How to clean a front load washer (and keep it fresh smelling, too!)

Front load washing machines are notoriously hard to keep clean. Mold, mildew, laundry soap buildup and funky smells are at the top of everyone’s complaint list.

After tons of trial and error and getting advice from washing machine techs, we’ve learned how to keep our HE washer smelling fresh and clean year after year.

Here you’ll learn how to clean a front load washer, plus tips to keep it clean and smelling fresh!

how to clean a front load washer

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How to clean a front load washer

Step 1: Clean the gasket 

If you notice a mildew smell coming from your HE washer, or smelly towels or clothes, chances are the musty aroma is coming from your gasket. All front load washers have a rubber gasket that you can pull back and clean. If you haven’t cleaned your gasket in a while (or ever) it’s likely to be filled with hair and detergent build up.

Remove big clumps and then take a squirt bottle filled with 3 parts water and 1 part vinegar and wipe down.

Psst! If the smell is largely from your clothes and not from the washer, it might not be your washer it all, it may be time for some deep cleaning of your laundry, and you can do that by following my favorite laundry stripping recipe.

How to remove mold from the front load washing machine gasket

Mold loves any environment that’s moist, and thanks to the design of the front load washer, if you’re not careful, mold can quickly build up. If you notice mold on your washer gasket follow the following directions to get rid of mold:

  1.  Grab some white vinegar and place in a spray bottle. (don’t dilute the vinegar)
  2. Spray the vinegar directly onto the mold and let sit for one hour. Soak an old washcloth in vinegar and place in the fold of the gasket to remove mold inside gasket.
  3. If you’ve got a lot of mold or mold that has been on the rubber for a while, consider making a baking soda paste and spray directly onto the vinegar. Spray the baking soda paste (diluting 1 teaspoon baking soda with 1 cup of water) on the mold after the vinegar solution has been on the rubber for at least one hour
  4. Scrub vigorously 

Please note: Many people think bleach will kill mold, but unfortunately that’s a common misconception. Not only is bleach very harmful to surfaces like rubber, it simply doesn’t work to get rid of mold. Bleach only kills surface mold and isn’t able to penetrate porous surfaces. Your best bet is to use vinegar if you need to remove mold. 

Step 2: Remove the soap holder tray

Believe or not, the tray that holds the detergent, bleach or fabric softener will get dirty and you might even see mold on it.

To remove the tray pull it all the way out and pop out (there’s typically a little release towards the back of the tray) 

Wipe down all compartments with the vinegar and water solution. If you find you have mold in any of the compartments, you must kill the mold by soaking it in a solution of half vinegar, half water for a week.

Once it’s soaked for a week, wash with hot soapy water. Unfortunately, just washing with hot soapy water won’t kill the mold. 

If you’re wondering why you can’t just throw tray into bleach to kill mold, it’s because vinegar is far superior at killing mold than bleach. 

Step 3: Clean the washer door

Using the vinegar solution, remove any buildup that’s collected on the inside of the washer door.

Step 4: Clean drain plug and filter

Depending on your model, you’ll have a little box, typically located towards the bottom of your washer. You should be able to remove the top of the box and locate your drain plug and filter. 

Using a small bowl, remove the drain plug cap and drain any liquids. Next, you’ll twist the filter out and clean with hot soapy water.

Step 5: Clean the drum

Using your white vinegar solution from earlier, spray directly into the drum of the washing machine and thoroughly wipe down. 

Step 6: Run the tub clean cycle

Some models have a tub clean cycle, If your front load washer has one, simply pour some vinegar into the laundry compartment, select the tub clean cycle and wait until the cycle ends.

If you don’t have a tub clean cycle, simply choose the longest and hottest setting, add your vinegar and complete the wash cycle. 

Related: how to clean shower doors with vinegar and dawn

Tips for keeping your front load washing machine clean, fresh and mildew free

Unlike top load washers, front load HE washing machines do require ongoing maintenance from you.

Because of the machine’s design and capability, mold, mildew and scum can easily build up if you don’t stick to a good cleaning schedule. Now that you’ve deep cleaned your front load washer, here are some tips to keep it that way.

Leave the door open or ajar

To prevent mold and mildew from growing and keep smells at bay, it’s best to leave the washer door open or ajar after each wash until the washer thoroughly dries out.

You might also consider leaving the door open all the time to prevent mold from growing. If your washer is in a high traffic area, you might consider using a laundry lasso to keep your door ajar while it’s not in use.

Keep the soap tray holder open

You might notice standing water or moisture in your soap tray; to prevent mold and mildew from growing you’ll need to dump excess water out and keep soap tray holder open between uses.

Clean once a month to keep fresh and prevent mildew

Depending on how many loads of laundry you do, you’ll likely need to thoroughly clean you front load washer about once a month. Wiping down the door and drum after each wash helps a lot, too.

Clean drain plug and filter once a month

Many people completely overlook this step and as a result, their HE front load washer doesn’t work as efficiently.

The filter catches random items that aren’t supposed to be in the wash like coins, hair ties or anything else you’ve left in your pockets. Not cleaning this out on a regular basis is likely to prevent your washer from working efficiently. 

Don’t use liquid detergent

Every time I’ve had a technician out to look at my HE washer, I’m always reminded that powder HE detergent is best.

Powder detergent doesn’t build up in your machine quite like liquid does, so you’re less likely to have gunk and buildup in your soap dispenser, drum and rubber gasket.

I’ve also noticed that my towels tend to smell like mildew from time to time, and when I switch to powdered detergent, the mildew smell is gone.

Don’t use too much liquid/powder

Despite what the little lines on the laundry cap tell you, don’t fill up the cap more than the 1 or 2 line, and less for smaller loads.

Of course, detergent companies won’t give you this advice, but I’ve heard this from both service technicians and local appliance companies. HE detergent is so concentrated, so you really don’t need that much.

Don’t use fabric softener

Fabric softeners deposit a waxy coating on your clothes and in all the nooks and crannies of your front load washer–leaving a huge mess and tons of built up gunk in your machine. Skip the fabric softener and opt for wool dryer balls instead.

Final thoughts on how to clean your front load washing machine

Unfortunately, front load washers do need more maintenance than regular washing machines. Keep a monthly cleaning schedule and remember to keep the door to the washer open at all times and you’ll be amazed at how clean your front load washer stays.

Have any tips on cleaning your front load washer that we missed? Let us know below!

Related front load washer tips:

How to get the smell out of bath towels

How to clean a front load washer (and keep it fresh smelling, too!)

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