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How to make clothes smell good and stay fresh

Stepping out in fresh-scented clothes is a top way to start your day. We show you how to achieve great smelling clothes that last.

Updated

Girl hugging a towel

Nothing gives all-day comfort like the smell of freshly laundered clothes. But the washing machine alone isn’t enough to achieve a feel-good fragrance that lingers all day. 

Follow our tips and tricks and learn how to make clothes smell good, stay fresh and feel great for longer, so you can enjoy clean smelling clothes every day.

Top tips for great smelling laundry

Wash your clothes with the best scent

A blue bottle on top of a stack of towels in a laundry basket

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If you want to know how to get clothes smelling fresh, detergent is one of the biggest factors. It needs to be high quality and long-lasting so it lingers days after the wash.

There are lots of fragrances to choose from in a laundry detergent, and it’s a good idea to use a concentrated formula for extra oomph. If you prefer a less powerful scent, you could add a few drops of essential oils to the final rinse cycle.

Dry your clothes correctly for ultimate freshness

Tops on a washing line outside

It’s important to make sure that your laundry doesn’t sit around when wet. If machine drying, try adding a fabric softener sheet to the programme and take it out of the dryer as soon as it’s done, before folding and putting away. 

Using some fabric conditioner can help make your clothes super soft after drying, but it’s not suitable for all fabrics. For long-lasting comfort, why not learn how to make DIY fabric softeners?

If it’s a nice day and you can hang it up outside, that’s even better. Air drying clothes after washing will give them added freshness and will help remove any lingering odours.

Whatever drying method you choose, always check that the clothes are completely dry before putting them back in your wardrobe or drawers.

Store your clothes correctly

Folded clothes in a drawer

How you store your clothes is key in achieving that freshly laundered smell that lasts. From the moment you take your clothes out of the machine, there are a few steps you need to follow:

  • Make sure your clothes are completely dry before putting them away.
  • Don’t fold or leave laundry sitting in a room with strong smells, like the kitchen.
  • Check that there’s nothing strong-smelling in your drawers or wardrobe before you put your clothes away.
  • Give your clothing room to breathe. Try not to pack out your wardrobe too tightly or cram it into your drawers.
  • Put your clothing away as soon after drying as you can.

Look after your washer and dryer

Baking soda being added to a washing machine drawer

It’s important you maintain these appliances, which are a breeding ground for bacteria and mould – both things that can transfer bad smells to clothes. We recommend you clean your washing machine every couple of months. Simply set the empty cycle on the hottest setting, add 500ml of vinegar to the drum and 50g of baking soda to the drawer and press ‘Start’. 

With the dryer, make sure the lint trap is emptied after each cycle, as well as around the door, to avoid any lint build-up transferring odours to your clothes. If it smells musty, you can deodorise the dryer by wiping a cloth dipped in distilled white vinegar around the inside. Close the door once the vinegar smell has gone.

Use DIY scent pouches

A pouch nestled among folded clothes in a drawer

For an extra boost, a perfumed pouch is easy to make and will get your clothes smelling great in no time. You will need:

  • Two cups of rice
  • Essential oil 
  • Two cups of lavender
  • One cup of rosemary
  • Small net bags or cotton pouches

Pour two cups of rice in a bowl and drop in 40 drops or so of essential oils, making sure all the rice is covered and shiny. Let the rice dry for about five minutes and add two cups of lavender and one of rosemary and mix together. Put a few scoops into each of your pouches, seal the top and put in your drawers or corners of your wardrobe.

Your top questions on how to make clothes smell good

Why don’t my clothes smell good after washing them?

There are several reasons why washing clothes can sometimes also introduce odours. If the wash temperature is too low, the wash cycle too short, or the drum overloaded, it won’t fully clean the clothes. 

Also, if the clothes were stored for a long time or put away while damp,  bacteria and fungi can grow slowly on fabrics in these conditions – particularly if humidity is high. For more advice, why not read or guide on how to stop clothes smelling after washing?

What causes clothes to smell bad?

  • Secretions and sweat. The transfer of body odour from skin to clothes causes clothes to smell unpleasant. Fresh sweat doesn’t actually smell – but it does contain some molecules that are broken down by enzymes and bacteria to produce the odours we’re all familiar with. Luckily, removing sweat smells from clothes is easy if you read our guide.
  • Bacteria on the skin. Bacteria that live on the skin can also cause smells by converting any ‘food’ (that's things like skin secretions, dead skin cells, food, makeup and laundry products) into energy so they can grow. This process produces smelly compounds as a waste product and can transfer to our clothes.
  • Bacteria on the clothes. Dirt on clothes is another reason for clothes to smell. Things like body fluids can introduce other odours and bacteria to the mix. Particularly dirty garments may contaminate the rest of the load though, so it's always best to wash them separately.

Do certain fabrics retain odours?   

Yes, some textiles are more prone to retaining odours than others. Due to their molecular structure, materials like lycra and polyester can retain smells in and on the fibres. This is because they’re hydrophobic which means they dislike water, so odours stick to them. 

Lycra is designed to be a bit like a sponge, meaning it traps bad smells. Cotton, on the other hand, is hydrophilic, which means it likes water and this helps fight odours.

How can I make my laundry smell good naturally?

Essential oils are a really good way of keeping your clothes smelling fresh without using harsh chemicals. Simply put a few drops of your chosen oil on a cotton ball or paper towel and put in the corner of your drawers or wardrobe. 

Or, after washing, mix a few drops of lavender essential oil with water and spritz over your laundry before putting it into the dryer or hangin out to dry. 

You could also try placing some perfumed soap bars wrapped in cloth into your drawers to dispense a lovely smelling scent on to your clothes, with a long-lasting aroma.

How can I make my wardrobe smell nice?

Scented drawer liners can be put in the bottom of your wardrobe and in any of its drawers, or try putting a small air freshener in the corner and letting the scent fill the space. 

Using scented hangers in your wardrobe is another easy way to get your closet, and the clothes in it, smelling divine. If you don’t have any scented hangers, you can make your own by spritzing some of your favourite perfume on the top of a wooden hanger and leaving it to dry before using.

Originally published