How To Clean Washing Machine With Vinegar and Baking Soda

When you feel the need to ask – “All Right . . . Who threw the fish in the washer?” then you know it is time for some proper washing machine hygiene. Why? Because with everyday use, be it sweaty socks, gym shorts, undies, musty towels, food-ridden dish rags, all-day-wear clothing and cloth diapers (nappies), your washing machine will develop a build-up that needs to be removed.

As with any well-used appliance, your washing machine’s care is an absolute necessity to keep it in good working condition and to keep your family’s laundry smelling fresh.

If you’d like to learn more about the best cloth diaper washing machines, start with our 3 Cloth Diaper Washing Machines: Top, Front & Compact article.


How To Clean Washing Machine With Vinegar and Baking Soda Step 1

Clean Washing Machine With Vinegar and Baking Soda

Make sure that the problem is actually that of your washing machine because in some situations it could be your water supply. For instance, well water can contain sulfur in the water. This smell can best be compared to the smell of rotten eggs. If this is the case, a water filter system for all your incoming water would be the answer. If your water is supplied by the city, you may be smelling chlorine. Again, a filter would be required. However, if you have eliminated those concerns, then you can assume you have a build-up of residue within your washer that needs cleaning.


Loosening the grunge and grime


Empty Washing Machine Drum

Starting with an empty washing machine, run HOT water up to the highest washing level your washer offers. When the water is full, and the washer begins agitating, add 3 cups of distilled white vinegar (2 cups of lemon juice can be substituted) and 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water.

Allow the cycle to run almost completely, advancing it to ‘spin’ right as the water starts to drain. By doing this, the washer will spin and drain at the same time.

Follow by wiping down the inner tub, removing any residue that has been loosened by the cleansing process. To remove all remaining residue, follow this with a complete COLD water cycle. Adjust your washer’s agitation to high (where you would place it for heavily soiled clothing). This technique should remedy any lingering soap scum or mineral deposits both in the drums of your washing machine and the hoses.


Why Baking Soda and Vinegar?


  • Baking Soda:: Baking Soda lifts residue effectively from the inner tub of a washing machine to dissolve easily in the wash water, flushing out the pipes/hoses on the way. Because it is so very water soluble, it dissolves before its soft crystalline molecules can scratch or damage a surface. Baking Soda has the power to neutralize odors, instead of just covering them up. It deodorizes by bringing both acidic and basic odor molecules into a neutral state.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is mildly acidic in nature, which makes it ideal for cleaning. It has the ability to eliminate soap residue and build-up on any given surface while neutralizing odors.


Finishing Up


Now that the inside of the washing machine is clean, do a once over on the external parts. If you have/use the dispenser(s) for fabric softener and/or bleach, remove those, cleansing thoroughly. You may find the need to soak the fabric softener dispenser to rid of the residue as it is common for a build-up to occur. If you have a top-loading washing machine, don’t forget to wipe over the top rim of the inner tub – though it isn’t easily seen, it can develop a good bit of grime.


Your Washer’s Anatomy


Washing Machines Clean Vinegar Baking Soda

To understand why it is necessary to upkeep your washing machine, be it front or top loading, you need to understand the anatomy of your washing machine. Both front and top-loading washing machines have two tubs. The inner tub holds the clothing and the outer tub holds the wash and rinse water during the wash cycles.

The technique we suggest above is designed to cleanse both tubs within automatic clothes washers. With regular usage, a layer of both laundry detergent and fabric softener can build-up leaving a sort of curd on both tubs. This curd will leave a constant odor in your washer. Cleaning only the inner tub (what is visible to your eye) will not remove this sour smell.


Rusty spots on your diapers?


If you are finding rusty spots on your diapers or other laundry, there is a good chance that one of the tubs may have damage. Though you can combat the rust temporarily with lime or lemon juice ran on a hot water setting, ultimately you will need to replace the damaged part.


Did all this and the smells remain?


First, check to see if your washing machine is still under warranty. If so, you may want the convenience of calling and having your washer serviced by a professional. If your washer is not under warranty, with top-loading machines, you can easily do it yourself.

  • Safety first:: Unplug your washing machine.
  • Second:: Remove the washer’s front. For a top-loading machine, this requires no more than a screwdriver to remove the front panel or in some cases, the entire cabinet. The washing tubs and the inner workings of the machine will be exposed. If it has been a while since the tub has been cleaned, you may see a build-up of dark gunky residue at the top of the tub. Wipe clean (or scrub, depending on the time it has been there)
  • Third:: replace the outer shell and run an empty cycle on HOT with the water level set to high.

We do not recommend you remove the front panel of a front loader. The reason? The front-loading machine has more than just a front panel that you will need to remove to get to the inner tubs/drums.

First, there is the washer’s main front, then the counterweight (very heavy) that keeps the machine balanced while spinning. Finally, there is the Boot (Tub) Seal that provides the water seal between the main tub and door (not something you want to be messing with). If you feel up to it, however, please consult your owner’s manual or go to for more information on how to do this efficiently.


Thinking Ahead


Once your machine is thoroughly clean and your diapers are nice and fresh once more, consider a few tips (along with regular maintenance) to avoid future build-up problems.

  • Avoid using more than 1/2 of the cup that is provided with standard commercial laundry detergents. Obviously, the manufacturers are not going to tell you to use less of their detergent (a sales-oriented approach is to suggest using MORE). However, most have found that using even 1/2 the recommended amount is more than enough to get the same level of cleanliness. This is going to vary according to water types and detergent types, but ‘play’ with amounts until you settle on what is right for your diaper laundry or laundry in general.
  • Avoid using liquid fabric softeners (try the all-natural fabric softening ability of distilled white vinegar instead). However, if you are set on using fabric softeners, be certain to dilute it with water when you pour it into the receptacle in your washer. Too much fabric softener has been known to leave black marks on clothing when used in full strength – as well as the negative effects of build-up in the fabric softener dispenser and in the tub(s) of the washing machine.
  • Choose liquid over powder detergent. Often powder detergents do not dissolve and cause a build-up on clothing and your washer’s tubs and pipes/hoses (this is true of dishwashers as well).
  • Do not overload.




When hard water calcium and soap bind together, a soap ‘curd’ is formed. This ‘curd’ can build up on the inner and outer tub of a washing machine over time making the washing machine less efficient. Usually, owners must add more soap to overcome hard water’s effects and the smell that occurs – as well as more fabric softener because the curd elevates static electricity This curd can also cling to clothing (or your diapers) and keep them from smelling fresh. They become dingy and gray. If you live in a hard water area, consider a water softener. At the least, recognize the need for a higher level of maintenance for your washing machine to keep it working efficiently and smelling fresh


Would I Have To Clean My Washing Machine With Vinegar and Baking Soda If I wasn’t Washing Diapers?


It would be nice if the answer were “No” wouldn’t it? Well, it isn’t, the answer is still an emphatic “Yes!” Think about it – why would you not? We flush out and clean our toilet bowls and scrub our showers, tubs, and sinks . . . All get dirty and are used to cleanse our bodies and dispose of ‘wastes,’ right? Well, why should the washing machine be any different?

It is suggested by many washing machine manufacturer and repairmen (who often view the side effects of too little care of one’s washer) that every 2 to 3 months owners do a little bit of upkeep. You know what they say . . . “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Though your diaper doublers may pull a disappearing act

The leftover residue and resulting funky smell emanating from the washer will not! It makes itself obvious, and without proper attention, your washer’s tub (and the laundry in it) will smell more like the fish dock or a day at the stables than the freshness anticipated. Sure the stains are gone, but the smell is full strength. Never fear – put away your fishing poles and saddles – you don’t have to ride this one out, there are a few simple procedures that you can follow to keep this from happening.

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