14 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Clean in Your Washing Machine

Your handiest helper in cleaning up life's greatest messes is right in the laundry room. Did you know it can cleanse so much more than just clothes?

By Jennifer Noonan and Savannah Sher | Published Feb 13, 2023 11:27 AM

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Most of us would be lost without the use of a washing machine, given the heavy lifting it does to cleanse our clothing, towels, and bedding. If you think fabric is all this miracle machine can wash for you, think again—these surprising household items can also benefit from a trip through the spin cycle on laundry day.

1. Shower Curtain Liners

clear shower curtain liner in white tiled bathroom

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Because it’s a magnet for hard water stains, soap residue, and mildew, a plastic shower curtain liner can get gross pretty quickly. To keep yours stink- and stain-free, launder it once a month on the delicate cycle.

RELATED: How to Clean a Shower Curtain

2. Sneakers

putting bright pink sneakers in washing machine

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Do your cross-trainers stink to high heaven? Toss your shoes in the washing machine for a refresh. First, remove the laces and insoles. Laces can go in with the load, but insoles should be washed by hand. Set the sneakers on a cold-water cycle with a load of rags or towels, and air-dry them before lacing them back up.

3. Lunch Boxes

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine lunch bag with sandwich and vegetables

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The insulated lunch boxes you send to school with the kids come into regular contact with germ-ridden school surfaces, nevermind the ketchup and juice stains that have been there since you don’t know when. Ew! Pack these bags into your next cold-water load of laundry, air dry them overnight, and they’ll be fresh and ready by the time the next lunch bell rings.

RELATED: How to Clean a Washing Machine

4. Yoga Mats

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine yoga class rolling out mats

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If you’re trying to achieve a mindful, meditative state, a stinky yoga mat will not get you there. It’s easier than you think to clean a yoga mat in the washing machine: Simply add it to the drum along with a load of towels or sheets, and set it on a delicate, cold-water cycle. Remove the mat before the spin cycle, and let it air-dry before your next downward dog.

5. Baseball Caps

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine stacks of baseball caps

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Can you wash a hat in the washing machine? You bet. Baseball caps with good stitching and sturdy bills can laundered with like colors on a cold, gentle cycle. Afterward, wad up some newspaper and tuck it inside the hat so that it keeps its shape as it air dries.

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6. Stuffed Animals

teddy bear in washing machine

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Parents know how grimy kids’ most treasured companions can get. Though laundry tags on most plushies say that they should not be put into washing machines, you can usually get away with it. (Before you give it a bath, make sure that the plush doesn’t have a lot of sewn-on ornamentation, or any electronic components inside.) Put the toys in a pillowcase or mesh laundry bag, and throw them in along with a load of clothes of like colors. Hang the lovies to dry after the cycle is over.

7. LEGO Bricks

child sorting lego bricks in crate

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Who knew? Fingerprint- and germ-covered LEGO bricks can be cleaned in the washing machine (except those that are painted or have stickers on them). Put the bricks in a pillowcase, and secure the bag tightly with string, a scrunchie, or a rubber band. Launder the contents in a cool-water cycle with other clothing. Do not put LEGOs in the dryer, which could melt them. Instead, air-dry them on a towel, and then invite some buddies over to sort them.

RELATED: 8 Things You Should Never Put in the Washing Machine

8. Pet Collars and Leashes

woman doing laundry with dog with collar

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As long as they aren’t studded or have other ornaments on them, non-leather pet collars and leashes are among the essential pet products that can be cleaned in the washing machine. Because collars make contact with our pets’ skin, it’s a good idea to use a detergent meant for sensitive skin so that you don’t irritate Fido or Fifi.

9. Pillows

linen closet with pillows on shelves with towels clean laundry

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Here’s some good news for those who wonder, “Can I wash pillows in the washing machine?” You can (and should) do this every 6 months or so (more frequently, if you have pets) to keep your bedding free of dander and mites. Both down and synthetic pillows can benefit from a cleaning. Set the machine to a warm, gentle cycle and launder pillows in pairs to keep the drum balanced. Transfer the pillows to the dryer, and dry them thoroughly on low heat. Adding a tennis ball or two to the cycle will help fluff pillows up as they dry.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Buy Better Sleep

10. Sports Equipment

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine young soccer team shin guards under socks

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The sporting life is as sweaty as it is fun but boy, can it reek. Keep sports funk to a minimum by throwing shin guards, knee pads, elbow pads, and any other fabric-lined gear kids wear under their uniforms into the washing machine. Launder it in warm water, and hang it (or lay it flat, depending on the item) to dry. Pro tip: Adding laundry sanitizer to the wash cycle will kill bacteria and odor.

11. Makeup Sponges

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine washing makeup sponge in sink

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Makeup sponges need to be cleaned regularly to avoid spreading potentially harmful bacteria. Washing them by hand can be tedious and doesn’t always get them as clean as they should be. To deep clean your makeup sponges and have them come out looking like new, toss them in the washing machine and add some white vinegar to the wash cycle at about ¼ cup per load, which will help disinfect and deodorize your sponges. Do not put colored makeup sponges in the washing machine with white items. Dye from the sponges can transfer and discolor the other items in the load.

RELATED: 13 Things You Shouldn’t Keep in the Bathroom

12. Silicone Oven Mitts

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine red oven mitts in baking pan

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Oven mitts can quickly become stained and grimy, especially those that are used to grab greasy pots and pans. Cleaning silicone oven mitts in a washing machine is an easy and efficient way to keep them in good condition. Use a mild detergent and choose a cold or warm water setting. Never use hot water on silicone, because it can damage the fabric and make it more susceptible to tearing. This cleaning hack also works for other silicone kitchen tools, like trivets and ice cube trays.

13. Backpacks

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine putting backpack in washing machine

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Whether they’re used for school or just traveling around town, backpacks make contact with some pretty nasty surfaces (school buses and public bathrooms, for starters). As long as it isn’t trimmed in leather or suede, or isn’t bedazzled with glitter or other embellishments, a backpack can be washed in the washing machine.

Select an appropriate wash cycle for your bag based on its material type: For example, if your bag is made of cotton or polyester, a delicate wash setting should suffice. If it’s made of a more rugged material, like canvas, it may be cycle. Once finished, remove the backpack from the washer promptly from the washer to ensure no unnecessary wrinkling occurs. Hang it outdoors if possible but alternatively, lay it flat indoors on a drying rack.

RELATED: 12 Tidy Backpack Storage Ideas for Your Entryway

14. Silk

14 things you didn't know you can clean in your washing machine silk clothing label hand wash concept

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You may have heard that silk should always be dry cleaned, but that’s not 100 percent accurate. If the garment’s label says that it can be hand washed, it can also be safely machine washed. While silk is indeed more delicate than materials like cotton and polyester, it’s perfectly safe to launder at home as long as you take the right precautions. It’s best to wash silk in cool water on a gentle cycle (preferably inside a mesh laundry bag that provides an additional layer of protection).