The Truth About Washing Your Washing Machine

Hint: Everything you’ve seen on Pinterest is a lie.

Washing your top loader

After buying our home, hubby and I bought a new, high-efficiency front-load washing machine.  I did all my research and chose one that was rated a “best buy” by Consumer Reports.  I’m really into researching and overthinking things, especially things that cost several hundred dollars.

Fast forward five years, and the inside of our washing machine, looked like this:

rubber seal gasket mildew

No joke.  That’s my actual washing machine.  Those are my clothes in there.


Millennial homemaker that I am, I first looked for solutions on Pinterest.  There are appealing pins floating around, describing how to keep a front-loader clean with vinegar.

People seem to have a magical thinking complex with vinegar.  Like all you have to do is rinse something out with vinegar and all your dreams will come true.

Not the case.

If you read the articles attached to these pin, most explains how you actually need to do a whole lot of scrubbing before you get to the vinegar rinse part.  Rinsing alone won’t cut it, except to maintain an already-clean washer.

Even rinsing and scrubbing got me nowhere with my front-loader.  It was too far gone.

So, emboldened by the many encouraging comments on this past post, I bought a good old-fashioned, l water-guzzling, 12 year-old Maytag top-loader for $75 from Craigslist.  The seller assured us it worked great for him; he was just replacing it with a high-efficiency front-loader (oh, the irony).

I wanted to make a really fresh start with this new-to-me washer, so I searched for advice on cleaning your top-loader.    This post looked promising:

The formula was familiar: soak and rinse with bleach, soak and rinse with vinegar, do a little cosmetic wiping around the edges.  Boom!  Clean.

Well . . .

The first time I filled up the tank I noticed a bunch of flaky chunks of disgustitude floating around.  I’m too genteel to say what it looked like except that it brought to mind the stomach flu and another porcelain appliance that fills with water.


I went through the bleach cycle and then filled the tank up again with water for a vinegar soak.  Again, floating disgustitude.  Repeat 2-3 more times: no change.

And here’s where the how-to (finally) begins:

Cleaning your washer takes more than vinegar.  It takes guns.

These guns, plus an old toothbrush:

Cleaning the top load washing machine with a toothbrush.

We My husband took the whole thing apart and this is what we found:




So, bless his heart, he scrubbed every nook and cranny.  We filled up the tank again and–finally!–no more flakes.

What would have been interesting would have been to put it back together without scrubbing, use one of those washing machine cleaning solutions, and then take it back apart and see the difference (if any).

 I’m doubtful it would do much good against that many years worth of gunk.

The guy who sold us the washer said it worked fine, and for various reasons we’re inclined to believe him.  We’re thinking that the crud had been stuck in place for years and got loosened during the bumpy transport to our house and down our basement steps.

Most old washers, obviously, do not deposit flakes of disgustitude on clothes, at least not enough to notice.  But the disgustitude is probably still there in hiding.  So I plan to use an occasional vinegar rinse, or maybe the washing machine cleaner stuff, for maintenance.

But from time to time, I’ll have to call in the big guns.

And for now, we’re enjoying having truly clean clothes for the first time in years.

28 thoughts on “The Truth About Washing Your Washing Machine

  1. After reading this, I RACED to my front loader to look in the same place, ready to scream with horror, strip down, and bleach the s*** out of everything!

    Thank goodness it does not look like that.

    But now I’m going to be EXTRA VIGILANT. Cleaning will happen!!

      • I can’t actually lift that flap that you can – there’s sort of a lip, but not a real flap.

        Also, did you leave yours open ever? My husband INSISTS that we must let it air dry after a couple of loads – not close it. Maybe he’s on to something – wouldn’t be the first time.

      • I left mine open as often as I could remember. Couldn’t really tell you what percentage of the time that was . . . and yours might be a more recent model. The mildew was a big problem with a lot of front-loaders. There was a class action, etc. So I think they’ve improved them since then.

    • I think so, although we just cleaned it last night! Time will tell . . . So far, doing laundry is more enjoyable since I know the clothes are really truly clean. Also, the top loader holds more than our front loader did, so I don’t have to wash as many loads.

      • I use my HE front loader every day( 5 kids, 2 parents and a dog)and leave the door open after EVERY wash. have yet to figure out how to prop the rubber trim open so as to let air get inside all the layers of rubber/plastic.I also run an empty dish and washing machine load load every month with no soap, just vinegar and baking soda. I know what I’m doing tomorrow- look for an old toothbrush and go scrub some mold! yuck!My old top loaders never took this much work to clean, nor did my towels ever smell musty!

  2. Oh goodness. Our machine (top-loader) came used w/ our house. We’ve ran cycles of bleach several times, but now I wonder what kind of gunk is lurking inside! 😛

  3. I love your honesty! I should take apart my 8+ year-old top-loader and do the same. But I’m afraid. Very afraid. I did that to my dishwasher and it took me a week to recover. But, at least my dishes were clean. 🙂

  4. We (erm… my husband) took our old top-loader apart when replacing a worn out part, and oh man, were we ever grossed out! So. much. hair. I had no idea there was so much gunk lurking in there. It did feel great to wash clothes in a clean washer!

    • Yeah, it seemed daunting but it wasn’t too hard to take apart and put back, even though my husband isn’t a really experienced handyman type. (He did need to buy an extension to one of his tools.) The whole process took maybe 2 hours, cleaning included. Still . . . I wouldn’t have even tried by myself!

  5. My husband has taken our top loader apart twice to clean it in the seven years we have had it. I really appreciate his hard work.
    Happy washing with your fresh and clean washing machine! 🙂

  6. IF we get this house, we’ll need to buy a washer and dryer, so I’d love to hear more of what you think after a little more time with your top loader. I really wish we could get hook ups for a second washer. I hate to think of washing baby clothes in the same basin as my scrubs.

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