We’ve all been there—at the gym, in the supermarket, or at a sporting event, and that all-too-familiar musty, mildew smell is coming from someone’s clothing. I was once in a boot camp class at our gym, and a woman’s clothing next to me smelled so stinky that I had to move away from her to continue the class. I was working hard and breathing heavily anyway, so the added odor was hard to take. My point here is that anyone can fall prey to mildew and moldy clothing, towels, fabrics. I don’t want that to be me and my family. Today, I’m going to teach you how to clean your washing machine for mold and bacteria. (This will be Part I of a two-part series on laundry.)
So, just briefly, let’s talk about odor: As I understand it, the cause or origin of odor is either due to a biological or chemical reaction. Chemical odors can be volatile recognizable smells, like cleaning products—think ammonia, bleach. Scents and perfumes are also usually chemical odors, often used to mask the other types of odors, biological odors.
These biological odors, like those of body odor, mold and mildew are created by the presence, growth, or breakdown of bacteria or fungus. Sweat, in fact, is odorless. It is when sweat comes into contact with the bacteria on someone’s skin or body that creates the foul smell. At musty smell in a towel or damp clothes is usually caused by the growth of mold and mildew or fungus!
Now, before I start on how to properly clean your clothes to make sure the odor-causing bacteria, mold and mildew are eliminated, I want to address where you are cleaning those items. If your washing machine is coated with a film of grime from dirty clothes, clogged with lint or lime from hard water, or full of mold/mildew, no amount of washing will eliminate the odors from your clothes. This is when you actually have to start at the source and clean the machine prior to cleaning your clothes.
Because I am a self-admitted “clean freak,” our washing machine stays pretty pristine. The good news is that yours can too with just a little extra effort a few times a year. You will immediately notice the fresh smell of your laundry room/closet and of your clothes. I don’t advocate using bleach for this process. It can be too hard on your machine and will not eliminate the lime from hard water like the process I have outlined below.
Here are my go-to cleaning directions for top-loading machines. Make sure to do this on a day when you have the time to complete the process. There really isn’t a shortcut that will actually get your machine clean, and fully eliminate the mold and bacteria. If you do it correctly, you should only need to complete this process a couple times a year:
- Empty your washing machine. No clothes should be included during this cleaning cycle.
- Set your machine to its hottest water and largest load settings.
- Start the cycle and allow the machine to begin filling with hot water.
- Add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar or EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate to the machine. Once filled, allow the machine to begin agitating.
- Stop the cycle and add 1 cup of baking soda to the machine. Swirl it around with your hand or start the machine back up and allow it to agitate enough to dissolve the baking soda completely into the water.
- Stop the cycle again and allow the baking soda/vinegar/EC3 mixture to sit inside the machine for at least 1 hour. If you need to leave for work, or to go out, it is fine to leave this mixture in the machine for that time.
- Take a clean sponge or soft cloth and clean the lid and up underneath the top portions of the machine where the water does not reach with either EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate diluted with distilled water per bottle instructions (my preferred cleaner), or white vinegar diluted with distilled water at a 1:1 ratio.
- Turn the machine back on and allow the washing cycle to complete.
- Run one more rinse only cycle to ensure all cleaning solution is rinsed from the machine.
- When the cycle is complete, open the lid and allow your machine to dry out completely before running a load with clothes. At this point, I take the extra measure of spraying down the inside of our machine with the EC3 Ready-to-Use Mold Spray, and then I allow ours to dry.
For front loaders: (Disclaimer: Even though front loading machines use less energy and have been proported to clean better, for people who are very sensitive to mold or who have mold-sensitive family members,I do not recommend front-loading machines. They harbor mold because they are hard to keep dry.)
- Clean the gasket and door thoroughly with straight white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate diluted per bottle instructions and a cloth. Get up under the rubber and in the creases, because that is where the mold and bacteria live.
- When you are done cleaning the door and gasket, sprinkle 1 cup or less, depending on the size of your machine, all inside the drum.
- Pour 1-2 cups, again this depends on the size of your machine, of vinegar into the detergent dispenser and turn your machine on to run on its highest fill level for its hottest water cycle.
- When the cycle is complete, spray the inside of the drum with EC3 Mold Solution spray. Allow it to dry completely before running a load with clothes. Always, always leave the door of your front loader open between cycles. This is the best way to keep the machine dry and to prevent mold.
- Wipe the inside of the machine down with a dry towel after each load to keep it as dry and mold-free as possible.
For both top and front loaders, I would also add to make sure that wet clothes do not sit inside your machine for any prolonged amount of time. The quicker you can turn a wash load over, the better, as far as preventing mold and bacteria growth go.
So, those are my washing machine cleaning tips. Next up: how to actually clean the bacteria and mold out of your clothes, so the smelly odors are eliminated at the source and not just covered up. Stay tuned…