How to Get a Musty Smell Out of Clothes

April 18, 2023 • Jamie Dorman

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting around, minding your own business, when, out of the blue, it smells like you’ve been hanging out in basement. More often than not, that distinct, damp, musty smell is coming from your clothes, linens, or towels. The culprit? Mildew.

Though usually invisible to the naked eye, this stinky sidekick produces an unmistakably unpleasant smell. And let’s face it – nobody wants to walk around smelling like they’ve been sleeping in the cellar.

But do you know how to get that musty smell out of clothes? Luckily, it’s fairly simple to get them smelling fresh and clean again with a few common household ingredients and our best laundry detergent sheets.

What causes a musty smell?

When it comes to that distinctly damp smell, mildew is usually to blame. But what, exactly, is mildew? Mildew is a type of fungus that thrives in warm, dark, and damp environments. It usually can’t be seen on clothing, but if it is visible, it looks like a white or yellow fluffy powder.

Even in the cleanest of households, mildew can become a problem. Sweaty clothes that are left in the hamper or a gym bag for too long can cause mildew to thrive. The same can happen with damp towels that aren’t promptly laundered.

In homes with hard water, mildew may be more common. Calcium-laden hard water can make it more difficult for your detergent to rid your clothes of bacteria, which can then turn into mildew, producing that signature musty smell.

Finally, your washing machine may be the culprit. If there is mold or mildew growing in your washing machine, it’s futile to continue to wash your clothes in it, as they’ll come out smelling musty. To prevent this, consider keeping the lid on your washing machine open when it’s not being used, allowing it to dry completely. If you see standing water anywhere in your machine, you may need to wipe it down between each wash.

How to get rid of that damp smell

In a few simple steps, we can help you get your clothes smelling clean again. Here’s what to do.

Clean your washing machine

Before attempting to clean your clothes, you may first need to clean your washing machine. Even if it doesn’t stink right now, a preemptive monthly cleaning can go a long way to prevent mold, mildew, and musty smells.

First, visually examine your washing machine. If you see any mold or mildew, use a brush or cloth to scrub it away with a mixture of hot water and dish soap. Be sure to thoroughly rinse out any remaining soap, and dry with a towel or rag.

Next, determine whether your machine has a cleaning cycle setting. If it does, toss in a laundry detergent sheet and a laundry scent booster, and let it run. This should eliminate any musty smell and rid the inner basin of any lingering mildew and mold.

Treat the clothes

Gather any musty-smelling clothes and load them into the washing machine. In addition to laundry detergent, also add 1/2 – 1 cup of white vinegar. Set the water temperature to the highest level your clothing can handle.

If, after this, your clothes are still smelling more funky than fresh, run them through another hot water cycle, this time with up to 1 cup of baking soda, depending on the size of your load. In most cases, this should remove the mildew, which will eliminate the smell.

While this will combat the unpleasant smell, we recommend washing your items one more time with our detergent and in-wash scent boosters to give them back their sweet signature scent.

Dry the clothing completely

If it’s a sunny day, the best way to dry formerly musty clothing is to hang it outside. Not only will they be infused with that intoxicating, outdoor, fresh air smell, but the sun’s UV rays will also help to naturally kill any microscopic spores that might be hiding in your fabrics.

If it’s less than lovely out, set your dryer to the highest setting that is safe for your clothing, and make sure the entire load has a chance to dry completely.

Repeat as necessary

For really tough mildew, you may need to repeat these steps a second or even third time. Although it might seem tedious, ensuring your clothes smell delicious - and not damp - is well worth the challenge. We believe in you, laundry warrior – you’ve got this!