You’re Cleaning Your Dryer Filter, but Have You Cleaned Your (Probably Smelly and Very Dirty) Washing Machine Filter?

Photo: Getty Images / Anastasiia Krivenok
It may seem counterintuitive to wash a washing machine—doesn’t it just get cleaned every time you do a load of laundry? But according to TikTok’s resident grandmother (with nearly three million followers), Babs, you should be cleaning out your washing machine filter four times per year. This is one time you definitely want to listen to your elders.

Just like you have to clean out your vacuum once in a while, your washing machine is the same. “During the laundry cycle, laundry detergent and water work to remove lint, dust, pet hair, solid dirt, sand, solid particulars of stains of clothing,” says Jenna Arkin, chief innovation officer at ECOS, which makes eco-friendly cleaning products.. “While most stains are water-soluble (meaning they dissolve and rinse away in water), not all soils are.”

Experts In This Article

After all, the dust, grime, and gunk have to go somewhere. “The filter collects these small particles as the wash water is drained to ensure they do not redeposit back onto clothes,” Arkin says. “It also prevents lint and other debris from clogging the rinse drain.”

If you were today years old when you learned that your washing machine even had a filter, chances are high you’re not sure where to find it. “For front-loading machines, the filter is typically located on the bottom right or left of the front panel of the machine with a small door for access,” Arkin says. As for top-loaders, she says to look for the filter in the middle of the agitator. And if you’ve recently updated your machine, you may be in luck, as newer models tend to have automatic self-cleaning filters in the pump, according to laundry expert Kate Hanks from Hampr, an on-demand wash-and-fold laundry app. You should be able to find this intel in the user manual for your machine or on the website of the brand who manufactures it. “Taking care of your washing machine filter is an essential part of Laundry 101,” she says.

How to clean a washing machine filter

1. Drain the water and check for stuck items

“With gloved hands, unscrew the filter and take it to the trash; remove any excess debris, such as large balls of lint,” Arkin says. FYI, water is expected to pour out in front-loaders, especially if your washer hasn’t been drained in some time, so first, put down some old towels and get a small bowl to collect the runoff. In Babs’ TikTok video, she’s seen removing the cap before the “stinky” and murky water comes running out. Wearing gloves, she pushes her hand into the faucet and finds a Q-tip and an old sock that had gotten caught up.

2. Wash out the filter

Once the large particles have been removed, take the filter to the sink. “Using a fine bristle brush, ensure all [tiny] pieces of debris are thoroughly removed,” Arkin says. “For an extra clean, sprinkle baking soda on the filter, and scrub and wash it off. This will remove any residual odors that could be trapped in the stain.” In Babs’ video, she also sprayed some white vinegar on a cloth and wiped out the internal filter compartment.

3. Replace the filter

It’s only a five-minute task, but cleaning the filter and taking care of your washing machine filter will not only extend its life but provide you with much cleaner laundry. “For the machine to run properly, it needs to be able to quickly drain both the wash and rinse cycle,” Arkin says.

While you’re at it, don’t stop at replacing the filter—tackle the machine too. “Cleaning your washing machine is also an especially important task for maintaining the life of your appliance and ensuring that your laundry comes out squeaky clean each time,” Hanks says. She adds that not cleaning the inside of the machine can lead to; “excess detergent, water minerals, bacteria, mildew, and unpleasant odors.” Here’s how to clean your washing machine in three easy steps.

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