How To Remove Mildew Smell From Clothes

There’s nothing worse than when your clothes smell musty, especially if you don’t realize it until you are out of the house. It can be tough to get the mildew smell out of clothes once they have been dried. This post gives you some easy-to-follow tips to remove mildew smells from clothes and keep your clothes smelling fresh.

lady smelling mildew smell on freshly washed pink jumper

What Is Mildew vs. Mold?

Mildew and mold may look similar, but they are two different fungi. Mildew is usually a type of surface fungus that grows in damp areas. It appears as a gray or white powdery substance and sometimes has a musty smell. Mold, on the other hand, is usually found in walls and grows deeper into surfaces than mildew does. It usually appears black, green, or gray and can cause severe structural damage if not taken care of quickly.

How Does Mildew Affect Your Health?

Inhaling or touching mildew spores can have serious health effects, especially for those with asthma or allergies. Inhaling mildew spores can irritate the eyes, throat, and nose, triggering allergies or asthma attacks. Additionally, those suffering from a weakened immune system may be more prone to developing more severe illnesses, such as lung infections, if exposed to mildew for extended periods. Therefore, it is essential to prevent mildew growth in your home and keep all fabrics clean and dry. Mildew can be a severe health hazard, so taking precautions to keep your home free of mildew growth is essential.

What causes the musty smell in clothes

  • A combination of moisture and poor ventilation often causes a mildew smell in clothes. This can happen when laundry has been left in a warm, damp area for too long.
  • When items that have already been washed become wet again in the washing machine.
  • Exposure to direct sunlight or high temperatures can lead to mildew growth on fabrics.
  • Additionally, storage conditions such as storing clothes in too small a space or in an area with poor airflow can lead to mildew growth on fabrics.
lady smelling a towel from the washing machine

How to Clean Mildew from Clothes.

If you discover mildew on your clothes, it’s important to treat it straight away. Washing the clothes with a mildew-fighting detergent can help to remove it. Doing this as soon as possible helps prevent mildew growth and reduces the risk of staining or other damage to your clothing.

  • Start by wiping out the visible mildew with a damp cloth and an all-purpose cleaner.
  • If necessary, use a brush to scrub away any persistent mildew.
  • Once the surface has been cleaned, let it air dry in a well-ventilated area.
  • If the smell persists after cleaning, try using an odor remover spray or natural deodorizer such as baking soda to eliminate the smell.

This post contains affiliate links, and The Organizer UK may earn commissions for purchases made through the links in this post. For more details, see here. Thank you so much for your support! 

How to remove a mildew smell from clothes

white towels hanging on the line in the wind

If clothes have already developed a mildew smell, there are several steps you can take to remove the odor:

Soda crystals

Soda crystals, Sodium carbonate, or washing soda, is a versatile chemical compound. It can increase water alkalinity, soften it, and eliminate grease and dirt. It is commonly present in laundry detergents and cleaning products. Add half a cup of soda crystals to the washing machine drum and your regular detergent to eliminate mildew odors.

Pure liquid soap

Add a few tablespoons of pure liquid soap, such as this one, to the washing drum and regular detergent for an added washing boost. This should help eliminate any stronger mildew odors.

Rewash with vinegar and baking soda.

Try rewashing the item with a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. This will help disinfect the fabric and remove any bacteria causing the smell.

Baking soda

Add a few tablespoons of baking soda to your detergent when washing clothes, which will help absorb odors. Add half a cup of baking soda to the washing machine drum and your regular detergent to eliminate strong mildew odors.

Steam cleaner

Use a clothes steam cleaner like this one on the affected item to help remove any remaining bacteria and odors.

Soak in a vinegar solution.

If the smell persists, try soaking the clothing in a mixture of white vinegar and water for at least 30 minutes before rewashing it with detergent. This should help eliminate the mildew smell.

Laundry disinfectant

Add laundry disinfectant like this to your wash to help kill any odor-causing bacteria. This will also help eliminate any bad smells from your clothing and make them fresher for longer.

Air-dry your clothes.

To take it one step further, you can air dry your clothes in the sunshine, as the UV rays will help to break down bacteria that cause odors.

Add essential oils to your dryer.

Adding a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender or eucalyptus, to your wash will give your clothes a pleasant scent. I like to add a few drops to woolen dryer balls like these ones for the tumble dryer.

Strip your laundry.

In the United Kingdom, borax is prohibited due to health concerns.
This post provides a method for removing mildew odor from clothing without using borax during the laundry stripping process.
Wash your clothes with an enzyme-based cleaner like Borax or OxiClean to take things a step further. These cleaners are specifically designed to tackle organic stains and smells that detergent alone may not be able to handle. Add ½ cup of the cleaner to your regular laundry cycle in addition to your detergent and let it run its course.

Use the tumble dryer on high heat.

Use a dryer on high heat to ensure that all odors and bacteria are eradicated. This is because the high temperature, in combination with the tumbling motion of the machine, will help to release the trapped mildew smell, ensuring that none of it remains on your clothes.

Consult a professional

Sometimes, the mildew smell can be so overwhelming that you may need to take the garment to a professional dry cleaner. If you’re dealing with a particularly nasty odor, it’s always best to take your clothes to a professional cleaner for deep cleaning. They have the tools and expertise necessary to tackle even the most stubborn odors, ensuring that your clothes come out smelling fresh and clean.

Act quickly

No matter your chosen method, taking action quickly if you detect a mildew smell in your clothes is important. Taking care of the issue swiftly will help to ensure that the odor doesn’t spread or linger for too long, making it easier to restore your clothes and make them wearable once more.

How to prevent mildew smells

  • To prevent clothes from developing a mildew smell, it’s important to avoid leaving damp items in the washing machine for extended periods. Don’t forget to set a timer and remove your clothes from the washing machine immediately after the cycle ends.
  • Keeping clothing dry between washes is also important to further protect fabrics from developing a musty odor. Sweat and other moisture can seep into fabrics and cause mildew to grow. Placing clothes that have already been worn in a dry, airy space rather than back in the closet can help prevent mildew growth. Read this post to find out what to do with half-dirty clothing.
  • Keep laundry areas well-ventilated by opening windows and turning on fans. This will help to keep the area dry and prevent any smells from developing.
  • Use a dehumidifier in basements and other damp areas to help keep the air dry.
  • Ensure you clean your washing machine regularly, as detergent residues can contribute to mildew growth, especially if you live in a hard water area.
  • Use disinfectant in both the detergent drawer and the fabric softener drawer to remove mildew smell from clothes.
  • Add a few tablespoons of baking soda to your laundry detergent when washing, which will help absorb odors.
  • Adding a few drops of tea tree oil to your wash cycle can help. The antifungal properties of this essential oil will kill any mildew spores and bacteria in the fabric, helping to remove musty smells.
  • Ensure that all fabrics are completely dry before storing them away. Items left damp in storage can quickly develop mold or mildew smells.
  • Keep any fabrics dry and store them away in a well-ventilated area. Avoid storing items in plastic bags or boxes is important as this can create an ideal environment for mildew growth.
  • Regularly clean any areas where you store your laundry and closets to prevent the buildup of mildew and bacteria.
  • Additionally, it is important to vacuum furniture and carpets regularly to prevent mildew spores from accumulating in your home.

By following these cleaning tips, you can ensure that your fabric items remain free of mildew smells and always stay fresh.

lady smelling mildew on fresh laundry

How to Get Musty Smell Out of Clothes Without Washing

If you don’t have access to a washing machine or if your clothes are particularly smelly, there are other ways to get rid of musty odors and to get your clothes smelling slightly better in an emergency.

  • Hanging items in the sun is a great way to naturally deodorize fabrics and remove any stale smells that may be present.
  • Fabric fresheners such as Febreze or OdorKlenz can help refresh items and remove mildew smells temporarily.

How to get rid of a musty smell in a closet

If you notice a musty smell coming from your closet, mildew, and mold have likely begun to grow. To remove these odors, thoroughly clean the area with an all-purpose cleaner or diluted vinegar solution. Then, replace any fabric liners harboring moisture and consider using dehumidifiers in the space if necessary. Finally, add a few drops of essential oils to a clean cloth and wipe down all surfaces to help eliminate any remaining odors. With these simple steps, you can eliminate musty smells in no time and keep your closet smelling its best!

lady smelling mildew smell on pink jumper

Faq about how to get mildew smell out of clothes

Why do my clothes still smell like mildew after washing them?

Often, clothes still smell like mildew after washing because they weren’t completely dried or the primary source of the odor wasn’t eliminated. To prevent this from happening, dry your clothes on high heat and use spray bottle fabric fresheners such as Febreze or OdorKlenzor dryer sheets in addition to detergent during laundering. Additionally, if you suspect the odor is coming from your washing machine, try cleaning it by following these tips.

What should I do if my clothes are already moldy?

If your clothes have already developed mold, it’s best to discard them as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Before doing so, however, try using any of the methods listed above to treat the affected area

Why do my clothes smell bad after line drying indoors?

If your clothes smell bad after line drying indoors, it could be because of the humidity in the room. When air is damp and humid, it can cause fabrics to become musty and stale-smelling over time. To prevent this from happening, try thoroughly ventilating your indoor space before hanging up your clothes for drying. Follow these tips for drying bed clothes indoors.

Is it safe to use bleach on mildewy fabric?

Using bleach on mildewy fabric is not recommended, as it can damage the fibers and cause discoloration. Instead, try using white vinegar or baking soda as a pre-wash treatment to help break down odor-causing bacteria.

If you ever need to remove odors from your home, remember that the same methods for removing mildew smell from clothes can also be used to eliminate mildew smells in carpets and upholstery!

Have you had any trouble trying to remove mildew smells from clothes? Let us know in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.