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How to Green Clean a Front-Loading Washing Machine

7 Easy Steps to Ensure a Safe & Well Functioning Machine

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Regularly cleaning your washing machine eliminates odors, detergent build-up, and hard water mineral deposits.

Photo © Karen Peltier

You're probably asking yourself why on earth you would need to clean your washing machine, right? Well, over time detergent residues can build up and if you have hard water, so can mineral deposits. Also, depending on the type of laundry you're washing (diapers anyone?), so can icky bacteria, viruses, and molds. Finally, front-loading machines are notorious for having mold issues in the rubber door seals. So, a good green cleaning is definitely in order to get your machine in tip-top shape and clean as a whistle! Follow these 10 easy steps:

1. Vacuum. Using a vacuum cleaner attachment, vacuum under, around, and behind your washing machine. You'd be surprised at how much dirt and dust get's cleaned up. If necessary, use a duster as well.

2. Inspect the hose. Washing machine hoses don't last forever and sometimes bust loose causing a flood. Therefore, check to make sure the hose is well attached and seems in good condition. If not, call a plumber or make a trip to your local home improvement store to get another one. Can't make heads or tails of washing machine hoses? Check out this article, "Comparing Washing Machine Hoses," by Aaron Stickley, About.com's Plumbing Guide, for more information.

3. Clean the outside. Use a microfiber rag and a vinegar-water solution or vinegar spray to clean the outside of your washing machine — front, top, and sides.

4. Soak the dispenser cup. Remove the dispenser cup and soak it in a bucket full of water and 1-2 cups of vinegar. It will remove detergent and fabric softener build-up, mineral deposits, and stains. After several minutes have passed, scrub any remaining residue off and rinse well with water.

5. Inspect and clean the rubber door seal. Check the rubber door seal for signs of mold, which can definitely happen if you keep the washing machine door tightly closed when it's not in use. Some molds, especially the toxic black ones, are resistant to alkaline or acid chemicals as discussed in my blog post, "Harmful Fungi May be Lurking in Your Dishwasher," so I suggest using a multifaceted approach. First, clean with an acidic water solution, such as water and vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid). Then if you still notice some mold or mildew, clean it with something more alkaline in nature, such as a  slurry of baking soda and water. Tea tree essential oil also kills fungus, so adding a few drops to your cleaning solution of choice is helpful.  Be sure to get in all the nooks and crannies and follow up by a good rinsing with a damp rag. Acids can break down rubber over time if not removed.

6. Look for signs of rust. Sometimes buttons, paper clips, and a multitude of other objects make their way under the lip of the rubber door seal where the water drains, sitting there for a good while wash after wash — just enough time for them to start to develop rust! Therefore, if you see any rust, don't worry. All you need to do is apply a paste of table salt and lime juice (use lemon juice or vinegar if you don't have any limes on hand) and let it sit for several minutes. Scrub gently with a kitchen sponge or microfiber rag. Then wipe clean with a fresh, damp cloth. If necessary, clean and then touch up any rusty areas on the outside of your machine with a small appliance paint.

7. Clean the inside. Pour into the detergent cup a packet of a commercial washing machine cleaner, such as Lemi Shine Machine Cleaner, a DIY Green Washing Machine Cleaner, or white distilled vinegar. (If using vinegar, you can also add it to the fabric softener and bleach cups). The idea is to pause the wash cycle after it's filled with water, so whatever product you use will soak for a few good hours. Then, resume the cycle as normal. If you're in a hurry — or you've already used the above deep cleaning method before — simply run the wash cycle on warm as normal without pausing the machine. Voila! You'll be left with a clean green washing machine!

Note: A non-green solution for cleaning mold from door seals and the inside of the washer would be to use chlorine bleach, but if you choose this method, never mix it with acids, such as vinegar or citric acid, or dangerous fumes could result as About.com Chemistry Guide, Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., explains in her article "Why People Mix Bleach and Vinegar."

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