Should You Use Vinegar or Bleach To Clean Your Washing Machine?

Updated byPenny
Should You Use Vinegar or Bleach To Clean Your Washing Machine?

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Is your washing machine smelly? Do you do cold washes a lot? Maybe your clean clothes don’t smell fresh anymore?

If that is happening to you, then giving your washing machine a deep clean is probably all that’s needed.

But is it better to use bleach or will vinegar clean your washing machine just as well?

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Why clean a washing machine?

You would think that a washing machine would stay naturally clean. After all, it’s cleaning the laundry, so why doesn’t it clean itself too?

The reality is that soap scum can build up inside the machine, made much worse by low-temperature washing, which we are all encouraged to do nowadays.

The great news is that you can break the grunge cycle by scheduling in a monthly maintenance wash, where you turn the temperature dial up to maximum and then bung in a few simple chemicals to help it on its way to cleanliness.

Which is best to clean a washing machine – vinegar or bleach?

You can use either vinegar or bleach, but they work best when used together.

Bleach combined with the hot temperature breaks down the scum inside the machine and kills bacteria.

Vinegar finishes everything off by helping to kill bacteria, neutralizing smells, and dissolving limescale.

What type of vinegar is best?

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity (White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 fl oz.))
Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 oz) - 5% Acidity (White Vinegar, 1 Gallon (128 fl oz.))

I use white distilled vinegar to clean my washing machine, but you can use any type, even the brown kind like malt or apple cider.

I put enough vinegar in to fill the conditioner compartment, which was about 30ml, so not much at all was needed.

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What type of bleach is best?

When I think of bleach, I think of the kind I use to clean the bathroom. But there are lots of different kinds, of course.

I have tried ordinary bathroom bleach like Domestos or Clorox to clean my machine. However, it was way too easy to use too much! I ended up with an excessive amount of suds. Having too many suds can hinder the cleaning process.

I found that Milton sterilizing tablets work best, because they have the same effect as bleach, but they are much easier to use. I just throw in a single tablet, and there are no suds.

Milton Mini Sterilising Tablets - by Milton
Milton Mini Sterilising Tablets - by Milton

*Warning* Don’t mix vinegar and bleach!

You can use both bleach and vinegar to clean out your washing machine, but you must not use them at the same time.

You should never mix vinegar and bleach because together they produce toxic fumes. That’s why I suggest putting the bleach in the drum and the vinegar in the conditioner drawer, so it goes in the wash after the bleach has been washed out.

How to clean your washing machine with vinegar and bleach

washing machine with door open

There are loads of different ways to clean your washing machine, but the key thing is to select the highest temperature that your washer goes.

The chemicals help to clean too, but it is really the water that is doing most of the work.

Always run an empty wash.

You might also have a special maintenance cycle on your machine. I used to have a Hotpoint washer that had one, but my current Zanussi machine does not. If yours has one, check your manual for advice on what chemicals they advise using.

Another thing to check would be whether it is OK to use vinegar in your particular machine. Some manufacturers say that it will damage the machine, so do check that to be sure.

Related reading:

Step 1 Add bleach to the drum and vinegar to the fabric softener compartment

Add the bleach directly to the drum, and then add vinegar in the place where you would normally add fabric softener. A couple of tablespoons of vinegar will work, or however much will fit in the compartment.

As I said earlier, I found that a Milton Sterilizing tablet is the best. It contains bleach, but doesn’t suds up. If you are using ordinary toilet bleach, make sure to use only a small amount.

Step 2 Select a high-temperature wash

It’s the high temperature that does most of the work. If you have the option on your machine, turn the spin cycle off, as there is no need to for that.

Step 3 Run a hot cycle

Wait while the cycle runs. You should not see too many suds, if you do, you’ve added too much bleach! The best thing to do at that point is to stop the machine and wait for the suds to subside.

Step 4 Run a rinse cycle

At the end, I like to run another rinse just to make sure everything has been washed away.

Step 5 Wash the door and the drawer

Make up a spray bottle of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and give the door and the seal a good scrub all around.

If you’re getting problems with a dirty door seal try swapping out your usual fabric conditioner for some vinegar. Vinegar does a great job of softening fibres.

If your door seal has mold on it, your best option is to use a mold killer spray and leave it to work before rinsing it off.

RMR-86 Instant Mold and Mildew Stain Remover Spray - Scrub Free Formula, 32 Fl Oz
RMR-86 Instant Mold and Mildew Stain Remover Spray - Scrub Free Formula, 32 Fl Oz

Remove the dispenser drawer and soak it in some soapy water.

When to clean your washing machine

When to clean your washing machine

1. When it’s second-hand

Always give your machine a clean out if you got it second-hand.

My current washing machine was purchased nearly new on eBay and cost half the price (very pleased).

The machine was only 3 months old. The only smell it had was of the previous owner’s choice of detergent. The first thing I did was to run a maintenance wash.

2. Once per month (especially if you wash at low temps)

Get into the habit of cleaning your machine once per month to keep it pristine at all times. This is more important if you regularly wash at cold temperatures.

3. If it starts to smell

If you’re doing a monthly maintenance wash then you will probably never get a smelly washer, but if it starts to smell, it’s definitely time for a clean.

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Sparkling Penny

Penny | Sparkling Penny

Penny’s expert cleaning advice has been featured repeatedly by Homes and Gardens Magazine, and also at wikiHow, The Daily Express Newspaper, and Glam Magazine to name a few! was founded in 2019 and has since helped millions of people achieve a cleaner living space.

Share your thoughts

On  February 23, 2024   Mandy  said:

How did you get suds from bleach?

On  February 24, 2024   Penny  said:

Hi Mandy, that's interesting! The ordinary toilet bleach here in the UK creates a lot of suds if you use it in a washing machine! Maybe the the bleach you buy in the U.S does not? In which case you don't need to be so careful about how much you use.

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