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Keeping a washing machine clean and well-maintained will help keep it working for years to come.

Somewhere along the way, I failed to pick up on the fact that cleaning a washing machine should be done with some regularity — not, like, never. I figured that the soap in the detergents kept it squeaky clean, and why wouldn’t anyone? Oops.

The thing is, soap residue and minerals in commonly used detergents are apt to build up in the washing machine, and over time, you might notice that your clothes just don’t seem to get as clean as they used to. My washer had just started to feel icky. And here I was just thinking that maybe I had been cramming too many garments in the same load and not letting the rinse cycle perform as efficiently.

I searched around and found about as many different approaches for cleaning a top-loading washer, but one tutorial, a two-step approach, seemed easy, inexpensive, and doable.

Cleaning a washing machine starts with just two items*:

  • 1 quart of bleach (many tutorials went without the bleach step if you’re concerned about using harsh agents in your laundry)
  • 1 quart of white vinegar

Fill the empty washer with hot water, as if you’re doing a large load of laundry.

Add the quart of bleach, and let the full machine run for one minute to mix up the bleach with the water.

Open the top of the machine and let it sit, all bleachy and full, for an hour.

At the end of the hour, shut the cover and let the machine run a complete cycle. (The water will drain out all the bleach, so it won’t have a chance to mix with the vinegar.)

When it’s done, start again. This time, when you fill the washer with hot water, add a quart of white vinegar to the water and down the bleach channel.

Let the machine run for a minute to agitate the water and vinegar. After that minute, open the top of the machine and again, let the hot water sit in the basin for an hour before you let the cycle complete.

After cleaning the basin, spray the gaskets, dispensers, and exterior of the machine with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water. Wipe everything down with a clean cloth.

Not only did the process make the basement smell so fresh, but I noticed a big difference in how the inside of the basin felt. Smooth and clean, like after you exfoliate your face, no longer rough to the touch with the hard water spots and soap build-ups. It also only took about two hours and was less than $3.