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 it’s due for a deep clean. A washing machine cleaner is a reliable solution to clean the nooks and crannies of a 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.
The following list of washing machine cleaners cut through grime and leave a washer smelling fresh.
- BEST OVERALL: OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner with Odor Blasters
- BEST VALUE: Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner and Cleaning Wipes
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Eco-Gals Eco Swirlz Washing Machine Cleaner
- BEST SCENT: Oh Yuk Washing Machine Cleaner For All Washers
- BEST LIQUID: Glisten Washer Magic Machine Cleaner
- BEST TABLETS: Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner, 6 Tablets
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 for 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 a 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 users aren’t left with remnants of the cleaner the next time they do 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, too: 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, and they’re 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 pods or most 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.
What to Consider When Choosing 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 while killing 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, they can leave a 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, users 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. Eco-friendly laundry practices like cold water washes don’t effectively kill bacteria. To be safe, run a bacteria-removing deep clean every once in a while.
Our Top Picks
The following 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.
- Type: Powder
- Number of Uses: 4
- Scent: Unscented
- Easy-to-use pouches
- No bleach or phosphate used
- Highly effective at eliminating odors
Lemi Shine 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, nontoxic, biodegradable, and doesn’t contain artificial fillers or dyes.
This washing machine cleaner has a light citrus scent, 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.
- Type: Powder pouches and wipes
- Number of Uses: 8
- Scent: Lemon
- Biodegradable and natural ingredients
- Suitable for most washing machines
- Wipes ideal for removing residue
- May struggle to tackle tough odors
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 the 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.
- Type: Tablets
- Number of Uses: 24
- Scent: Unscented
- Eco-friendly ingredients
- Enough tablets for an entire year
- May be ineffective at cleaning gaskets
Oh Yuk Washing Machine Cleaner breaks down leftover detergent, dirt, and oils left in a 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.
This liquid cleaner can be used to wipe the door and other surfaces inside a washer. Oh Yuk recommends soaking the drum with 4 ounces 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.
- Type: Liquid
- Number of Uses: 4
- Scent: Orange
- Leaves a fresh citrus scent
- Breaks down dirt with natural ingredients
- Easy to use
- Won’t clean the door seal on front-loading machines
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 a 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, users can clean the washer drum by pouring ½-cup of Glisten Washer Magic into the drum (or detergent dispenser) and running a hot water cycle.
This cleaner works without any harsh chemicals and carries the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) 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.
- Type: Liquid
- Number of Uses: 3
- Scent: Unscented
- No harsh chemicals for a gentle clean
- Also cleans the door seal and drum
- Affordable bottle
- May require several uses for particularly dirty machines
Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets dissolve slowly into a cleansing foam, which scrubs down the inside of a washer. The tablets work on all washers, including top-loading, front-loading, standard, and HE machines.
This product includes six tablets, which provides 6 months’ worth of washing-machine deep cleans. This lightly scented tablet gives a good hygienic clean, using grime-busting and limescale-dissolving ingredients to clear odor-causing residue.
This product is excellent for getting rid of musty and mildewy smells in a washer and is very easy to use. The tablet can be dropped directly into the washing machine drum on a hot cycle. Once the cycle ends, simply wipe away any residue.
- Type: Tablets
- Number of Uses: 6
- Scent: Unscented
- Slow-dissolving tablet lasts the entire cycle
- Suitable for all machine types
- Great for removing foul odors
- May struggle to tackle mold issues
For an effective washing machine cleaner, consider our best overall choice from OxiClean, which is suitable for all types of machines and provides an eco-friendly cleaning solution that leaves machines looking and smelling fresh.
For shoppers looking for multiple cleaning methods in a single package, the Lemi Shine washing machine cleaner and wipes are worth a look. Use the pouches for a thorough clean during a wash cycle, and keep the cleanliness topped off using the handy machine wipes.
How We Chose the Best Washing Machine Cleaners
When gathering our top picks for washing machine cleaners, we took a careful look at the different types of cleaning solutions to provide a range of options for shoppers. Our list of recommendations includes liquids, powders, and wipes, each with their own specific strengths. Depending on what users are looking for, we made sure that our list has an option to suit a variety of preferences.
For those sensitive to strong chemical smells, we made sure to include several picks that are odorless cleaners that simply eliminate bad odors and leave behind a clean machine. On the other hand, those who appreciate a clean fragrance can find multiple options too, with lemon, orange, and other fresh scents available.
How to Clean a Washing Machine
It’s best to clean a washing machine at least once a month to keep bacteria and odors away and prevent buildup before it happens. It’s important 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 collects 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 the washer on a hot-water cycle. Some washers have a specific cleaning cycle; use that option when possible.
- When the cleaning is finished, leave the door open so the washer can dry; a damp washer may develop mildew. It’s a good idea to prop the door open after each laundry load, too.
Still wondering which 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.