Cleaning an appliance that’s designed for cleaning might sound a little counterintuitive. But for a washing machine to do its job effectively and efficiently, it needs regular care and attention on your part.   

That’s especially true for front-loading washers, since their design creates trouble spots that, if left unchecked, can lead to funky mold and mildew, plus the attendant odors. Manufacturers have made some improvements to front-loading washers to address the problem, but if you’re used to doing laundry in a top-loader, you’ll need to make a few key adjustments, following the steps listed below. Top-loaders, whether the conventional kind or a newer high-efficiency model, will benefit from many of the same measures.

Step 1

After each wash in a front-loader, wipe down the door and the rubber gasket that surrounds it with a cloth.
Tip: attach a magnetic hook to the side of the washer to hold the cloth as a reminder, and so you’re not constantly looking around for one.

In between loads, it's also a good idea to leave the washer door ajar; the circulating air will help dry out the interior. Some newer front-loaders have a special latch that leaves the door slightly ajar (on the LG WM3370HWA, $800, a standout model in our current washer ratings, it’s referred to as magnetic door plunge). The feature can be helpful if you have a curious cat or other pets at home. In households with small children, we urge locking the door to the laundry room to prevent them from accessing the open washer.

Step 2

If your machine has an automatic soap dispenser, as all front-loaders and many new top-loaders do, periodically clean it out to prevent soap buildup, which contributes to mildew and bad odors. Leaving it open when not in use also improves air circulation.

Using the correct amount of detergent will also help minimize residue. Our tests have found that fill lines can be hard to read on some detergent caps. That goes for detergents designed for high-efficiency front- and top-loaders, as well as conventional top-loaders. If that’s the case with your laundry detergent of choice (check our laundry detergent ratings for the latest winners) use a marker to highlight the fill line.

Step 3

Every few months, sanitize the inside of the machine. Start by adding about 1 cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser, or directly into the machine if you have an older model without a dispenser. Then run a hot wash cycle without laundry. The disinfecting bleach will kill mold and mildew spores that thrive in the warm, moist, dark environment provided by all washing machines.

If you’re in the market for a new washer, look for a top-scoring model from our washing machine ratings with a special tub-cleaning cycle. The feature is designed to prevent odors and mildew by removing detergent residue. Although you’ll still need to follow the steps above to keep the machine sparkling clean.