How to Clean a Front-Load Washer to Remove Mildew and Odors

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated February 17, 2022
Modern washing machine and shelving unit in laundry room interior
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Freshen up your front-load washing machine in a few easy steps

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Difficulty score: 1/5

The time needed to complete the project: 1 hour

Tools and materials needed:

  • Baking soda

  • White vinegar

  • Chlorine bleach

  • Sponge 

  • Toothbrush

  • Q-tips

Front-load washers are adored by homeowners because they’re quiet, fast, energy-efficient, and save water. But one day, you might open the front-loader's door only for the musty odor of mildew to hit you in the face! 

To prevent mold from growing in your washer, here is a step-by-step method for cleaning your front-load machine.

Why Does Your Front-Load Washer Stink?

You may assume that a washing machine is self-cleaning, but this isn’t how it works. Front-load washers have airtight doors with a rubber gasket, which keeps water from leaking. During the wash cycle, the leftover water gets mixed with soap scum and debris from dirty clothing, which can leave the gasket wet even after the wash. Over time, that rubber part traps moisture and allows mold and mildew to grow, causing nasty smells.

Without regular cleaning, your washer ends up smelling bad—and might even transfer that funky smell to your fresh laundry.

How to Clean Your Front-Load Washer

Your washing machine faithfully cleans your clothes—but who’s cleaning it? Here are simple steps to clean your front-loader to eliminate any odors and keep the washing machine mold- and mildew-free and your clothes fresh.

“This process is time-consuming but well worth it,” says Asya Biddle, Angi Expert Review Board member and manager of The Dustbusters janitorial company in Williamsport, PA. “Cleaning your front-load washer will extend the lifetime of your washer and your clothes as well.” 

1. Wipe the Gasket

Start by wiping the gasket with a wet cloth. You might find a lot of debris and gunk residue—one of the most common sources of mold in front-loading machines. 

Be sure to clean all nooks and crannies around the gasket and the hard-to-reach areas using Q-tips or a toothbrush. If the gasket is still dirty, scrub with a kitchen sponge using a 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and water.

2. Scrub the Dispensers

Remove the soap, bleach, and softener dispensers. They can be a sneaky source of mold as they hold onto product residue and stagnant water.

Give the dispensers a good scrub with hot water and soup. A toothbrush will also help you get inside the cracks and clear out any buildups.

3. Run a Cleaning Cycle

If your washing machine doesn't have a cleaning cycle, run it on the longest and hottest cycle.  

Mix one-quarter cup of baking soda with an equal amount of water, then add the solution to your machine's detergent dispenser. Pour two cups of vinegar into the drum, and start the cycle. 

The baking soda and vinegar should clear out residue in every part of the machine, eliminating any mold and eventually helping in removing any odors.

Run your cycle completely. If the smell remains, try another cycle using a different cleaner (use one at the time), like one-half cup of enzymatic dishwasher detergent or a commercial washer cleaner.

4. Sanitize the Front-Load Washer

Chlorine bleach will sanitize the front loader and kill any bacteria causing mold or mildew. Pour 2 cups of chlorine bleach into the drum, making sure not to mix it with any other cleaners. 

Set the washer to the hottest temperature setting and start the cycle. Stop the washing cycle once the drum is full of water and let it sit for 30 minutes, then resume the cycle.

Still Musty? Call a Pro

If the smell persisted, then it's about time you consult with a pro. You can call Samsung washer repair near you, Electrolux washer repair, or Whirlpool washer repair to diagnose and suggest a solution. 

Your washer might also have a clogged drain or filter, which can have mold growing somewhere you can't see. Or it could be time for a new gasket replacement.

closeup of woman using washing machine by pressing button and clothes spin inside the machine
Photo: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS / Adobe Stock

How to Keep Your Front-Loading Washer Fresh

Now that your washer is clean and mildew-free, you’ve got to keep it that way. Follow a few maintenance tips to ensure your washer gets the TLC it deserves, keeping your laundry fresh with every load.

Pick the Right Detergent

Ditch your normal detergent and go for one that is suitable for high-efficiency machines. Be sure to use the right amount of detergent—too much will leave residue and cause your washer to develop odor over time.

Don't use liquid detergent or liquid fabric softener with front loading washing machines. They tend to leave gunky build-up, which encourages mold growth in your machine and can damage the gasket.

Remove Wet Clothes Immediately

Remove your wet laundry immediately after the cycle ends to prevent moisture from getting trapped in the machine and stop bad odors from transferring to your clothes.

Wipe After Every Load

Wipe down the rubber seal after each cycle with a towel and water and vinegar solution. This will remove any build-up and allow it to dry completely, keeping your front-loader free of mildew and bad odors.

Air It Out

When it’s not laundry day, leave the door open so moisture can escape, the washer can dry completely, and the chances of any mold build-up are reduced.  

Clean Once a Month

Along with cleaning the outside of your washer, run a cleaning cycle once a month for maintenance.  

Pour two cups of white vinegar into the detergent dispenser and run on the hottest water setting or a cleaning cycle. When finished, wipe the inside parts, including the drum, gasket, detergent dispenser, and the door, with water and vinegar solution. Then run your washer again with hot water only. Leave your washer door open to let it dry completely.

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