We’ve all been there before — you’re rushing to check off chores on your to-do list, and you quickly chuck some clothes in the washing machine. Now, fast forward to 11 p.m. that night. As you crawl into bed and doze off — darn it! — you immediately remember your load of laundry, which is currently still sitting in the washing machine. You ask yourself, “How long can wet clothes stay in the washer — overnight? Do wet clothes even get moldy?” Don’t fret! Pull those covers back up and catch some Z’s, because your clothes will be just fine.
Can you leave clothes in the washer overnight?
There are two types of people in the world: those who set their schedule around laundry loads and those who accidentally leave wet clothes in the dryer. So who’s right? Well, according to domestic goddess Martha Stewart, it’s “perfectly all right” to leave your load overnight. “If you get up in the morning and throw it in the dryer, it should probably be OK” — just “don’t make a habit of it.”
That said, this isn’t the time for people who leave laundry overnight to immediately scream “I was right!” Leaving wet laundry overnight usually isn’t an issue, as long as you’re not letting it sit through the night and late into the next day. Doing so can eventually cause mold and mildew to grow in your towels and favorite T-shirts, which not only smells unpleasant but can also cause health issues. But we’ll get to this later.
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How long before wet clothes mildew?
Within the first 8 to 12 hours, you won’t get any odor, according to Lucinda Ottusch, the lead home economist at the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science. Because odor is often a sign that there is mildew, you’ll want to put your nose to the test. “One way you can kind of tell is if it smells all right. That mold and that bacteria that starts to grow on damp clothes and environments — that’s very pungent,” Stewart said, hence why wet clothes smell. If you let your wet clothes sit long enough, you’ll have to deal with not only the mildew smell in your clothes, but also possible stains and patches of rotten fabric. Yuck!
The moist environment of your washer encourages mold and mildew to release spores. This can cause problems for people with conditions like asthma. “Normally, when people breathe in these spores, their immune system helps get rid of them by coughing or sneezing. If you aren’t sensitive to mold, you may never even experience a reaction,” Pheena Kenny, who works with the The Asthma Society of Ireland, told RTÉ. “But for some people with asthma who are sensitive to mold spores, it can act as a trigger, causing asthma symptoms to get worse.”
And it’s not just people with asthma who should be concered with mold and mildew causing health issues. Babies, children, the elderly, and people who suffer from eczema are also at risk because of their weaker immune systems.
What causes mildew smell in clothes?
So why do clothes smell when left in the washer? Well, the mildew smell on clothes you’ve left overnight is due to the bacteria and fungi releasing funky-smelling gases. How quickly clothing gets mildew depends on a few factors: the type of fabric, humidity, temperature, and ventilation, among other things. The humid air and warm temperatures in your washing machine are a breeding ground for mold and mildew. And if your garments are made from natural fibers, they absorb water quickly and dry out slowly while sitting in your washer. Talk about a recipe for disaster!
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How to Remove Mildew Smell From Clothes Left in Washer
But let’s say you waited too long and now your clothes smell like mildew, so you’re frantically Googling how to get the wet-clothes smell out. Calm down: You have plenty of options to remedy the situation.
Make sure your washing machine is clean.
If you’re trying to get the midlew smell from clothes out and you didn’t even accidentally leave it overnight, the problem could actually be the machine itself. As mentioned previously, the warm, humid interior makes it the perfect place for mold and mildew to develop. Simply cleaning it by running a wash cycle with just white vinegar and leaving the lid open between washes so it can air dry can work wonders.
Let your clothes air-dry.
Clothing that’s only slightly mildewed can simply be air-dryed. If you hang the item up outdoors, the breeze and fresh air will help remove the mildewy odor and save you the trouble of having to run another load for just a few things.
Remove mildew naturally with vinegar.
For those who would rather just the load through another cycle, be sure to toss in a cup of vinegar, because it’s a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. You can add it directly to your clothes before hitting the start button. Pour in another cup during the rinse cycle and your clothes will be smelling not-so-funky fresh when you take them out.
Get rid of the musty odor with baking soda.
Another natural cleaning option? A sprinkle of baking soda before running your clothes through a wash cycle on the hottest setting should do the trick. The only downside is that you might have to run your laundry through the machine multiple times to really deep clean it.
Now that you’re truly a laundry expert (not to knock you knack for cleaning before you read this!), you don’t have to freak out or feel guilty the next time you’re jolted awake by the sheer terror that is a forgotten load of laundry. Happy cleaning!