Quick fixes that remove mildew smells from clothing and some simple steps to keep those musty odors away for good.
Forgetting about a load in the washing machine isn’t the only reason your laundry can start to smell, but it’s probably the most common. Depending on where you live, that odor can develop in a few hours, especially in a dirty washing machine or if you aren’t laundering things properly. So, let’s talk about quick fixes for that musty odor and a few simple steps you can take to keep your laundry from stinking like mildew again.
How to Get Mildew Smells Out of Clothes
Here are three easy ways to remove mildew smells and mustiness from towels, clothing, and other fabrics.
- White vinegar
Leave the mildewed laundry in the washer and run the machine on the hottest setting to fill the tub. Do not add detergent or fabric softener. Instead, add 2 cups of white vinegar and pause the cycle to let the smelly laundry soak. After an hour, let the machine proceed through the rest of the cycle.
- Baking soda
Baking soda (bicarbonate) is an excellent odor-neutralizer. It targets a different type of mold and mildew than vinegar does. So, if your laundry still has a musty smell after using the vinegar method, repeat the steps above but use 1 cup of baking soda in place of the vinegar.
- A hot wash with bleach (chlorine or oxygen)
Hot water and bleach kill mildew and bacteria, but chlorine bleach is only suitable for white fabrics. Add 1 cup of powdered Oxiclean and your usual amount of laundry detergent for other fabrics, then use the hottest wash cycle the material can handle. You can even make your own oxygen bleach.
After removing the mildew smell from your clothing, consider line-drying if possible. Fresh air and sunlight are natural disinfectants that can eliminate lingering spores and odors in garments.
How to Keep Laundry from Mildewing
Once you’ve removed the mildew smells from your laundry, you can keep it from coming back with a few simple steps.
Let Clothes Dry Fully
Folding and putting away damp clothes can lead to mildew in your closet or dresser drawers. Whether you line-dry or use a dryer, make sure your clothes are entirely free of moisture before you put them away. If mustiness is an ongoing problem in your wardrobe, leave your closet doors open to improve ventilation and airflow.
Avoid Excess Detergent
It may seem like increasing the amount of detergent you use in a load of laundry could knock out mildew smells, but that approach can make the problem worse. Too much detergent leaves a residue on clothes that traps bacteria and mildew, so be sure to match the amount of detergent with the size of the load.
Soften Hard Water
Hard water leads to mineral buildup in your washer and your clothes. Installing a water softener will reduce mildew smells and end hard water spots on faucets and glass shower doors. If a water softener is not in the budget, add 1/2 cup of washing soda or borax to each load to get clothes cleaner and prevent mildew.
Skip the Fabric Softener
Fabric softener coats clothing fibers with surfactants and is designed to leave a faint residue to prevent static electricity. That residue can also trap odors like sweat and mildew. If your freshly laundered clothes still smell like body odor or mildew, rewash them with an enzyme odor remover but don’t use any fabric softener. You may even want to replace fabric softener with vinegar in your detergent dispenser.
Clean Your Washer
Make a point to wipe the inside of your washing machine’s drum with a disinfecting cloth at least once a week to kill mold and mildew spores. When not in use, leave your washer door or top loader’s lid open so it can fully dry out, too. Then, run a cleaning cycle or manually deep-clean your washer to kill any fungus in the gaskets and internal lines once a month.