How to sanitize a washing machine

Person using a green microfiber cloth to clean the inside of a washing machine door.
(Image credit: Holly Cockburn)

Knowing how to sanitize your washing machine is essential to ensure that your laundry stays fresh and free from bacteria. Complete sanitization of your washing machine is also necessary if your clothes have come into contact with chemicals such as bleach, pesticides, or any other potentially harmful substances.  

We often rely on the best front load washers and best top load washers to keep our clothes clean and fresh throughout the year. Making sure that you know how to clean your washing machine effectively helps to keep your washer free from germs and residue so that it always works efficiently and without any foul odors. 

Perhaps your washing machine has been neglected for months and is in need of some urgent care, or maybe it only needs some light sanitizing. Either way, you're in the right place, as we will show you how to sanitize your washing machine affordably and effectively. For more, check out our guide to the best washing machines.

Luke Gammons
Luke Gammons

Luke Gammons is a third-generation owner of Wades Group Ltd, a home appliance store established in 1918. Luke has been installing and maintaining washing machines for over 20 years and has an extensive online presence in this field, giving advice on TikTok to over 28,000 followers. 

How to sanitize a washing machine

What you will need

To sanitize a washing machine, you will need some basic cleaning equipment and products. For a washing machine that needs more extensive work, we would recommend using strong chlorine-based bleach, as it will kill most of the bacteria and will also help to remove any residue build-up. Make sure to wear rubber gloves if you choose to use bleach or other chemical solutions to disinfect your washing machine's drum. 

If the washing machine is just in need of light cleaning, then we would recommend using white vinegar as it can help neutralize odors and remove build-up, but it is much gentler and can be used more frequently than bleach. Do not use any colored or rich vinegar, as they can cause further residue buildup in the washing machine which could potentially damage your machine or stain your clothes. 


Rubber gloves

A scrubber or an old toothbrush

Some microfiber towels or disposable paper towels

A bucket

Cleaning solutions:

Chlorine-based bleach if the washing machine needs heavy sanitization

White vinegar if the washing machine needs light cleaning and odor removal

Lemon juice or pine oil to make the machine smell fresh after sanitizing


Once you've got all of your equipment and cleaning supplies prepared, you're ready to take on the task of sanitizing your washing machine. 

What the expert says...

Washing Machine Expert, Luke Gammons says: "For an even more intense clean, I like to pour some bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar inside the drawer. This means that while the washing machine is on, everything will receive a thorough cleaning as the product works around the components."

1. Set the washing machine temperature

Set your washing machine to the highest possible temperature. Make sure there are no clothes inside!

2. Add your desired cleaning solution

Add 1 cup of your chosen cleaning solution (bleach or vinegar) to the drum of the machine. Do not add any clothes or detergent.

3. Run a cycle

Run a full-length cycle of your washing machine. Let the machine spin and drain completely before opening.

4. Scrub the inside of the washing machine

When the wash cycle is completed, check around the inside of your drum for any mold or residue. Mold often grows around the rubber seals and the edge of the door. Mix 1/4 cup of bleach or vinegar with a quart of water, and use an old toothbrush or a stiff-bristled scrubber to scrub around the inside of the drum and the rubber seal.

5. Run one more hot cycle

Make sure your washing machine is still in the highest temperature setting and run another hot cycle. Do not put any bleach or vinegar this time.

6. Dry the drum thoroughly

Use a towel to dry the inside of your washing machine drum thoroughly. Make sure you get in between the rubber seal and the door.

7. Make the machine smell fresh

Put a small amount of pine oil or lemon juice on a microfiber cloth or a disposable paper towel and rub it on the inside of the drum. Doing this will make your washing machine smell fresh and clean.

8. Give the outside a wipe

Use a cloth or paper towel to give the outside of your washing machine a wipe. Use water or a disinfectant spray if necessary.

9. Leave the door open

Leave your washing machine door open to allow any residual moisture to dry completely.

Why sanitizing your washing machine is important

The detergents and soap that you use in your washing machine can often result in a gunky layer around the washer, which can cause the machine to run less efficiently, resulting in cooler water and a slower spin speed. The layer of gunk also promotes bacteria growth, which can be harmful to the body if it gets on your clothes. 

By sanitizing your machine, you will remove the gunky layer that can harbor foul smells and harmful bacteria, resulting in cleaner, fresher laundry.  

How often should you sanitize your washing machine?

You should generally aim to clean and sanitize your washing machine lightly once per month or deep clean it once every three months.

Scrubbing frequently with white vinegar is the most effective way to keep your washing machine sanitized and efficient without spending too much money on cleaning products. 

Monib Zahdeh
TTR Staff Writer

Monib is a former staff writer for Top Ten Reviews. He has a degree in journalism and over four years of experience in the home and garden industry as a Digital Content Specialist for the made-to-measure marketplace Britannia Rose. When he is not reading or writing, Monib enjoys cooking, going on walks, and visiting different historical sites.  

With contributions from