how to clean a stinky washing machine - mom and baby near washing machine

How to Clean a Stinky Washing Machine

Your washing machine cleans your clothes and gives everything that much-loved “fresh feeling.” However, in time all the dirt and grime from your clothes will eventually build up. If you’ve even been curious how that bad washer smell gets into your washing machine, ironically, it’s likely due to years of washing! A well-used washer often plays host to such things as leftover detergent, hard-water deposits, mold, and mildew – meaning you need to learn how to clean a stinky washing machine. 

How to Clean a Stinky Washing Machine

It’s important to note, that the dirtier your washing machine becomes, the less effectively it works to get your clothes clean. To help you do the very best job with your laundry, Charlie’s Soap is sharing our best tips for how to clean a washing machine. We’re even breaking it down by front-loading and top-loading models, so you know exactly how to clean your washing machine.

How to clean a stinky front-loading washing machine

Efficiency machines and front loader washing machine offers a ton of benefits, including increased capacity. Front loading washing machines are also high-efficiency because they conserve water, electricity, and detergent.

Positive benefits aside, front-loading washing machines also have more places to hide mold and mildew. That’s why you’ll need to follow a few more steps to ensure a truly clean machine.


The first step in learning how to clean a stinky washing machine determining whether your machine is a front loader or a top loader. If it’s a front loader – mix a two-to-one mixture of water and vinegar in a spray bottle or a bowl. Next, spray down the glass and plastic on the door and use a clean cloth or soft sponge to wipe it down. Please note, be gentle so you don’t scratch the surface of the glass.

The rubber gasket is the trickiest part of your door to clean. It is the biggest culprit for mold because it holds excess water. A scrub brush can help you get your vinegar-and-water mixture deep in there, or you may need to consider dedicating a toothbrush to get the rubber seal clean.

If the mold is excessive, or if you haven’t cleaned it in a long time, you may have to remove the band to loosen the rubber gasket. Bleach can be your friend here, but make sure you’re using safe, non-chlorine oxygen bleach.

After the door is clean, wipe down the exterior of the machine with your cloth and mixture. Take any removable non-metal parts — like the detergent, softener, and bleach trays — and soak them in your vinegar-water solution. 


Now that you’ve cleaned the exterior, it is time to conquer the drum.

Fill your detergent tray with two cups of white vinegar, and run your machine on a full, hot setting. Some machines have a setting for cleaning the drum – take advantage of this setting if it’s an option.

If your drum is prone to water deposits because you have hard water, consider adding a hard water booster to your laundry routine. Conveniently, you can add the hard water booster directly to your front-load washer when you are doing loads of laundry.


After you have cleaned your washing machine with vinegar, it’s a good idea to clean it with baking soda as well. To complete this step, add baking soda to the drum of your machine and your washer on high heat.

Most washers require about 1/2 cup of baking soda to get clean.


If the white vinegar and baking soda don’t do the trick, you can rely on Charlie’s Soap cleaning products for some extra help. Simply spray Charlie’s Kitchen and Bath Cleaner in your washing machine’s drum, and around the places where gunk has built up. Let it soak for a few minutes and then scrub! 


After you’ve run the vinegar and baking soda through with hot water, you should search for any excess dirt and lint that remains. Take a close look and wipe down the drum with a clean cloth


The final step is to find a few of your cleaning rags and run them through your clean washer. This is the perfect time to use a clean-rinsing laundry detergent, as well as to add an appropriate measurement of hard water booster to the load. Run your machine on the hot, allowing the detergent to rinse away any remaining debris from your cleaning.

To take the best possible care of your front-loading washer, use a high-quality, clean-rinsing laundry detergent like Charlie’s Soap for all future loads.

How to clean a smelly top-load washing machine

top-loader machine has a similar cleaning process as a front loader but has a few other pieces you’ll need to clean. To prevent washing machine odors, top-loading machines also have a few other spots you should pay attention to for things like the washer drum. Don’t forget the tray at the top of the drum that runs the circumference of the drum.   Also, pay attention to the area above the max water level on your drum.  No matter how good your detergent is, grime and stuff can splash above that line and into the tray above and water can just never get up there to rinse it away.

If you switch to Charlie’s Soap after doing this deep clean, and you use our Oxygen Bleach and Booster periodically (or more frequently if you have hard water), then you really will never have to clean your machine again, except maybe the tray above the water line on a top loader.  If you’re not interested in making the Charlie’s switch, consider instead keeping a bag of our Charlie’s Soap Packets handy.  Every week or so, simply run a load of towels (preferably the same ones again and again) with two packets and that will do the cleaning of your machine for you, without having to wait until it gets out of hand.


To begin cleaning your stinky top-loading washer, fill the drum with hot water, while also keeping the lid open so the machine does not run. 

Once filled with water add three or four cups of vinegar to the drum. Next, run your washer for about one minute to agitate the machine – this allows the vinegar to properly mix with the hot water. Finally, open the lid again and let the water and vinegar mix work its magic for an hour.


The next step can be completed while you are waiting for the water and vinegar mix to soak. This one-hour period is a great opportunity to clean the outside of the door and the exterior of the machine. 

Just as seen with a front loader, use a two-to-one mix of water and vinegar to wipe down the door and exterior. Use a toothbrush to scrub around curves, screws, and other places where dirt and debris might have gathered.

If the machine has removable non-metal parts, remove them and soak them in a bowl of the vinegar-water mix. After that, take a cloth and wipe down the rest of the machine. Taking this extra step will keep dirt and lint from finding their way into the drum. 


After the water and vinegar mixture has soaked for an hour, it is time to let the machine finally run its cycle. To start with, pour a small amount of vinegar into the detergent dispenser if it is still grimy. Next, close the lid of the machine and let it run.

Don’t forget to take out the softener divot on the top of the agitator and rinse it out with soap and water! 

After the cycle is finished, use a clean cloth to wipe out any residue from fabric softener from the drum – especially above the waterline where water never seems to reach.


Please note, that if your top-loading washer still has a musty smell, you can also use Charlie’s Kitchen and Bath Cleaner for some extra help. After spraying the cleaner, let it soak for a few minutes, and then scrub with a cloth or scrub brush.


Just like the front-loading machine, the final step is to run a regular load of laundry after your initial cleaning. Start with finding any cleaning rags that can handle any vinegar left in your drum.

Run your machine on the hottest setting, and feel free to scrub the scale from your drum if there’s any left. Feel free to set your washing machine to the “rinse cycle” after you’ve completed additional scrubbing.

Don’t forget to use a clean-rinsing laundry detergent after washing your washing machine, and to add a hard water booster to your machine if there is still some scale built up in it.

Things to keep in mind when cleaning a smelly machine

Now that you know how to clean a stinky washing machine, you know how important it is to keep your machine running as long as possible. Here are some other tips for keeping your washing machine clean: 

  • Every time you use your washing machine, keep the door open for a few hours. This will help dry it out and keep mildew and bad smells from building up. 
  • Don’t leave damp clothes in the washer. Move them to the dryer immediately after their cleaning cycle
  • Use a hard water booster during regular loads to avoid water deposits in the drum, especially if you have hard water stains in your machine, your sink, your shower, etc.
  • If you used chlorine bleach to clean out your machine, run an empty cycle afterward to avoid staining clothes with any remaining bleach. If you’re worried about water waste and unwanted bleaching, switch to an oxygen bleach that won’t ruin colored clothes!
  • Use an environmentally safe detergent like Charlie’s Soap to keep your clothes and machine fresh! The cleaner your detergent rinses, the less build-up you will have in your machine, your clothes, and even your pipes.

How to clean a stinky washing machine (and stinky clothes) with Charlie’s Soap

Charlie’s Soap was designed to get your clothes and household items clean safely. Most other detergents contain perfumes that give fabrics a “clean” smell, or that have ingredients that build up in your clothes and your wash over time. All of this leads to that “funky smell” and scale you see when you open your washing machine.

Unlike those products, Charlie’s Soap products contain only biodegradable, hypoallergenic ingredients that are safe for your washing machine and your family. In fact, our users tell us that they don’t even have to clean their washer after using our laundry detergents regularly!

This is the ONLY soap that doesn’t leave my old washer stinking and actually cleans the toughest of messes with minimal effort. – JHiker

After about 5 washes there was NO MORE SMELL in the WASHER!!!! I was shocked. Thought I was crazy. I have had to rewash every item, but all the smells are gone!! I do not know what miracle is in your detergent (or not in your detergent!). I can not thank you all enough!! – Melanie Mitchell

These happy customers know that our products are designed to do one thing: get things clean, no trade-offs. Shop our full line of laundry products here.

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