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How to get rid of musty smells in clothes

Can't work out why your washed clothes end up smelling musty? Read this guide to find out why this happens and how to remove musty smells from clothes.


By Cleanipedia Team

laundry basket filled with coloured fabric and towels

Key steps:

  • Check your washing machine for mould
  • Try reducing the amount of detergent you use: too much won't wash out properly
  • Air your clothes outside in the sun
  • Soak clothes in a freshening solution for a more direct treatment

There’s something quite dispiriting about donning a freshly laundered outfit, only to be assaulted by a musty smell. It’s not uncommon for many of us to be left asking, why do my clothes smell bad after washing? This article offers some possible explanations for musty smelling clothes, exploring how to get rid of musty smells in clothes once and for all! Before, after, and during washing. Let's go!

Many clothes become musty after a long period in storage. Try keeping them hanging rather than folded if possible, and if not, placing a small scented lavender bag with them will help to ward off less pleasant odours. Want to wear a piece of clothing that’s been in storage for a long time? Wash with a fabric conditioner like Comfort Intense to make your clothes smell nicer for longer!

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Smelly clothes after washing?

Just how do we go about getting that musty smell out of clothes? When clothes smell musty after washing, the first thing to do is to check the washing machine itself. If the washing machine smells musty then it's worth a clean! Mould and mildew can build up inside washing machines, particularly around the seal, and can be removed with hot water, detergent and vinegar.  But how to get that mildew smell out of clothes? A clean washing machine can be half the battle when it comes to knowing how to get rid of that damp smell in clothes. Read on for more answers!

How to get a musty smell out of clothes

  • Check how much detergent and fabric conditioner you are using. Excess detergent won’t rinse away properly and can remain trapped in the fabric, encouraging waterlogging and mould growth. An effective solution for how to get rid of that musty smell in clothes, is to wash them in a clean washing machine as hot as their instructions allow, with slightly less than the regular amount of soap. 
  • This is all well and good, but how to stop clothes smelling musty in the wardrobe? If possible, hang them up outside first or in a dry room where air can circulate. This will keep them feeling fresher for longer. Why do old clothes smell? Often because they've not had as much air time – breathe new life into them by letting them air outside.
  • This is a great solution if you've ever been left thinking, why do my clothes smell after drying? Old or new, master how to get the damp smell out of clothes once and for all by airing them outdoors.  This will save you from having to do the whole entire wash again. Often the combination of sunlight and constant breeze will be enough to lift the mildew smell. Even if it's not sunny, some fresh air can do the world of good. 

If all this proves insufficient, and you're still wondering how to remove the musty smell from clothes, there are several direct treatments you can try. To get rid of that damp smell from clothes:

  • Try adding one cup of vinegar to your wash. Vinegar is a natural astringent and disinfectant and should deal with any mould or mildew in the fabric.
  • Soak the clothes in a solution of water and either laundry detergent like Surf, oxygen bleach, or a specialist stain remover product. Make sure to read and follow the directions on the label.
  • Add a fabric conditioner such as Comfort Intense to your wash for longer lasting fragrance on your clothes.
  • Run a normal wash, as hot as the care label advises, with oxygen bleach. Be sure to follow the directions on the label of any product, and read the advice on the care label of each garment before washing.
  • Finally, if you're still wondering how to remove that damp smell from clothes, use a commercial product designed to remove odours from fabric. Soak or add to wash according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then wash and air dry as normal.

If you’ve been puzzling over the best way to remove a musty smell from clothes, this selection of natural and commercial methods offers solutions for all types of fabric. Clothes not smelling fresh after washing is a common problem, but whichever solution you choose, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and test products on a small and inconspicuous area first.

Don't be left asking yourself, why do my clothes not smell fresh after washing? Let's say goodbye to that damp clothes smell once and for all. Happy washing!

Originally published