How To Get Rid of Mildew Smells in the Laundry

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You forgot about the load in the washing machine, and now you want to know how to get rid of mildew smells in the laundry? Don’t feel bad — it happens to all of us.

Whether you fell asleep binge-watching Netflix or got distracted by some other chore, you’re not the only one who’s gone to throw another load in the machine only to find one already there, stinking up the place.

Follow these easy steps to get rid of mildew smell in the laundry and rest assured your clothes are truly clean when you’re done.

How to Get Rid of Mildew Smells in the Laundry - Towel hanging out of front-loading washer

How to Get Rid of Mildew Smells in the Laundry

1. The vinegar cure

Leave the mildewed laundry in the washer and run the machine on the hottest setting to fill the washer’s tub. Add 2 cups of white vinegar and pause the cycle to let the smelly laundry soak for an hour. Don’t forget about it this time, of course. After an hour, add your usual amount of detergent and let the machine proceed to wash and dry.

2. The baking soda cure

Baking soda is a fantastic odor-neutralizer. It kills different species of mold and mildew than vinegar does. So, if your laundry still has a musty smell after using the vinegar method, repeat it but use 1 cup baking soda in place of the vinegar.

3. The Oxiclean cure

If you don’t have an issue with using Oxiclean (and I don’t), the oxygenated cleaning powder does a beautiful job killing mildew. Add one scoop to the load and wash it on the hottest setting the fabric can handle.

Once you’ve managed to get rid of mildew smells in the laundry, clean your washing machine thoroughly to kill any fungus in the gaskets and other areas, so future loads don’t pick up that smell.

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Pin How to Get Rid of Mildew Smells in the Laundry

How to Get Mildew Smells out of Laundry

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  1. Can I use apple cider vinegar instead?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You should be able to use ACV just fine, Bailey.

  2. Betty Odom says:

    I have used this method several times but my towels still have a musty smell. My towels are old (about 8 years). Do I just need to replace them?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s hard to say. Have you tried hanging them to dry in the sun? That often gets rid of the smell completely. Also, if your linen closet is musty your towels will smell musty, too. Try stashing an open box of chalk in there to absorb any moisture and replace that monthly.

  3. When do I stop the cycle to let it soak? Just after the machine has filled with water?

    1. Katie Berry says:


  4. Also, using too much fabric softener can make the smell worse.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great point!

  5. My hub complained when I used vinegar. He has a labor intense job. He said in the heat, the vinegar started mixing with his sweat. I rinsed twice, but ultimately had to stop using it. I’m not someone who sweats very much. I didn’t have a problem. Do you use vinegar alone, then start the load again with regular detergent? Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I don’t, but no one in my family is that sensitive to vinegar. Since your husband is, you might want to use the baking soda method.

  6. Kristi Martinez says:

    Will the baking soda bleach the coloured clothes?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Baking soda doesn’t bleach.

  7. Darlene Jalbert says:

    what if you have a front loader, and you can’t open it or let it pause the cycle. Once it starts it goes to the end. So how do how do you do the wash then, just pour the vinegar in and let it wash? dOES ANYONE HAVE THE ANSWER FOR THIS?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      There are three methods described here. Since adding vinegar doesn’t work, try the baking soda or Oxiclean method — just add one or the other to your load before the wash.

  8. Christine Ritter says:

    What do you do if the load in the washer can’t be washed on hot because you don’t want the clothes to shrink?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Christine,
      Just wash it in the hottest setting it can handle. If you need to use cold water to avoid shrinking, that’s fine but consider line-drying in the sun to help kill any remaining mildew spores.

  9. Hello I’ve been washing my clothes and everyone I was there’s a musty smell when my husbands sweats it’s starts to stink and I’ve tried borax vinigar and I’ve cleaned the washer .but every time my husband puts his shirt on it still smells help me what can I do

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Kelli,

      If you’re noticing sweat smells returning in clothes, make sure you’re washing with the hottest temperature permitted on the fabric care label. Using borax and vinegar as you’ve mentioned will help, but be sure to pause the cycle to let the load soak for 20 minutes or so, too. These things need time to do their job before they’re rinsed away.

  10. Also, I have found that using powdered detergent instead of liquid has reduced sour laundry issues significantly.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great tip, Cala!

  11. If using the baking soda method do you add it inside with the loaded clothes or in the detergent dispenser? You said replace vinegar with the baking soda which to me means put it in the dispenser.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Add it on top of the loaded clothes.

  12. All of my clothes smell ever since buying a front load washer and I’m finding out it’s a common problem. Any way to clean the washing machine to rid the smells once and for all?

  13. I also use hydrogen peroxide added to laundry. Makes clothes brighter and whiter and gets rid of all kinds of smells. I buy the quart bottles and that lasts for several loads. Remember non-chlorine bleach? It doesn’t exist any more, but the main ingredient was hydrogen peroxide. Works great on lighter colors too. I haven’t tried it on black or very dark clothes, but it does not bleach. All the benefits of bleach.

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