the machine as washing warm or hot.
- The washing machine starts to smell. If your machine starts to smell it is definitely time to clean it.
- When you buy a second-hand machine. Who knows what the previous owner washed in it? When I got my machine on eBay. I made sure to run a couple of maintenance washes before I used it for the first time.
Over time, bacteria and old detergent can build up in your machine. If you have hard water in your area, the old detergent is more likely to form scum. The best way to get rid of it is to run a maintenance wash with a couple of simple ingredients.
Things you will need to make homemade washing machine cleaner
- 1 cup of baking soda or washing soda crystals. Washing soda and baking soda are both brilliant at dissolving grease and grime. Plus they can neutralize odors.
- 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Vinegar can kill bacteria in your drum and neutralize smells.
- A few drops of essential oil. This is optional but it makes the machine smell gorgeous.
- Cloth (for wiping around the rim and the front of the machine).
- Rubber gloves (optional).
How to clean your washing machine with homemade washing machine cleaner
Step 1. Remove all laundry from the machine
The drum must be empty for the best result.
Step 2. Add one cup of washing soda crystals or baking soda directly to the drum
I always use washing soda crystals for this because I can buy them in big bags quite cheaply from Wilko or the local supermarket. You can also use baking soda or bicarbonate of soda which is the same thing. I also use washing soda crystals as a laundry additive so I can use less detergent.
- How To Do Your Laundry (almost) For Free (and still get a great wash)
- Pros And Cons of Homemade Laundry Detergent
- 10 Frugal Laundry Day Hacks To Make Your Washing Days Easier and Cheaper
- How To Wash Clothes Without Soap
- Best Homemade Grout Cleaner
Step 3. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment
Vinegar is pretty potent stuff and does a great job of killing bacteria inside the machine.
You might not be able to fit in a whole cup's worth of vinegar into the conditioner compartment, but fill it up as much as you can.
Alternatively, keep an eye on when your washer is rinsing and add it as the water flows into the drum.
Optionally add a few drops of essential oils to the fabric softener compartment. My favorite for this is lemon essential oil.
Step 4. Run your hottest wash
Now run the hottest and longest wash you have available.
Step 5. Clean the detergent drawer
When the cycle has finished, take out the detergent dispenser drawer and soak it in some warm soapy water for a few minutes or until the grime starts to lift and you can wipe it off easily. If it is really grungy add some soda crystals to the water for extra cleaning power.
Step 6. Wipe around the rim
Take a damp cloth and wipe around the rubber seal of the machine.
Step 7. Clean out the filter
A clogged filter will prevent your washing machine from running optimally. Unfortunately on my machine, it isn't possible to access the filter without taking the machine apart, very annoying! I have to be very careful to check pockets etc. before I run a wash.
If you are able to remove the filter, run it under a cold tap to remove any debris.
Now you have a clean washing machine, let's try and keep it that way!
How to prevent your washing machine from smelling
There are several things you can do that will help to prevent your machine from getting smelly in-between maintenance washes.
This is what I have found works well:
- Don't overload the machine. If you overload the machine, it can't wash or rinse properly and you end up with detergent building up in the machine. A rule of thumb is to make sure you can easily fit your hand vertically on top of the washing.
- Don't use too much detergent. Excess detergent will build up inside your machine and make a grungy mess.
- Run a hot cycle at least once a week. If you can, try to run a hot wash once a week to keep your machine sanitary. A good time to do this is when you are washing bedding.
- Add distilled white vinegar to every wash. Vinegar is great at killing bacteria in your laundry and your washing machine, plus it naturally softens fibers so there is no need for fabric softeners.
- Avoid fabric softeners. I find that fabric softeners cause the rubber rim to go moldy, plus it can build up in the machine.
- Keep your machine limescale free. Keep the machine running optimally by keeping limescale at bay. You can do this by adding vinegar to every wash.
I pop this Magnoball into every wash to keep limescale in check. The magnets inside somehow crystallize the limescale allowing it to wash away. I don't fully understand the science, all I know is that it seems to work!
Frequently asked questions
How often to clean your washing machine?
Run a hot maintenance wash once per month to keep germs at bay and flush out old detergent scum.
Is it ok to use bleach to clean your washing machine?
You can safely use bleach in your washing machine. However, be careful not to use too much as it can lather up too much inside the machine.
Why do washing machines smell?
Washing at cooler temperatures, and using too much detergent or fabric softener can result in a smelly washing machine.
Can I use regular detergent to clean my washing machine?
Yes, you can use your regular detergent to clean your washing machine. Add a small amount to your empty machine (much less than you would use in a normal load) then set the machine on a hot intensive cycle.