How to get rid of mildew smell in clothes

mildew smell in clothes

Last Updated on August 16, 2023 By Emma W. Thomas

To remove mildew smell from clothes:

  • Wash with hot water and detergent.
  • Add white vinegar to the rinse cycle.
  • Sun-dry if possible.
  • Use baking soda or activated charcoal sachets.

Over 90% of cases can be resolved with these methods, but persistent odor may require professional cleaning.

Here are eight tried and tested ways to get rid of the mildew smell from clothes:

  • Use white vinegar in the was
  • Rinse with baking soda
  • Dry your clothes in the sun
  • Put some activated charcoal where you store clothes
  • Clean your washing machine regularly
  • Put some activated charcoal where you store clothes
  • Clean your washing machine regularly
  • Avoid leaving your clothes damp for long
  • Use white vinegar in the wash

White vinegar is one household item you can’t afford to miss, especially if you love cleaning. It is useful in cooking, and beauty hacks such as teeth whitening, and also in cleaning. This amazing product can remove a myriad of stains and odors, including mildew smell. To use vinegar while washing, add half the detergent you would use and add 1 cup of vinegar then clean as normal. White vinegar works by stripping away product buildup and killing bacteria that cause odor. Do not combine vinegar with natural soap since they react, and both become ineffective.

  • Rinse with baking soda

Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda is another multi-purpose ingredient that you need in your home. It works to remove mildew smell by removing bacteria that cause the odor. Use baking soda and hot water in your final rinse to remove the mildew smell. In case you use vinegar, and the smell persists, be sure to add baking soda to rinsing water. This works because the two chemicals eliminate different strains of bacteria. To use, add half a cup of baking soda to rinsing water. If using a washing machine, use the highest water temperature available.

  • Use borax or oxygen bleach in place of regular detergent

Stronger detergents always do the trick when removing odor from clothes. You can choose to pretreat your garment with oxygen bleach before putting it in the washer or use oxygen as the main detergent. In case you want to use borax, use it in addition to your regular detergent. Mix borax with hot water and add it to the wash to get rid of odors on clothes. Borax works by inhibiting enzymes that cause odor in clothes.

  • For sweaty clothes, use an enzyme odor remover

A combination of mildew and body odor is the hardest smell to remove from clothes. If your gym wear becomes moldy because it was left damp with sweat, you might need a strong detergent. You can choose to get a laundry booster to add to your detergent or get a laundry detergent with odor-fighting enzymes. Most commercial laundry detergents contain these enzymes and can be effective when used the right way.

  • Dry your clothes in the sun

Mildew smell is caused by a fungus that thrives in damp clothes. To get rid of this smell and also avoid it, always ensure your clothes are dry before you store them. You can dry clothes in the dryer or hang them outside where there’s sunshine and fresh air. Line drying is cost-effective and also leaves your clothes smelling fresh all the time. It is advisable to hang your clothes immediately after washing them as leaving them damp could worsen the mildew smell.

  • Put some activated charcoal where you store clothes

Activated charcoal is effective in drawing out moisture from clothes. Putting some activated charcoal in your wardrobe or suitcase helps to remove any moisture, thus preventing mildew from forming. You could also use activated charcoal to filter out an already existing mildew smell. To do this, put some activated charcoal in an airtight bag, then put the garment and leave overnight. If the smell is too strong, you might need to leave your garment for a longer time. You can buy activated charcoal at nutrition shops or a pet supply shop

  • Clean your washing machine regularly

Mildew smell on clothes sometimes comes from your washing machine. When the drum is left wet, mold begins to form and causes a musty smell each time you wash your clothes. It would be best if you got your washing machine regularly serviced by a professional to avoid such mishaps. If you use your machine many times, clean it yourself every month. You only need hot water and soap to clean the door and detergent dispensers and the exterior. It would help if you also run a cleaning cycle with bleach and baking soda to clean the interior. To prevent mildew from forming, ensure you remove clothes immediately after washing. Leaving the machine door open for some time for it to dry also goes a long way in preventing mildew smell.

  • Avoid leaving your clothes damp for long

Since we already know mildew thrives in damp garments, we should try and dry our clothes immediately after we wash them. For garments such as swimming costumes, hang them outside after a swim when you don’t want to wash them immediately. If you accidentally leave your clothes in the washing machine for a long time, rinse them with vinegar before you dry them.


Mildew smell can be quite a challenge, especially in humid areas. Preventing mold from forming is the best way to save yourself the agony. Cleaning experts and laundry professionals advocate for natural and home remedies as opposed to using chemicals. Try out these methods and find out which works best for you.

Reasons for Mildew Smell on the Clothes

  1. Not Drying the Clothes Properly: One of the common reasons for the mildew smell in clothes is improper drying. Leaving clothes in a moist environment promotes the growth of mildew. Moreover, pilling up wet clothes, especially in a dark and damp place like a laundry basket, is a perfect breeding ground for mildew.
  2. Failing to Empty the Washing Machine Promptly: Clothes left sitting in the washing machine for a prolonged period after the cycle ends can start to develop a musty, mildew smell. The closed, damp environment of a washing machine is ideal for the growth of mildew and mold.
  3. Using Too Much or Too Little Laundry Detergent: Interestingly, either using too much or too little laundry detergent can lead to a mildew smell on clothes. The overuse can create an excess of soapy residue which can enable mildew growth, while underuse can mean not all bacteria and fungi are effectively killed during washing.
  4. Inadequate Ventilation in the Laundry Room: A poorly ventilated laundry room might contribute to the mildew smell on clothes. The damp and warm atmosphere created after a wash can be an inviting scenario for mildew growth if not properly ventilated.
  5. Dirty Washing Machine: If the washing machine itself is infested with mildew or mold, it can transfer these to the clothes. Not only does this give your clothes a bad smell, but it also has potential health risks.
Not Drying the Clothes ProperlyThe moist environment promotes the growth of mildew.
Failing to Empty the Washing Machine PromptlyThe closed and damp environment of a washing machine is ideal for mildew growth
Using Too Much or Too Little Laundry DetergentToo much creates soapy residue that enables mildew growth while too little doesn’t kill all bacteria and fungi.
Inadequate Ventilation in Laundry RoomA damp and warm atmosphere invites mildew growth.
Dirty Washing MachineThe machine itself transfers the mildew to the clothes causing a bad smell and potential health risks.