FYI, Vomit Isn’t Really Washing Machine Friendly — Plus, Other Gross Laundry Dos and Don’ts

published May 28, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever paused for just a second before throwing something nasty into your washing machine, you aren’t alone. It’s easy to assume that if it can fit into a washing machine, then the machine can handle it. But that may not really be the case if you want to keep your washer, and your clothes, in optimal condition. 

As a parent to four boys under age 7, the things I’ve thrown in the washing machine range from (warning: gross details ahead) full poop accidents, sheets full of urine, vomit-covered t-shirts, and cleats with more clumps of mud than I remember seeing on the ball field. The quickest and easiest thing for me to do is to throw everything in. But experts warn that some pre-cleaning might be needed in order to preserve the machine’s life.

Here’s what you can chuck right into the machine, and what you might end up having to revisit on the other end of the cycle if you aren’t careful.

Can your washer handle clothing soiled with bodily fluids? Yes.

The faster I can get some accident-filled pants off my kid and into a washer, the better. Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, says that washers were indeed meant to handle bodily fluids like this, but that you should pull out soiled materials to wash separately to save your favorite towels and clothes.

“​​Wash in water of 140 degrees Fahrenheit on the longest cycle your machine has. You will need to add bleach to disinfect the material. Read the fabric label to see which kind is safe for it. When you are done with those loads, clean your machine with any of the available washing machine cleaning products on the market following the instructions on the label,” he explains.

He adds that you will know your washer isn’t handling the mess you are putting in it if there’s an odor coming from it afterward. You can set it to a “clean” cycle after it handles a messy job, or if you don’t have that option, you can put it on hot water for the longest possible cycle.

Can you wash cloth baby diapers in the washer? Yes.

Luckily, your washer is meant to handle the messiest stages of babyhood. Judy McAuley and her husband own two cloth diapering services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — Green Cheeks Diaper Service and Happy Baby Company — and she says she’s counseled numerous clients through the glorious poop washing process before, troubleshooting laundry issues along the way.

“I have never seen any sign that bodily fluids affect washing machines at all, at least in the context of cloth diapering. Until babies start eating solid food, their poop is actually water-soluble so it just disappears in the wash process and parents don’t have to worry about any kind of poop removal,” she says. “Once they’ve started eating solids it’s recommended to flush any solids you can get out of the diaper because at that point it can contain things that are not water-soluble, like fruit skins and such.” 

Even then, she jokes, if you were to miss a diaper the worst that will generally happen is finding some very clean blueberry skins on the inside of your washer drum, where they’d get caught just like a large piece of lint or a paper you left in your pocket would. 

Can you wash vomit stained clothing in the washing machine? Not quite.

If there isn’t a utility sink right next to your washer, removing vomit from clothes before using the machine might be the last thing you’d prefer to do, as it can be a messy and smelly job. But, Dallas Nevill, owner of Rainbow Restoration in Southwest Mesa, Arizona, says this is exactly what needs to happen to prevent puke particles from inhibiting your washer’s normal functioning. He recommends following these steps to prevent a smelly washer.

  1. Dampen the stain with warm water.
  2. Sprinkle it with baking soda.
  3. Pour white vinegar over the stain. It will sizzle with the baking soda.
  4. Scrub the stain with a toothbrush.
  5. Rinse with warm water.
  6. Throw the affected clothes in the washing machine — on their own and wash with standard laundry detergent.
  7. Allow to air-dry.

Bonus points: The vinegar and baking soda trick might also be helpful with other types of stains too, and can be helpful to have on hand near your washer.

Other things you should never put in your washing machine:

So it seems your washer can handle anything your toddler can throw at you, but there are a few products that should never come in contact with your washing machine. 

“Petroleum products like grease and oil can rub off the materials they are on and then get onto the inner basket of the washer, potentially also spreading to other items in the washer. This can happen not only in the current load, but future loads as well,” he says. “Lipstick and other waxy products can do the same thing. Items like these need to be hand-washed in a sink.” 

Sounds like a great excuse to upgrade the laundry room to add in a trusty and functional utility sink.