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

Categories Laundry
vinegar or bleach to clean washing machine

Is your washing machine smelly? Do you do cold washes a lot? Maybe your ‘clean’ clothes don’t smell so clean anymore? It must be time for a detox! Should you use bleach or will vinegar clean your washing machine just as well?

Should you buy a special cleaning product or is it possible to take a natural approach and grab whatever you have sitting in your cleaning cupboard?

So many questions. Let’s find some answers!

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Why I recently cleaned my machine

Recently I cleaned my washing machine so I could get ready to switch to Ecoegg. Ecoegg recommends that you give your washing machine a good detox before you switch to make sure there is no old soap hanging around to taint your new chemical-free wash. They even supply a cleansing tablet that you pop into the drum.

Ecoegg Washing Machine Cleaner Front and Top Load Including HE
Ecoegg Washing Machine Cleaner Front and Top Load Including HE

Unfortunately, the Ecoegg I ordered didn’t come with a detox tablet. You can buy them separately, but to be honest they seemed a bit expensive to me. Surely there is another way?

Why clean a washing machine?

You would think that a washing machine would stay naturally clean wouldn’t you? After all, it’s cleaning the laundry, 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?

Why you need both vinegar and bleach

When I did my last clean I used both vinegar and bleach and it did the job superbly.

I put soda crystals in the drum and then ran a 90deg wash and vinegar went into the conditioner section of the drawer.

Why both?

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 and neutralising smells, plus it is good for dissolving limescale.

Which type of vinegar to use to clean your washing machine

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

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.

What bleach to use to clean your washing machine

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 used bathroom bleach such as Domestos or Clorox to clean out my machine in the past, but I have to say that it didn’t go well. I must have used too much because I ended up with loads of suds that spewed out into the sink next to it. Apparently having too many suds can hamper the cleaning process.

I find Milton sterilizing tablets work best. They are easy to use, just throw in a single tablet, and there is no chance of using too much. I have also used Zoflora in the past too.

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

Washing soda crystals do a great job too. I got these from my local supermarket very cheaply.

Dri-Pak Soda Crystals (1kg / 2.2 lb bag)
Dri-Pak Soda Crystals (1kg / 2.2 lb bag)

*Warning* Don’t mix vinegar and bleach!

The answer to our question of whether to use vinegar or bleach to clean a washing machine is actually both, 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 put the bleach in the drum and the vinegar in the conditioner drawer after the bleach has been washed out.

If you are at all worried, use washing soda crystals in the drum instead.

How to clean a washing machine that smells

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 to. For me that is 90deg. The chemicals help to clean too, but it is really the water that is doing most of the work.

Another key is not to put any laundry in the washer. Run an empty wash. You don’t want to give your washer unnecessary extra work.

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. Some manufacturers say that it will damage the machine and may null your warranty, so do check that to be sure.

Related reading:

Step 1 Add chemicals to the drum and conditioner drawer

Add your chosen chemicals directly to the drum and the conditioner drawer.

For the drum, you could use soda crystals or a small amount of bathroom bleach, a Milton sterilizing tablet or a cap of Zoflora.

Step 2 Select a high-temperature wash

It’s the high temperature that does most of the work, so do make sure you select the highest temperature wash that you can.

Step 3 Run a cycle

Wait while the cycle runs. You should not see too many suds, if you do, you’ve added too much bleach.

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

Read on for more directions for cleaning the door and the drawer of your washing machine.

What to clean your washing machine door seal with

I have to say that my washing machine door seal rarely gets grimy. I think that might be because I never use fabric conditioners. If you’re getting problems with a dirty door seal why not try swapping out your fabric conditioner for some vinegar? Vinegar does a great job of softening fibres too.

How to clean a mouldy door seal

If your door seal has mould on it, your best option is to use a mould killer spray and leave it to work before rinsing it off. You can use a supermarket brand or something like RMR-86 Black Mold Remover.

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

If your seal is just generally grubby, make a spray of 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and give it a scrub. This will also do a good job of cleaning the glass.

How to clean your washing machine drawer

Remove the draw and scrub it in some soapy water. If it has mould on it you may need some mould remover too.

Clean inside the drawer cavity too. Often there will be grime there where unused detergent has collected.

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.

If you know me, you know that I never buy white goods from new. 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, which wasn’t mine. The first thing I had to do was to give it a clean inside and out.

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.

Some commenters have said that doing a weekly 60deg hot wash for linen keeps their washer clean and there is no need for a maintenance wash.

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.

Frequently asked questions

a bank of washing machines

Can you clean your washing machine with a dishwasher tablet?

A dishwasher tablet is not to be used for washing clothes of course, but great for cleaning the drum. Just pop one in and run a hot cycle and the tablet should clean out the drum and the pipes and give you a gleaming machine.

Is it OK to use vinegar in a washing machine?

Yes, it’s fine to use vinegar. However, check your washing machine manual first. Some manufacturers will say you mustn’t use it.

Can you clean a washing machine naturally?

Yes, select all-natural products, such as vinegar, washing soda crystals or baking soda.

Can you clean a washing machine with apple cider vinegar?

Yes, you can use any kind of vinegar for your maintenance wash.

Can you clean a washing machine with soda crystals and Zoflora?

Yes, you can. I love Zoflora because it smells so gorgeous!

Zoflora Winter Assortment Concentrated Antibacterial Disinfectant Bottles Assorted (6 x 120ml)
Zoflora Winter Assortment Concentrated Antibacterial Disinfectant Bottles Assorted (6 x 120ml)

Just pop in a scoop of soda crystals and a capful of Zoflora in the drum and put your washer on a hot wash and you should have a clean, fresh-smelling washer.

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Penny | SparklingPenny

Hi, I'm Penny. A busy mum of two boys and one dog, with the aim to enjoy life to the full.