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Cleaning Experts Share How to Get Rid of Mildew Smell in Clothes at Home! See Simple Solutions

Plus, the real reason your clothes might smell bad 

There’s nothing worse than pulling clothes out of the washing machine and getting a whiff of that distinctive musty smell. Here, find out why that happens, how to prevent it and how to get rid of mildew smell in clothes.

The source of the mildew smell in clothes

Mildew is a type of mold that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — the same stuff that makes paint smell!

It tends to grow in places that are damp and dark — that’s why basements are such a common place to find it. It also needs “food” to grow, which can be any organic matter, including dead skin cells, dirt, hair, dust and even cotton fibers, all of which can be found in dirty laundry.

“Two common causes for mildewy clothes are you’re leaving damp garments in your hamper or you’re letting them sit in the washing machine too long after running the cycle,” says Taylor Riley of Impact Cleaning Professionals. “As a parent of twin toddlers, dealing with wet and damp clothes is a constant challenge. To tackle this, I keep a dehumidifier in the laundry room. It helps air-dry clothes quickly that won’t be going into the dryer and prevents clothes in the hamper from staying damp while waiting to be washed. I also try to never leave clothes sitting in the washing machine longer than an hour before moving to the dryer.”

Your washing machine could be making clothes smell like mildew

“It can develop mildew if you close the lid after running a cycle without letting it dry, or if you have a front-loading unit, which commonly gets mildew in the rubber gasket around the door,” adds Riley. “So it’s smart to leave the door open after running a cycle. If you have a front-loader, also check that gasket for wet socks, which tend to get caught in there and can really start to smell after a while!”

You can also “wash” your washing machine by running an empty cycle using hot water and a cup of white vinegar added to the detergent tray once a month. If you have a front-loader, here are some extra steps you might want to take:

How to get rid of mildew smell in clothes

If your clothes smell stubbornly musty even after washing, give these methods a try.

“I’ve found several effective household products for removing mildew smell,” says professional cleaner Karen Maguire, of “White vinegar is my go-to — add a cup to the wash cycle and it’s a natural and very effective deodorizer and disinfectant — but any of these products added to the wash cycle will work very well: ½ cup baking soda, ½ cup Borax, or oxygenated bleach. Follow the package directions for how much bleach to add, since it will be based on your load size.”

For best results, Maguire suggests pre-soaking heavily affected items in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water for 30 minutes. “Then, when washing, use the hottest water setting safe for the fabric, add an extra rinse cycle and make sure to dry clothes immediately and thoroughly.”

For even more persistent odors, air-dry clothes in direct sunlight, if possible, since the UV rays will kill any remaining mold and mildew.

For more on clothing tips, click through the links below!

The Simple Rule for Cleaning Out Your Closet When You Have Too Many Clothes and Not Enough Space

How to Roll Clothes for Packing — Easy Tricks to Save Space, Time and Money

How to Remove Static From Clothes: Laundry Pros Reveal Their Absolute Favorite On-the-Go Trick

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