The 10 Best Washing Machine Cleaners
This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in October of 2017. If your laundry room has a smell that's not coming from your dirty clothes, it may be time to clean your washing machine. Mold, mildew, and other odor-causing residue can build up in areas you can't see and, before you know it, a funky odor starts to develop. These cleaners offer a convenient way to sanitize your appliance and leave it looking and smelling like new again. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 29, 2020:
For this update we removed the Smelly Washer All-Natural due to lack of availability and replaced it with the Cleansio Washing Machine. Even though this mild formula won't break through heavy build-ups on the first treatment, it's ideal for monthly maintenance as it is purposefully unscented so musty smells are never masked and you can nip the problem in the bud before it becomes nasty.
Some of the more powerful cleansers like the Tide Single Pack, Affresh Value Pack, and OxiClean with Odor Blaster make use of sodium percarbonate. Although this ingredient is deemed safe and regularly used in cleaning products, but it is an ingredient avoided by those who prefer more natural cleaning products. But the good news is these cleaners don't actually make contact with the clothing, and they'll do a better job on a washer that hasn't been cleaned for years.
Anyone who prefers natural cleaning products, but has inherited a nasty washer, (or just didn't realize that washers need to be cleaned inside), may want to compromise and use a heavy-duty option to get the initial muck off, and then switch to a natural product for monthly maintenance.
Lemi Shine Natural continues to be our top natural option. While this line also offers a multi-purpose formula that can be used in other appliances like dishwashers, we recommend the washing machine formula because it includes a wipe to pre-clean build up in hard to reach areas, like the gasket or the soap dispenser.
February 27, 2019:
Some may find it odd to clean a washing machine, since it seems like they should technically be cleaning themselves every time they are run. Unfortunately, this isn't true. Many laundry detergents leave behind greasy residue that acts as a catch-all for bacteria, dirt, and other grime, which can quickly lead to a foul odor. Luckily, these dedicated machine cleaners can obliterate that built-up gunk in no time, and get rid of the funky smell while they are at it. If you clean your clothes with a liquid soap, and prefer your appliance cleaner also be in liquid form, then you'll want to check out Glisten Washer Magic, Oh Yuk Orange Scent, Smelly Washer All-Natural, Kleenite Kleen, and Weiman Spray 'N Go. On the other hand, if you prefer the convenience of a one time-use tablet or pouch of powder, you'll want to consider Lemi Shine Multi-Use, Affresh Value, Tide Single Use, Gain Refresher, and OxiClean with Odor Blaster. Some options can even be used to clean other appliances, like Lemi Shine Multi-Use and Smelly Washer All-Natural, the latter of which can also get rid of rancid mold and mildew smells on towels.
A Brief History Of Washing Machines
It wasn't until after WWII, though, that the washing machine would really hit its stride.
The first washing machine was simply a river with a few rocks in it on which clothes could be beaten. Sometimes abrasive sands were used to scrub away caked-on dirt and gunk, and evidence of washing soap dating back to the Roman Empire has been found.
The forebear to the modern washing machine came along in the late 17th century C.E. It was a rotating drum that was textured on the outside; the user simply filled it with water and soap, and then used a stick to run the clothes over the texture, knocking loose any debris. It was more effective than hand washing, but likely about as time-consuming.
This design was soon replaced by a similar one that was powered by hand crank. These were often placed above fires to heat the water inside, and, by the 19th century, steam power was being used to clean clothes.
Surprisingly enough, these crude washing machines actually predate the metal washboard, which wasn't invented until 1833. At the time, however, the two technologies were probably relatively equal in terms of manpower needed to operate them.
Several prototypes were invented in the mid-19th century, including the first washer with a wringer mechanism. These were all similar, and none of them really caught on with the general public.
In 1904, the first electric washing machines began to be advertised in newspapers. These became quite popular, and by 1928 nearly a million were being sold every year. Unfortunately, those sales — as well as the sales of just about everything else — plummeted during the Great Depression.
Around this time, laundromats began to spring up across the country. They offered people who couldn't afford washing machines the opportunity to still clean their clothes quickly and efficiently.
It wasn't until after WWII, though, that the washing machine would really hit its stride. The ensuing economic boom meant that plenty of Americans had enough cash to afford their own washer and dryer, and they became standard appliances in most households.
Technological advances made them more effective, as well. The introduction of a timer allowed users to step away from a load in progress, and permanent water connections eliminated the need to constantly hook up and detach hoses.
Modern machines have become quite advanced, requiring little in the way of effort to operate. A heavy emphasis has been placed on eco-friendliness in recent years, and reducing water consumption without sacrificing effectiveness is the goal that motivates many manufacturers.
While doing laundry is still undoubtedly a chore, it's come a long way from the days of beating your clothes against a rock.
Just How Dirty Is Your Washing Machine?
It's not something we want to think about. In fact, it feels like an act of betrayal: your washing machine, the very device that's supposed to keep your clothes clean, could be harboring massive amounts of bacteria?
Sadly, it's true. Your washing machine is the perfect breeding ground for thousands of germs, including some of the deadliest: E. coli, salmonella, MRSA, and more.
All of these contaminants should be dealt with in some way or another.
The biggest culprit is your underwear. It contains millions of bacteria that are found in fecal matter, and they can spread into the water and proliferate, infecting subsequent loads. They can also get on your hands once you handle the wet clothes to transfer them to the dryer, and from there they can travel to your food. Not a pretty picture.
And that's just the bugs you can't see. If you let your machine go long enough, you may start to notice mold and mildew growing inside it.
All of these contaminants should be dealt with in some way or another. Washing with extremely hot water (around 150 degreed Fahrenheit) will help, as will a good dose of bleach. However, using a dedicated cleaner is also recommended.
There's quite a variety to choose from, and honestly you might not find a single one that does everything you need. For example, surface mold will need to be targeted with a spray or powder and then wiped away, while invisible creepy-crawlies in the drum or hoses will likely need some sort of additive put in the wash.
The good news is that not only will these cleaners help kill unwanted germs, but they can take care of any lingering odors in the machine, as well.
Before you ask, though, they won't be able to fold your clothes for you. Sorry.
Tips For Keeping Your Machine Clean
While using a cleaner to tidy up your washer is a good idea, it's even better to prevent it from getting too dirty in the first place.
Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish this is by simply leaving the lid open when it's not in use. This helps it air dry and inhibits mold and mildew growth, saving you from having to scrub slime off later.
You probably don't even want to think about the condition your fridge is in...
Don't neglect the dispenser and filters, either. You may need an old toothbrush to really get in there deep, but it's worth it, as these are two places where gunk and grime love to accumulate. Be sure to remove any solids, such as built-up detergent, hair, and other materials that might be stuck inside.
It's a smart idea to replace the hoses periodically, as well — about every five years or so. Limescale can build up in them over time, slowing the flow of water and causing the drum to take forever to fill up. Replacing them also lowers the risk of them cracking or breaking, which can make quite the expensive mess.
Be aware that, regardless of how thorough you are or which method you use, cleaning your machine might not be a one-and-done endeavor, especially if it's looking pretty rough. It might take several tries to get everything as clean as you'd like. Luckily, it's easier to keep it unsoiled than to get it that way, so with a little diligence you should be able to enjoy an immaculate machine.
Well, your washer will be immaculate, anyway. You probably don't even want to think about the condition your fridge is in...