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.


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, however, for clothes to mysteriously start smelling musty after they emerge from the wash. This article offers some possible explanations for musty smell clothes and suggests ways to remove musty odours from fabric.

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!

Smelly clothes after washing?

The first thing to do if you have smelly clothes after washing is to check your 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.

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. Wash your clothes in a clean washing machine as hot as their instructions allow, with slightly less than the regular amount of soap. If possible, hang up outside or in a dry room where air can circulate.
  • If you’d rather not do the entire wash again, try just airing your clothes outdoors in the sun. Often the combination of sunlight and constant breeze will be enough to lift the mildew smell.

If that is insufficient, and you are still wondering how to remove the musty smell from clothes, there are several direct treatments you can try:

  • 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.
  • 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 wondering what the best way to remove a musty smell from clothes is, this selection of natural and commercial methods offers solutions for all types of fabric. Just remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and to test products on a small and inconspicuous area first. Happy washing!

Originally published