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Can you clean your washing machine with dishwasher tablets?

We ask our in-house expert if it’s too good to be true

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Your washing machine may clean your clothes, but what’s cleaning your washer?

For some, this question may seem silly on its face: A washing machine spends the majority of its time swirling around soapy water—that should mean it cleans itself, right?

Well, no, unfortunately. Just as you still need to scrub your shower, every so often despite cleaning yourself in it, your washer also needs a bit of outside intervention to stay spotless.

The two most common ways your washer gets dirty: a build-up of residue from detergent that wasn’t fully flushed out and mildew growing on the door gasket.

Mildew on your gasket is double trouble: Not only can the foul-smelling fungus transfer its odors to your clothes, it will also degrade the rubber gasket over time.

Can you clean your washing machine with dishwasher tablets?

A pile of dishwasher detergent pods
Credit: Getty Images / Kuzmik_A

Dishwasher detergent is formulated for dishwashers specifically, and could wind up flooding your laundry room with soapy suds.

In an effort to keep their washers clean (without actually needing to clean anything) some homeowners have turned to dishwasher tablets.

This housekeeping hack, while not new, has been especially popular on social media over the past few years. The idea is a dishwasher tablet will erase every odor from a once-whiffy washer and rid it of any rancid residues. But, is this technique effective? Is it safe?

Again: No, unfortunately.

We spoke to our senior lab operations manager, Jonathan Chan, to help us understand why nobody should use dishwasher tablets to clean a washing machine—and provided us with some better, safer alternatives.

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First, and foremost, dishwasher tablets may not do as thorough of a job cleaning your washing machine as you think, Jonathan says.

“I dissolved 2 tablespoons of detergent into 2 cups of cold water (see below photo). The one on the right is dish detergent and the one on the left is Tide,” he explains. “The Tide is much more dissolved and the dish detergent is clumping up. Basically, dish powder is designed to work at higher temperatures than what you find in your washing machine.” That means it’s likely you’ll have a lot of residue left after using a dishwasher tablets—so it’s actually exacerbating one of the two main ways your washer gets gunked up to begin with.

A side-by-side image showing laundry detergent dissolved in warm water and dishwasher detergent dissolved in warm water. While the laundry detergent is fully dissolved, the dishwasher detergent mixture still has white particles remaining in tact.
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

Laundry detergent at left is dissolved in water, where as dishwasher detergent at right features some undissolved particles.

Appliance company Bosch also warns against the practice on its website, stating, “To keep maximum efficiency and quality, please do not use dishwasher tablets or detergent to clean your washing machine or to clean laundry.”

In addition to not cleaning well at lower temperatures, dishwasher detergents might use chemical agents that a washer can froth up into a foam overflow—not an ideal outcome when the entire goal of using a dishwasher pod in the first place was to avoid a labor-intensive cleanup.

Here’s how you should actually clean your washing machine

A hand wearing a rubber glove stretches into frame, swiping a sponge across a dirty washing machine gasket.
Credit: Getty Images / Cunaplus_M.Faba

You can even clean your washing machine by hand.

While cleaning your washing machine may not be as easy as dropping in a tablet, it’s also not particularly difficult.

First, create a mixture that’s 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup water and add that into your washer’s detergent container. Next, pour 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum. Then run a normal cycle on high heat.

Your washer should look spotless once the cycle is complete, but just to make sure, we recommend doing a quick once-over with a sponge dipped in a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar to scrub out any stubborn spots.

The best cure: Prevention

A washer sits in its laundry room, with its door open to dry.
Credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages

If you own a front-loader, keep the door open after a cycle. This allows the gasket to completely dry, preventing mildew growth.

As one final washer cleanliness pro-tip: If you have a front-loading washing machine, always leave the door open after a cycle so the drum can dry completely. This will go a long way in preventing mildew growth before it can even start, and can help keep your washer cleaner for longer.

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