The 9 Best Washing Machine Cleaners to Tackle Grime and Odor

The Tide Washing Machine Cleaner is our favorite for its powerful cleaning and odor-removing properties.

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Much like a dishwasher, you might tend to think of a washing machine as a self-cleaning appliance that does not require additional cleaning. However, a washing machine should be cleaned monthly to get rid of bacteria and residue so it can continue to leave clothes feeling and smelling fresh. Regular maintenance and cleaning can extend the life of your washing machine, and there is no more convenient way than to use a washing machine cleaner.

To find the best washing machine cleaners, we spent hours researching various options and top-rated products while considering factors such as type, ingredients, and machine compatibility. We also asked Sara San Angelo, professional house cleaner and founder of Confessions of a Cleaning Lady, and Jen Stark, home improvement expert and founder of Happy DIY Home, for insight and tips on how washing machine cleaners work and what to look for when buying one.

"Your washing machine is one of the hardest working appliances in your house," says San Angelo. "Dirt, grime, and mold can accumulate and cause your machine to smell and eventually malfunction, so it's important to clean your washing machine every so often."

Our top pick is the Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, a powder cleaner that stands out for its ability to eliminate the strongest odors and remove any buildup, leaving a clean and fresh washing machine.

Here are our picks for the best washing machine cleaners, along with tips on how to choose the best cleaner, so your laundry and washing machine can stay smelling fresh.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Washing Machine Cleaner: Tide Washing Machine Cleaner

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe's.

Who it's for: People who want to get rid of any odor or residue in their washing machine.

Who it isn't for: People who want a cleaner with a less noticeable fragrance.

Without proper upkeep and maintenance, a washing machine can hold onto strong odors for months, even years, which can end up penetrating your clothes and linens. The Tide Washing Machine Cleaner is our top pick for fully eliminating these strong smells, along with grime and other buildup. This powder cleaner has a particularly strong yet clean scent, and it works wonders when it comes to removing mildew, mold, and even the strongest odors from wet pet towels and gym clothes. Best of all, this cleaner works on both high-efficiency (HE) and standard washing machines (top- or front-loading). While the instructions indicate that one pouch every month can clean and freshen your machine, one pouch per week for three consecutive weeks may be necessary for extra strong odors.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder
  • Size: 75 grams per pack
  • Fragrance: Yes

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Best Eco-Friendly Washing Machine Cleaner: Renuv Heavy Duty Washing Machine Cleaner

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Walmart.

Who it's for: People want an eco-friendly and unscented washing machine cleaner.

Who it isn't for: People who want something with fragrance.

Finding a fragrance-free washing machine cleaner can be a time-consuming task, but we're here to crown Renuv Heavy Duty Washing Machine Cleaner as the best option. It does not compromise on cleaning power, especially when it comes to heavy messes and odors. These effervescent tablets are not only formulated without dyes and fragrances, but come wrapped in eco-friendly packaging.

Each tablet (compatible with all washing machines) has the ability to destroy odor-causing buildup, remove dirt and grime, and leave your laundry smelling fresh and must-free. Each box comes with six tablets—use one per month on a normal cycle with hot water for best results. For extra heavy messes and odors, use one tablet for two consecutive cycles.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder tablets
  • Size: 40 grams per tablet
  • Fragrance: No

Best Powder Washing Machine Cleaner: OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner With Odor Blasters

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Walmart and Target.

Who it's for: People with strong odors in their washing machine.

Who it isn't for: People who want a spray cleaner or wipes for detail cleaning.

When you start to notice a musty smell on your clothes and other laundry items, it's time for a reliable and effective cleaner. The OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner is our choice for best powder washing machine cleaner, as it not only eliminates odors and residue, but leaves washing machines spotless so they can work more efficiently. San Angelo says this is her preferred washing machine cleaner for its affordability, effectiveness, and OxiClean's trusted reputation. This powder works on all types of machines and can be used monthly for proper maintenance. After running a normal cycle with hot water, simply wipe your machine with a damp cloth to get rid of any leftover powder residue and leave the door to allow for better ventilation.

This cleaner is formulated without phosphates and is septic-safe. It also contains sodium percarbonate, which is eco-friendly. Similar to the Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, one pouch per week for three consecutive weeks may be necessary if strong odors persist. Otherwise, one pouch every month will yield the best results, leaving behind a clean washing machine.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder
  • Size: 80 grams per pack
  • Fragrance: Yes

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Best Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets: Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Target and Lowe's.

Who it's for: People who want the convenience of a tablet without compromising cleaning power.

Who it isn't for: People who want an unscented cleaner.

With EPA Safer Choice-certified ingredients, thousands of rave reviews, and value for a six-month supply, Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets are our choice for best tablets for a spotless washing machine. These powder time-release tablets clean thoroughly inside your machine's pump, valve, tub, drum, agitator, filter, and hose and work for top- and front-loading washers, including high efficiency. For non-HE washers, the instructions recommend running a normal cycle with hot water. For HE washers, run the largest and longest cycle with hot water. For heavy-duty messes and odors, running three consecutive cycles with one tablet each is recommended.

Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets foam up using surfactant chemistry to break up odor-causing residue and grime, washing it away to leave your washer smelling fresh and clean with a subtle fragrance. To best maintain your washing machine, using one tablet per month is suggested for an optimal clean.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder tablets
  • Size: 40 grams per tablet
  • Fragrance: Yes

Best Gel Washing Machine Cleaner: Ahh!some Washing Machine & Dishwasher Bio-Cleaner and Deodorizer

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Walmart.

Who it's for: People who want a versatile cleaner that can be used on other appliances.

Who it isn't for: People who want a more affordable washing machine cleaner.

Most washing machine cleaners are formulated to only be used on said appliance. Ahh!some's Cleaner and Deodorizer, however, is a powerful and effective gel cleaner that can be used on washing machines, dishwashers, and garbage disposals. While this is the priciest product on our list, each container comes with 12 teaspoons of the gel, which allow for 24 individual cleanings for all types of washing machines (that's about two years' worth!). The active oxygen formula contains bioactive enzymes to break down grime, gunk, and dirt while descaling and eliminating strong odors. For best results, use a half teaspoon of gel diluted with a half cup of warm water. Next, run a short hot water cycle to dissolve the gel, wiping off any residue after this cleaning purge, followed by a normal empty cycle with your preferred detergent.

This cleaner can be used once every one to two months and is a great option for those who prefer an unscented cleaner with environmentally safe ingredients. If you're looking for an efficient cleaner that can be used on more than one appliance in your home, this gel is the one for you and is totally worth the price.

Product Details:

  • Type: Gel
  • Size: 2 ounces per container
  • Fragrance: Yes

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Best Liquid Washing Machine Cleaner: Glisten Washing Machine Cleaner

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Lowe's.

Who it's for: People with hard water build-up in their washing machines.

Who it isn't for: People who don't want to put a lot of effort into cleaning their washing machine.

You might think of hard water as being harsh, but the hard water scale found in appliances, like washing machines, can cause strong odors and fungal bacteria that affect the life and operating power of the washing machine. The Glisten Washing Machine Cleaner is our choice for the best liquid washing machine cleaner due to its impressive ability to remove hard water buildup and bad smells.

To clean around the door and other nooks and crannies, simply pour a small amount of the liquid cleaner onto a clean cloth and wipe thoroughly. Add a half cup of the liquid to the detergent drawer for front-loading machines and a half cup directly into the washing tub for top-loading machines and run a normal cycle with hot water. Glisten's cleaner is formulated without bleach and contains EPA Safer Choice-certified ingredients that won't harm your machine, your laundry, or the environment.

Product Details:

  • Type: Liquid
  • Size: 12 ounces per bottle
  • Fragrance: Yes

Best Washing Machine Cleaner Spray: Bayes Washing Machine Cleaner and Deodorizer

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
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Who it's for: People who want a naturally fragranced cleaner or people who want to clean hard-to-reach areas.

Who it isn't for: People who don't want to do a deep clean.

Most washing machine cleaners come in a powder or tablet form, but for those who want to get product into the smallest and hardest-to-reach areas, Bayes Washing Machine Cleaner and Deodorizer spray is your best bet. This spray is safe to use for HE and conventional front- and top-loading machines, is formulated with eco-friendly ingredients like natural enzymes and essential oils, and effectively removes strong odors and residue. As a bonus, all Bayes products are made in the U.S. and are Leaping Bunny-certified (meaning they're cruelty-free).

For best results, spray generously all over interior surfaces and let sit for about half an hour. During this time, spray the product onto a clean microfiber towel and wipe the exterior and any other areas of the machine. Lastly, run a normal cycle with hot water. To maintain a fresh scent, you can spray the machine's interior lightly after every load.

Product Details:

  • Type: Liquid spray
  • Size: 24 ounces per bottle
  • Fragrance: Yes

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Best Heavy-Duty Washing Machine Cleaner: True Fresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Walmart.

Who it's for: People want the best value from their washing machine cleaner.

Who it isn't for: People who don't have heavy-duty messes or strong odors.

Certain laundry stains and residue can create a heavy-duty buildup that only a tough cleaner could resolve. The True Fresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets make our list as the best heavy-duty cleaner. Plus, with 25 tablets per box, it can last more than a year, making it the best value, too. These powerful tablets deeply clean every part of your washing machine, including the basket, filter, pump, valve, drum, and hose. They're also compatible with all washing machines (semi-automatic, front-loading, and top-loading). We like this product for its ability to eliminate odors, remove stains and dirt, and preserve the life of the washing machine. For best results, the brand suggests running a cycle with hot water and two tablets.

True Fresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets are the best for heavy-duty messes and smells, getting rid of pet odors, mildew, mold, scum, and grime left behind in the washing machine drum.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder tablets
  • Size: 16 grams per tablet
  • Fragrance: Yes

Best Washing Machine Cleaner Kit: Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner

Best Washing Machine Cleaners
Amazon.com

Also available at Walmart and Lowe's.

Who it's for: People who want an effective washing machine cleaner with wipes.

Who it isn't for: People who prefer unscented cleaners.

For those looking for an extra clean washing machine, a kit can be the best option. We love the Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner, since it comes with eight powder pouches and eight wipes that cleans and deodorizes, leaving a fresh lemon scent (it's also available in a single-pack, which does not come with wipes). The powder cleaner effectively removes hard water buildup, grime, and other bacteria using citric acid, while the wipes are great for removing mildew and debris from the rubber door seal and other nooks and crannies. Lemi Shine Washing Machine Cleaner is also formulated without bleach, ammonia, quats, or formaldehyde.

This kit is popular for its natural ingredients, subtle yet clean fragrance, and success in removing odors and residue. In 2020, Lemi Shine was certified under the EPA's Safer Choice program, meaning its ingredients are safe and clean for humans and the environment. For those who want to support an American-based business, Lemi Shine was founded in Texas, and continues to manufacture its products in the U.S to this day.

Product Details:

  • Type: Powder and wipes (wipes not included in single pack)
  • Size: 60 grams per pack
  • Fragrance: Yes

Final Verdict

For its overall cleaning power and value, our top pick is the Tide Washing Machine Cleaner. For those looking for an effective cleaner made with sustainability in mind, we recommend Renuv Heavy Duty Washing Machine Cleaner.

How to Shop for Washing Machine Cleaners Like a Pro

Type

Washing machine cleaners can come in several forms including powder, tablets, gel, liquid, spray, and wipes. Since most cleaners are compatible with most washing machines, choosing the type comes down to personal preference and the heaviness of the odors or messes. If you'd like to spend more time and attention to detail cleaning the interior and exterior of your machine, wipes or sprays are the best options. For strong odors, gel and powder have a more concentrated cleaning power.

Ingredients

Some washing machine cleaners will contain natural, eco-friendly ingredients such as sodium percarbonate, sodium carbonate, and citric acid, while others contain more harsh ingredients such as dyes, synthetic fragrance, and sulfates. Stark recommends taking your allergies and sensitivities into account when choosing a washing machine cleaner to avoid irritation and other effects.

Machine Compatibility

Although most washing machine cleaners are formulated to be compatible with every type of machine, Stark says it's always important to check the label. There are also cleaners that are specifically designed for only front-loading, top-loading, or HE machines.

Questions You Might Ask

How do you use a washing machine cleaner?

Unless the label specifies it, washing machine cleaners need to be used in an empty washing machine without any laundry. If your machine does not have a self clean setting, the general rule is to run a normal cycle with hot water with your washing machine cleaner. With regular maintenance, Stark says these cleaners will help break down the build-up of detergent, fabric softener, grease, and other residues that can accumulate in your washing machine over time that leave strong odors.

How often should you use a washing machine cleaner?

Not cleaning a washing machine is a common mistake most people make, so it's important to maintain a routine to keep your washing machine fresh, clean, and working efficiently.

"The frequency with which you need to use a washing machine cleaner will depend on a number of factors, including the type of washing machine you have, the water hardness in your area, and how often you use your machine," says Stark. "However, as a general rule of thumb, it is recommended that you use a washing machine cleaner every month or so to help keep your machine in good working order. If you notice any build-up or particularly strong odors, then you may need to increase the frequency with which you use a cleaner."

How do you get smells out of a washing machine?

Washing machine cleaners are effective at removing the buildup that causes strong odors, so it's essential to follow the instructions on your cleaner's label for best results. If your washing machine is extra smelly, try running two to three consecutive cycles with whatever cleaner you're using. Thoroughly cleaning the nooks and crannies of your washing machine, like the rubber door, detergent drawer, and edges of the washing machine drum or tub, can also help reduce the overall odors and maintain the lifespan of your machine.

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by L. Daniela Alvarez, contributing writer for Real Simple with nearly three years experience writing lifestyle content and product reviews. To compile this list, she spent hours researching washing machine cleaners and reading customer reviewers. She also received tips on how to shop for washing machine cleaners from Sara San Angelo, professional house cleaner and founder of Confessions of a Cleaning Lady, and Jen Stark, home improvement expert and founder of Happy DIY Home.

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