How To Clean Washing Machine: A Top Loading Washer Naturally

This post may contain affiliate links.

How to Clean Washing Machine Naturally

Knowing how to clean a washing machine naturally, specifically a top loader, requires only vinegar, baking soda, and a little elbow grease!

Tip: learn to make homemade laundry detergent.

How to Clean Your Washer Naturally

First, these instructions are for a top-loading washer. However, if you have a front loader, you can find directions for cleaning your front load washer.

The other day I received this request from a DIY Natural community member:

“I am looking for a way to make the Affresh washing machine tablets or a recipe to clean my new top load washer. The tablets smell of vinegar and baking soda. Any ideas would be helpful. THANKS!”

So I quickly thought of my own dirty washing machine and took this as an opportunity to write a post that would hopefully help many others.

Do You Want A Clean Washing Machine?

If the idea of learning how to clean a washing machine sounds odd to you, let’s talk about some reasons it might be helpful:

  • Some washers have the tendency to smell bad due to their design. HE washers tend to hold water in certain components, becoming a breeding ground for mold and mildew and causing unpleasant odors.
  • Odors in a washing machine can eventually come off on clean clothing.
  • Hard water causes a lime buildup in components and pipes, causing things to run slower. Washing machines and pipes are more efficient when lime is removed.
  • You may live in a humid climate. Constant moisture in the air prevents the washer from completely drying in between loads, causing stale odors and mildew.
  • Often times soap and dirt splash up, leaving grime on parts of the agitator and wash bin that is above the waterline.

Our Drum, Gaskets, and Seals Needed a Good Scrub

My current washer is a normal (non-HE) top loader, but it definitely needed a good cleaning. We recently moved to a humid climate where the washer is constantly damp.

Strike #1 to having a nice-smelling and clean washing machine.

We live in a rental house and the previous renters allowed gunk to build up in parts of the machine.

Strike #2.

When we moved in 7 months ago, I only cleaned the surface of the gross washing machine, leaving the inside for a day when I had more energy.

Strike #3 for this poor appliance.

I’m somewhat embarrassed, but I’m showing pictures anyway. Lucky for you I’m not sending this out as a scratch ‘n sniff article. Don’t worry, the washing machine will be clean soon!

Photo 1

How to Clean It Naturally

I’ve seen other tutorials on cleaning top loaders, but many times the directions will recommend using bleach. Not only is bleach a toxic cleaner, but it is also bad for septic systems, which need a certain amount of bacteria present to break down matter.

The following instructions will allow you to kill mold and mildew, keep odors at bay, and clean your washing machine using only natural ingredients. This process is safe for septic tanks and safe for all washer components!

Two common household ingredients are needed for this project. White vinegar and baking soda to the rescue! The vinegar will disinfect, helping kill mold and mildew.[1] The acidity of the vinegar will also help dissolve soap residue in the washtub and dissolve lime deposits in pipes (if you have hard water). The baking soda cleans soap scum and deodorizes if you have SWS (stinky washer syndrome).

Steps for Cleaning Your Washing Machine

Photo 3

1. Set your washer to run on hot water with the largest load setting. Do not add clothes or detergent. Add 3-4 cups of white vinegar to the water and allow the machine to agitate for a minute to incorporate the vinegar.

Photo 2

2. Add about ½ cup of baking soda. Allow the machine to run again to mix in the baking soda. Stop the washer at this point and allow the water to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Photo 4

3. While the hot water, vinegar, and baking soda are penetrating the grime and odors, use a clean cloth dipped in the vinegar water to wipe down your washer. Give attention to the top of the washer, the knobs, the top of the wash bin, and any bleach or fabric softener dispensers. (I had to bust out an old toothbrush to detail all the grime that was residing in my washer! Ew!)

How to Clean Washing Machine 5

4. Allow the washing cycle to resume until the water begins draining. If your washer will allow it, turn the knob so the tub will drain while spinning. This helps clean loosened gunk by pushing vinegar water through the wash bin holes. If your washer doesn’t allow this, start another hot wash cycle now and allow it to run through completely.

How to Clean Washing Machine 9

5. The scum around the top of the wash bin was wiped off very easily with a sponge at this point. (Remember, the water doesn’t reach this part so it may need a little extra attention.)

How to Clean Washing Machine 7

Naturally Clean Washing Machine. Yay!

I knew my washer smelled bad, but after cleaning it, my entire laundry room smells completely different! Apparently, I was just accustomed to the stale odor. 🙂

If your top load washer is susceptible to getting mold, mildew, or odors, keep the lid open after use. Clean your washer using this method every few months or as needed.

Again, keep in mind these instructions are for a top loader washing machine only. If you have a front loader, you can find directions for cleaning your front load washer.

Now that you know how to clean a washing machine naturally, share this with your friends and family!



  1. Living Green: Keeping Your Home Healthy, Safe, and Clean. Vermont Department of Health. June 2017.

About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for us to support our website activities, we may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this website.

DISCLAIMER: Information on DIY Natural™ is not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA and is NOT intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional. If you rely solely upon this advice you do so at your own risk. Read full Disclaimer & Disclosure statements here.


  1. Valerie says

    I just saw this post on DIY and smiled. I have been doing this for years and I will continue to clean my washer the same way.
    Also, white vinegar and baking soda works great in your kitchen sink, in the bathtub and bathroom sink.
    Make sure the standing water in the drains for all is cold. 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup of white vinegar.
    Let it sit for 1/2 hour and rinse.

    On another note, I’d like to share what I have been using for stains, it seems like forever.
    Before you even throw it in the washer or dig out the carpet cleaner try this out first.
    Club Soda. My daughter was impressed about 10 years ago on Thanksgiving when my granddaughter was eating cranberry sauce and it fell off her spoon and onto the almost white living room carpet. My granddaughter started crying as she thought I would be angry, not a chance.
    I got a bottle of club soda poured it over the offending cranberry spill wiped up the majority of the stain layed a rag over it and poured again let it sit for a few, wiped again with the rag and it was gone.
    It’s been 10 + years and not a hint of the stain ever showed.
    Works with stained clothes just don’t wash it first use club soda 1st.

  2. JennA says

    This worked really well. I have 2 teenagers that both work in the fast food industry and their work clothes coat the machine with greasy film. The vinegar & soda made it easy to scrub off. I also took a sponge and ran it between the drum and the upper lid and it was astonishing the amount of goop that came out. Sort of like when you clean the drain in the bathroom sink? Hair and slime and just nastiness!

  3. David Weigel says

    Adding baking soda and vinegar together creates water. It’s completely useless as a cleanser when mixed together.

  4. Carol L says

    This is an older post, but I have a few tricks also. My machine is also a “smart” one, (Lord, I long for the days when washing machines just washed and didn’t have all of the ‘safety’ features that make it horrible for actually getting clothes CLEAN!) and the lid has a magnet so I can’t open when washing. (I actually removed it to be able to open it to add things in at certain times, but it just wouldn’t work at all then) I also have a well, and am certain that my hoses are plugged up with bits and pieces and lime buildup, as it takes a VERY L.O.N.G. time to fill with cold water. The hot/warm fills up a bit faster. But even with warm, it won’t fill very full: I have to add several gallons more to actually get the water to fill past the clothes! But my trick that helps keep the washer from staying moist and also keeps the cost down from dryer use is to wash and then I do another short wash with my vinegar and add an extra spin cycle. I then do 2 more just spin cycles to get all of the water possible out of the clothing/bedding, towels, whatever I’m washing. This actually makes it possible to use the dryer for only 5-10minutes to get everything dry instead of 30 or more! And if you aren’t aware, dryers take up HUGE amounts of power and energy. So this saves on your electric bill.
    And as some here have mentioned, making your own laundry soap and using white vinegar instead of fabric softeners, helps keep the washing machine cleaner just by itself.

    • len elie says

      Your fill hoses may have a filter washer at either end this will clog with all kinds of stuff. Shut the water off to the machine remove the hoses and check. I would remove both washers from both hoses and replace them just as you would your garden hose. Also where the hoses connect to the machine you will find another filter inside each opening (hot + cold). Using needle nose pliers remove each screen clean and reinstall. Then install your hoses be sure to connect hot to hot and cold to cold. Now your washer will fill like it did when it was new.
      If your hoses are more than 6 or 7 years old consider replacing them, there are two options rubber ones like your machine came with or stainless steel hoses.

  5. Nora says

    Sounds good except my new machine is the smart kind. It gauges how heavy the load is then adds as much water as is needed. If I put nothing in it , nothing would happen. It also does not like the lid open.

  6. Laurie says

    Can you use Apple Cider vinegar? I have that on hand but can also buy the white vinegar. Love your ideas very helpful.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes, you can use ACV. We just prefer white vinegar for cleaning because there is no chance of staining if it comes into contact with a porous surface, but your washer likely does not contain porous materials.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      You may want to set your washer to a smaller load size, then boil some water to add until the washer is full. The hot water really helps loosen grime, so even if it’s just warm it will still be better than all cold.

  7. Madhu says

    Hello there,
    I like this idea of cleaning the washer but unfortunately do not have a soak cycle in my washer,but definitely needs some cleaning to be done. How can I accomplish this? any ideas?

    • itasara says

      I saw your comment. My machine does not have soak either, but I can pause it anytime after it fills, open the lid and pour is what’s needed or just let it sit. Hope this helps.

    • Adrianna Boswell says

      Use a spraying descaler. Or put vinegar in a sprayer. Make sure to wear a respirator if using toxic chemicals inside washing tub.

  8. itasara says

    I have a new HE Bravo top load machine. It has a special setting for cleaning–of course called an Afresh cycle. I’m hesitant to spend so much on this product.

    Can I just use vinegar and baking soda and run the cycle? if so how much?
    What about oxyclean tablets or powder for HE? can that be used as well.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Yes! Use your Affresh cycle, but use vinegar and baking soda instead of the expensive Affresh tablets. The amount you use will depend on how full your washer fills on this cleaning cycle. Use less if your washer does not fill all the way.

      I’m not familiar with the oxyclean tablets, but I wouldn’t recommend spending the money when vinegar & baking soda do the trick for so cheap. 🙂

      • itasara says

        Thanks so much for your answer. I don’t know how full the washer fills. I guess I can stop it (maybe) and visually look, Or I can guess. An Afresh tablet looks like maybe 1/4 cup or so if I were to pulverize one and put the powder in a cup.

        Vinegar? maybe 1/2 cup would do it?

        I already bought some HE oxyclean powder but didn’t get the pods (not tablets exactly) for my laundry. If I did use it for the cleaning cycle would it work or do you still recommend baking soda and vinegar. And would I add them in together at the beginning of the cleaning cycle? I supposed I could stop it if it lets me and add them separately, but I don’t have the patience to hang around to do this. Thank you very much, Ellen

        • Betsy Jabs says

          The good news is that vinegar and baking soda won’t hurt your washer. Use your best judgement on the amounts. You can add them together at the beginning of the cycle if you don’t want to wait around. 🙂 I can’t really give a solid answer on the Oxyclean powder for this purpose since I haven’t tried it, but it may just work!

  9. Shelley Essaunce says

    I used this recipe today to wash my top loading washing machine. I was really surprised at the gunk that had accumulated up and under the circumference of the machine. I used a toothbrush and the rag and nearly flattened the toothbrush from use. There was so much build up of gunk from using fabric softener, I am a recent user of vinegar. I’ll never use fabric softener again, what a mess. Thanks for this. My machine looks as shiny as yours!