How to clean your washing machine – and avoid the hidden health danger

The season of spring-cleaning is underway!
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • With many of us ticking tasks off our cleaning to-do list, the only thing left is the washing machine. How do you clean it? How often should you clean your washing machine? All your questions answered…

    Most household appliances are pretty easy to clean, with anti-bacterial spray as your best friend. However, how do you clean a washing machine? It’s something that cleans our clothes, so surely it’s cleaning itself in the process?

    But that’s exactly why Mel, a mum-of-two, has issued a warning about washing machines, after making a “disgusting” discovery.

    MORE: Mrs Hinch cleaning tips you’ll definitely want to copy at home

    She first noticed her washing was coming out with a weird scent, and then she discovered that it was because that the inside of the rubber seal was full of mould. Mel told Australian website Kidspot, “I had noticed my washing smelt a bit musty when I took it out of the machine but couldn’t work out what it was.

    “My ex-husband asked me if I had checked the rubber seal around the machine. It’s a front loader so when the next load finished, I pulled apart the seal and it was full of brown sludge. It was so disgusting it nearly made me vomit.

    “I was horrified that I had been washing mine and my children’s clothes in mould. I had no idea you had to clean out that part of the washing machine.”

    how to clean washing machine

    Credit: Getty

    After trying a few different methods, such as trying to remove the mould with baby wipes, she eventually managed to get rid of the smell by doing an empty load with bleach, but the mould stain hasn’t come out.

    Mel added that she wanted to tell her story so that others can spot the mould, “I wanted to tell others in case they haven’t realised you needed to clean the rubber seal out too. I wish someone told me sooner!”

    Mel is not alone in this discovery, as research released was in 2019 suggesting that newer, energy-saving washing machines are spreading germs more easily than older models. This means it’s more important than ever that we are cleaning the inside of our washing machines.

    Dr Ricarda Schmithausen, the study lead, from Bonn University in Germany said last year, “Water temperatures used in home washers have been declining, to save energy, to well below 60C (140F), rendering them less lethal to pathogens.

    “Different microorganisms can persist in domestic washing machines at those reduced temperatures.”

    But why else might washing machines smell? And how can you make sure that next time, your clothes come out sparkling and fresh? We answer all your questions down below…

    Why does my washing machine smell?

    Just like Mel, our Mum of two discovered, there are plenty of reasons why your clothes might not be coming out of the machine sparklingly fresh. If they smell damp or musty, even once they’ve dried, and if your machine has an unpleasant smell coming from the drum then more often than not, it’s due to a build-up of dirt, limescale or detergent inside the machine.

    How do I stop my washing machine smelling?

    The best way to ensure that your clothes come out smelling of roses next time is to follow a regimented cleaning routine for your washing machine. Even though it has antibacterial and great-smelling detergents going through it every other day (at least), these can build up and cause odour problems in your machine.

    Follow our cleaning steps below – they’ll take you through washing all the big problem areas of your washing machine from the rubber seal (one of the biggest culprits for bad smells) to the soap drawer and drum. Using these nifty cleaning hacks, you can make sure that your washing machine stays clean for the foreseeable future.

    What is the best way to deep clean a washing machine?

    If you’re having the same problem, there are things you can do to clean your washing machine.

    Wipe down the rubber seal

    Wipe down the rubber seal with a sponge soaked in a 50/50 mixture of bleach and warm water, or use a strong bathroom cleaner like Flash Bathroom Spray if you’re worried about bleach transferring to your clothes in the next wash.

    Make sure to wipe both sides of the seal and all the way around the rim of the rubber seal.

    Credit: Getty

    Clean the soap drawer 

    Remove the drawer from the machine if possible, then spray all over with the same combination of bleach and water or use the bathroom spray.

    Then wipe down the inside of the space with a combination of bicarbonate soda and white vinegar, which should clear out all the dirt and grime. Rinse through with a sponge soaked in water.

    Rinse the drum 

    To clean the whole machine drum, you can run a complete cycle with two cups of vinegar (added directly to the drum) and bicarbonate soda, on the hottest setting available.

    Remember to always consult your machine’s manual for instructions on how to clean your machine if in doubt.

    How often should you clean it?

    Ideally, you should clean your washing machine both inside and outside, once per month.

    This will help eliminate any lurking bacteria, but if your machine has been exposed to bodily fluids like blood, then you should wash it straight afterwards on the highest temperature, with diluted bleach added to the machine.

    Happy cleaning!