How to clean the drum of a washing machine

Person using a pink cleaning cloth to clean a front load washer.
(Image credit: Getty)

If the inside of your washing machine is starting to smell a little less than fresh, or a musty scent is transferring to your clean laundry, then you definitely need to know how to clean the drum of a washing machine. After all, even the best washing machines need a regular spruce to keep them fresh.

We guide you through how to spot the signs that your washing machine drum needs cleaning. Once you know the signs for when to cleanse your machine, simply follow the simple steps for how to clean the drum of a washing machine with minimal effort. Our cleaning expert gives us the best method to sanitize your machine and ensure that your laundry comes out clean and fresh every time.   

When should you clean the drum of a washing machine? 

There are certain signs that your washing machine is ready to be deep cleaned; luckily, they are easy to spot before they get difficult to deal with. If you notice any of these signs, especially if they are building in intensity, then it’s time to read on and find out how to clean the drum of a washing machine. 

The biggest sign is a bad odor in the drum, in particular, a lingering musty smell that indicates mildew

Your clothes are not coming out smelling fresh or totally clean

Black spots are forming on the rubber seal of the washing machine

The washer is having problems filling properly or with the water fully draining

How often should you clean the drum of a washing machine?

The annoying signs described above often happen because the conditions in the drum of the washing machine are moist and warm and can be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and mildew when left unchecked in the holes of the washing machine drum.

Another factor is the products that we use in the machine. Professional cleaner Sally Dwyer tells us that “the build-up in a washing machine drum is often caused by using too much fabric softener.” The excess cleaning products can become trapped in the divots and crevices of the washing machine drum, rubber seal, and coat the inside of the drainage pipe. The knock-on effect of this is water not draining properly, making the conditions in the drum even more likely to breed bacteria.

These unfortunate inherent design issues with washing machines mean it’s essential that you know how to clean the drum of a washing machine and get rid of excess buildup. You can do this as and when needed, but Sally cleans hers once a month.

How to clean the drum of a washing machine

Follow the steps below to find out how to clean the drum of a washing machine. Keep in mind that the guide below is general, and you should always check the manual for your own washing machine first.

1. Wipe the rubber seal

Start by wiping the rubber seal on a cloth with white vinegar. You may want to use gloves to avoid the smell transferring to your hands. This should effectively remove any mold on the seal that the next stage of washing the drum doesn’t reach. 

2. Go in with the bleach

Add a cap full of bleach to the drawer of the washing machine. Bleach makes an ideal cleaning agent to strip away excess product buildup, limescale, and bacteria and cleanse the drum and drainage pipe. 

3. Pick an antibacterial cycle

Most modern washing machines will have a specific antibacterial setting that runs a washer cleaning cycle on preset settings that are optimal for the machine. If yours does not, just add the bleach to the drawers and run a standard-length hot wash. Check the manual for your machine to see if there is specific guidance on how to run a cleaning cycle manually.

What the expert says...

Professional cleaner Sally Dwyer says, “I recommend doing a bleach wash at least every 2 to 3 months. I give my own washing machine a bleach wash on the antibacterial setting once a month. ”

4. Clean the filter

Knowing how to clean the drum of a washing machine alone is not useful if the filter is clogged. The job of the filter is to prevent any dirt and debris from the drum from entering the drainage pipe to stop it from becoming blocked, but if it's full, it can allow dirty water to flow back and forth from the drainage pipe to the drum.

To clean the filter, it can normally be accessed behind a removable panel at the bottom of the machine, but if it’s not immediately apparent where it is then consult your machine’s manual. Clean it out with hot water and allow it to air dry before replacing it.

5. Don't forget the drawer

To stop excess product in the detergent drawer, immediately enter the washer drum again and clean the drawer. This is a removable component, so remove it and clean it using a dish brush and hot water. Make sure any gunky residue around the drawers is completely removed to stop it from entering the machine when the detergent is dispensed. 

Tanisha Fletcher

Tanisha started her career in commercial retail buying for one of Amazon UK’s Top 10 revenue grossing online homeware retailers. Years spent obsessing over homeware products made it an easy career switch to writing about them. Her freelance career has seen her craft customer-focused web content for brands big and small, as well as writing articles in the health, lifestyle, home and retail sectors.

With contributions from