How to Remove Ring Around the Washer

Dear Home Ec 101,
I’ve used everything possible I can think of – even Magic Eraser! to get the inside of my top-loading washer (where the top of the water line usually is) clean, but it’s still icky looking. It cleans just fine, and doesn’t stink, but is very unsightly.
Any tips for me?
Signed,
We All Fall Down

clean soap scum ring in washing machine

Heather says:

Do you know how soap scum is the bane of the bathroom? You’ve got the same cycle happening in your washer. As your washer agitates droplets of soapy water splash up onto the walls of the wash tub. When some of the water evaporates, a microscopic amount of sticky detergent is left on the wall of the washer. This detergent does what detergent does best and traps dirt. Over time this creates a ring of crud just above the water line. This crud, if it were in the bathroom would be easily identified as soap scum.

Magic erasers can be used on soap scum, but other ways are more effective, since they tend to shred to bits when facing a heavy stain of this type.

Before getting started on the soap scum removal project, please run either a load of dark clothes or an empty load. Pour water into the bleach dispenser to ensure there is no bleach at all in the washing machine. This is extremely important because the solutions for cleaning soap scum will often react with bleach.

As a side note, I just want to mention that no one is going to be inspecting your clothes washer. If you’re expecting company, take care of the kitchen, bathroom, and main living area first. If your friends are looking for ring around the washer as a reason to feel superior, you may need new friends.  I’m not one to talk, as I can be sidetracked by the random cleaning project, too.

In your case, there  are several options:

1. Break out your handy Bar Keepers Friend. Dampen a sponge with water (you should be wearing gloves, by the way) sprinkle the Bar Keepers Friend liberally onto your sponge and then gently apply to the stain. Don’t rub hard and don’t immediately wipe off the BKF. You want to give the oxalic acid time to work on breaking that bond between your soap scum and the washer’s tub. Rinse your sponge and wipe away the BKF residue and you should see significant improvement. Now, if this ring has been building up for years, it might take a few applications to clean completely.

2. White Vinegar. fill a clean spray bottle partway with white vinegar and spray directly on the ring. Give the vinegar about fifteen minutes to work. Spray with some fresh vinegar and wipe again. While vinegar is effective at removing soap scum, it may take some dedication.

3. Ammonia. I hesitate to even recommend ammonia since bleach is in the same room. Please use caution, if you use this approach. Use a clean, empty spray bottle and fill with one part ammonia and two parts warm water. Spray onto the ring and wipe away with a sponge (while wearing gloves). *This is the only non-acidic cleaning method in this list*

4. CLR – Calcium Lime Rust Revmover, it’s a commercially available product that may work quite well on your soap scum issue.

guide to the laundry room

Click the picture for more tips!

Whichever method you choose, please run an empty load before your next load of laundry.

Note – Now if you found this, looking for a way to remove soap scum from any marble fixture, it is extremely important that you choose a non-acidic method of removing soap scum. Janitorial supply stores have cleaners that will suit your needs and effectively remove soap scum without damaging the marble. The advice in this article is for removing soap scum from inside a clothes washer.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com



8 Comments

  1. Jnwokemama on January 31, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I also discovered a black ring around the inside of my washing machine and before I pulled any cleaning products out I remembered something else I had on hand; my aunt had given me a Norwex bathroom scrub mit, so I went ahead and used that! It took very little scrubbing!! As a matter of fact, I gently rubbed the soap residue off and it came right off!! After that, I ran vinegar through the fabric softener dispenser and ran one rinse cycle! The inside of my washer looked like new!!!

  2. EmptyNestCouple on March 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    The solution posted using Bar Keeper’s Friend WORKED!! I used the liquid version of BKF, and let it sit on the stain for about 45 minutes. With a little elbow grease, it ALL came off! Thanks for the easy solution!

  3. Use Pumice Stone on June 27, 2012 at 2:42 am

    I had this problem (ring around the tub of washing machine). Machine works fine,  It just looked unsanitary. Found this advice, so I tried the vinegar. I used four cups, the highest “load” level and hot water. I turned back the dial several times to let the agitation cycle repeat again and again before it completed the full cycle and drained.  There was no apparent difference. 
    Headed off to Home Depot. I got a Pumice Stone, a very stiff brush (not steel) and Bar Keeper’s Friend.  The Pumice stone worked like a miracle!  Wet it first, and try it on a small area to make sure it won’t scratch your tub. Then just scrub vigorously with the pumice stone. Follow up with the brush and Bar Keeper’s Friend to get it out of the “holes”. 
    Do NOT use the pumice on the center agitating blades.  Those blades are most likely plastic and will scratch and become rough..  These scratches will snag your clothes.  I just used the brush and the Bar Keeper’s Friend on them. 
    Then run a cycle on hot with some detergent  to clean out the tub.  I did not add bleach to this cycle as there could be a reaction if the bleach and the Bar Keeper’s Friend co-mingle.
    Start to finish…maybe 15 minutes!  The steamer idea is fantastic, I just didn’t want to invest in one.
    Washer looks brand new!!

  4. Sandy on January 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I'm not sure I've got the same crud as everyone else is talking about, but I suspect I do. What I have inside my washer is an oily, slimy ring just above the water line and I can't begin to just wipe it off. I am a massage therapist, and wash LOTS of sheets – I think some of the build up is oil residue from the sheets. So .. one day I had my beloved steam cleaner out and wondered if it would work on that nasty looking ring – it did. Like a charm! It took less than 5 minutes! I just steamed it to loosen it and then wiped it away with a paper towel. Awesome!!

    • Debbie on November 19, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Thanks Sandy for this post I to am a massage therapist.. I just got a new washer and got a ring So I love your tip… What kind of steamer is it? Is it small?

  5. CarolinaDreamz on January 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    All these years I have these mentioned products and yet never found a desire to clean that yucky scum outta my washing machine. Thanks for making me feel its possible. ~Heidi
    My recent post 12 Days of Pumpkin Pumpkin Pancakes

  6. dearmommybrain on January 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Strangely, I was just thinking about this issue the other day. However, as you noted, I've got much bigger problems than the ring around my washing machine… Maybe someday. Although the washer will probably die a horrible death before I get around to it…

    • HeatherSolos on January 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      And you know what? That's ok. A few projects have taken over my life lately. My goal is to play catch up tomorrow and try to stay on track until I leave for Nashville.

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