How to Remove Mildew Smell from Laundry


Andrew asked: What do I do if I forget that I have clothes in the washing machine, and they sit there for a couple of days and smell of mildew? I know I could use bleach with whites, but what about colors?

You open the washing machine to put in a new load and – Oh Man! There’s that laundry you put in there last week, forgotten and reeking of mildew. We’ve all left a load of laundry for a bit too long, only to find that it needs to be washed again. The mildew smell can be difficult to remove if it is not treated promptly. The quickest solution is to fluff the laundry, add more detergent, and run another wash cycle. If that isn’t enough to get rid of the smell, follow these steps for odor removal.

You Will Need:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda

Steps to Remove the Mildew Smell:

  1. Fill the washing machine as usual with the clothing and detergent.
  2. Add a cup of white vinegar or baking soda to the water.
  3. Allow the washing cycle to start as normal.
  4. As the machine is washing and all of the soap and vinegar/baking soda have been thoroughly incorporated, stop the cycle and allow the laundry to soak for at least an hour. Overnight is fine.
  5. Continue the cycle and allow it to finish.
  6. Once the odor is removed, dry as normal.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • OxyClean can also be added to the water for odor removal.
  • For specific detergents designed to remove odors, check the hunting department at your local store. There are special detergents designed to remove all odors from the laundry so that animals are not aware of the hunter’s presence. These same soaps can be used to remove unwanted smells from laundry.
  • Smelly Washer is available online and can be used to remove odors from both your clothing as well as the machine.


  1. Paul says:

    The area of heaviest buildup of odor-causing residue is always just above the normal waterline where suds and soiled water splash up and don’t get rinsed out. To get rid of the residue in the “splash area,” you can add a cap of Smelly Washer or Smelly Towel Cleaner to a full load of laundry and wash in a hot setting. The added bulk of the clothing will raise the water level to include the splash area. More extreme cases can push “pause” to allow a soak. Very extreme odor problems may take overnight soaking.

  2. Tiffany says:

    The easiest and most effective way to get rid of mildew smell is to simply rewash the laundry and line dry it in the sun.

  3. Tommy says:

    Sure, Tiffany, that’s great; except that it’s six degrees here.

  4. Jill says:

    I have three nylon quilted jackets that have been in a basement for 20 years and smell very musty. I have washed them with detergent and borax and dried them with Febreze dryer sheets to no avail. They still smell musty. Now what? Please help.

  5. Melanie says:

    Wash the jackets again and add a cup of white vinegar to the wash instead of detergent. Stop the full washer mid-cycle and allow the clothes to soak for an hour before completing the wash cycle. Alternatively, you can just soak the jackets in the sink or a bucket with a vinegar/water solution. If you don’t have any white vinegar, use a cup of baking soda instead. Vinegar and baking soda are natural odor removers and are also used to kill mold and mildew. Another option is to sprinkle baking soda over the fabric, allow the baking soda to sit for a day or two and vacuum off the baking soda. Vinegar will not damage nylon, in fact, it is said to make nylon fabrics last longer.

    Source: – How to Remove Smoke Smell from Fabrics
    Source: wikiHow – How to Remove Musty Smell from Clothes
    Source: eHow – Wash Clothes in Vinegar

  6. Sharon says:

    I have some clothes that where put in a building for storage. Wouldn’t you know it, it leaked. Now, I have these smelly, moldy clothes. I have tried double rinsing, LOTS of detergent, Oxy-Clean, etc., to no avail. I have heard someone say to try liquid Febreze. Has anyone tried this? Also I have heard of using this new product by Gain, some kind of beads that keep your clothes smelling good for like six months. Has anyone tried this? Or if you have, do you have suggestions for some really stinky clothes?

  7. Jerry says:

    My son and I both had childhood asthma and mold triggered attacks, so I do what I can to stay away from mold. If your clothes get a musty smell, then you more than likely have mold in your wash machine pipe. I got a washer fan, which I wish I would have known about a long time ago. The guy that invented it shows what to do to get rid of the mold in your machine and prevent it from coming back on his videos. Just google washer fan…I think it’s the only one out there.

  8. Mitch says:

    Two suggestions for removing mildewy smell.
    1.) Place item in tub and pour boiling hot water on it. Once water has cooled, the smell will be removed. This is especially good for towels/blankets/underwear.

    2.) Pop damp item(s) in microwave oven for 30 seconds at a time. If it’s, let’s say, a large bath towel, pop it in the microwave oven for 1 to 2 minutes. Like magic, the smell is gone. It’s important that the item is damp. This method is great during the winter. I use it all year round.

  9. Jackson says:

    What if there is mold on the clothes? There’s black or blue spots on them…(I accidentally left them for more than a week). Any ways to remove it?

  10. Melanie says:

    This is the article that you need: How to Remove Black Mold/Mildew from Washable Fabrics.

  11. Dee says:

    I have a front loader (known to have moldy smells if you leave the door closed when not in use). I have found that if I forget a load overnight (or longer) the best way to recover is to remove the load (just put it in an empty laundry basket) run a “clean wash” cycle – I just use bleach for this – and wipe down the door, rubber gasket and stuff. Then I put the load back in, re-wash the load. If it smells really bad, I put in some baking soda or some vinegar. Also, I try to remember to run the clean wash cycle every couple of weeks.

  12. Ashley says:

    Thank you!!! I love this page. I have had to do this trick before and it DOES work; its just I couldn’t remember for the life of me if I put the soap in with white Vinegar when I let it soak then washed it after or all at once, then just dried…but it was that. It was everything together because I now remember being shocked that the smell of vinegar just left the clothes as did the mildewed rotten molded “oh God I just ruined all my clothes smell left!!!!!!” SO THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!! I love this site though since we have a little min-pin. I like the dog advice’s on here to!!! I’ll be sure to post any I have as well!!! Thank you and everyone have a very blessed day!!!! God Bless :-)

  13. Bralenia says:

    Thanks so much! The vinegar really worked. Thanks for your brilliant idea!

  14. Mbeez says:

    How do you remove the mildew smell from a wedding gown?

  15. Joy says:

    I had some damp stinky clothes in the dryer and I came to this page and read the discussion. Went back to the dryer, soaked a couple wash cloths with vinegar and kept drying the clothes. The smell went away!!! I had tried things like Febreeze and Lysol, but they just add another layer of yuck smell to the mix without eliminating the problem. Hail the almighty vinegar!

  16. DJ says:

    When my son came back from a trip to Japan this winter, everything he took with him had a pungent musty odor. I tried multiple soaks and washes with baking soda, Clorox, or vinegar, and for some clothes, nothing worked. A trip through a commercial dryer on high temp. helped most. For some of the most stubborn clothes, I tried a soak/wash with a little pet urine eliminator liquid added. WORKED! Enzymes in the liquid odor eliminator must have worked on the mold/mildew. Also works on stubborn perfume smells. The eliminator has no odor of it’s own and doesn’t irritate asthma/allergy sensitivity to some commercial whiteners/detergents.

  17. Grandma says:

    If you have smoke, mildew, horrible stinky clothes – buy or rent an ozone generator and follow the directions very carefully. After a house fire, I put everything into a big closet and ran the generator for 30 minutes. You must remove the 3 P’s for this remedy – People, Pets, and Plants. Just stay away from the ozone. It is too concentrated and can cause respiratory problems. I ran it in the morning and by early afternoon I had fans blowing, exhausts on, and windows and doors open, and not a stinky item of clothes! I do it now about once a month in closets. Another treatment would be colloidal silver about 10ppm to 20ppm in a spray bottle. It’s non-toxic and kills bad cooties that make things stink. I use it for everything I need sanitized.

  18. Milan says:

    I’ve made it! First tried with baking soda, with no successes. Then I’ve rinsed a shirt in water with citric acid! After that, I’ve washed a shirt and the isn’t a smell at all! Citric acid doesn’t have a smell or other components like vinegar and it could be a stronger. So, citric acid and voila!

  19. Jules says:

    After finding them sitting in washer too long and smelling, I have found just re-washing doesn’t remove the stink. Drying in the dryer and then re-washing always works for me. But what a pain, bring back old school washers that use water! Sorry environmentalists, but I like how they clean laundry, my expensive/new HE washer stinks… literally.

  20. Shawn says:

    Thank you!!!! This trick worked so well!! Not only did the smell come out but my clothes actually look brighter!!

  21. Pat says:

    Use either vinegar or baking soda, but don’t mix the two. They react with each other. The mixture will get warm, bubble, and release carbon dioxide. It may overflow the container you put it in. It’s not an explosive reaction, but it could surprise you and it could overflow and make a mess.

Leave a Comment