Tips & How To’s

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes-Detailed Guide

Tim Parry


how to get mildew smell out of clothes

At times, cleaning dirty laundry goes beyond removing stains to include tackling the musty and moldy smells. In most cases, such odors are attributed to dampness in clothes that leads to the growth of mold and mildew. Even more, completely dry laundry is also at risk of developing a musty smell. As such, knowing how to get mildew smell out of clothes can help keep your laundry even fresher after washing.

Subsequently, we have put together a few tricks of keeping the mildew smell out of clothes using available household products. Considerably, the presence of mildew smell is a sign that your clothes are not clean. But, before we get to the smell, let's first understand what mildew is and its difference from mold.

What is Mildew?

Mildew is a type of fungus similar to mold with a light powdery texture that looks yellow, white or grey. However, mildew won't manifest in the same physical impression but rather in a stinky smell. Both mildew and mold spores grow on damp clothing or dump laundry storages. Under the right conditions with trapped moisture, organic fibers in towels and clothes are a prime environment for mildew growth.

In comparison, mildew and mold cause musty smells in clothes, but molds are more stubborn since they leave behind stains. Not to worry, there are remedies to get rid of mold from clothes. Therefore, understanding the root cause of the musty smell is important in dealing with mildew odors for once and for good. Now that you understand the concept of mildew let's get back to how to remove mildew smell from clothes.

Causes of Mildew Smell in Clothes

By now, we all agree that mildew smells on clothes are disgusting, rendering them unwearable even without stains. Notably, even freshly washed clothes can develop a mildewy smell. As such, what causes the mildew odor in clothes? Here are a few known causes:

  • Leaving laundry in the washing machine. Most of us have left laundry washing in the machine for too long. Such often happens when we are tired or too busy, forgetting to toss the laundry into the dryer. Subsequently, your clothes and towels develop an undesirable lingering odor due to the build-up of detergent and dirt in the clothes' fibers.
  • Leaving damp clothes in the laundry basket. Before washing your clothes, you crumple them up in a laundry basket. In such cases, damp articles with sweat like gym clothes or used towels create the perfect environment for mildew growth.
  • Inadequate drying. Putting washed items away before they completely dry also causes mildew smell. This occurrence is common whenever you wash your clothes from a laundromat. Subsequently, musty odors develop when you don't unload your semi-dry clothes immediately after getting home.
  • A musty washing machine. At times, the mildew problem is not in the drying or your laundry storage area. However, sometimes, you can get the same smell of Mildew while using your front-loader machine. In such cases, you can opt for the small portable washing machine with a top-loading bay.

Getting Rid of Mildew Smell from Clothes

You can either prevent mildew or remove it after it affects your clothes. In the current context, you already have the mildew smell on your clothes and looking for a solution. Ideally, you can either use washing or non-washing approaches to get rid of the mildew smell from your clothes.

Washing Solutions

1. Using White Vinegar

Instead of using your ordinary laundry detergent, use one cup of vinegar. Plain vinegar is a natural and safe way of removing unpleasant smells from clothes. Even more, vinegar kills the bacteria that causes any bad odor as it strips any product build-up in your clothes.

While using vinegar, ensure you use the hottest water setting in your machine. The hot water is for helping the vinegar's acetic acid break down any bacteria, fungus and grime. As a result, this process will help remove the mildew smell from your laundry. Even so, ensure your clothes are well spread in the machine.

Also, you can remove mildew smell from laundry by using a combination of vinegar and detergent (without natural soap). By and by, this latter approach will get rid of the musty smell and eliminate troublesome stains. So now you know how to get mildew smell out of clothes with the simple and locally available white vinegar.

2. Using Baking Soda

You can also add half a cup (120 ml) of baking soda to your normal wash cycle. Indeed, baking is another effective classic odor remover. Consequently, after using vinegar as the first solution, you can follow up your washing with baking soda. As an alkaline, baking soda will neutralize the remaining odors.

Moreover, ensure you use the hottest setting to further activate the baking soda in tackling the mildew smells. If you had started with vinegar, you can use baking soda in the rinse cycle. Recommendably, use vinegar and baking soda in the same cleaning process since they tackle different bacterial strains. In the end, your previously musty towels and clothes will turn out fresh.

3. Using Oxygen Bleach or Borax

Puzzled about how to get mildew smell out of clothes with a detergent? Notably, regular detergent cannot kill mildew, but an oxygen bleach or dissolved borax can. Oxygen bleach can be used as an alternative to your regular detergent, while you can use borax alongside a detergent.

Ideally, the oxygen bleacher should be a pre-treatment ingredient for a deeper wash. This bleacher should be poured directly onto clothes and let for some minutes before scrubbing with a sponge or brush. Then, while using borax, dissolve it in hot water and pour the solution into the wash with the detergent.

4. Using Enzyme Odor Removers

This mildew odor solution mostly applies to musty smells caused by body odor and sweat. In particular, if you leave your damp gym clothes in a bag, the sweat contributes to mildew growth. Subsequently, an enzyme odor remover breaks down such stubborn odors caused by sweat.

Enzyme cleaners should be added to a normal wash alongside soapy water. Luckily, you can find some detergents with odor-removing enzymes. Alternatively, you can purchase a laundry booster which is used together with the regular detergent.

Washing Tips

1. Turning Clothes Inside Out Before Washing

Considering that the inner part of clothes touches your skin, this is where odors and sweat are accumulated. As a result, turning clothes before washing allows your washing ingredients to direct clean the most affected parts. Eventually, even with a regular detergent, you will be able to prevent mildew smell.

2. Wash in Small Loads

Stuffing your washing machine on laundry day can help save time. However, this approach hampers the detergent and other cleaning agents from getting between the fabrics. Also, the dirty clothes won't adequately rub against each other for a deep clean. Therefore, you end up just wetting your clothes which translates to the development of a mildewy smell.

3. Avoid Using Perfumed Detergents

While tackling mildewed laundry, avoid using perfumed detergents. Primarily, the main idea of this post is to treat the mildew rather than mask its awful smell. In line with this tip, also avoid using a fabric softener and instead use a laundry enhancer for clothes that smell fresh. Fabric softeners are culprits of residue build-up over time.

Non-Washing Solutions

1. Drying Your Clothes

You can either use a machine's dryer or sunlight dry your clothes. If your folded clean laundry has a mildew odor, put it in the dryer with the correct fabric setting if line drying isn't possible. Sunlight acts as a disinfectant that removes the reeking odors by killing the bacteria and fungus in clothes. Sun-drying is the best non-wash solution for mildew smells that saves you the energy used by your dryer the cost of dryer sheets.

Notably, the sun effectively removes odors from natural fibers like wool and cotton, unlike synthetic fibers. On the other hand, the sun damages synthetic materials, similar to how it makes plastic brittle. Eventually, the sun kills mildew and other microbes in all the nooks and crannies, improving the flow of fresh air within the fabrics. However, over-exposure to sunlight might lead to bleaching of colors.

2. Spritzing with Vodka or White Vinegar

Instead of adding vinegar to a wash, you can also spray it on your garments. Once again, vinegar's stain and odor removal power is impressive, considering its availability. Fortunately, white vinegar is odorless after an air-dry. Therefore, your clothes with smell clean without cleaning them again.

3. Putting Your Mildewed Clothes in the Freezer

Considering that mildew and other fungi create unpleasant odors, you can choose to kill them with extremely cold temperatures. Ideally, put your clothes in a reusable plastic bag and place them in the freezer overnight. This non-wash method is effective with denim but not many clothes. Also, this method might not be very effective for really tough odors.

Preventing Mildew Smell on Clothes

Having understood how to get mildew smell out of clothes, let's learn how to prevent it in the first place. In particular, you can prevent mildew odors at different levels: drying, washing and storage. Accordingly, here are effective mildew prevention measures:

  • Drying damp clothes. For instance, used bath towels or workout gear should be dried or draped as they wait to be washed. Piling damp clothes may lead to the thriving of mildew.
  • Using recommended laundry detergent amount. Excess detergent can cause the build-up of suds that aren't completely rinsed. Subsequently, these sud residues feed the odor-causing mildew or bacteria. Therefore, despite clean washes, your clothes will end up with a funky smell.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners. Clothes with synthetic, stretchy fabrics like workout clothes are prone to mildew smells, especially when rinsed with a fabric softener. As a result, your clothes will be left with a slick residue that is difficult to remove. Similar to too much detergent, a fabric softener also fosters the growth of mildew and other odor-causing organisms.
  • Avoid storing clean clothes in damp rooms. The more humid a room is, the more likely it will be conducive to mildew. To avoid your dry clothes from absorbing the dampness, ensure your storage is well-ventilated. Alternatively, you can place desiccant packets like silica gel in the closet and drawers to trap moisture.
  • Clean your washing machine. Washers, especially the front-loading models, develop mildew which can be transferred onto clothes during washing. Ideally, you can use distilled white vinegar and baking soda in the detergent dispenser and use the hot water cleaning cycle. When necessary, repeat the wash cycle until your washing machine is odor-free.
  • Allow your washing machine to dry. Ideally, the dryer vent is meant for this, but you can also leave the washing machine open, a tiny crack bit, for quicker drying. By a tiny crack bit, we mean not shutting the latch instead of leaving it wide open to allow air-flow. You can also hand-dry the gasket and the rubber seal to prevent the accumulation of water.

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  • Avoid piling dirty clothes. Actively avoid piling of laundry waiting for washing. Also, don't pile wet clothes and sweaty clothes. Instead, dry them immediately after washing or dry them before washing respectively. Indeed, this will help prevent funky smells.

Tackling a Musty Closet

You might have noticed your clothes smell funky while in the closet. Indeed, it is possible they are clean and fresh before storage because the problem is your closet. We've already highlighted what to do when your clothes smell musty, but this will not be adequate in such a case.

Most importantly, you will need to treat your closet for mildew and mold. Especially in a tight and congested house, the airflow into closets might be limited, risking fungi. Part of the cleaning will include removing any rarely used or unused items for improved airflow. Together with maximizing your small apartment's space, this cleanup will create adequate airflow for you and your clothes.

After cleaning, open your closet doors for increased airflow. Also, you can consider a fan to directly feed air into your closet and remove any musty odor. Please choose the best air purifier fan combo for fresh and clean air from our recommendations. In closing, you now know how to get mildew smell out of clothes and how to keep your closet clean for safe storage.

Frequently Asked Questions on Removing Mildew Smell from Clothes

1. How do you get mildew odor out of colored clothes?

Ideally, you can follow the provided processes and ingredients in this guide. However, with colored clothes, you should be careful about the bleach you use. Always remember that come bleaches can remove colors from your clothes.

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Tim Parry

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