Often, most of us worry about keeping everything around us free of bacteria, germs, viruses, and foul odors, routinely performing a whole cleansing ritual to get rid of the dirt hidden in every piece of fabric, surface, or corner. However, this ritual rarely includes cleaning the washing machine, one of the household items that we use the most and that, as ironic as it may sound, we get the dirtiest.
I know, washing clothes isn't exactly a fun task, and cleaning the washing machine doesn’t sound that fun either, but sooner or later, we should all do it, especially if you've started to notice that it doesn't do its job as well as it did years ago. I'm talking about weird sounds, nasty smells, and clothes far from having that signature fresh smell.
So if you want to give back all the work your lovely washing machine saves you with a good deep cleaning, get ready to give a good eco-friendly spin on the spin cycle because today I will not only teach you how to clean your top-loading washing machine, but how to do it with vinegar and baking soda — two of my favorites in my eco-cleaning kit.
Do you need to clean your washing machine?
Don't feel bad for neglecting to clean your top-loading washing machine. You’re not alone! One would think that because a washing machine holds soapy water and cleans “things” (I mean, it’s literally called a washing machine) - it often gets neglected. Many people assume it cleans itself when in fact, it doesn’t.
But if you think about it, every appliance needs some kind of maintenance. Your washing machine constantly deals with mud, sweat, bits of food, fibers, and other types of dirt and materials that can turn it into a nest of bacteria and even compromise its performance, so in short, you need to clean it from time to time.
Why You Should Regularly Clean Your Washing Machine?
We already know that washing machines should indeed be cleaned regularly, but... Why? Besides the obvious answer "because everything must be cleaned," there are several specific factors that can be the archenemies of any washing machine if not eliminated. Starting with the worst of all: mold and mildew.
While top-loading washing machines don't have the same door gasket mold and mildew problems that front-loading ones are prone to, the warm, moist environment inside them can still be a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, especially in hard-to-reach areas that may never fully dry out. The worst part of all? If not eradicated in time, it can contaminate clothing and cause adverse health effects ranging from skin irritation to full-blown allergies.
Another reason you should clean your washing machine is limescale, which develops "thanks" to hard water. In milder cases, if the excess minerals left in the washing machine aren't removed, the washing performance may decrease, and its power usage may increase. In severe cases, though, it can transfer limescale deposits to clothes and make them feel rougher on the skin — potentially causing allergies in sensitive skin —, clog pipes, cause serious malfunctions, and shorten the machine's lifespan.
Excess water and soap can also be a major issue — they pool in the bottom of the top-loading machine (the one you don’t see under the drum), can cause significant bacteria growth, and leave funky smells behind that permeates your clothes after every wash (yuck!). Oh, and don't get me started on fabric softeners!
Most fabric softeners are petroleum or even animal fat-based, two things that are both bad for the environment and difficult for water to break down.
Ultimately, fabric softener works by providing a wax-like coating on clothes to make them soft, so that same coating can build up all over the washing machine and make it dirty or, worse, clog the holes where the water flows.
P.S: If you want to know more about the damage that fabric softeners cause to washing machines the environment, and the clothes themselves, feel free to check out the Eco-Friendly Natural Fabric Softener post I wrote a few months ago, where I also discuss a few eco-friendly alternatives. Trust me. Vinegar works wonders in many different ways on laundry day.
How Often Should You Clean Your Washing Machine?
Even though your washing machine is constantly subjected to dirty clothes and other items, it shouldn't be cleaned that often.
The body of your washing machine can be cleaned quite easily with a rag and a brush — if there are heavy stains or mildew, so you can do it every time you do your routine household cleaning. As for the inside of the washer, it does require more time and effort, so doing it once a month to keep it in tip-top shape is more than enough.
Some hardcore clean freaks claim that the inside of washing machines should be cleaned every two weeks or even once a week, but TBH, I don't think that's necessary. Doing it just once a month will save you water — a valuable resource, power, and elbow grease.
Washing Machine Cleaners & What They Do To The Environment
After reading the previous paragraphs and realizing that your washing machine might need some TLC, you might be tempted to buy and add bleach, a cleaning powder, or a washing machine cleaning tablet to its drum, but resist the urge, I repeat, RESIST the urge!
Most washing machine cleaners — either in powder or tablet form — are toxic. They contain phosphates, chloride, artificial fillers, and non-biodegradable dyes that, while they may leave your washing machine as clean as a new pin, are far from cleaning our environment. Rather, they pollute it. Just to give you an example, chloride is a compound known to be highly toxic to aquatic life and, even in low concentrations, can harm waterways.
Other fairly popular products for cleaning washing machines are bleach and ammonia, and oh my gosh, those two chemicals are the worst ones you can use. There are many advocates of bleach out there, but my stance remains firm: bleach is highly corrosive and flammable, so it can present harm to the environment and aquatic life. And as for ammonia... Well, it's simply one of the main sources of nitrogen pollution... Pretty much nothing, heh...
Long story short, just don't buy or use harmful chemicals or toxic washing machine cleaners for your washing machine, better stick to eco-friendly solutions, like the one I'll discuss below.
What should I clean a smelly washing machine with?
Let's say you've already noticed a foul smell coming from your top-loading washing machine while you were on your way to wash your yoga gear, plus a couple of black spots on the bottom of the drum and a yellowish ring on the rim. Again, don't reach for the toxic bleach or other chemical washing machine cleaners! In order to neutralize that nasty smell and make the stains go away for good, you'll only need two ingredients — and chances are you already have them in your pantry. Baking soda and vinegar!
In case anyone is wondering, "what about hydrogen peroxide?" hydrogen peroxide also works wonders on moldy washing machines, but that's material for another post. Today we'll focus on vinegar and baking soda, two must-haves in any true environmentally conscious enthusiast's cleaning arsenal.
How Vinegar & Baking Soda Work To Clean Your Washing Machine
I've already mentioned several times in this blog how vinegar and baking soda work, but if I'm being honest, I can't get enough of their amazing qualities!
On one hand, vinegar itself is an acidic solution with antifungal properties that is not only able to remove dirt and bring back to life yellowish surfaces that were once white but is also a powerful disinfectant. On the other hand, baking soda is a powder that gently scrubs the surface where it's applied, and to top it all off, it has deodorizing qualities.
However, the real magic happens when you clean your washing machine with vinegar and baking soda together, thus achieving an effervescent mixture that sweeps away everything in its way. Essentially, baking soda acts as a vinegar booster — especially when it comes to removing limescale deposits — and makes the removal of stains, mold, mildew, and slimy residues way easier.
But if you really want to know what my favorite quality of the vinegar and baking soda mixture is, it's how easy it is to make. All you need are two very inexpensive ingredients that, besides being available in any grocery store and even in your pantry, just need to be poured into the washing machine drum along with some water. Easy peasy!
In a nutshell, don't just use vinegar and baking soda to dress your salads or get your cakes to rise — your washing machine could also use a splash and a pinch of both!
Does vinegar and baking soda damage the top loader washing machine?
For some reason, the rumor has spread throughout the internet that vinegar and baking soda shouldn't be used to clean washing machines as they "can damage them," but that statement is far from the truth — vinegar and baking soda are perfectly safe to use in top loader washing machines.
Both ingredients have been used for years on laundry day thanks to their properties both together and individually, vinegar being perfect for brightening clothes, fighting underarm odor, reducing lint and pet hair, and softening clothes naturally, and baking soda being excellent for fighting laundry odors, boosting detergent performance, and also softening clothes naturally. And yes, it's true that vinegar is a fairly acidic liquid and can slightly damage the rubber seals of front-load washing machines if used in excess, but when used in moderation, it shouldn't present a problem for your top loader washing machine.
How to Clean Your Top Loading Washer Naturally With Vinegar & Baking Soda
Ok so, back to the main question: how can you clean a top-loading washing machine with vinegar and baking soda? Well, before diving inside the machine, you should know that cleaning the outside of the washing machine is also important because if dirt builds up on the knobs or hinges of the lid, it will get damaged sooner. To avoid this from happening, just follow the steps below to create a natural all-purpose cleaner you can use on your washer's body:
- Remove the cap from an empty spray bottle, place a small funnel in it and pour ½ cup of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and fill the rest of the bottle with water.
- Screw the spray top on the bottle and shake it vigorously, then spray some of the solutions on a microfiber cloth and an old toothbrush.
- Start scrubbing the entire surface of the washer with the cloth, paying special attention to the areas where grime can get in the deepest. Pop off any removable knobs and clean them with the brush and the mixture of vinegar and baking soda, and if there are any stubborn stains, also clean them with the brush.
- Finally, wipe the entire surface with a clean microfiber towel to remove any remaining moisture.
After giving the body of your washing machine the love it deserves, it's time to lift the lid and begin the most tedious task: cleaning the inside. We'll start with the detergent dispenser, which will probably be the first thing you'll see when you look inside your machine:
- If the dispenser isn't removable, heat one cup of distilled white vinegar in a cup until it's hot to the touch, but not boiling.
- Pour the hot vinegar into the dispenser and let it sit for at least 15 minutes to loosen any clogs or slimy residue.
- Rinse with plenty of water.
However, if your dispenser is removable, soak it in a bucket full of hot water mixed with one cup of vinegar for 15 minutes, and then scrub it with the same old toothbrush you used before to remove any dirt or residue.
Last but certainly not least, grab the vinegar and baking soda again because you'll finally be attacking any dirt, foul odors, and mildew in the drum of your washing machine:
- To begin this process of cleaning and renovating your washing machine, you must turn it on and look for the setting that says "drum cleaning cycle". In case your washing machine doesn't have this setting, choose the longest washing cycle, with the largest water load, and the highest temperature — at least 60°C — to ensure that the mixture reaches all the corners of the drum.
- After setting your washer cycle to extra water, time, and temperature, wait until the drum is half full and pour in 4 cups of white vinegar.
- Once the drum is full, let it agitate for a few minutes and pause the cycle. You'll notice that the water will have a strange smell — not quite like a salad — but that's a good sign, as it means the dirt is disintegrating and falling into the hot vinegary water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.
- Then, add 1 cup of baking soda to the drum, and allow it to mix. For the last time, pause the cycle and let it sit for 30 minutes or an hour, so the effects of the vinegar and baking soda penetrate deep into the drum.
- After the time has passed, resume the washer cycle and let the vinegar and baking soda do their thing.
BTW, don't think I forgot about the cylindrical post sticking out of your washing machine drum — I'll get into that extensive topic in a moment.
How to clean a top load washer without an agitator
Regardless of whether your washing machine has an agitator or not, you can easily clean it using the steps I listed above. However, if you want a more in-depth cleaning, get ready to add a couple of extra steps.
First off, unplug your washer from the wall, open it up and take a look at it. Everything looks fine to the naked eye, doesn't it? A perfectly clean drum, a flawless fabric softener dispenser, spotless knobs, and a smell... Wait, where's that smell coming from? Ugh, it still smells bad! I'm sure you're wondering why this is happening if you've already used the magic vinegar and baking soda mixture, but let me tell you that the smell isn't coming from the fabric softener dispenser or the drum walls, rather from a fundamental component of your washing machine that I bet you've never cleaned before — the impeller.
The impeller is that disk that top-loading washing machines without agitators have at the bottom of the drum, and its function is simply to rotate to generate water streams and create friction between the clothes. Like any other part of any washing machine, it constantly comes in contact with dirty water, hard water, and lint, things that leave their mark on its internal part and can lead to bad odors. But enough talking, let's get down to business!
The first step in learning how to clean a top load washer without an agitator is to go into Bob The Builder mode to remove the protective cap from the impeller to access the bolt that attaches it to the washer, which can be done using a small flathead screwdriver. Once you have the cap off, use a ratchet to remove the bolt and the same flat screwdriver to lift the impeller. If the impeller is stuck and you can't get it out, there are plenty of videos on YouTube — that show you a couple of tricks to get it out without losing all your strength in the process.
Now that you have the impeller in your hands, just flip it over, and you'll probably be greeted by dirt, LOTS of dirt. To clean this, simply use a mixture of 2 parts baking soda to 1 part vinegar, then scrub scrub scrub the impeller, and rinse it with a splash of water. Put it back in place, and you're done!
Note, this type of in-depth cleaning should be performed only every 6 months or so, or when you have already tried every regular method of cleaning available, but your washing machine still gives off nasty smells or leaves dark spots on your clothes.
How to clean top loading washing machine with agitator
Now, how do you deep clean your washing machine if it has an agitator? Well, the first step to cleaning a top-loading washing machine with an agitator is to carefully remove the top of that tall cylinder, thus gaining access to the fabric softener dispenser.
Once you lift the top of the agitator, expect to see a lot of built-up dirt and slimy sediment that not only looks gross but also smells very bad. This is not just the result of regular dirt from the clothes, but from an excessive buildup of fabric softener inside the agitator itself. To clean it, place the top of the cylinder into a container with 2 cups of vinegar, ¼ cup of baking soda, and ¼ cup of water, and let it soak for a few minutes. Then, simply scrub it with an old toothbrush, and let it dry.
As for the agitator itself, you can clean it in two ways: one, without detaching it from the drum of the washing machine, just using a long-handled brush, vinegar, baking soda, and a little water to attack all dirt and every nook and cranny of the cylinder — including the holes where the fabric softener comes out, and another, detaching the agitator from the drum so you can even scrub the bottom of it.
To detach it, you only need to remove the top, pull off the plastic covering the bolt with a pair of pliers, unscrew the bolt with a ratchet, and lift the entire agitator. You may find this process tedious, but once you learn how to properly deep clean a top-loading washing machine with an agitator, your clothes will be forever grateful.
Pro-Tip: At least twice a year, remove the agitator and check for any dirt or trapped lint. That cylinder is an important part of your washing machine, and if it malfunctions or makes your clothes even dirtier, laundry day can become an even more painful pain in the neck.
How to Keep Your Washing Machine Smelling Great
Although nowadays it's possible to find new washing machines at great prices, the best thing you can do both for your wallet and the environment is to give some love to that washing machine you already have at home, that way you can extend its lifespan and save yourself from crying out of frustration every time you notice that your clothes don't come out as clean as they should.
The vinegar plus baking soda duo never fails. It has been in my eco-cleaning kit for years now and is the perfect ally to tackle dirt and bad smells not only in washing machines, but also in showers, kitchen sinks, and even porcelain thrones — a.k.a. toilets, but... How can you keep your washing machine smelling great? Yes, routine cleaning is a good rule of thumb, but are there any other tips out there? Of course!
- To keep this appliance in good condition, you must use laundry detergents and fabric softeners that are specifically designed for machine washing — the eco-friendlier, the better, and respect the quantities indicated in its instructions.
- Taking the clothes out of the washing machine as soon as possible after the washing cycle has finished is also a great tip, as this prevents bacteria and funky smells from building up.
- And last but not least, leaving the washing machine door slightly open for at least 6 hours is key so that it can ventilate and moisture won't lead to mold and mildew.
Final thoughts on How To Clean A Top Loading Washing Machine With Vinegar And Baking Soda
Believe me, these tips are the best I've ever received for laundry day, which has presented a before and after as far as the smell and cleanliness of my washing machine are concerned. So next time you do laundry, put them into practice, and come back to this post to tell me everything about your spotless appliance! Oh, and if you have any extra tips, don't forget to drop them in the comments section below — I'd love to read them!
Also, while I have you make sure to check out some of our other great eco-friendly cleaning ideas for your home:
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