From Spotlight: A New Spin on Old Laundry Problems

How to Clean Some Surprising Things in Your Washing Machine

Car floor mats in the washer? Usually, yep.

wash just about anything image of dirty white sneakers and t-shirts in a front load washing machine
Image: Kinga Krzeminska/Getty

Sometimes we learn from trial and error. But when it comes to a pricey appliance you use a lot, like a washing machine, you don’t want to take chances with the laundry you put in it. If you do, you risk damaging the machine (hello, expensive repair visit) and ruining the item you’re washing. On the other hand, why wash items by hand or throw them out if they can safely go in the washing machine? Here are 11 surprising items you can machine wash — and a few things you should never wash — or wash with caution.

Things You Can Put in a Washing Machine

#1 Kitchen Sponges

They get grungy, and nasty, and can become a breeding ground for germs. Toss that sponge into the washing machine and run it through a sanitize cycle or use the hot water setting. You’ll destroy the germs. Throw in some dirty towels, too, so you're getting your money’s worth from the power and water you’re using.

#2 Sneakers

Yes! You can clean canvas, pleather, and fabric sneakers. Wash them with a load of towels to muffle the noise they make thumping around in the drum. Use a gentle cycle and warm water and run an extra rinse cycle to remove soap residue. Use a drying rack for front loader dryers to dry sneakers. Whirlpool recommends removing the laces and insoles and then putting the sneakers in a closed mesh bag before washing.

#3 Dog Collars and Leashes

Fabric and canvas collars and leashes can get super dirty. Toss yours into the washer to get them clean and fresh. Be sure to put them into a mesh laundry bag made for lingerie so that the metal buckles and clips on the leashes and collars don’t break the glass on a front loading washer or ding the drum walls of a top loader. Run them on a short cycle and air dry them. Be sure to remove all metal tags or you could break the glass on the machine. I know this from experience.

#4 Stuffed Animals

wash just about anything washing machine tips image of a variety of bright colored stuffed animals
Image: Marie Cristabern Joyce Villamor / EyeEm/Getty

Your kids’ lovies can get dirty and germy from all the hugging and cuddling. Put them in washbags and use a gentle cycle. Check their label to make sure they can be washed. You can wash your dog’s fuzzy squeaky toys this way, too.

#5 Dog and Kid Toys

You can put small plastic and rubber toys that belong to your kids or your fur kids in the wash. Use the handy dandy washbag we keep telling you about, and you can wash everything from your child’s plastic dinosaur set to your dog’s Kong. Run them on a sanitize cycle or use the hot water setting to blast the germs.

#6 Car Floor Mats

Vacuum them for pet hair and dust, spot treat stains, and toss them in the washer. Wash them in warm water on a gentle cycle, then put them in the sun to dry. A couple of tips: This advice is for rubber and upholstered mats. Make sure your machine is large enough to accommodate the mats. (If you have a tiny, cute machine, it's a no-go), and wash the mats in small batches if necessary rather than overstuffing the machine.

#7 Dog Beds (but Proceed With Caution)

wash just about anything washing machine tips image of a jack russell terrier sleeping with a yellow blanket on a plush gray dog bed
Image: Evrymmnt/Getty

You can throw the entire bed into the washer if it’s for a small dog or you have a big washer. For larger dog beds, take the cover off and wash it alone. Be sure there are no small tears in the bed before you wash it or you’ll end up with a ripped up dog bed and a washer full of stuffing.

#8 Comforters

You can wash both down and down-alternative comforters in your washer, but just make sure your machine is large enough to handle the heft. Front-load washers work best. Spot clean stains, use a mild detergent, and wash on the delicate cycle. Run through two rinse cycles to get all the soap out. 

#9 Shower Curtains and Liners

They get slimy and mildewy, and your washer can make them clean again. Use warm water and a gentle cycle. And don’t put them in the dryer. Air dry liners and shower curtains.

#10 Backpacks and Fabric Lunchboxes

wash just about anything washing machine tips image of a pair of dirty gray sneakers along side a dirty brown backpack lying on the floor
Image: Brainsil/Getty

Good grief, the stuff kids spill in and on their backpacks and lunchboxes. You can wash the items easily and let them air dry. 

#11 Yoga Mats

If your yoga mat is getting a little too grungy for your liking, wash it in warm water on a gentle cycle so it won’t tear. Use a regular detergent, skip the spin cycle, and air dry the mat.

Things You Should Never Put in a Washing Machine

#1 Coins and Metal

You didn’t intend to wash that handful of quarters, the house key, or a pocket tool. But these metal objects can damage the inner drum and outer tub of your washer. They can also shatter the glass of a front-loading machine or even block the drainpipe. The solution: Empty every pocket before throwing clothes into the washer. Metal stuff includes zippers. They can go in the machine, but they should be zipped up first. Otherwise, they can break or damage the drum.

#2 Extra-Large Items

Your washer may not be able to accommodate your king-size, extra fluffy down comforter or your Great Dane’s bed. We told you to be adventurous with what you wash, but make sure an item can move freely in the machine. If you jam a big item in the washer, it can get tangled and cause a broken agitator or misaligned rotating drum. 

Make Your Washing Machine Last Longer

#1 Clean Your Washing Machine

Yep, your washing machine needs to be washed, too. Over time, laundry detergent can build up on pipes and tubes in the machine. To blast the scum, run your machine empty, with no laundry, on the hottest setting once every three months. Add a cup of vinegar or bleach to deodorize and clean the machine. 

#2 Don't Overstuff It

Yes, you hate doing laundry, and you want to do it fast. Resist the urge to stuff gigantic loads of clothes into your washer. Your clothes won’t get as clean, and you might even break the machine. Overstuffing the washer can damage the bearings that turn the drum and burn out the motor. Here’s a rule of thumb: High efficiency front loaders can hold around 20 pounds of clothes, and top loaders can hold 16 pounds. Yeah, we don’t weigh our laundry either, so just be sure you don’t fill your washer any higher than three-fourths of the way to the top of the drum. 

#3 Balance Loads

When you’re washing bulky items, like bedding or towels, pay attention to the balance. Towels or bedspreads that clump on one side of the drum can make your machine shake till it breaks. If the shaking starts, stop the machine, redistribute the items, and restart it. Don’t wash just one bulky item, either. If you’re washing a comforter, add some towels to balance the load. Wash two pillows, not just one.

Using your washing machine to launder as much as possible makes sense and can be cost effective. Just follow the basic do’s and don’ts, and add in a little maintenance, and you’ll both stay out of trouble.

A headshot of Leanne Potts
Leanne Potts

Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She's tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She's written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.