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Sanitizing Your Washing Machine

I mentioned that I sanitize my washing machine on the first of the month, and I got several emails about how to do that.  And why you would do that.  And who has the time to do that.

I’m so happy you asked.

Honestly, I am blessed to own a washer in which I can run a ‘Clean Washer Cycle.’  I literally put in bleach, turn the dial, and then push start.  It’s so simple.

But how do you sanitize if your machine doesn’t offer that feature?  Let’s first start with why you need to occasionally clean your machine.

Why do I need to sanitize my machine?

  • You know the ‘ring around the tub’?  (I’m sure this is never in your tub as it is in mine…).  This is often the case with a top-loader.  Water only goes so high in the tub of a top-loader (as in a bathtub) and often a soap scummy substance can build up there.  And soap scum does not lead to clean clothes in my opinion.  Front loaders rarely have this issue since the drum continuously turns and water does not just sit at one level.
  • If your house has endured the stomach bug and you have little kids that can’t hit a bucket.  This produces a lot of gross laundry.
  • You have some type of varmint issue: lice, red bugs, fleas, bed  bugs
  • Machine maintenance.  It is so much easier to maintain something than fix it.

The only product needed to sanitize a washer is bleach. Bleach is the only product that can adequately kill viruses, germs and bacteria.  There is a reason the hospitals rely on a 10:1 concentration of bleach.  It’s extremely effective when used in the correct concentration.

When diluting bleach, wear gloves and dilute it in a well-ventilated area.  Bleach may seem harmless since it’s a product all of us have on our shelves at home.  But be extremely careful – it can be caustic and can seriously hurt your airways, skin, eyes and mucous membranes.  Don’t ever use bleach casually – always be extremely cautious and alert.

Bleach must be in a 10:1 concentration to be effective in killing germs.  10 parts water to 1 part bleach.  In a well-ventilated area while donning gloves, measure 10 Tablespoons of water to 1 Tablespoon of bleach or 10 cups of water to 1 cup of bleach, or 5 cups of water to 1/2 cup of bleach.  The concentration is important here, so be careful when measuring.  You can store this in a spray bottle that is clearly marked with the solution concentration.  Don’t assume everyone knows what’s in the bottle or that you’ll remember what solution is in there.  Even if you live alone it is necessary to label hand-mixed solutions.

How to sanitize a top-loader:

  • Using your newly mixed solution, heavily spray down the inside of the washer’s tub, ensuring you spray down the agitator also.  Let the solution sit a few minutes to loosen the grimy areas.
  • Use a lightly abrasive substance to scrub and remove the grime build-up.  I would use a dishcloth that has a mesh backing to scrub or a Scotchbrite pad that is extremely mild.  Your top-loader either has a stainless-steel drum or one coated in enamel.  If it is coated in enamel, be extremely careful not to scratch it.  Once scratched it will rust and rust on clothes is a whole other post.
  • Scrub every surface of the inside tub and agitator and respray your bleach solution as needed.  Scrub up under the lip of tub as it is usually pretty gunky.
  • When you are satisfied with your scrubbing job,  move onto the lid of the machine.  Spray down and wipe everything – inside, outside, lip of the lid.
  • Close the lid.  Spray your solution on the entire outside of the machine surface that is accessible and then wipe down with your cloth or scrubber.  If you are able to remove the knobs, you can rinse those in warm, soapy water.  Once you look at it closely, you’ll see that there is probably more gunk on there than you realized.  It’s easy to spill a drop or two of detergent and those few drops make things sticky in a hurry.
  • Finally, you need to run a regular wash cycle in your machine using a cup of bleach using hot water.  It may seem wasteful, but set the water level on the highest setting.  You want as much of the inside drum to be ‘washed’ as possible.  You can even throw in your rag/scrubber that you used to clean your machine.

How to sanitize a front-loader:

  • Using your newly mixed bleach solution, heavily spray down the inside of the washing drum and let the solution sit a few minutes.  While the drums of front-loaders usually don’t have grimy build-up, they still need to be washed out.
  • Using a rag, wipe out the entire interior of the drum, including the fins (agitator paddles) that are molded to the drum.
  • Heavily spray down the rubber seal around the door – the inside and outside portion – and again let the solution sit a few minutes.  Using a slightly abrasive scrubber, scrub down every portion of the rubber seal especially if there is mildew or mold there.  You might need to spray several more times and repeat.  If there is mold on your seal, bleach is the only substance that will kill it.
  • Move onto the door of the washer and spray down the inside with your bleach solution.  There is often a grimy substance on the door, so be thorough.
  • Close the door and spray every available surface of the outer part of the machine and wipe down with a soft cloth.
  • Lastly, throw in your cleaning rags and run a normal wash using hot water with 1/4-1/2 cup bleach in your dispenser.  Remember that most front loaders adjust the amount of water based on how full the drum is, so throw in all of your dirty rags – not just one or two.

I use a bleach solution to clean out the inside of my washer on the first day of the month.  It’s an easy time to remember and I wrote it on my calendar until it became a habit (that may or may not have taken 9+ months to form…).

I only use a bleach solution on the outside of my washer if I think it has had gross things touch it such as little kid vomit bedding, etc.  Otherwise I use soapy water.  I don’t like to use something more harsh when a milder solution will do a fine job.

Do you have specific questions about how to sanitize your washer? Feel free to leave a comment.

Comments

  1. Just what this germ freak, bleach-aholic needed!

    Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Crystal & Co´s last blog ..Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe =-.

  2. Thank you for reminding me to do this. I have no excuse, because my Miele washing machine has a cleaning cycle too. I like your idea of the 1st of the month, and just added it to my outlook calendar.

  3. Great idea to schedule monthly – now if only I looked at my to-do list! Great tips as usual!!
    .-= lynn @ Maven of Savin´s last blog ..Publix Deals 3/11 – 3/17 =-.

  4. I was smelling a dead varmint smell around my front loading HE washer. I just took a load of white clothes out of the washer and found a dead chipmunk. I will do the spray cleaning you mentioned, but is it harmful to put straight bleach into the washer to run a cycle to more thoroughly clean the internal parts of the machine? Should I run it through with cleaning rags?

    Thanks for advice. I’ve got the freaked out/grossed out factor to deal with… Tracy

    • mamalaundry says:

      Oh Tracy. That is a nightmarish circumstance to me and I am OH so sorry you’re dealing with it!

      Does your machine have a ‘Clean Washer’ cycle? If so, I would do that first. And maybe 2 or 3 times just for good measure.

      If it doesn’t, I would run several loads on the ‘normal’ cycle with clorox and cleaning rags. If your front-loader is empty, it won’t ‘sense’ that it needs to put a lot of water into the drum. If there are rags in there, it will sense how much water it needs to dispense. And you want lots of water in this instance.

      If you have a bleach dispenser, put the bleach in that spot. If you don’t have a dispenser, yes, put bleach right in the machine along with the old rags and wash away.

      Again, so so sorry…

      Let me know if you have questions!

      -Lauren

  5. Lisa Bowman says:

    Thank you for your tips…I clean my front end loader in and out. i dry it out every time i use it. We started to notice that our clothes weren’t smelling fresh, then noticed that the rubber seal is black and is stained from mold. I bought some cleaning solution from sears that worked ok. I did not know that after washing and wiping dry, you are suppose to leave the door open, so Sears said. Yesterday, i put bleach in there and used hot water and the stain is still there. Do you have ANY suggestions that I can do to get the stain out?

    • mamalaundry says:

      Have you tried a mold and mildew product? Like Lysol Mold & Mildew?

      I’m not sure it will work on a rubber surface, but it would be worth a try. Also, maybe a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser would get the stain out.

      -Lauren

  6. I have a question. Our machine is a top loader but you can’t set the water level..it does it for you..what do you suggest to be able to do this with? Would old towels work? I’m concerned about either a) overloading it or b) throwing it off balance. Thank you in advance for your help.

  7. You said you only need bleach to sanitize the washer. I do have a clean washer cycle on my machine. How much bleach should I put in? Thank you.

  8. Hi- I’ve had issues with my cats using the bathroom on my laundry lately. This leads me to two questions: 1) do you know what, if anything gets out cat urine from clothes? 2) apparantly when i threw in a load of laundry, a peice of cat poop came in with it. I’m seriously grossed out by this. I’m planning to sanitize the machine like you suggested, but Im not sure about the clothes that got washed with the poop. I have a strong urge to throw them all away. Do you think they’re salvagable?
    Thank you!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Jordan,

      I completely agree that sanitizing the washer needs to be in your future. ;)

      As for the clothes, I’d wash them on the hottest cycle possible with an ample amount of premium detergent (think Tide et al). Definitely do a vinegar rinse and see if that will get the smell out.

      So try that and let me know if it works. If not, I’ll help you with Plan B.

      -Lauren

    • Jordan –

      May I respectfully suggest that you do not leave your clothes where they might be accessible to your cats?

      I had “issues” with my cats too (thankfully not on clothing tho). I highly recommend that you address the litter situation — is the box easily accessible? Is the litter to their liking? Most importantly, is the litter box cleaned (daily) and sanitized now and then? This is a behavioral issue for your cats (and unpleasant for you!)

      • Hi Maura- Thankfully this is no longer an issue for us. It turns out it was neighborhood cats coming into our garage and doing this and not our own cats. We had a time where we were leaving the garage door open at the bottom to allow our cats access to the house via the kitty door in the garage vs the doggy door into the backyard because we were trying to keep the dog out of the house. The dog was having problems controlling her bladder, and with a one year old, I couldn’t have her in the house. We started her on hormone therapy and the problem is resolved so no more animal urine issues in my house or my garage, thank God!
        ps. Lauren- thank you for the tips, it worked! Although,as a previous poster was saying, I too am having trouble getting rid of the black stain on the rubber seal of my front loader. Has anyone found something that works? Thanks!

  9. Rae-Ann DePeel says:

    I also have a problem with that black stain on the rubber of my front loader, and am interesed in anyones suggestions for getting it out. I also have a couple things to add when cleaning your front loader. In regards to the soap scum issue, remember to pull out (if you can) your soap/bleach/fabric softner despenser. I know mine gets pretty gross with mildew and soap scum. Luckily I think most will come out for easy cleaning. The other thing is a valve behind a door in the bottom corner (at least on my Samsung) that needs to be opened on occasion to let excess standing water drain out. It can be another source of the stink with these machines. As Lisa said, you need to leave your door open when not in use.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Rae-Ann – great suggestions! Thanks for leaving them.

      Often times, the black stain from the mildew/mold is just that – a stain. As long as you’ve bleached it well to kill the spores, you’re safe in terms of it being a hazard. A mildew stain is hard to remove though. You might try a mildew remover made for bathrooms.

  10. I found your blog via Pinterest. Thank you for your wonderful suggestions and insight. I am a homemaker of 40 years and just purchased my first set of front-load laundry machines. Do you have suggestions for some type of product that I can purchase to place on top of my machines to serve as a folding station? I do not want to build anything in as it will impede servicing the machines when necessary. I need something that can be removed easily when necessary. Thank you!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Hmmm. I know that Kenmore and Whirpool make a ‘worksurface’ that you can place on top of your machines that is removable. Other than that, I’m not aware of any.

      Thank you for visiting. :)

  11. Thanks for sharing. I’m headed straight to the laundry room.
    -amber

  12. Thank you SO much. After washing cloth diapers I want to sanitize my washer and this was just the instructions I needed. Thanks!

  13. Dean Adams says:

    Hi Mama, I live in a building with public washers and dryers. I need a product that I can add WITH my colored clothes in the washer and dryer that will act as some sort of disinfectant and protection aginst other peoples use and clothes, but not damage my clothes. And obviously it would be too expensive and time consuming fo rme to try and bleach the washers first! I hope you know of a product or solution i can use in both a washer and dryer!
    Thanks, Dean.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Dean, to my knowledge there is not a product as you describe on the market. I’m sorry, as it’s a great idea. Go pitch it to a company. ;)

  14. This sounds like a great maintenance regime. I just moved into a house where the front loading washer’s seal/lip is caked with mold. I tried the spray and the coarse side of a dish sponge. I had some luck but there are still persistent black dots on the lip.

    Any suggestions? Thx.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Jay, if you’ve cleaned the lip with bleach and scrubbed well, I’d call it a day. Mold stains and it’s probably just the stains that you are seeing. If you used bleach, the mold spores have been killed and it’s only the stains that remain.

      I know the mold stains are horribly unsightly, not to mention disconcerting, but the bleach kills all. :)

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  1. [...] Sanitizing Your Washing Machine :: Mama’s Laundry Talk :: This task MUST be on your cleaning [...]

  2. [...] I mean it has soap and water in it all the time – right?!?  Well my friend Lauren over at MamasLaundryTalk recommends sanitizing your washer monthly.  Since it is the first weekend of the month, that is [...]

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