They work tirelessly to launder and dry nearly everything in your house, but are you repaying your washer and dryer with proper upkeep? My laundry machine care guide covers the ins and outs of how to thoroughly clean your washer and dryer, but Donna R. wants to know how frequently to do so:

“How do I know if my washing machine and dryer need cleaning? In the summer, my washer gets much more use, as my kids are home from college, but the dryer gets a bit of a break because I hang-dry all linens and other large outside. In the winter, I tend to hand-wash more clothes, like my wool sweaters, but the loads I do put in the washer, I then tumble dry on high. Since I use the machines unevenly, are there any signs I can watch out for that a cleaning is due? The last thing I want to do is wash something I don’t need to!”

Melissa Says:

Donna, you are speaking my language! Certainly, you should not be cleaning something that’s not dirty. And you bring up a great point—we don’t all use our washer and dryer equally, so indeed each of us should be cleaning these appliances in accordance with our home’s individual needs.

With that being said, as a general rule, I do suggest wiping down the exterior of both appliances weekly with a damp microfiber cloth. For dryers, I recommend a thorough cleaning every six to 12 months. This is a wide time frame, and that’s because the main concern with dryers is lint buildup, a problem that literally compiles with every use. The less you use it, the less you need to wash it. Of course, empty the lint trap after each use, but make a habit of looking at the state of the trap cavity—if it’s populated with dust bunnies, it’s probably time to clean the whole machine!

Because of their moist nature, washers are prone to bacterial growth and need more regular cleaning, especially if you tend to wash in cold water instead of hot (which disinfects). I recommend you clean them every month or so. If you choose to stretch that, just keep an eye—and nose—out for these indicators: Look for streaky white residue or a “dull” look to clothing that’s come out of the wash; both could mean leftover detergent or softener has clung to the walls and is re-depositing onto clothing. When it comes to smell, it’s pretty simple—any odor that offends your nostrils is cause to clean.

Hope that helps!

PS: Got more laundry-related questions? Let me know in the comments below.

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.