Trusty ways to clean your washing machine and dryer

It can be easy to overlook the cleanliness of the things we use to clean other things, but major appliances like washers and dryers need to be properly cleaned and maintained to optimize performance and ensure the safety of your home.

Cleaning a washing machine will prevent the buildup of laundry products and dirt that can leave dirty clothes, even fresh out of the washer, and will prevent odors from taking hold in the machine and on your clothes. Dryers need routine maintenance to keep them running smoothly and safely; According to FEMA, 2,900 home dryer fires are reported each year, most of them caused by not cleaning the machine.

We talked to experts about how and how often to clean top-load washers, front-load washers, gas and electric dryers, including how to clean a dryer vent so your machine works safely.

Lindsay Jones, brand manager for Maytag, provided step-by-step instructions for cleaning a top-load washer. She recommends cleaning a washer regularly: “Being on top of the cleanliness of your washer means you don’t give residue a chance to settle in your machine.”

Start by cleaning the tub, using a washing machine cleaner like Affresh, or with 1 quart of liquid bleach. Run the washer’s clean cycle, followed by a rinse and spin cycle to remove any cleaner residue. Leave the washer door open so the tub can dry.

Important note: If you use bleach, do not also use products that contain ammonia or vinegar, as they cause a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed with chlorine bleach.

Pull the dispenser drawers out until you feel resistance or, if they are removable, pull them out of the unit. Wipe them down with a damp cloth and use a toothbrush to scrub off any stubborn buildup. Removable parts can also be soaked in warm water to loosen and remove debris; clean well after soaking.

Open the lid and clean inside and around the door with a damp cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to clean the outside of the machine. Avoid the use of abrasive or harsh cleaners when cleaning exterior surfaces as they can cause scratches and other damage.

Agitator top load washers will need a more thorough cleaning. “To completely clean a washing machine, you’ll need to clean the filter and the agitator,” says Gina Perry, senior cleaning salesperson at The Home Depot. “This procedure varies from machine to machine.”

Consult the machine’s owner’s manual for specific instructions on removing the washer’s agitator and filter, and unplug the machine before removing any parts. Typically, Perry says, these are the steps for removing and cleaning a washing machine filter.

Use a socket wrench to remove the bolt holding the agitator; from its base, lift the agitator out of the machine.

Place the agitator and filter in a bucket, sink, or bathtub filled with hot, soapy water or a cleaning solution made from 2 cups vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda, and ¼ cup water.

Use a soft bristle brush to scrub the parts. Rinse well, then dry with a microfiber cloth. Put the filter and agitator back in the washer.

“Because of their configuration,” Perry says of front-load washers, “they tend to be more prone to odors than top-load washers.” Perry provided step-by-step instructions for cleaning a front-loading washing machine to remove unwanted mold and mildew growth and odors.

Start by cleaning the tub, using an HE washer cleaner like Tide Washing Machine Cleaner on a normal cycle with the hot water setting.

Once the cleaner load is done, scrub the door gasket with an old toothbrush to remove buildup and grime, then use a cloth to wipe it down with vinegar. Pull the dispenser drawers out until you feel resistance or, if they are removable, pull them out of the unit. Wipe them down with a damp cloth and use a toothbrush to scrub off any stubborn buildup.

Wipe down the inside of the tub and door with a microfiber cloth. Use a damp cloth or sponge to clean the outside of the machine. Avoid the use of abrasive or harsh cleaners when cleaning exterior surfaces as they can cause scratches and other damage. Return the detergent trays and parts to the machine and open the door to allow everything to dry completely.

How often to clean a washing machine depends on a few factors, including the size of your home and what the machine is used for. Households with many members, or that use the washing machine for cloth diapers, outdoor work clothes, or other heavily soiled textiles, will need to clean a washing machine more often.

“If you start noticing bad odors or detergent/film residue in your washer, it’s probably time to give your appliance a deep clean,” says Perry.

The sniff test is a good way to determine if your machine needs to be cleaned, but establishing a regular cleaning schedule can also help. “Ideally, you should clean your washing machine once a month,” says Jones, which is a good rule of thumb for large households or machines used for heavy-duty laundry. For smaller households that wash less frequently, Jones recommends cleaning the machine every 30 wash cycles.

If you wash heavily soiled garments frequently, Gary Childers, fabric care scientist and appliance expert at Procter & Gamble, recommends using your washer’s extra rinse cycle to help extend the time between cleanings. “Households with above-average laundry may experience machine odors that others don’t,” he says. “Additional rinse options in the machine can help reduce the rate at which this odor-causing residue forms inside the washer.”

When it comes to cleaning a dryer, there are things you need to do regularly to keep the machine running smoothly and safely, and deeper cleaning and maintenance that should be done every 12 to 24 months.

According to Childers, routine maintenance includes:

  • Remove lint from lint filter before or after each drying cycle.
  • Clean the lint screen with warm soapy water every 6 months; larger homes should clean the lint filter more often.
  • Stain removal inside the machine or on the door with a warm, damp cloth.
  • Have a professional appliance repair technician check the dryer interior and machine ductwork every 12 to 24 months, depending on usage and the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Cleaning a dryer duct can be done without calling a professional. “Cleaning a dryer duct isn’t hard,” says Perry. “Remove the lint from the duct by hand, and then vacuum the inside of the duct.” She offered these step-by-step instructions for cleaning a dryer vent.

Unplug dryer (for gas dryers, turn off gas supply valve), move dryer away from wall, and disconnect dryer duct.

Ridgid 12 Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum with Filter, Hose and Accessories

While wearing safety gloves, remove lint from the hole in the back of the dryer with your hands. Next, use a vacuum hose attachment or shop vac to clean in and around the hole in the back of the dryer; if you can part the length of the duct where it meets the wall, do so for easy access. Get out of the house, remove the outside vent cover, and clean the dryer vent from the outside with a vacuum.

If your dryer vent is too long to efficiently use a vacuum to remove lint, purchase a dryer vent kit that contains flexible brushes that clean the inside walls of the vent. Insert the brush into the duct and move it back and forth while turning it slightly until the vents are free of dust and lint.

Replace ductwork and vent cover, and seal duct sections with UL Listed metal foil tape if necessary. This is a good time to inspect the ductwork to make sure it’s not damaged and meets safety codes, and replace it if necessary. Put the dryer back in place, plug it in or turn the gas valve back on and run a 15-20 minute test cycle using the lint or air dry setting to ensure all connections are strong and to dislodge any remaining residue. .

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