A reliable method to get mildew smell out of clothes is washing them with a cup of white vinegar on the hottest water setting, then washing again with a cup of baking soda.
When it comes to battling bad smells, one of the toughest ones to conquer is mildew—you know, the stuff that makes your favorite clothes and fluffy towels smell like they’ve been rotting in a damp basement.
If your clothes smell musty, your first instinct might be to re-wash them or hose them down with Febreze. But this won’t fix the root cause of that stubborn smell. The key is treating the mildew before you wash your clothes, otherwise you’re just masking the scent.
It’s like spraying yourself with cologne instead of taking a shower after you work out.
Fear not—you can salvage your mildewed clothes with a couple ingredients that are probably lying around your house. In this article, we’ll explain why your clothes smell like mildew and walk you through a science-backed method to get rid of it for good.
What Makes Clothes Smell Like Mildew?
If your clothes smell like mildew, moisture is to blame. That horrific musty smell is due to the growth of mildew spores: a grayish-white fungus that thrives in damp, dark, and humid environments. In most cases, your laundry won’t have visible mildew spots, but the stench will give it away.
Here are a few common scenarios that make clothes smell like mildew:
- You didn’t give your sweaty clothes a chance to dry before washing them
- You left your wet towels in your laundry basket for too long
- Your closet is dark and has poor airflow
- You left your wet laundry in the washing machine too long before drying
- You live in a super-humid climate
How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Your Clothes
You’ll need two ingredients to get that mildewy smell out of your clothes:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
Once you’ve got those odor-fighting items handy, follow these three steps.
1. Run a Hot Wash Cycle with White Vinegar
Vinegar contains acetic acid that breaks down the cell structure of mildew. Not to mention, vinegar is a cheap, non-toxic and environmentally-friendly option for mildew removal.
Set the water temperature on your washing machine as hot as it can get, add your smelly items, and pour in one cup of distilled white vinegar—don’t add laundry detergent. (Pro tip: If you’re washing delicate items, you may want to avoid water temperature above 80°F).
The combination of hot water and acid will break up the mildew that seeped into the tiny pores of your fabric.
(Alternatively, you can pre-soak your clothes in a solution of equal parts vinegar and water for 30 minutes, then run them through your normal cleaning cycle).
2. Wash Your Clothes Again with Baking Soda
After your vinegar cycle is complete, add one cup of baking soda into your washing machine, making sure to spread it evenly around the clothes. Then run your wash cycle again on the hottest setting—just remember to limit your water temperature to 80°F if you’re washing delicates.
The reason to use baking soda is that it’s alkaline, meaning it neutralizes the acidity from the vinegar. (You don’t want your jeans smelling like salad dressing, do you?)
3. Dry Your Clothes
As soon as the baking soda cycle has finished, toss your clothes in the dryer and run a normal dry cycle.
Pro tip: Use a Laundry Sauce Dryer Sheet to infuse your clothes with a sophisticated scent and reduce static cling.
You can also air dry your clothes outside. Ultraviolet rays from the sun have natural disinfecting properties that can kill any remaining mildew that survived the wash cycles.
4. Give Your Clothes a Luxurious Scent with Laundry Sauce
By now, your clothes should smell neutral—not bad, but not great either. That’s where Laundry Sauce comes in.
Our premium laundry pods come in bold, soulful fragrances like Australian Sandalwood, Egyptian Rose, Indonesian Patchouli, and Siberian Pine that infuse your clothes with a long-lasting, irresistible scent.
What If Your Clothes Still Smell Like Mildew After Washing?
If your clothes still reek of mildew after washing them with vinegar and baking soda, the problem could be with your washing machine. Specifically, there might be a buildup of mildew in the drum walls.
If that’s the case, your best bet is to disinfect your washing machine with chlorine bleach. Here’s how it’s done:
- Empty your washer
- Set the water temperature to the hottest setting, or use the sanitization cycle if you have one
- Add one cup of chlorine bleach to the empty washer drum
- Run a full wash cycle
- When the cycle is complete, inspect the interior of the washer. Carefully check the rubber seals and gaskets and the inside of the appliance door or lid for signs of residue buildup or mold
- Do a final rinse cycle to wash away any remaining bleach before doing your next load of laundry
3 Tips to Prevent Mildew Smell On Laundry
Time to drop some essential laundry knowledge so you can make mildew a thing of the past.
1. Air Dry Your Sweaty Clothes
If your workout clothes are soaked with sweat, crumpling them up in the bottom of your hamper creates a breeding ground for mildew. Instead, hang them up to air dry as soon as you get home.
Pro tip: turn them inside out, since the inside is saturated with sweat and grime that needs to air out.
2. Hang Your Towels
We all know that person who leaves their wet towel on the bathroom floor. If that person is you, it’s time to break that habit ASAP. Wet towels in a steamy bathroom make it easy for bacteria to live and multiply.
There’s a towel rack in your bathroom for a reason.
3. Dry Your Laundry Immediately After Washing
We’ve all been guilty of leaving damp clothes in the washer during a busy weekend. It might not seem like a big deal, but if enough time passes, a wet washing machine turns into an ideal climate for mildew growth.
Throw your laundry in the dryer as soon as that buzzer goes off to minimize the chance of mildew.
Don’t Just Get Clean, Get Confident
Congrats—you’re finally free from the embarrassing smell of mildew on your clothes. But getting clean is only the first step. If you want to feel more confident in your clothes, add Laundry Sauce to your next load.
Our premium laundry pods infuse your threads with sophisticated fragrances developed by top-tier perfumers. Give ‘em a try and see why thousands of people are ditching their old detergent and joining the Sauciety!