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Get the Mold Out of Your Washing Machine for Fresher-Smelling Clothes

Here's how to banish the nasty microorganisms living in your washer.

the inside of a washing machine
Clean your washer regularly to prevent mold and mildew growth. 
James Martin/CNET

This story is part of Try This, CNET's collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

It's all too easy for a washing machine to accumulate mold, mildew and bacteria, stinking up your clothes and ruining your fresh load of laundry. But by giving your washer the routine clean it needs, you can banish that icky stuff and prevent it from coming back. 

Here's how to get your clothes and washing machine smelling fresh and clean again, and how to keep the bad smells away in the future. (For more cleaning advice, here's how to get pet stains out of carpetshow to remove makeup stains from your bedding, and how to clean your mattress.)

The best way to kill mold and bacteria in your washer

If you've got mold in your washer, here's how to get rid of it. Doing this monthly will help prevent mold growth.

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1. Put on gloves and grab an old towel that you don't care about.

2. Mix a solution of either bleach and hot water OR vinegar and hot water. (Never mix bleach and vinegar -- it creates chlorine gas, which is toxic.)

3. Dip the towel in the mixture and start scrubbing away at any visible mold. Make sure to get the detergent dispenser and around the gaskets.

4. Front-loading machines have a gasket around the door. If you have a front loader, clean and dry it thoroughly, including all the folds.

5. Run the wash cycle on the hottest setting your machine offers with a cup of bleach or vinegar. If using bleach, pour it into the compartment designated for bleach. If using vinegar, pour it into the detergent slot.

If your machine has a self-clean cycle, you can use that setting. This should kill any hidden mold that you may have missed.

6. Use another old towel and wipe away all the moisture in your washing machine. This includes the drum, dispensers, seals and any other areas you can reach.

7. Leave the washer door open to allow airflow to dry out any parts you missed. 

Leave the lid open if you're not washing clothes

Mold grows in dark, moist areas, which is what your washer becomes after you've unloaded the clothes. Keeping the lid closed traps moisture, which can lead to built-up bacteria and a bad smell. 

Leaving the washing machine door open helps ventilate the area and prevents mold from growing in the first place. 

Remove wet clothes right away 

Damp clothes are another breeding ground for mold. If you're throwing a load of laundry in, make sure you'll be home to remove the clothes right when the timer goes off

Not only does this prevent mold from growing in your washer, but it keeps mildew out of your clean clothing, bedding and towels.

Dry damp seals and other parts after each use 

After you're finished using your washing machine for the day, make sure to wipe down any part of the washer that's damp. This includes the lid, drum, door, rubber gaskets and detergent dispenser (if your machine has that feature).

Keep an old towel on hand for this purpose.

Make sure to dry the seals along with the rest of your washer to prevent moisture from sticking around. And while mold contamination can happen in any washer, it's especially common in high-efficiency (HE) front-loading washers. That's why you should regularly wash the gaskets and seals around the door and keep them dry. The gaskets make sure water doesn't leak out around the door and also do a good job of sealing in the moisture that can help mold grow.

You should also remove pet hair, crumpled paper or any other detritus from the machine right away. 

Read more: How to Buy a Washing Machine

washing machine compartment pulled out

If you have a high-efficiency (HE) washer, use a powder detergent made for HE machines. 

Taylor Martin/CNET

If you have a high-efficiency washing machine

Liquid detergents can leave a residue in your washing machine, giving mold a food source. So if you have a high-efficiency washer, the first thing to do to keep mold in check is to make sure you're using a laundry detergent made specifically for this type of washer, which will produce fewer suds. (Look for the letters HE on the bottle.)

Better yet, steer clear of liquid detergent altogether and switch to powder detergent or pods. Whichever you choose, make sure you're only using as much as you need to wash your clothes. If you use too much, your clothes may have a smell and residue.

Once you've cleaned your washer, it's time to move on to the rest of your house. Start with the bathroom: Here's a simple one-hour hack for degunking your showerhead and how to unclog a toilet without a plunger.

More cleaning tips and tricks for the home