The washing machine is the workhorse of the laundry room. It deals with dirty towels, sweaty gym clothes, and a whole lot of other gross stuff. Over time, detergent residue, bacteria, and dirt can build up in a washing machine, leading to musty smells in the machine and not-so-clean laundry.
An unpleasant whiff from your washer may mean you’re due for a deep clean. A washing machine cleaner is a reliable solution to clean the nooks and crannies of your washer. Washing machine cleaners are formulated for either internal or surface cleaning. Liquid, gel, and tablets are intended to be run through the wash cycle, while sprays and wipes are applied to the surface of the washer and the interior of the drum.
These washing machine cleaners cut through grime and leave your washer smelling fresh.
- BEST OVERALL: OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Lemi Shine Natural Washing Machine Cleaner + Wipes
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner
- BEST SMELL: Oh Yuk Washing Machine Cleaner for All Washers
- BEST LIQUID: Glisten Washer Magic Machine Cleaner
- BEST TABLETS: Affresh W10501250 Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets
- BEST WIPES: Affresh W10355053 Washing Machine Cleaner Wipes
Types of Washing Machine Cleaners
The best washing machine cleaners break down grime without degrading the washer’s rubber and plastic parts. Frequent cleaning can boost the efficiency and lifespan of a washer. Most washing machine cleaners work in both top-loading and front-loading machines. Just make sure to check if the cleaner is for standard or high-efficiency (HE) washers.
There are four general types of washing machine cleaners.
A liquid or gel washing machine cleaner is an easy-to-use option. Most of these cleaners go in the detergent drawer or washer drum for a hot-water wash cycle. Liquid and gel cleaners hit all the nooks and crannies inside a washer that are hard to reach by hand. Liquid cleaners wash away easily, so you aren’t left with remnants of the cleaner the next time you do your laundry. They won’t leave behind gunk or powder residue.
Washing machine cleaner tablets dissolve throughout the cleaning cycle. Their slow-acting formula breaks down tough residue and flushes it away.
They’re super simple to use. Just toss them in the empty washer on a hot-water cycle. Best of all, tablets are convenient to store. One pouch of tablets can hold months worth of grime-fighting ability. There’s also less chance of spills or messes with tablets.
Washing machine cleaner sprays are another quick and easy option. Most don’t need a wash cycle to do their job, and some don’t even need wiping or rinsing. Just spray it and forget it.
Since they’re so convenient, they’re perfect for everyday use. It’s a low-effort way to keep smells and bacteria at bay. Sprays can be used in the washer drum and also for cleaning machine surfaces, like buttons and rubber door seals, that most pods or liquid cleaners can’t reach.
If there’s stubborn buildup that needs scrubbing, reach for wipes, an all-in-one option for cleaning your washing machine.
The best washing machine cleaner wipes are safe to use on all the machine’s surfaces: the washer drum, door, and outer parts. There’s no need to run a wash cycle or wipe off the cleaner when you’re done. They are a good option to keep on hand for daily or weekly maintenance.
Features to Look for in the Best Washing Machine Cleaner
The best washing machine cleaner is tough on grime, but gentle on washing machine parts. It removes gunk without damaging door seals and rubber gaskets. Effective cleaners break down residue and water deposits, and kill bacteria and mildew. For washers with a stubborn odor, look for a cleaner with an odor-removing boost.
Hard water can cause problems in your washing machine. It can cause limescale, a hard coating that sticks to the inside of a washing machine. Limescale deposits are unsightly—and, if they accumulate in pipes and the washer drum, can leave residue on clothes. Limescale buildup can even make appliances less energy efficient.
Limescale is tough to remove, but there are washing machine cleaners specially formulated to dissolve it.
Before you notice dirt or buildup in your washer, you might notice its smell: that funky, wet-socks odor. Freshly-cleaned clothes may smell damp and musty, too. It’s a sign your washing machine needs some TLC.
Mold, mildew, and bacteria are the main causes of washing machine odors. To get rid of the odor, you have to get rid of those nasties. The best washing machine cleaners do just that.
For washers that have a lingering smell, you may need to do a second cleaning with a washing machine cleaner specially formulated to neutralize odors. Your clothes (and your nose) will thank you.
Bacteria and Mildew Removal
Frequent use and damp conditions make the washer an ideal home for germs, mildew, mold, and bacteria. They’re not just nasty, they’re also not great for your health. If you see or smell mildew in your washer, get rid of it.
Eco-friendly laundry practices like cold water washes don’t effectively kill bacteria. For the most part, this is not a major concern, but, to be safe, run a bacteria-removing deep clean every once in a while.
Our Top Picks
These washing machine cleaners top the list for being easy to use and effective.
OxiClean’s Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters has the grime-busting power of the company’s iconic original cleaner. It targets odor-causing residue, leaving washers hygienic and smelling fresh. It’s a powder that comes in pouches and goes right into the washer drum, where it works on a hot water wash cycle.
This formula works for both standard and HE washers. It is safe for septic tanks and does not contain phosphates, so it’s kinder to the planet than some other brands.
Lemi Shine Natural Washing Machine Cleaner is a two-in-one package that contains cleaning powder and wipes so you can clean the inner and outer surfaces of your washing machine. Lemi Shine uses natural citric acid to eat away grime and residue for a powerful clean. It’s bleach-free, phosphate-free, non-toxic, biodegradable, and doesn’t contain artificial fillers or dyes.
This washing machine cleaner has a light citrus smell, so it’s a good option for those sensitive to strong odors. It’s made to be used once a month in all types of machines, including top-loading, front-loading, standard, and HE washers.
Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner contains eco-friendly ingredients but still packs a powerful punch. The ingredients are septic-safe, will not harm aquatic life, and each tablet comes in biodegradable wrapping.
These tablets work for all washing machines, top and front-loading, as well as standard and HE. During a wash cycle, the tablets dissolve into a cleansing foam that rinses the inner parts of your washer tub and drainage system. It eliminates odor without any strong perfumes and fragrances, so it’s good for those sensitive to detergent smells. It’s an environmentally-friendly option to keep your washer clean.
Oh Yuk Washing Machine Cleaner breaks down leftover detergent, dirt, and oils left in your washer and rinses them out, leaving behind a natural, fresh citrus scent. It’s great for those who do not like overly-perfumed cleaning products.
You can use this liquid cleaner to wipe the door and other surfaces inside your washer. Oh Yuk recommends soaking the drum with 4 oz. of cleaner and 1 gallon of hot water for an hour, then running the empty washer with hot water to rinse it. Oh Yuk is safe for all top-loading, front-loading, standard, and HE washers.
Glisten Washer Magic Machine Cleaner is formulated to target limescale, as well as odor, residue, and germs. The active ingredient in this powerful liquid formula dissolves soap scum and mineral deposits, flushing away all the gross stuff in your washer.
It can be used on multiple surfaces on and within a washing machine. In addition to cleaning residue in door seals and soap dispenser drawers, you can clean the washer drum by pouring a ½ cup of Glisten Washer Magic into the drum (or detergent dispenser), and running a hot water cycle.
It works without any harsh chemicals and carries the EPA’s Safer Choice label—Safer Choice products contain ingredients considered better for human health and the environment. Glisten Washer Magic is safe for all washing machines, including HE washers.
Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets dissolve slowly into a cleansing foam, which scrubs down the inside of your washer. It gives a good, hygienic clean and contains limescale-dissolving ingredients. The tablet can be dropped directly into the washing machine drum on a hot cycle, and any residue can be wiped away after the cycle ends.
The tablets work on all washers, including top-loading, front-loading, standard, and HE machines.
There’s nothing more frustrating than wipes that tear when you’re trying to clean. Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Wipes are tough—one of the strongest and thickest on the market—so they make scrubbing easier. Use them on exterior surfaces, door seals, and soap dispensers to get your machine squeaky clean.
The wipes’ design traps surface dirt and residue and is safe to use on all washing machines, but it cannot deliver the same deep-cleaning power to the interior drum that you would get from a liquid, gel, or tablet. If you opt for these wipes, you may wish to pair it with an additional washing machine cleaner for a sparkling washer drum as well.
How to Clean a Washing Machine
It’s best to clean your washing machine at least once a month to keep bacteria and odors away and prevent buildup before it happens. You want to clean and sanitize all surfaces: the drum, door, rubber gaskets, buttons, and other outer surfaces. Here’s how to deep clean a washing machine:
- Detach any removable pieces, like control knobs and the soap tray, and wash those in hot, soapy water.
- Wipe down the exterior of the washing machine. Dust and lint collect quickly in the laundry room, and a pass with a microfiber cloth can remove it from surfaces.
- Wipe down the door, paying attention to rubber gaskets and seals. On front loading washing machines, the door gasket is notorious for harboring mold. Clean all the nooks and crannies.
- Follow the washing machine cleaner directions to clean and sanitize the drum. This step usually involves running your washer on a hot-water cycle. Some washers have a specific cleaning cycle; use that option when possible.
- When you’re done, leave the door open so the washer can dry. A damp washer may mildew. It’s a good idea to prop the door open after each laundry load, too.
FAQs About Your New Washing Machine Cleaner
Still wondering what washing machine cleaner is best for you, or how to use it? Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions.
Q. How do you deep clean a washing machine?
A good deep clean involves sanitizing all inner and outer surfaces of your washer. A washing machine cleaner makes this task easy. Just follow the directions and it will do most of the work for you.
Q. How often should you clean a washing machine?
Once a month is best. It’s also a good idea to clean your washer if someone in your household has been sick, or after a particularly germy load of laundry.
Q. Can vinegar damage a washing machine?
Yes. Vinegar can damage the rubber seals or hoses in some washing machines. It’s best to skip the vinegar for this job, and save yourself from a potentially expensive leak or repair.
Q. Why does my washing machine still smell after cleaning it?
Check for spots you may have missed, such as inside the door seal or soap dispenser. Your washer may need another run with a washing machine cleaner to remove any tough leftover residue.