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How to Get the Musty Smell Out of Clothes (The 5 Best Ways)

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No one likes a musty smell, whether on a body or in clothing. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be a bit difficult to get deeply embedded odors out of fabrics. This article will explore these methods in more detail and what causes the musty smell in your clothes. 

The musty smell on your clothes is due to excess moisture, which creates mold. The excess moisture could come from sweat, a damp closet, or leaving your clothes in the washing machine after washing. 

Here are two immediate keys to improving the issue: 

  1. Wash your clothes immediately after you wear them, especially if you’ve been sweating excessively.
  2. Use a store-bought solution that can effectively remove odors and stains.

Beyond that, here are the five best ways to either avoid or remove that musty smell from clothes:

1. Wash Your Clothes with Hot Water

The musty smell in your clothes comes from mildew accumulation on your clothes. And according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, mildew is a type of mold that can appear in clothes (among other things). This means that mildew can be removed using some of the methods for killing mold and fungi.

Therefore, a high temperature is one of the most effective and cheapest options for killing mold. 

We often wash our clothes in cold water because it’s cheaper since the washing machine doesn’t use as much electrical power. But, cold water can’t kill the bacteria that are found in our clothes. 

So, if you notice that your clothes smell a bit musty, try to wash them as you normally would, only this time increase the water temperature in your washing machine. 

Be careful, though. Some types of clothes can get damaged in higher temperatures, like jackets, for instance. 

2. Use Baking Soda in Your Washing Machine 

If you still notice that the musty smell didn’t disappear from your clothes after washing them at a higher temperature, then you should try using baking soda. 

Baking soda is great for killing off mold and mildew, including from pieces of fabric. Plus, it’s a cheap method since you probably already have baking soda in your kitchen.

All you need to do is prepare your washing machine as you usually would, throw your musty-smelling clothes in there, and add half a cup (118 ml or 3.9 oz) of baking soda to the washing machine. 

Additionally, you can also use laundry detergent. However, make sure your detergent is capable of killing bacteria and mold. 

After washing, take the clothes out of the washing machine as soon as you can and dry them as you normally would. 

3. Dry Your Clothes Outside

One of the most common reasons your clothes smell musty is that they’re kept in damp and dark places, like your closet. So, what often happens is that people wash their clothes and remove the musty smell, but after only two or three days, the smell is back.

That’s a sign that your closet is damp and infected with mold. 

So, the best solution is to take all your clothes from the closet and hang them outside to dry. This method can be problematic for some people, though. 

First, you’ll need to have a lot of space around your house or apartment where you can actually hang the clothes. Apart from that, you’ll need to wait for sunny, warm days. Drying your clothes even after rain can do more harm than good since the air is still damp, and that’s the last thing you need. 

While your clothes are drying outside, you should open your closet and leave it like that for a few hours. This will allow fresh and dry air to come into the closet and reduce the mold. 

4. Spray Some Vodka on Your Clothes

If you don’t have extra space around your house where you can dry your clothes, or you live somewhere where sunny days are rare, you can always use vodka to remove the musty smell from your clothes.

Vodka is great for removing mold and mildew in general, and it’s also proven to be a great solution for fabric.

You don’t need to wash the moldy clothes for this method. The clothes must be dry because water can reduce the effect of vodka. 

All you need to do is take your clothes out of the closet and spray some vodka all over them. Don’t pour vodka over the clothes or rub it into them. Spray it in small quantities over your clothes and leave it for a few minutes. 

Also, you shouldn’t worry about the strong alcoholic smell in your clothes because vodka will eventually evaporate from the clothes. 

5. Use White Vinegar to Wash Your Clothes

Another cheap and safe solution for removing the musty smell out of your clothes is white vinegar. 

Like baking soda, white vinegar is very effective against mildew. It’s also mild enough not to damage your clothes, and it works with every type of fabric and color, unlike chlorine bleach, for example. 

This white vinegar method is extremely popular and successful with many people, so it should probably work for you as well.

First, put your clothes in the washing machine, pour one cup (236 ml or 7.9 oz) of white vinegar over the clothes and wash them in hot water. Cold water won’t be of much help for this method. 

After your clothes have been washed, take your clothes out immediately and dry them either outside if it’s sunny or in your dryer.

What Is Causing Your Clothes to Smell Musty?

Woman carrying laundry cloth basket with smelly clothes

The musty smell in your clothes results from mold. Additionally, research done on canvas raincoats suggests that mildew is prone to appear in clothes that are not dyed or protected with chemical solutions such as fungicides. 

But, the question now is, where is the mold coming from? Let’s see the three most common reasons mold finds its way into our clothing.

A Damp Closet Usually Causes Clothes to Smell Musty

A damp closet is often the main reason why our clothes smell musty. That’s why most of the time when we wash our clothes, the musty smell is back within a couple of days. 

Mold can appear in the wood just like in fabric, so many closets are infected with mold, which then naturally moves to our clothes. The best solution would certainly be to buy a new closet, but not everybody can do that, especially if you have a built-in closet.

The second best thing is to remove clothes from the closet, clean them thoroughly and dry them with paper towels. After that, leave the closet doors open for a few hours to let some fresh and dry air circulate the closet.  

You can also try using vodka to clean your closet. As we saw, vodka is great for removing mildew and the musty smell from clothes. Therefore, it will be as effective in destroying mold in your closet, at least on the wood’s surface. Just make sure there’s plenty of fresh air circulating in the room while the vodka evaporates.  

In some cases, the dampness comes from the wall behind the closet, so you can try to move your closet to another part of the room or house.

And for those that have built-in closets, moving them is impossible, so try to clean them and leave the doors open before putting your clothes back in.  

Leaving Clothes in the Washing Machine

Some people don’t even have any problems with mold in their closets. Still, their clothes somehow smell musty. And the reason for that is leaving your freshly washed and wet clothes in the washing machine. 

Mold will attack any damp surface, including fabric, even though it was just washed and it’s clean. Therefore, leaving your washed clothes in the washing machine can actually cause them to smell musty. 

Luckily, catastrophe in this scenario is easily avoidable. As soon as your washing machine is done, take the clothes out and let them dry either outside or in a dryer. That way, you’ll definitely avoid the musty smell appearing in your clothes.  

Our Bodies Can Cause Clothes to Smell Musty

Believe it or not, our bodies can be why our clothes smell musty. It does take some time for this to occur, but it is possible.  

Our bodies produce a variety of excessive “wastes” that get picked up by our clothes. This waste is usually natural oils our bodies produce and dead skin cells. We can’t really stop these natural processes from occurring, so there’s no point in trying. 

However, we can always minimize the damage. And the best option is to wash our clothes immediately after we use them. It’s normal to wait a couple of days to wash your dirty clothes. That’s completely fine, but you shouldn’t wait for one or more weeks. 

Sweat is another reason why our clothes smell musty. The human body produces sweat which gets absorbed by our clothes. This is especially prominent in places with humid climates. Therefore, it’s best that you don’t wear sweaty clothes for a longer period of time and to wash them as soon as you can. 

If you can’t get rid of terrible odors on your clothes caused by sweat, try using enzyme odor removers. I recommend this odor eliminator from Amazon. While intended originally for pets, it contains natural enzymes that work to remove any bad odor or stain from your clothes. Additionally, this spray isn’t limited to clothing, you can use it for all areas of your household, such as carpets and furniture. And it’s completely safe around children and pets. 

Can Mildew Smell Be Removed from Clothes?

A mildew smell can be removed from clothes. There are homemade options such as vinegar and baking soda, as well as store-bought solutions for removing the musty smell and killing the mildew from clothes. 

There are situations when mildew reappears in a short period of time. In that case, the problem lies in the space you’re keeping your clothes in. It’s often the case that closets become damp over time, creating mold in the wood, which spreads to the clothes.

Will Vinegar Remove Musty Smell from Clothes?

Vinegar will remove the musty smell from clothes. But, only white vinegar should be used to remove the musty smell from the fabric. Balsamic vinegar will stain clothes because of its color. White vinegar is much safer and can be used for any type of clothing. 

If you’re using white vinegar to get rid of the musty smell of your clothes, you don’t have to add any laundry detergent to your washing machine. Warm water and white vinegar are enough for some strands of mildew to be destroyed. 

If white vinegar doesn’t work on your clothes and you still notice the musty smell, then try using baking soda. Some strands of mildew are unaffected by white vinegar but might be eliminated by baking soda.

Why Do My Clothes Smell Musty Even After Washing?

Young woman looking at smelly clothes coming out of the washing machine

Your clothes smell musty even after washing because you left them in the washing machine for an extended period of time. Another reason may be the washing machine itself. Over time, mold and various bacteria can infest washing machines, which can easily spread to clothes. 

It is crucial that we regularly clean our washing machines. Because water is an essential element washing machines use (apart from electricity to run them), they’re susceptible not only to scale but also to mildew residue.

That’s why we need to keep it clean if we want our clothes to be mold-free. There are a lot of great products you can use for cleaning your washing machine. 

I recommend this washing machine cleaner. It contains Oxi and Tetraacetylethylenediamine (TAED), two compounds that enhance its effectiveness in removing residue and bad odor. Additionally, this cleaner seems to clean more effectively than other products out there.

Recap

The five best ways to get the musty smell out of your clothes: 

  1. Wash your clothes with hot water.
  2. Use baking soda in your washing machine.
  3. Dry your clothes outside.
  4. Spray some vodka on your clothes.
  5. Use white vinegar to wash your clothes. 

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For more, don’t miss The 10 Best Laundry Detergents for Men.

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