Is your washing machine starting to smell? If so, it probably needs a good clean – without any clothes in it. And cleaning your washing machine doesn't just get rid of that mildewy smell, it'll mean your washed clothes will smell fresher too and your washing machine will perform better and last longer – which, as we all know, is exactly what you need when you've umpteen loads of milk-dribbled babygros/banana-stained T-shirts/mud-splatted football kits to get through every week.


So, how do you deep-clean a washing machine? Here, with help of cleaning and laundry expert Sarah Dempsey of MyJobQuote, who's been advising homeowners and tradespeople on domestic cleaning for over 25 years, we've pulled together a simple step by step deep-clean guide that includes everything from running a special cleaning wash cycle to cleaning the rubber seal and dispenser drawer.

Sarah's also given us some great tips for cleaning specific parts the washing machine that have got grubby or gunky over time, including cleaning the washing machine drum and getting mould off the rubber seal. And we also have her advice on how to stop your machine getting smelly and what not to use to clean your washing machine – whatever anyone on social media might be saying!

How often should you clean your washing machine? Most washing machines need a good deep-clean every 1 to 3 months. In between deep-cleans, it's a good idea to keep your eyes on the rubber seal, wiping away fluff, detergent scum and dirt. Sarah also strongly recommends you always keep the washing machine door open between washes to allow air to circulate in the drum, stop bacteria and mould forming, and prevent that musty smell.

  • Think your dishwasher might need a deep-clean too? Take a look at our step-to-step guide to How to clean a dishwasher. An if limescale build-up is a particular problem, then we also have a roundup of the best limescale removers which you may find useful.

How to deep clean your washing machine – expert step by step guide

Washing machine

What you'll need:

For the cleaning wash cycle:

More like this

For cleaning the dispenser drawer:

  • An old, soft toothbrush
  • Towel

For cleaning the rubber seal:

  • Liquid soap
  • Microfibre cloth (multipack micofibre cloths can work out cheaper)
  • Old, soft toothbrush (as above, optional)
  • Towel (or another microfibre cloth)

What to do:

Step 1. Run a cleaning wash cycle

If you have a newish washing machine, it may have a dedicated cycle for cleaning. If yours does, then just add some liquid bleach or washing machine cleaner (follow the instructions on the packet carefully) and run its cleaning cycle. If your washing machine does not have a cleaning cycle, add ½ cup liquid bleach to the dispenser and then run a normal hot-water wash cycle. Once it's finished, run a rinse and spin cycle, just to be sure all the bleach/washing machine cleaner has been cleared away.

  • Not sure whether to use bleach or a washing machine cleaner? Both will kill bacteria and mould in your machine but bleach alone may not dissolve detergent residue; washing machine cleaners usually have extra ingredients that will tackle the detergent residue, too.

Step 2. Clean the dispenser drawer

Remove the drawer and take it apart (if possible). Rinse the parts in hot water and use the toothbrush to dislodge any stubborn gunk. Wipe all the pieces dry with the towel and then reassemble the drawer and insert it back into the washing machine. Leave the drawer open for a while to thoroughly air it.

Step 3. Clean the rubber seal

Add some liquid soap to a bowl of water. Dip your microfibre cloth into the soapy water and then carefully wipe the rubber seal around thewashing-machine drum, removing any hairs and gunk that have been caught in the seals. You may find it helps to use a soft toothbrush to get into the trickier areas. Then dry with a clean towel, taking care to wipe away all the moisture in all the trickier areas, too. Leave the washing machine door open for a while, to allow even more thorough drying and to let air circulate.

  • Rubber seal with black mould? See our guide to How to get black mould off the washing machine seal, below.

How to clean a washing machine drum

There are lots of nooks and crannies in a washing machine drum where bacteria and dirt can gather, so if your washing machine's drum is looking a bit grubby or you'd like to give it a bit of extra attention in between deep-cleans, here's what to do...

Washing machine drum

What you'll need:

What to do:

Step 1. Create a paste

Combine a little 'puddle' of white vinegar with a good shake of baking soda. Stir to form a paste, adding more vinegar or baking soda as needed.

Step 2. Apply the paste

Apply the paste mixture to the drum, being very careful not to get any on the seal (vinegar an be damaging to the rubber). Scrub on the paste with a stiff nylon brush.

Step 3. Run the machine to wash the paste off

Run a (empty) hot wash on your machine's hottest settin). After the wash is finished, open the door and leave it open for several hours.

How to stop your washing machine from getting smelly

1. Take your clothes out as soon as possible after the wash cycle has ended.

2. Keep an eye out for pet hairs. If you have a pet and you spot hairs in the washing machine drum, leave the door open until the drum – and the hairs – are dry, then use a vacuum-cleaner brush attachment to vacuum out the hairs.

3. Clean the washing machine filter. Look at your machine's instruction manual to find it but it's usually behind a hinged over towards the bottom of your machine. Follow your manual's guide to releasing it, then carefully wipe it and replace.

3. Keep the washing machine seals clean and dry. See our step by step guide for the best tips.

4. Keep the washing machine dispenser clean and dry. See our step by step guide for the best tips.

5. Clean detergent drips from the outside of your washing machine and the controls, as soon as you see them.

6. Leave your washing machine door open after you've unloaded your washing and allow the air to circulate.

How to get black mould off the washing machine seal

Sometimes, if left for too long, the build-up in the folds of your washing-machine seal can go a bit mouldy. Here's what to do...

wiping the rubber seal of a washing machine with a cloth

What you'll need:

What to do:

1. Apply the cleaner

Spray or squeeze a small amount of the bleach-based cleaner onto a microfibre cloth. Use the cloth to wipe around the washing machine seal, being sure to cover the entire circumference and get into all the folds.

2. Leave it to work

Let the bleach-based cleaner sit for approximately 5 to 10 minutes, then wipe away with a clean, damp cloth.

3. Run the washing machine

Once you've wiped away all the cleaner, run an empty hot cycle on your washing machine.

What NOT to use to clean your washing machine

Laundry and cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey has some clear advice on which products you really shouldn't use to clean your washing machine...

  • Washing-up liquid. "Adding washing-up liquid to your washing machine is never a good idea," says Sarah. "Not only can it be damaging to the washing machine itself but it can also result in some very inconvenient issues with excessive bubbles!"
  • Dishwasher tablets. "I've seen a new trend for people adding dishwasher tablets to their washing machine and running an empty wash to the clean it," says Sarah. "However, this should only be done at your own risk as the chemicals in the dishwasher tablet can cause damage to the components in your washing machine."
  • White vinegar. "Vinegar should only be used when completing a deep clean, once a month or so," says Sarah. "Also, it should never be use in pure form but rather added to a wash cycle or mixed with baking soda and water. Vinegar should not be applied directly to a washing machine, unless heavily diluted. The acid in vinegar can cause wear on some of the components within the machine, particularly the rubber parts like the seals."

About our expert

Sarah Dempsey has worked in the cleaning industry for over 25 years. Sarah specialises in domestic cleaning and laundry. She also works closely with MyJobQuote to provide expert cleaning knowledge to homeowners, tradespeople and news outlets.

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Chloe BrightwellDigital Reviews Writer and Coordinator

Chloe is a Digital Reviews Writer and Coordinator for Immediate Media's Parenting team, specialising in household and trying to help parents save money. She researches and writes articles, recommending the best products, ranging from best cordless vacuums to best playpens. She has a First-Class Honours Psychology degree where she developed a strong interest in child development. During her teenage years she worked as a play worker and Brownie volunteer to support children's play.