How to Clean Your Washing Machine to Avoid Limescale and Keep Clothes Smelling Fresh

It seems counterintuitive but one of the best ways to make sure your clothes are clean is, in fact, to clean your washing machine. There are plenty of reasons why a washing machine needs to be cleaned, one of which is limescale.

According to the United States Geological Survey, hard water, which is water with a certain amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium, can cause limescale build-up in appliances—even your washing machine.

This, in turn, can damage your machine, stopping it from working efficiently which will have an unfortunate effect on your clothes.

Ecopure estimates a staggering 85 percent of the U.S. has hard water, meaning this is an issue most people will face at some point.

There can be plenty of other reasons why a washer needs to, itself, be washed, including detergent build-up or just the build-up of dirt and grime over time.

According to home care expert Bailey Carson from Angi, 25 percent of our washers also contain fecal matter from clothes, which is just one example of why washing your machine is crucial.

Newsweek consulted experts on why we need to clean our washing machines, and the best ways to do it using professional products and even household items.

Do I Need to Wash My Washing Machine?

The short answer is yes. At some point, everyone needs to give their washing machine a clean to prevent your clothes from coming out of the wash smelling musty and unpleasant.

One way to do this is with a specially formulated washing machine tablet. The other thing to remember is there are many parts of the washing machine which may need a freshen up.

A washing machine
A file photo of mildew and mould in a washing machine. Getty Images

Shawn Ashby, Whirlpool Laundry brand manager, said it is important to clean the inside using a tablet before washing the detergent dispensers, cleaning in and around the door where grime and mildew can get trapped, and using a mild soap on the outside of the machine.

To ensure your washing machine stays clean, Ashby suggested repeating this process of cleaning every month or so to ensure your clothes stay fresh after their wash.

Ron Shimek, president of Neighborly company Mr. Appliance, said: "Typically, front-load washing machines are more likely to accumulate bad odors. While many might assume that washing machines shouldn't have this problem because they are cleaning themselves with all that detergent and water, this is not actually the case.

"In fact, mildew smells often happen because the gasket of the laundry machine isn't being cleaned enough, which is also the part that tends to accumulate the most soil and other bacteria."

Shimek added that the mildew smell which comes from inside the washer could be due to leftover detergent or bacteria, the latter of which can grow in warm temperatures.

How to Get Rid of Limescale

Limescale, on the other hand, is not what directly causes the mildew smell to build up in a washer, but may cause damage to the heating elements of your machine. This, in turn, could cause the issues outlined to occur.

Cleaning a washing machine
A file photo of wiping limescale from a washing machine door. Getty Images

Ashby said, other than using a tablet, one could use "liquid chlorine bleach, but check your use and care guide first. Close the door and select your washer's cleaning cycle or a normal cycle with hot water setting."

Carson suggested that even a household item as simple as vinegar can be a good tool to get rid of limescale while also helping to alleviate any nasty smells coming from the machine.

She said: "Generally, using a mix of water and white vinegar does a great job of disinfecting your machine but also getting rid of limescale. Limescale is common in spots where high mineral content causes hard water.

"Because washing machines are constantly exposed to large amounts of hard water, limescale builds up easily. Not only does hard water clog your pipes, but it also decreases the life expectancy and efficiency of washing machines and dishwashers."

There are also limescale-specific products out there, but make sure to also check the manufacturer's instructions for your machine before going ahead.

How to Get the Musty Smell Out of Clothes

Of course, sometimes these ideas come a little too late, and clothes may already not be at their freshest after a wash.

There are ways to fix this, including using an ingredient we have already discussed: vinegar.

Clothes in a washing machine
A file photo of clothes being put in a washing machine. Getty Images

Leanne Stapf, the chief operating officer of The Cleaning Authority, said soaking clothes in half a cup of white vinegar and cold water for about an hour can help cleanse them from odors, while also breaking down any build-up which may not have washing up.

She also said: "Wash the clothes inside out, as the inside of your clothes is where the bacteria from your day accumulates, use a small amount of detergent, as the soap buildup will combine with the sweat build-up.

"Wash the clothes in cold water and either air dry them or use a low heat setting in the dryer to avoid breaking down the elasticity in the material of the clothes or shrinking them."

Carson also suggested putting things like lavender bags and scented soap in with your clothes in the drawer, which can freshen them up.