How to clean your washer and dryer (and why you should)

Just a little regular maintenance on your laundry machines will keep your clothes immaculate and your costs down.
Laundry room with modern appliaces
Your washer and dryer need a little spruce up. DepositPhotos

Live in an apartment without on-site laundry for a while and you’ll really learn to appreciate these super-convenient machines. Yet, we often overlook their need for care. A dirty washer won’t be able to clean our clothes very effectively, and a dryer that hasn’t received some TLC won’t dry efficiently. Plus, just like any other machine, without regular maintenance, they are liable to quit working much earlier than anticipated, leaving you with costly repairs or needing to replace the device entirely.

To keep your washer and dryer running efficiently and effectively, it’s important to commit to regular cleaning. Each manufacturer and model will have their own specific cleaning instructions, so it’s best to consult your manual. However, keep reading for general tips on how to clean your washer and dryer. 

How to clean your washer

Fortunately, cleaning your washing machine is mostly straightforward and doesn’t require any specialized tools or cleaners. Vinegar, with its highly acidic nature, is able to cut through dirt, oils, films, stains, and bacteria, all things you may find on the inside of your washer. Bleach is useful for more serious mold and mildew problems. Baking soda also comes in handy for stubborn areas that require scrubbing or for deodorizing stinky washers.

Beyond the above cleaning ingredients, you’ll also need a microfiber cloth or two, a spray bottle, and a small brush of some sort (a retired toothbrush is a great way to reuse something otherwise headed to the landfill). If things have been left unattended for too long, a spin scrubber may come in handy. 

How to quickly clean a washing machine

The inside of your washer is where most of the gunk and grime will live. While you may think that the detergent you use would keep things clean, but all that soap residue builds up over time. The damp environment is also a favorite of mold and mildew, which can be the cause of that funky smell you may notice. And, hard water, fibers from clothes, or pet hair, can add to clogs and stubborn grime. 

The quickest way to clean the washer drum is to use a spray bottle to spritz vinegar all around and use a microfiber cloth to wipe every surface down. You can also use some baking soda and a brush to scrub areas that may have a bit of extra grime. Don’t forget to also wipe any gaskets and seals around the washer, getting in all the nooks and crannies, as those can trap moisture, leading to mold and mildew. To clean front-loading washers, which are more prone to mildew because of the rubber gaskets, a white microfiber cloth with some bleach and dish soap may be necessary, especially around those pesky gaskets. 

After a good wipe down (and don’t forget the exterior), you can run the machine empty with a hot water cycle to prevent build-up. 

How to deep clean a top-loading washer

While the quick washer cleaning method above is excellent for regular maintenance, it’s not a substitute for a deep clean. Deep cleans are necessary for washing machines that have started to develop a less-than-pleasant smell but also should be tackled regularly, albeit less frequently, as the quick method. 

To deep clean a top-loading washing machine, set the machine to its highest water level and temperature setting. Pour four cups of white vinegar into the drum and start a cycle. Once the drum fills with water and the cycle has barely started, pause the machine. Allow the hot water and vinegar to soak in the machine for an hour. Start the machine, and when it’s gone through the first rinse cycle, pause the machine again to add one cup of baking soda. Start the machine and let it run through the rest of the cycle. Once complete, leave the top open to let it dry out. 

If your machine has a dispenser for detergent, fabric softener, and bleach, be sure to also clean that area, as those dispensers can experience a lot of build-up. For a deep clean, remove the tray and wipe everything down with vinegar, rinse, and let dry. Don’t forget to clean inside the compartment where the tray goes, as well. A brush will come in handy to get into all the corners. 

How to deep clean a front-load washer

Front-loading washing machines require slightly different cleaning methods, though the general principle is the same. It also depends on how dirty the washer is, as more aggressive measures may be necessary for extra stinky machines. 

As with top-loading machines, choose the highest water level and temperature settings. Pour in at least one cup of white vinegar and let it run through a cycle. If your washer is stinky, use a quart of bleach instead of the white vinegar. Once the cycle has finished, wipe the gaskets with a little bleach or vinegar on a microfiber cloth and leave the door open so that the machine can dry out. Finally, like top-loading machines, don’t forget to clean the detergent dispenser. 

How to clean the washer drain and filter

Two often overlooked areas when cleaning a washer are the drain and filter. These can get clogged, which is not good for the life of your washer. 

To clean the drain, make sure the washing machine is off. Then, disconnect the drain from the pipe or from the back of the machine if it drains into a laundry room sink. Once disconnected, place it in an empty tub or bucket to collect any water that drains out. Then, check to see if there is any gunk inside, and dislodge it with a drain snake or long, skinny brush. Once cleared out, soak the drain in vinegar to remove any mildew. Don’t forget to also clean the drain opening on the back of the machine as well. You can also use a brush with some baking soda to scrub stubborn areas. Finally, wipe away any residue with a damp cloth, and connect everything. 

Not all washing machines have filters, so you may not need to worry about cleaning that. In fact, most top-load washers made after 2001 don’t have filters. Be sure to check your machine’s manual (you can search for it online if you no longer have a paper copy) to find out if you have a filter and where it is located. Filters are found in a range of locations, including the front of the machine behind a small hatch, at the end of the drainage hose, under the cover of the center agitator, or along the top rim of the drum. 

If your machine does have a filter, carefully remove it, spritz it with vinegar, brush it, and rinse it off. It’s also a good idea to wipe the filter holder with a cloth for a thorough cleaning.

How often should you clean your washer?

We recommend wiping down your washing machine roughly once a month to help prevent build-up. A deep clean should be performed every three to six months. 

How to clean a dryer

Once your washer is in top shape, it’s time to tackle the dryer. Without proper maintenance, your dryer can lose efficiency over time, leaving you to run it longer, adding to your electricity bill. Also, about one-third of house fires are a result of clogged dryer vents, so keeping your dryer clean is extremely important for safety reasons.

To clean your dryer, you’ll need some basic supplies, most of which are the same as what you need to clean a washer. You’ll want a microfiber cloth, water and vinegar spray, a brush, a vacuum with a hose, and a screwdriver. 

Clean the lint trap

Lint buildup is not great for a dryer. Image: DepositPhotos

First, tackle the lint trap. To perform a deep clean of the lint trap, remove the screen and vacuum the interior of the lint trap with a crevice tool. You can even get hoses that are specifically designed for this that go quite deep if you are worried there is lint stuck lower than you can reach with a standard vacuum attachment. 

If you use dryer sheets or fabric softeners, it is likely there will be some buildup on the lint trap. To clean this, use a small brush like a toothbrush dipped in warm, soapy water to scrub the mesh. Be sure to let it dry completely before putting it back in the machine. 

Clean the dryer drum

Like a washing machine, the dryer drum can accumulate residue. That’s especially true if you use dryer sheets or fabric softeners. To clean off that residue, dip a soft cloth into warm water and dish soap and rub it clean. You can also use a spray of equal parts white vinegar and water. Follow up with a damp sponge or towel. Finally, either leave the door open so it can dry completely or run a load of clothes or towels to dry it out. 

Clean the vent duct and exterior vent

Once the lint trap is clean, turn off and unplug the dryer. If you use a gas dryer, close the shut-off valve in the gas supply line, then disconnect and cap the line pipe before cleaning. Then, you’ll want to pull out the dryer for easier access to the vent duct. 

To clean the vent duct, unscrew the vent clamps with a screwdriver or remove the tape that attaches the vent to the back of the dryer. Remove large pieces of lint with your hands, then use a dryer cleaning brush or a vacuum to clean the rest out, including anything trapped in crevices. 

It’s also important to occasionally check the exterior vent, which you will find either on the roof or on the side of the house. As with the inside, remove large pieces of lint with your hand, then use a dryer cleaning brush or vacuum to remove the rest. 

Once you have the vent system cleaned, reattach the vent by re-clamping or re-taping it to the back of the dryer. You can then push it back into place and plug it back in. The final step is to run the dryer empty for 10 to 15 minutes to remove any excess dust that may have been kicked up during the cleaning process. 

How often should you clean your dryer? 

First, to prevent fires and maintain efficient drying, be sure that you clean your lint trap after every single load. Then, you’ll want to deep clean the lint screen and screen holder about every six months. Cleaning the dryer vent and ducts can be tackled less frequently, roughly once every two years.