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How to Remove Damp & Mildew Odors from Clothes

Do your clothes smell damp & musty even after the wash? Find out essential advice for removing mildew odor from clothes in this helpful guide.


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Written by Eunice Samson

A  basket with clothes inside

When clothes smell damp, you know you’ve got a problem on your hands. Not only do you need to do something about the cause of the smell, but you also need to work out how to remove mildew smell from clothes. We’ve taken on the challenge for you, so all you need to do is check out the article below to find out restore your clothes to wearable freshness.

Hang a deodorizing sachet in your wardrobe or put one in your drawers to keep stored clothes smelling fresh! A detergent like Surf will also infuse your laundry with a wonderfully fresh fragrance.

What Produces Mildew Smell in Clothes?

There are a few possible reasons clothes can smell damp:

  • You have left wet clothes sitting in the washing machine for a period of time before hanging them up to dry.

  • If clothes come out of the machine smelling of mildew, the washer needs to be cleaned.

  • You have used too much detergent and the build-up is preventing the clothes from being cleaned properly.

  • You have put clean clothes away before they are completely dry.

  • You have stored clean dry clothes in a damp environment.

It isn’t always easy to control where you store your clothes, particularly if you only have room to hang up seasonal garments. But when it comes to washing and drying your clothes, there are a few adjustments you can make to ensure they stay smelling fresh:

  • Remove wet clothes from the washing machine as soon as it is finished and hang them out to dry.

  • Regularly run your washing machine (while empty) on a hot cycle (adding vinegar to the soap tray) to keep the inside of your machine mold-free.

  • Check the label on the detergent and adjust the amount you use accordingly.

line drying clothes
  • When line drying clothes, be sure that they are not bunched up so that air can circulate to all parts of the garment and dry everything thoroughly.

  • Line dry clothes outside on a fine sunny day, or indoors in a room that gets lots of fresh air to make sure clothes dry as much as possible before you store them.

  • If it’s not possible to line dry them, use a drying machine to ensure your clothes don’t retain any dampness – but be sure to read the care labels before you do so to check that garments can be dried this way.

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How to Remove Mildew Smell in Clothes

The quickest way to remove mildew smells is to rewash your clothes on the hottest cycle allowed by the garment’s care label – if you use a high quality detergent like Surf for mildew odor removal you’ll get great cleaning with a wonderful fragrance added in. When rewashing your clothes doesn’t entirely do the job, you can try:

  • Adding vinegar to the soap tray. The astringent nature of vinegar will help remove any detergent build-up or residual mold from your clothes.

  • Soak your clothes in an oxygen bleach solution. This is an active ingredient in many detergents designed for both whites and colored clothes. Always be sure to read the safety and user instructions on the bottle.

  • Use a commercial odor removal product. Be sure to read the label and test the product on an inconspicuous part of the garment first.

  • Identify the original cause of the mildew smell.

  • Take appropriate action to prevent future problems with moldy smelling laundry.

  • Remove the damp smell by rewashing your clothes.

Do you want to learn which household cleaning tasks cause the most stress?  Then read our Heated Household data analysis. 

Frequently asked questions on mold and mildew on clothes

Can money get moldy if I've left it in my clothes while they wash?

Money can and will get moldy in certain conditions – so you should always take care when storing and handling it. If notes become damp and are then stored in an area where the temperature doesn’t drop too low, it can be easy for mold to grow and thrive. Mold can also grow on coins, however it is obviously easier to clean it off coins than notes.

My clothes smell like wet dog after drying - is this mildew too?

If clothes smell like wet dog after drying, it is likely that it is caused by mildew. It could also be attributed to using too much detergent – which could lead to mildew and therefore cause the odor to develop. Instead of washing them in more detergent to try and remove the scent, we recommend you run your clothes through an extra rinse cycle to remove any residual build up of detergent.

How long does it take for wet clothes to develop mildew?

If you’re wondering how long before wet clothes get mildew on them, it’s probably faster than you realise. It can take as little as 8 hours (and up to 12 hours) to develop. If you notice wet clothes starting to smell it’s likely that mildew has begun to take hold, so you should run another wash with an extra rinse cycle.

How do I stop clothes smelling damp when drying them indoors?

There are some simple top tips for how to stop clothes smelling damp when drying indoors that we can share with you. First, ensure that you have a clean washing machine when washing your laundry. If you’re worried that there may be some lingering scents to remove, add a cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle to help remove them. Next, always remove clothing from the washing machine as soon as the cycle ends – and hang them out to dry immediately. Aim to hang your clothes to dry in a well-ventilated area: just because you’re drying inside doesn’t mean you can’t open a window. Additionally, you should ensure that the laundry gets plenty of light while it is drying.

Originally published