It can be easy to overlook cleaning the things we use to clean other things, but important appliances like washers and dryers need to be cleaned and properly maintained to optimize performance and keep your household safe.
Cleaning a washing machine prevents the build-up of detergents and dirt that can soil clothes, even right after washing, and prevents odors from taking root in the machine – and in your laundry. Dryers need regular maintenance to keep them running smoothly and safely. According to FEMA, 2,900 home dryer fires are reported each year, most of them caused by a failure to clean the machine.
We spoke to experts on how and how often to clean top-load, front-load, electric and gas dryers, including how to clean a dryer’s vent to keep your machine running safely.
Lindsay Jones, brand manager at Maytag, shared a step-by-step guide to cleaning a top-load washing machine. She recommends cleaning a washing machine regularly. “If you keep your washing machine under control, you don’t give residues a chance to build up in your machine.”
Start by cleaning the tub with a washing machine cleaner like Affresh or with 1 liter of liquid chlorine bleach. Run the washing machine cleaning cycle, followed by a rinse and spin cycle to remove any detergent residue. Leave the washing machine door open to let the tub dry.
Important Note: When using bleach, do not use products that contain ammonia or vinegar as these will create a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed with chlorine bleach.
Pull out the dispenser drawer(s) until you feel resistance, or remove them from the appliance if removable. Wipe clean with a damp cloth and use a toothbrush to remove stubborn buildup. Detachable parts can also be soaked in warm water to loosen and remove residue; wipe well after soaking.
Open the lid and clean in and around the door with a damp cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe clean the outside of the machine. Avoid using abrasive or harsh detergents when cleaning the exterior, as these can cause scratches and other damage.
Top-loading washing machines with agitators need to be cleaned more thoroughly. “To thoroughly clean a washing machine, you need to clean the filter and the agitator,” says Gina Perry, Senior Merchant of Cleaning at The Home Depot. “This procedure differs from machine to machine.”
Consult the machine’s instruction manual for specific instructions on removing the washing machine’s agitator and filter, and unplug the machine before removing any parts. According to Perry, these are typically the steps to removing and cleaning a washing machine filter.
Use a socket wrench to remove the screw holding the agitator; Lift the agitator out of the machine by its base.
Place the agitator and filter in a bucket, sink, or bathtub filled with hot, soapy water or a cleaning solution of 2 cups vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda, and ¼ cup water.
Use a soft bristle scrub brush to scrub the parts. Rinse thoroughly and then dry with a microfiber towel. Replace the filter and agitator in the washing machine.
“Because of their design,” Perry says of front-loading washing machines, “they’re more prone to bad odors than top-loading washing machines.” Perry provided step-by-step instructions for cleaning a front-loading washing machine to get rid of unwanted mold and mildew Rinse out mildew growth and odours.
Start by cleaning the tub with a HE washing machine cleaner such as Tide Washing Machine Cleaner on a normal cycle on the hot water setting.
When the cleaner load is complete, scrub the door seal with an old toothbrush to remove debris and dirt, then wipe clean with a cloth dampened with vinegar. Pull out the dispenser drawer(s) until you feel resistance, or remove them from the appliance if removable. Wipe clean with a damp cloth and use a toothbrush to remove stubborn buildup.
Wipe down the inside of the tub and the door with a microfiber cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe clean the outside of the machine. Avoid using abrasive or harsh detergents when cleaning the exterior, as these can cause scratches and other damage. Place the detergent containers and parts back into the machine and prop the door open to allow everything to dry thoroughly.
The frequency with which a washing machine needs to be cleaned depends on a few factors, including the size of your household and what the machine will be used for. Households with many members or who use the washing machine to wash cloth diapers, outdoor workwear or other heavily soiled textiles will need to clean a washing machine more frequently.
“If you start noticing nasty odors or detergent residue/films in your washing machine, it’s probably time to give your machine a deep cleaning,” says Perry.
The sniff test is a good way to tell if your machine is due for cleaning, but establishing a regular cleaning schedule can also help. “Ideally, you should clean your washing machine monthly,” says Jones, which is a good rule for large homes or machines used for heavy laundry. For smaller homes that wash less frequently, Jones recommends cleaning the machine every 30 wash cycles.
If you frequently wash heavily soiled items, Gary Childers, fabric care scientist and appliance expert at Procter & Gamble, recommends using the washing machine’s extra rinse cycle to extend the time between cleanings. “Households with laundry that is above average can detect odors in the machine that others don’t have,” he says. “Additional machine rinse options can help reduce the rate at which this odor-causing residue builds up in the washing machine.”
When it comes to cleaning a dryer, there are a few things you should do regularly to keep the machine running smoothly and safely, and do a more thorough cleaning and maintenance every 12 to 24 months.
According to Childers, routine maintenance includes:
- Removing lint from the lint filter before or after each drying cycle.
- Clean the lint screen with warm, soapy water every 6 months; larger households should clean the lint filter more frequently.
- Clean stains inside the machine or on the door with a warm, damp cloth.
- Have a professional appliance repair technician inspect the interior of the dryer and the lines of the machine every 12 to 24 months, depending on use and the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Cleaning a dryer duct can be done without calling in a professional. “Cleaning a dryer duct isn’t difficult,” says Perry. “Hand lint out of the duct, then vacuum the inside of the duct.” She offered this step-by-step guide to cleaning a dryer vent.
Unplug the dryer (for gas dryers, turn off the gas supply valve), pull the dryer away from the wall, and disconnect the dryer duct.
Ridgid 12 gallon wet/dry shop vacuum with filter, hose and accessories
While wearing protective gloves, use your hands to remove lint from the hole at the back of the dryer. Then use the hose attachment of a vacuum or shop vacuum to clean in and around the hole in the back of the dryer; If you can measure the length of the duct where it meets the wall, do so for easier access. Go outside and remove the outside vent cover and vacuum clean the outside of the dryer vent.
If the dryer vent is too long to efficiently remove the lint with a vacuum, purchase a dryer vent kit that includes flexible brushes that clean the inside walls of the vent. Insert the brush into the channel and move it back and forth, twisting it gently, until the vents are free of dust and lint.
Reinstall the ductwork and vent cover and seal sections of the ductwork with UL listed metal foil tape if necessary. This is a good time to inspect the ducts to make sure they are undamaged and comply with safety regulations and replace them if necessary. Slide the dryer back into place, plug it in or turn the gas valve back on and run a 15-20 minute test cycle on the fluff or air dry setting to ensure all connections are tight and um to remove any remaining residue.