Essential Oil Mold Remover: Rid Your Washing Machine of Mold and Mildew

Have you noticed a musty odor when you open the lid or door of your washing machine? Is it sometimes faintly present in the laundered clothing?

A few years ago I was battling this problem. After having no success eliminating it, I finally replaced the washing machine. A few weeks later I ran into an appliance repair man and I asked him about the musty odor. I was looking for suggestions for avoiding the same problem in my new washer.




I think appliance repair men know the “inside scoop” on all things related to appliances. His response to my questions provided startling information that caused me to implement big changes in how I approached laundry. Here are his main points:

  • Keep Washing Machine Lids and Doors Ajar:  The airless environment created when washing machine lids and doors are kept closed is the perfect breeding ground for mold.
  • Use Hot Water:  People rarely use hot water for washing anymore. Some things need to be washed in hot water to kill bacteria and pathogens. You do this not only to clean the laundry but also to keep the washing machine clean. Of course not all modern fabrics can be laundered on hot, just make sure to use hot when possible.
  • Sort Your Laundry:  Underwear, towels, bedding, and heavily soiled items should always be washed in HOT water and in separate loads from general clothing.
  • Clean Your Washer:  There are products available commercially that work to kill molds and break down biofilms. This was a concept that was completely new to me. After all I was using soap and hot water…

I found it easy to leave my lid open. I was careful about sorting laundry and then washing it in the appropriate temperature water. The thing I couldn’t bring myself to do was use the products found in stores to clean the inside of the washer. I had been using natural laundry detergents for years to avoid the chemicals present in most laundry products. I really didn’t want to introduce them back into my washing machine and the atmosphere of my home. I decided to investigate…

How to Clean Your Washing Machine with Essential Oils

How to Clean Your Washing Machine with Essential Oils

DIY washing machine cleaner

How to Clean Your Washing Machine with Essential Oils - Prevent Mold Buildup

How to Prevent Mold in Your Washing Machine


Bacteria enter the washing machine through clothing, household linens and water. We expect the clothing coming out of a washer to be both visually and hygienically clean, but changes in clothing materials, detergent ingredients, and lower washing temperatures have impacted the level of bacteria present in laundered clothing and inside the washing machine. The plastic components that are part of new machine construction also harbor more bacteria than older machines.

The bacteria that survive the laundry process build up biofilms, a slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface, for protection, making it more difficult to eradicate them.

These bacteria often, but not always, produce a musty odor that is present in laundered clothing and the inside of the washer.

the solution

This is one of those problems that is easier to avoid than to eliminate. But if you are already having trouble with mold in your washing machine you will want to clean it thoroughly before starting the maintenance program.

I have found that even top loading washers develop a slimy film builds on the top of the washer drum. You may have to shift the drum around a bit to thoroughly clean it. In front-loading washers, the gasket around the door is commonly infested with mold.

Preliminary Steps

  • Use a solution of 1 cup hot water, 2 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup borax and 20 drops of anti-fungal essential oils (listed below) to clean the gaskets and/or top of the drum of your washer. You should wear rubber gloves for this as the dilution of essential oils is very strong.
  • Run an empty, hot load with several cups of vinegar, 1 cup borax, and 20 drops of any anti-fungal essential oil (listed below). I know that some washers determine water level by the amount of laundry so this could be a problem for them BUT most of those washers also have a cycle for cleaning. If so, use that. It is important to use hot water.
  • You may have to repeat these steps several times to eliminate the mold.

choose anti-fungal oils

I have set up a rotation of four anti-fungal essential oils that I use in the wash cycle. My research indicated that I didn’t need to use a large amount of oils to eliminate biofilms and mold so I made a list and picked oils with scents that my family enjoyed.


  • Citronella
  • Orange
  • Eucalyptus (not safe for children under six)
  • Palmarosa
  • Geranium
  • Patchouli
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint (not safe for children under six)
  • Lemongrass
  • Tea Tree

This isn’t an exhaustive list. They are oils I was familiar with and had on hand.

My Maintenance Program 

These are the steps I follow for a super-sweet smelling washing machine!

  1. Choose at least four anti-fungal essential oils.
  2. Place the oils in a box alongside your laundry products.
  3. Add 10 drops of an anti-fungal essential oil in your regular wash cycle. I add it at the beginning with the detergent. I use more drops for extra dirty clothing, underwear, and towels.
  4. Rotate your oils on a weekly basis. Use the oil that is first in line for approximately one week then move it to the back, and slide the other oils forward. 
  5. Sort your laundry!
  6. Use hot water appropriately!
  7. If you notice a musty odor in the washer, or when removing wet clothing, follow the preliminary steps listed above.

Vacation Prevention

Run an empty hot load with 20 drops of anti-fungal essential oils, 1 cup borax, and several cups of vinegar. I always do this before leaving on a vacation. There is always some water remaining in the washer, it can cause mold growth when the washer is not used for an extended time.

**Please remember that it is important to keep the lid/door of your washer ajar!

NOTE:  Although your laundry room will smell fantastic when laundering, the scent of these essential oils does not remain after drying. If you want to scent your clothing, add a few drops of essential oils to a washcloth and place it in your dryer with the wet items.

Why do I only use each oil for only one week? Because using the same oil long-term may gradually cause you to develop a sensitivity to it and any other oils with similar compounds. This reaction is termed “sensitization”. and typically occurs in oils that are used consistently with little or no breaks, particularly those that are used internally and/or undiluted.

Another reason I practice this rotation method is because mold, fungus, and bacteria can develop resistance. I’ve read that the complexity of essential oils reduces the likelihood of this happening, but it takes no extra effort to implement this practice and I think if offers a deeper layer of protection.


Most people I’ve talked to think this is an isolated problem. It isn’t! There are six washing machine manufactures that have had lawsuits for problems with mold in their front loading washers. Mold is especially prevalent in front-loading washing machines, but not specific to them. This problem is also common in top loading washers, just less publicized.

I have never had my washer tested for mold or biofilms, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that they are not present in my machine. BUT since I implemented my solution to this problem I have never had a musty odor lingering on clothing or the in the washer. I also have a sensitivity to mold that causes physical symptoms. The lack of these symptoms also leads me to believe that I have conquered the problem.

Need Essential Oils?

Both our Fitchburg and Sun Prairie locations have an extensive variety of essential oils and aromatherapy supplies. Stop in and check them out! As always, our Wellness Consultants are available to answer any questions you may have regarding our products and advice on which supplements may address your specific health concerns. It is our goal to help you “Find Your Healthy Place”!




Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.


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6313 McKee Road, Fitchburg, WI  53719



The Healthy Place — Apple Wellness

2824 Prairie Lakes Drive, Sun Prairie, WI  53590



The Healthy Place — Apple Wellness

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  1. Thank you so much for this article!! I use cloth diapers, which of course introduce further bacteria. I’ve been smelling it between loads, so this is super helpful!! Any further tips for cloth diaperers? Any adjustments for hard water needed (vinegar + hard water = something unexpected)

    1. I have hard water and I regularly add vinegar to my wash loads to break down the mineral build-up inside the machine. I also add a few tablespoons to my dishwasher loads. Without the vinegar the dishes dry with a fine white coating of lime. It’s yucky to the touch and makes the dishes look cloudy! I can also get hard water deposits building up in the shower, sinks, etc. Vinegar is my standby for cleaning!

      The Apple Wellness team searched long and hard for safe laundry products we could offer our customers. We found Molly’s Suds and I love all of their products! They are all natural, non-toxic and work great. They have a product specifically for using with cloth diapers. I looked on their website and discovered that they have tips for cloth diaper users. I thought these were particularly informative

      Both of our stores carry Molly’s Suds products. If there is a specific product they offer that we don’t carry we would he happy to special order it for you.

  2. My oldest daughter is experiencing black and orange mold in her washer. She lives where the water is extremely hard, and disgusting. She’s tried everything, from vinegar and bleach to get rid of it only for it to come back a few days later. Any suggestions???

    1. Hi Eva,

      Black mold is very dangerous, and can even be life threatening! If her infestation is that severe she may need to replace her washing machine. That’s what I had to do when I was unable to clean up my washer. But I have been very careful to use the steps outlined in the article and haven’t had any problems with my new washer after four years of use. If you do a little digging online you will find many articles on the dangers of black mold. Point her in that direction and get that washer out of the house!

  3. this is exactly what i needed! my washing machine has been impossible to clean and i was looking for alternative methods. thank you!

  4. This may be a dumb question, but when you run the ‘empty’ loads to clean with just borax and vinegar, do you put everything in the washer itself or some in the soap dispenser? I’m assuming just into the main drum of the front loader but I wanted to make sure. I’ve been cleaning mold out of my and my parents’ washing machine all day so these tips are super helpful! Thanks and happy holidays!

    1. Hi Kristin,

      We just put it all in the washer drum. I don’t know if it would matter though.

      If you are dealing with a large mold problem it is a good idea to wear a mask (N95 Approved mask) for protection. Mold can have seriously detrimental affects to your health.

      I this method works for you!

  5. Hi Kate

    Thank you for some very helpful tips! I don’t understand where the musty smell in my new washing machine is coming from. The water is very soft where I live, I use only mild washing powder and a 100% lavender essential oil in my washing but have recently started noticing this prevalent musty smell we all dislike so much.

    I have a question about the tip of rotating the essential oils I use. Why is that? I use the lavender almost every time, but switch it up with tea tree about 1-2 a month at most. Could that be contributing to my problem?

    Also, is there anything I could use instead of borax? I am not sure where to buy it (I don’t live in the US)…

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Vala,

      I’m not sure if there is anything that would replace Borax. I guess I would try the vinegar and essential oils with the hot water cycle.

      There are two reasons you should rotate your essential oils:

      1) Why do I only use each oil for only one week? Because using the same oil long-term may gradually cause you to develop a sensitivity to it and any other oils with similar compounds. This reaction is termed “sensitization”. and typically occurs in oils that are used consistently with little or no breaks, particularly those that are used internally and/or undiluted.

      2) Another reason I practice this rotation method is because mold, fungus, and bacteria can develop resistance. I’ve read that the complexity of essential oils reduces the likelihood of this happening, but it takes no extra effort to implement this practice and I think if offers a deeper layer of protection.

      Some other tips I mention in the article is to leave the lid of your washer open (top loaders) or ajar (side loaders), sort your laundry and use the correct temperature for the type of load. Heavily soiled clothing, underwear, diapers, towels – these should all be washed separately and on hot. Also, make sure to clean your gasket if you have a side loader. You’d be amazed at the slimy film that develops under these gaskets!

      I have a top loader, and routinely use a dish brush and a small bucket filed with hot water, vinegar, and essential oils to scrub the plastic at the top of the drum. The water doesn’t reach these areas and it’s amazing how much dirt and small mold spots can be found in this area.

      Remember to wear a mask and ventilate the area if you have a large problem or if you have sensitivities to mold.

      I hope you are successful if getting rid of your musty smell. I know how unpleasant that can be!


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