How Much Vinegar to Clean a Washing Machine? And How Getting it Wrong Can Ruin Your Washer


Vinegar is a popular natural cleaning solution for many household applications, including cleaning washing machines. Used properly, vinegar can help descale and disinfect your washer to keep it fresh and residue-free. However, using too much or too little vinegar can lead to problems. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about cleaning a washing machine with vinegar safely and effectively.

How Vinegar Cleans Washing Machines

Vinegar is an acidic solution that works to dissolve mineral deposits, grease, soap scum, and other buildups in your washing machine. Here’s a quick look at the key benefits of using vinegar:

  • Removes detergent residue – Over time, detergent and fabric softener can leave sticky residue in the drum and internal components. Vinegar breaks this down.
  • Descale mineral deposits – Hard water can cause limescale buildup that clogs pipes and hoses. The acetic acid in vinegar dissolves this mineral buildup.
  • Cleans soap scum – A natural degreaser, vinegar cuts through soap scum in the detergent dispenser and drum.
  • Disinfects – Vinegar is a mild antimicrobial, helping kill bacteria and mildew that can cause odors in the washer.
  • Deodorizes – The fresh, acidic aroma of vinegar helps neutralize unpleasant odors lingering in your washer.

By tackling all these issues, vinegar keeps your washing machine fresh, residue-free and working efficiently.

How Much Vinegar to Use?

When it comes to how much vinegar to use in your washing machine, there are a few guidelines to follow:

For a Basic Clean:

  • Top-loader: 1-2 cups of vinegar in the detergent dispenser or drum.
  • Front-loader: 1-2 cups of vinegar in the drum.

This amount is sufficient for a basic rinse to help remove some residue buildup inside the machine. Add it to the drum or detergent dispenser and run an empty wash cycle on hot. The vinegar will disinfect, deodorize and descale to a degree.

For a Deep Clean:

  • Top-loader: 2 cups in the dispenser PLUS filling the drum halfway with vinegar.
  • Front-loader: Fill the empty drum halfway with vinegar.

Really want to deep clean the machine fully? Then you need more vinegar – about 2-3 quarts total. Pour some in the dispenser to target internal components. Then fill the drum halfway so vinegar saturates all the interior surfaces. Run a hot cycle to clean thoroughly.

For Maintenance:

  • Top or front loader: 1 cup with each load.

Add a cup of vinegar to each wash load to help prevent residue and mineral buildup over time. This small amount maintains freshness in between deep cleaning sessions.

So in summary, basic cleans need 1-2 cups, deep cleans take 2-3 quarts filled halfway up the drum, and maintenance uses 1 cup per regular load. Follow these guidelines based on your specific needs.

When NOT to Use Vinegar

While vinegar is usually safe for washing machines, there are a few instances when you’ll want to avoid using it:

  • On delicate fabrics: Vinegar is fine for most laundry loads, but the acidity can damage delicate fabrics like silks or satins. Skip the vinegar for these items.
  • With bleach: Don’t mix vinegar with bleach! This combination creates toxic chlorine gas. Use one cleaner at a time.
  • On clogged machines: If your machine isn’t draining properly, skip the vinegar. It may react with built-up gunk and make clogs worse. Call a repair pro instead.
  • With baking soda: Another dangerous combo! Vinegar and baking soda react, making foamy releases that can overflow the machine.
  • New machines: Give new washers a few weeks before using vinegar, so surfaces have time to cure properly first.

So steer clear of vinegar in these specific situations. For everyday laundry on most fabrics, vinegar is a safe bet. Just make sure to follow the recommended amounts.

Step-by-Step to Cleaning Your Machine with Vinegar

Cleaning your washing machine with vinegar is a simple process. Just follow these steps:

1. Prep the Machine

  • Remove any clothing items from the drum. Vinegar can damage fabric dyes, so wash loads first.
  • Empty the lint trap. Clear out any collected lint to keep drain lines clear.
  • Empty the dispenser. Make sure no cleaners or fabric softener remain in the dispenser before adding vinegar.

2. Add Vinegar

  • Front-loader: Pour vinegar directly into the empty drum, filling about halfway.
  • Top-loader: Add 1-2 cups of vinegar to the drum OR dispenser, based on your chosen cleaning level.

3. Run a Hot Cycle

  • Set the machine to the hottest cycle possible, like “Whites” or “Sanitize.” High heat activates the vinegar.
  • Select the longest cycle time, so vinegar has time to work fully.
  • Do NOT add any detergent, softener, or other laundry. Run vinegar ONLY.

4. Air Dry

  • Once complete, prop the door open slightly to allow airflow. The moisture prevents mold and mildew growth.
  • For front-loaders, dry the rubber gasket as well. Check for trapped vinegar pools.

5. Repeat and Maintain

  • Do a deep clean every 1-2 months to keep the machine fresh.
  • Add 1 cup of vinegar to each regular load for maintenance cleaning.

And that’s it! With this easy process, vinegar will keep your washing machine sparkling.

Signs It’s Time to Clean Your Machine

Don’t wait until you have a serious problem. Catch washing machine issues early by watching for these signs it’s time to clean:

  • Mineral buildup – Hard water deposits lead to limescale residue you can see or feel. Vinegar dissolves it.
  • Slow draining – If water takes longer to drain out, mineral deposits or soap scum may be clogging the drain pump.
  • Musty smells – Mildew and bacteria cause foul odors. Give the machine a vinegar disinfecting.
  • Dingy drum – Stains or grime inside the drum indicate residue buildup. A thorough vinegar wash clears it away.
  • Detergent scum – If you notice sticky soap gunk in the dispenser or gasket, it’s time to de-scum with vinegar.

Take note if you see any of these issues starting in your washer. Perform a vinegar cleaning right away to get your machine back to its best.

Benefits of a Vinegar-Cleaned Machine

Putting in the small effort to regularly clean your washer with vinegar pays off through:

Better Performance

Dissolving away mineral buildup, soap scum, and residue improves water flow and drainage. Your washer will fill, agitate, drain, and spin better for optimized cleaning results.

Fresh Smells

Vinegar’s antimicrobial properties and acidic aroma leave your machine smelling fresh, not musty. Clothes and linens will smell their best too.

Soft Fabrics

When residue buildup is removed, fabrics feel softer without clinging detergent or minerals. Plus, vinegar naturally softens fabrics and lifts odors.

Cost Savings

A clean washer requires less detergent to do its job well. Fewer repairs or replacements are needed too when you maintain your machine with vinegar.

Don’t miss out on these rewards! Keep your washer performing like new with regular vinegar cleaning.

Common Vinegar Cleaning Mistakes

While vinegar washing machine cleaning has many benefits, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes:

Using Too Much Vinegar

Dilute vinegar can damage rubber hoses and seals over time. Measure carefully and don’t overdo it.

Ignoring Rinse Cycle

Leftover vinegar can alter laundry pH and damage fabrics. Always allow full rinse cycles.

Using with Bleach

This dangerous mixture releases toxic chlorine gas. Vinegar and bleach should never mix.

Not Washing Afterward

Run a regular load immediately after to rinse any lingering vinegar from the machine.

Limiting Heat

Hot water activates and improves vinegar cleaning. Use the hottest setting possible for best results.

Using with Baking Soda

Let vinegar and baking soda foam subside if using together. Don’t run a cycle until the reaction finishes.

Skipping Gasket Care

Focus cleaning efforts on the gasket, a frequent source of mildew. Dry thoroughly after vinegar rinses.

Avoid these mistakes and your vinegar washing machine cleaning will safely revitalize your machine!

FAQs About Using Vinegar for Washing Machines

Still have some questions about using vinegar to clean your washing machine? Here are answers to the most common queries:

How often should I clean my machine with vinegar?

Do a thorough deep cleaning about once every 1-2 months. For maintenance, add 1 cup of vinegar to each load.

Does vinegar actually disinfect washing machines?

Yes! Vinegar is a natural antimicrobial, killing 90% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of germs.

Can vinegar remove mold from the washing machine?

Yes, vinegar breaks down mold and mildew buildup. Make sure to fully dry the gasket after cleaning to prevent recurrence.

What temperature should I wash with vinegar?

Use the hottest water possible, like the “Sanitize” or “Whites” setting. Heat activates vinegar cleaning power.

Is white vinegar or apple cider vinegar better?

White vinegar has a higher acidity for better cleaning effects. Go with distilled white vinegar.

How long should I let the vinegar soak?

For a basic wash, no soak is needed. For a deep clean, allow vinegar to soak for 30+ minutes before completing the cycle.

Can I mix vinegar with laundry detergent?

Yes, adding 1 cup of vinegar to a regular detergent wash helps boost cleaning and prevent residue.


Regularly cleaning your washing machine with vinegar is one of the best ways to keep it fresh, residue-free, and functioning at its best. Follow the guidelines on effective amounts to use, properly preparing the machine, running cycles, and safe practices. A routine deep vinegar wash and adding vinegar to normal loads will protect your investment for years of stain-fighting performance. With the costs and convenience of vinegar compared to harsh chemical cleaners, this all-natural cleaning method is a smart choice.