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How to Clean a Washing Machine With Bleach

washing machine dispenser

If your clean looking towels smell bad as soon as they get wet, or your clothes washer smells bad, running a bleach cleanout cycle can fix it.

More from Clorox experts
By Mary Gagliardi

Have you noticed a smelly off odor in your washing machine or on your clean laundry, especially on towels when they get wet? Soil buildups on the inner workings of the washing machine are the likely cause.

That’s because there’s always a little water left behind inside the washer when the cycle is complete. It’s where you can’t see it, in the hoses and the pump, and even in the tub beneath the basket where you put your laundry. This water holds small amounts of soils and lint, which can build up over time. It’s the perfect breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria to thrive. And when odor-causing bacteria transfers to your clothes, they smell, too.

Routine maintenance is key

This is why washing machine manufacturers recommend regular maintenance to keep your clothes washer clean and odor free, and all your laundry smelling fresh. Clorox® Washing Machine Cleaner is specially formulated with sodium hypochlorite bleach, cleaning agents and corrosion inhibitors to make running a cleanout cycle easy and effective.

Be sure to run the cleanout cycle when the washer is empty. Depending on how bad the buildup is, one cleanout cycle may be enough. In fact, you may need to run several for the problem to be brought completely under control. After that, run a cleanout cycle at least once a month, and at most once a week.

Do not put laundry in the washer when running a cleanout cycle.

Gather your supplies

  • washing machine cleaner
    Clorox® Washing Machine Cleaner

Steps to clean your washing machine

  1. 1

    Select hot water

    Choose the hottest water temperature available on your clothes washer. This may mean selecting the “heavy duty” or “whites” cycle.

    hot setting on washing machine
  2. 2

    Select an “extra rinse”

    Most washers have this feature as an option you can add to any cycle. If not, do this manually once the cleanout cycle is complete.

    washing machine knob
  3. 3

    Add Clorox® Washing Machine Cleaner

    Pour it into the bleach dispenser. Fill to the maximum level (the “max fill” line).

    washing machine dispenser
  4. 4

    Press start

    Let the cycle run all the way to completion.

    Do not put laundry in the washer when running a cleanout cycle.

    washing machine start button
  5. 5

    Manually select an extra rinse if necessary

    If you weren’t able to program your washer with an extra rinse when setting up the cleanout cycle, do it manually now, and restart the washer. This may involve advancing the washer dial to the start of the rinse cycle on an older clothes washer. This ensures no bleach remains in the washer.

    washing machine knob
  6. 6

    Repeat steps 1–5 as necessary

    If your high efficiency washing machine still has unpleasant odors, repeat the process.

Frequently asked questions

Can’t I just leave the door to the washer open so it dries out?

Leaving the door open is not enough to solve this problem, because the soil buildups are still present. Leaving the door open between laundry loads means it just takes a little longer for the problem to develop.

I can’t find the Washing Machine Cleaner product. Can I use Regular Bleach?

Yes, any of our bleach products that contain the sodium hypochlorite bleach active can be used to run a washer cleanout cycle. Use a measuring cup to add the bleach to the dispenser if you are using a non-thickened bleach product.