Posted by Bridget Reed

How To Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes

5 min read

There’s nothing better than the smell of fresh laundry. Whether it’s a perfectly clean outfit for the day or the comforting and relaxing scent of your laundry detergent on your freshly laundered sheets as you lay down to sleep, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

But sometimes the worst happens. You drop a load of laundry, still warm from the dryer, onto your bed, sniff it, and…your clothes still smell after washing. It’s not only disappointing — not to mention a potential outfit ruiner — but that mildew smell can cause some health issues if you or a guest are exposed to it over an extended period. 

Why do my clothes smell after washing them? Let’s talk about mildew — what it is, and what to do about it so you can get back to clean-clothes-smell nirvana as soon as possible.

So, Why Do My Clothes Smell Musty After Washing?

Mistakes are bound to happen. We’ve all thrown a load of laundry into the washing machine only to get busy or distracted and forget about it until much later. Or maybe you balled up your workout gear or even a bathing suit after a trip to the gym and forgot about it in your bag. 

While it can feel embarrassing to notice mildew odors on your clothes, it’s not a big deal. All it takes is damp clothes and a little bit of time, so it’s an easy mistake to make. Things like hard water or buildup in your washer can also cause mildew.

Is Mildew the Same as Mold?

If you think back to middle school, you probably remember a math teacher telling you that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. It’s the same thing with mold and mildew. Mildew does refer to a certain type of mold — but not all mold is mildew.

So, your clothes smell like mildew. What can you do about it?

How Do You Get Rid of Mildew?

Your laundry smells bad after drying it. So, you may wonder how to get sour smell out of clothes after washing them. Thankfully, as frustrating as that mildew smell can be, it’s entirely solvable. So if you were worried you would have to throw away your favorite clothes, don’t. 

It’s also important to remember that covering up the smell isn’t a solution. It can be tempting in a pinch to douse yourself in perfume to cover up the odor, but it won’t go away until you give your clothes a deep clean to remove mold or mildew.

The upside of mildew removal is that while it may be time-consuming, it’s actually pretty simple and largely DIY. You can help address mildew with additional products like a cup of Borax, but you can also just head to your kitchen.

And don’t reach for the bleach when encountering that funky or musty smell! These gentle options will resolve the problem and remove that mildew smell ASAP.

1. Adjust Your Laundry Habits

While fabric softeners sound like a great idea, if you’re having an issue with mildew, they may actually be part of the cause. Residue from your fabric softener can potentially react with your detergent to create a buildup called “scrud.” This can build up over time and mess with your cleaning cycle.

Additionally, scented detergents are probably best set aside if you’re dealing with a mildew problem because they can cover the odor rather than resolve it. Our Laundry Detergent Sheets are a simple, toxic-free, eco-friendly alternative to heavy, scented detergents.

2. Wash With Vinegar

Now set your usual laundry routine aside, and go to the kitchen for some simple, white vinegar. You may be familiar with white vinegar as a great option for a wide variety of cleaning, but you may not know that it’s also useful for addressing mildew in laundry.

Throw your mildew-musty clothes into your washer with a cup of white vinegar and run them through with hot water. If you wash clothes with vinegar, it can help to break up grime, mold spores, and other impurities that may be causing the odor.

3. Wash With Baking Soda

Then, reach for the classic deodorizer: baking soda. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda over your laundry as evenly as possible. Baking soda is alkaline, which means that it has a potent ability to remove mildew smells — it’s why you might have a box of baking soda in the back of your refrigerator. 

4. Air-Dry To Finish

Line drying is one of those life hacks we seem to have forgotten over time. While dryers are convenient, airflow is key when addressing a mildew problem. 

Even if you’ve run your clothing through wash cycles with vinegar to break up the mildew and baking soda to neutralize it, if you bunch all of your newly-clean clothes back up and jam them in a dryer where pockets of moisture and dampness are likely to remain, you’re going to end up back at square one.

If the weather where you live isn’t very forgiving, you can hang your clothes to dry inside. Just make sure they’re hanging rather than lying on a flat surface that might absorb moisture, and be sure to allow them to hang dry until they’re fully dry.

That said, line drying your clothes outside is ideal, especially if there’s sun. This is because UV rays can have disinfectant properties, so sun exposure can help kill any mold or bacteria lingering after your wash cycles.

As an added bonus, line-drying your clothes is environmentally friendly. Even if you don’t have a mildew problem, it’s a great alternative to using your dryer every time you do laundry, especially when it’s sunny and warm.

5. Repeat As Needed

If you’ve followed all of these steps and you’re still getting a bit of a mildew smell from your clothes, you’ll want to repeat the steps above. You can also add an extra half cup of vinegar when you put your clothes through the rinse cycle to be sure you really break up every last bit of mildew on your clothes.

Can You Prevent Mildew?

In addition to taking extra care not to let your things rest when wet, you can take extra steps to minimize the likelihood of mildew.

For instance, did you know that you should periodically disinfect your bed sheets? It’s true, and the same goes for your towels and other linens that regularly come into contact with sweat, body odor, and bodily fluids because they can also leave you vulnerable to mildew.

Mildew can also proliferate more easily in situations with limited airflow. If there’s moisture in the air or your house, and your clothes are kept behind sealed closet doors, it might be best to let them breathe.

Lastly, switching to sheets and towels made from silver-infused fabric can help to cut down on microbial growth and lead to fewer instances of mildew. This is because silver is actually able to kill germs and bacteria on contact rather than letting them proliferate.


While that musty, mildew smell can be disheartening, there’s no need to panic. Regardless of whether you have a top-loading or front-loading washer, by following these simple steps, you can easily remove that mildew smell from your clothes and enjoy fresh, clean garments again in no time. 

It’s important to wash your clothes promptly, store them with enough airflow, and use the right laundry products to avoid future mildew problems. But with these tips, you should never have to worry about musty, distressing odors again.


Mold and Dampness | American Lung Association

What is the Difference Between Mold and Mildew? | United States Environmental Protection Agency

Does Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation From UV Lamps Kill Mold | United States Environmental Protection Agency

Laundry Tips |

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