Instead of using harsh chemicals, go for eco-friendly DIY washing machine cleaner to deal with unpleasant stains and odors once and for all.

The clothes that came out of my washing machine were crisp and clean, but over time my machine started smelling like an old cellar. 

I didn’t have to Google it to realize that it was the water that remains after each load in combination with sticky fabric softener residue that was causing the odor. 

You could even see those build-ups at the far end of the detergent tray. 

I was told to pour a ¼ cup of bleach into the tray and run the hottest and longest cycle, so I did that. It might’ve destroyed the mold and mildew, but the odor remained. 

Since I never use harsh chemicals and synthetic deodorants I turned to nature. 

After all, it's laundry we’re talking about. The last thing I needed was to get a rash from a chemical washing machine cleaner. 

After some experimenting, trial, and error, I found the perfect way to keep my washing machine looking and smelling nice every time.  

In this post, I’ll show you how to make your own 100% natural DIY washing machine cleaner. 

3 Best DIY Washing Machine Cleaner Recipes 

Here are the three recipes for homemade cleaners for washing machines that I’ve used with great success.

Vinegar + Baking Soda + Essential Oil — For Top- and Front-Loaders

DIY washing machine cleaner



White vinegar

2 to 4 cups

Baking soda

½ to 1 cup

Essential oils

10 drops

How to use it?

Make sure your washing machine is empty and add about 2 cups of baking soda directly into the machine. When the cycle starts, this powder will gently scrub the inside and tackle the stale moldy odors from stale soap and fabric softener deposits. Run a long hot water cycle and let it work. 

Next, add in 2 cups of plain white vinegar and 10 drops of essential oils — I use tea tree or lavender. Both will help remove mildew deposits and act as a mild disinfectant — where you normally pour your detergent. 

Run another hot cycle to let vinegar break down mineral deposits and any remaining moldy spots.  

Once both cycles are complete, wipe down the drum and agitator using a cotton cloth soaked in vinegar. 

If there are any stains, rub them out using a paste made of baking soda and water and a non-scratch sponge. 

If you’re using a front-load washer, dip a cotton cloth into white vinegar and use 10 drops of essential oil to wipe down the rubber gasket.

How does it work?

The thing about baking soda and vinegar is that they live on opposite ends of the pH scale. This means that when you’re using baking soda and vinegar for cleaning, you’re actually doing very complicated manipulations of molecules.

As a base, baking soda (NaHCO3) dissolves organic matter like dirt, grease, and other sticky things. In addition, the mineral structure of baking soda acts as a gentle abrasive to clean glossy surfaces without scratching them. 

Vinegar, on the other hand, is a dilute solution of acetic acid (HC2H3O2) that breaks down minerals that form from hard tap water.

How to mix them?

These two natural substances can produce incredible cleaning results but there’s something  to keep in mind.

You should never combine them in equal amounts because you need to keep the mixture either acidic or basic. 

When you mix baking soda with vinegar, the acid breaks down the baking soda releasing CO2 that helps lift dirt from surfaces you’re cleaning. 

Vinegar + Essential Oil — For Weekly Cleaning

DIY washing machine cleaner recipe two



White vinegar

¾ cup

Tea tree oil

10 drops

Grapefruit oil

5 drops

How to use it?

Combine all ingredients and pour the solution into a spray bottle. Shake the bottle before use and spray the seal, drum, door, or lid, depending on which type you use. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and wipe all areas down with a clean cloth. 

This is the basic washing machine cleaning you can do every week, but I tend to do it after every load of laundry. Makes it much easier to clean down the road. 

How does it work?

Diluted acetic acid, or white vinegar act as a disinfectant that destroys some bacteria and fungi. What’s interesting though is that vinegar's bactericidal action increases with heat. That's why vinegar is so effective when used in the hottest laundry cycle.

Essential oils are complex volatile compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature and occur naturally in different plants. 

Some of these oils contain natural antibacterial compounds like aldehydes, phenolics, and terpenes that make them effective in destroying many types of bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. 

Some of the oils with the strongest antibacterial properties include tea tree, lemongrass, oregano, black cumin, and peppermint. 

Dish Soap + Washing Soda + Vinegar + Tea Tree Oil — For Deep Cleaning

DIY washing machine cleaner recipe three



Dish soap

½ teaspoon

Washing soda

4 tablespoons

White vinegar

1 cup

Tea tree oil

20 drops

How to use it?

I prepare this recipe once every few months when I want to give my washing machine a deep cleaning. It also takes a bit more time than with the other two cleaners. 

Remove the detergent tray and soak it in hot water and dish soap. I always use eco-friendly dish soap. Scrub away the buildup with an old toothbrush and put it back inside the machine. Now pour washing soda into the drum and let it run on the hottest setting. 

When the cycle is done, pour vinegar and essential oils into the liquid dispenser. Run the machine on the hottest setting again and wipe out all the areas after the cycle is complete. Leave the door/lid open to air-dry before washing the laundry. 

How does it work?

Washing soda or “soda ash” — because it’s obtained from ashes of burned plants, has high alkaline properties, and acts as a solvent to remove a wide range of stains. 

It’s perfect for removing the greasy buildup of laundry softeners and stale soap scums that often become a hotbed of mold. 

 During the first cycle, it will also help unclog your washing machine drain. However, make sure to use gloves when handling and pouring washing soda to avoid skin irritation.

A Little Precaution Before Getting Started  

Before using any of the cleaning methods described here, make sure to check your washing machine owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website. 

While white vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid are in general safe to use with washing machines, you may want to go easier with scrubbing protective coatings on rubber components. 

I’ve read many times that bleach is a great solution for cleaning the inside of your washing machine. But, it might be too harsh for this use, and above all, I discovered that vinegar is much better at removing odors. 

washing machine cleaning

Vinegar is an unbelievably effective natural cleaner and disinfectant. When paired with baking or washing soda in the right ratio, it packs a double punch for gooey residue and mold growth. 

Essential oils are perfectly safe to use with all types of washing machines. Besides killing germs, they’ll help you keep your washing machine smelling nice all the time, with no need for synthetic fragrances. 

How to Clean a Top-Loading Washing Machine

You can prevent the buildup of detergent in your washing machine by running your homemade washing machine cleaner through it two or three times a year. 

If you have hard water, the minerals build up faster on wet surfaces and joints. In this case, you should clean the washing machine every three months to remove the buildup from the inside.  

To clean the top loader this is what you should do:

1. Run Vinegar Through the Washing Machine

Select the largest load size and the hottest water temperature setting that your washing machine supports. 

As the washing machine fills with water, add 4 cups of white vinegar and let the machine fill up with water. 

When the washing machine is completely full, wait for the load to start to run and pause the machine. Let the water and vinegar sit for an hour. This way vinegar has time to break down the detergent and mineral buildup on the walls of the machine. 

2. Clean the Exterior

While you’re waiting, you can clean the exterior. For this, you’ll need a couple of old rags. Dampen a cloth with a little vinegar or use your natural house cleaner

For the best results, I like to add some diluted vinegar to a spray bottle and spray the outside of the machine before wiping it clean. 

I have to deal with water which is pretty hard where I live. That means that I generally have to wipe my bathroom surfaces more often because every drop or splash results in white mineral buildup if left unattended. 

I discovered that a vinegar spray bottle is my best eco-friendly ally in dealing with those stains. 

3. Scrub out the Detergent Dispenser

 The load space will get the most attention, but you shouldn’t overlook the drawer that holds the detergent and fabric softener. 

While you’re waiting for the vinegar to work into the deposits, remove the tray and use an old toothbrush to scrub out the detergent residue from inside. 

top loading washing machine cleaning

4. Restart the Washing Machine  

After the vinegar has sat for an hour, restart your washing machine and let it run for a full cycle. Once it drains, you’re ready for the baking soda stage. 

5. Add Your Favorite Essential Oil

This step is fully optional, and it won’t impact the success of the cleaning. It’ll make the scent much more pleasurable, but I’ve learned that certain oils are better for fighting mold and mildew. 

Have you ever opened the washing machine lid and smelled the dampness and mold?

Namely, essential oils of oregano, thyme, clove, lavender, thuya, and clary sage have all antibacterial and antifungal properties. This makes them a great choice for a natural antibacterial washing machine cleaner.  

6. Run One Cycle with Baking Soda

After you’ve run one cycle with vinegar, you need to run a second one with baking soda and essential oils. 

Pour 1 cup of baking soda and add 3 drops of essential oils into the drum of the machine. 

Choose the largest and hottest water cycle you can, turn the washing machine on again, and let it run completely without pausing. 

7. Air-Dry the Interior

Let the water drain completely and leave the lid open for the interior to dry out. In fact, you should leave the lid open whenever possible, as it’ll prevent the buildup of odors. 

After each washing cycle, there’s water in pipes and drains that needs to dry out. If you close the lid, the hot and moist environment can easily become a breeding ground for mold and mildew. 

However, if you have pets or small children, make sure to wipe the interior of the machine dry before you close the lid. 

How to Clean a Front-Loading Washing Machine  

Front-loading washing machines are designed differently, which makes their cleaning a bit more challenging, as there are more steps to it.

But, as with top-loading machines, you should repeat the cleaning two or three times a year, or every couple of months if you have hard water. 

So let’s begin.

1. Spray the Interior with Vinegar

Using your spray bottle of vinegar, thoroughly spray the interior of the front-loading washing machine. As with top-loaders, I use a white vinegar solution and let it sit while I wipe the door and the rubber gasket.

2. Clean the Washing Machine Door 

Use the spray bottle to spray the door and the gasket with more vinegar. Make sure you soak them well. Now, use an old rag to wipe away the mold, mildew, and soap scum that have built up.

Make sure you get the buildup around the plastic window part. If you have hard water where you live, as I do, you’ll probably have to use something stronger to make that window clean and shiny again. 

I recommend using this baking soda and vinegar natural cleaner you can easily make. Works great for clogged drains, too! 

3. Scrub the Rubber Gasket

The rubber seal or gasket will probably be the dirtiest part of your washing machine. Water and moisture tend to collect there, and add a long-missing sock and there you have a perfect hotspot for mold. 

I use a soft-bristle brush and the baking soda and vinegar cleaner solution to scrub the area clean. 

Once you do this, go back and wipe the inside of the metal drum as well.

front loading washing machine cleaning

4. Don’t Forget the Tray

This is a critical step that often gets overlooked. Before you run a vinegar cycle, make sure to scrub the drawer where you put the detergent, bleach, or fabric softener. 

While some machines have it differently, in most cases you can remove the tray by lifting it or depressing a lever of some sort. 

As with top-loading machines, you can use an old toothbrush to scrub the drawer with vinegar. 

5. Ready for a Vinegar Wash

Close the washing machine door and choose the largest and hottest cycle setting — this kinda becomes a theme here. 

Now you want to pour not 1 but 2 cups of white vinegar directly into the detergent dispenser. Wait for the load to finish running. 

6. Another Round of Baking Soda

Once the water from the vinegar cycle has drained, open the door of the machine and add ½ cup of baking soda and a few drops of your preferred essential oil.

Select the same setting and run another cycle.

7. Wipe the Exterior While Waiting

While you’re waiting, spray the outside of your washing machine with vinegar and wipe it down with an old rag.

8. Air-dry the Interior or Wipe it Down

Once the second cycle is through, open the root and pipe down the interior with a dry cloth, and leave the door ajar to let it dry. As with top-loading washing machines, you should leave the door open whenever possible to let the supply and drain pipes dry as well. 

If you have pets, make sure to check the drum every time before closing. For some reason, cats love to sneak inside to sleep. 

How to Tackle Smell Problems with DIY Washing Machine Cleaner

The thing with washing machines is that they’re probably the biggest appliances in your household and yet you may not consider cleaning one until your laundry starts smelling funny. Gross, I know.

The idea that the machine that makes your clothes and linen crispy clean can become a breeding ground for germs is unacceptable. 

Although we pour detergent and fabric softened, and there’s plenty of hot water, washing machines don’t clean themselves. 

But in some cases, even if you repeat the cleaning process I described above several times a year, this might not be enough to eliminate the foul odor. 

smelly washing machine cleaning

But let’s begin. The trick to dealing with a smelly washing machine is to tackle the surfaces and pockets where water collects. 

The lid of the top-loading washing machine and the door of a front-loading machine are the most critical spots. Use a toothbrush and a soft-bristle nylon brush to get into the dirty nooks and crannies.

Make sure to clean the entire door, including the knobs and control panel. I keep a microfiber cloth nearby all the time and wipe down the door after every load. 

On one occasion I had to deal with a particularly smelly washing machine, and I knew I had to take out the big guns. I bought a pack of True Fresh tablets and popped one inside. 

Affresh is a slow-dissolving tablet made of oxygen-based bleach and sodium carbonate. To use to select the tub clean cycle or a normal cycle and add one Affresh tablet without any clothes. 

As the cycle runs, the tablet suds up and gets inside all the waterways before rinsing away. 

Pro tip new

Pro Tip: When you need to do especially solid laundry, you don’t have to add more detergent than needed. Extra detergent actually does more harm than good, because it leaves a soapy residue on clothes and washing machine surfaces.

To get the towels and sweaty gym clothes extra clean, use the sanitize cycle instead. It washes the clothes in the hottest water in an extended cycle that is designed to kill bacteria. 


What can I use instead of washing machine cleaner?

You can use white vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, and essential oils.

Can vinegar damage your washing machine?

Yes, vinegar can damage rubber seals and hoses in some machines, so you should always consult the owner’s manual before using vinegar as a cleaner.

Does baking soda ruin washing machines?

No, baking soda doesn’t ruin your washing machine. Still, make sure you use it in moderate amounts, as given in the natural washing machine cleaner recipes on this page.

Is distilled vinegar the same as white vinegar?

Yes, distilled vinegar is the same as white vinegar.

How do I get black mold off my washing machine seal?

Dip a cotton cloth into vinegar and wipe the washing machine seal to remove any mildew, hair, and residue. If it still hangs on, make a paste of baking soda and water and gently scrub away using a soft-bristle nylon brush.

How do I deep clean my washing machine?

For deep cleaning, you first need to remove the detergent tray and clean it with dishwashing soap. Put it back and pour 4 tablespoons of washing soda into the drum. Run a hot cycle, let it drain, and repeat the cycle but this time, pour 1 cup of white vinegar and 20 drops of essential oil into the dispenser tray. When the water drains, open the machine to dry out.

What ingredients can I use to clean my washing machine at home?

You can use white vinegar, baking or washing soda, and essential oils.

Can I clean my washing machine with baking soda and vinegar at the same time?

Yes, you can clean your washing machine with baking soda and vinegar at the same time. Just make sure not to mix them in equal parts because they neutralize each other, canceling out the benefits of vinegar’s low PH and baking soda’s high pH.

Final Words

By cleaning your washing machine regularly, you can eliminate moldy smells caused by the detergent and fabric softener buildup. 

These buildups not only cause unpleasant odors but also shorten your washing machine’s life. 

However, since it’s where you wash your clothes, I strongly advise against using chemical machine cleaners. 

Instead, use a DIY washing machine cleaner that relies on the simple but powerful chemistry of natural ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and your favorite essential oils. 

Nikola uses his background in electrical engineering to break down complex sustainability topics for GreenCitizen's readers. He is a firm believer in environmental conservation, which he practices daily through recycling and home-grown food. He enjoys hiking, engaging in white-water sports, and collecting pocket knives.

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