A person's hand holding a white t-shirt with mildew stains in a laundry scene with an open washing machine and clothes being taken out that have visible mildew spots and steam.

How to Get Mildew Smell out of Clothes

Mildew, a type of mold, can be a pesky problem, especially when it finds its way onto our clothes. Leaving them with a musty, unpleasant smell that seems to cling no matter what. But don’t worry, learning how to get mildew smell out of clothes is not as complicated as it might seem! This smell usually crops up when clothes are left damp for too long, whether they’re forgotten in the washer or piled up wet in the laundry basket. It could also happen when clothes aren’t dried properly or are stored in a damp, poorly ventilated space. Not only does mildew make your clothes smell bad, but it could also lead to potential health issues if not addressed promptly. But fret not! In this article, we’re going to dive into the causes of mildew smells, and more importantly, provide you with tried and tested solutions to get rid of that unpleasant odor for good. So, get ready to say goodbye to that musty mildew smell and hello to fresh, clean clothes!

Understanding the Mildew Smell

Mildew has a very distinct, musty odor. When you catch a whiff of it from your clothes, it’s like a wet, old scent that seems to stick around. But why do our clothes get this smell? Let’s explore the main causes and the risks associated with mildew.

Causes of Mildew Growth on Clothes

  1. Dampness: This is the number one culprit! Mildew thrives in damp and humid conditions. If you’ve ever left your clothes in a wet pile after a rain shower or forgotten them in the washer for a day, you’ve unknowingly created a perfect home for mildew. This is also why it’s essential to learn how to get mildew smell out of clothes.
  2. Poor Ventilation: Mildew spores love areas where the air doesn’t flow freely. Closets, laundry rooms, or basements with little to no air circulation can become hotspots for mildew growth.
  3. Leaving Clothes Wet: After washing or getting caught in the rain, it’s essential to dry clothes thoroughly. Leaving them wet for extended periods offers an invitation to mildew.

Potential Health Risks of Prolonged Exposure to Mildew

Mildew isn’t just a smelly nuisance. Being exposed to it for too long can pose health risks. Some people might experience allergies, including sneezing, skin rashes, or even breathing difficulties. For folks with asthma or immune system issues, it’s especially important to address any mildew problems promptly.

In conclusion, understanding the mildew smell’s root causes and its potential health risks is crucial. Not only does this knowledge guide us on how to get mildew smell out of clothes effectively, but it also helps keep us and our families safe and healthy. Remember, fresh and clean clothes are just a few smart steps away!

Preventative Measures

The old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this certainly applies to keeping our clothes free from the pesky mildew smell. While learning how to get mildew smell out of clothes is valuable, it’s equally crucial to understand how to prevent it in the first place. By taking a few simple steps, we can ensure our clothes remain fresh and mildew-free.

Proper Ventilation

Laundry Rooms and Storage Areas: It’s essential to keep areas where you wash or store clothes well-ventilated. This means regularly opening windows, using exhaust fans, or installing vents. Why? Because mildew spores adore stuffy, moist environments. With proper ventilation, we create an environment where these spores find it challenging to grow.

Drying Clothes Thoroughly

Before Storing: We’ve all been there – tossing a slightly damp shirt into the closet thinking it’ll dry on its own. However, that small oversight can lead to big mildew problems. Always make sure your clothes are completely dry before putting them away. If you’re unsure, give it a bit more time in the sun or another cycle in the dryer. This simple step can save a lot of hassle later on.

The Dangers of Wet Clothes

Avoiding Piles and Procrastination: It’s easy to forget that wet gym towel at the bottom of your bag or that load of laundry in the washer. However, leaving clothes wet for too long can quickly result in that unwelcome mildew smell. Make it a habit to dry clothes as soon as they’re washed and to avoid piling them up when they’re wet.

It’s worth noting that the key to fresh-smelling clothes often lies in these preventative measures. By adopting these habits, we pave the way for a mildew-free wardrobe and reduce the times we have to wonder how to get mildew smell out of clothes. Simple changes can lead to big results!

Immediate Solutions: Washing and Rinsing Techniques

There’s that moment of frustration when you pull out a piece of clothing, and there it is – the unmistakable scent of mildew. But before resigning yourself to the idea of discarding your favorite shirt or jeans, try some of these washing and rinsing techniques. They might just be the swift solution you need to learn how to get mildew smell out of clothes right away.

Distilled White Vinegar to the Rescue

Regular Wash Cycle: White vinegar isn’t just for salads; it’s a household superhero. Add a cup of distilled white vinegar to your regular wash cycle. Don’t worry; your clothes won’t come out smelling like vinegar. Instead, they’ll be free of that stubborn mildew smell. The acidity of the vinegar helps to break down mildew and freshen fabrics.

The Magic of Baking Soda

Baking Soda Method: This pantry staple does more than make cakes rise. When it comes to laundry, adding ½ cup of baking soda to your detergent during the wash cycle can work wonders. Baking soda neutralizes odors and can give your detergent an extra boost in removing that pesky mildew scent.

Turning to Specialty Detergents

Mildew-targeting Laundry Detergents: Sometimes, regular detergents might not cut it. There are specialty detergents available in the market specifically designed to combat mildew and mold. They contain ingredients that target and eliminate the source of the smell. When shopping, look for labels that mention ‘mildew removal’ or ‘odor-fighting formula’ to get the right product.

Don’t panic when you’re confronted with clothes that have the dreaded mildew smell. With these washing and rinsing techniques at your disposal, you’re well-equipped to handle it. Remember, the key is to act swiftly, and soon enough, your clothes will be as good as new!

Soaking Techniques for Stubborn Smells

Sometimes, despite our best efforts with regular washing, the mildew smell clings to our clothes with surprising tenacity. If you’ve tried the initial wash methods and still find that musty aroma haunting your favorite outfits, it’s time to level up. Here, we delve into soaking techniques that can tackle even the most stubborn of mildew scents. Let’s dive in!

The White Vinegar Soak Method

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Preparation: Fill a basin or tub with warm water.
  2. Add Vinegar: Pour in one to two cups of distilled white vinegar, depending on the size of the load.
  3. Soak: Immerse your smelly clothes in the solution, ensuring they’re fully submerged.
  4. Wait: Allow the clothes to soak for at least one to two hours. For particularly strong smells, consider soaking overnight.
  5. Rinse & Wash: Remove the clothes from the vinegar solution, and wash them in a regular wash cycle with detergent.
  6. Dry: Air-dry your clothes, preferably in direct sunlight, to further combat any remaining mildew smell.

Borax Soak for Deep Cleaning

Mixing and Application Instructions:

  1. Preparation: Start by filling a basin or tub with warm water.
  2. Mix in Borax: Add a half cup of borax to the water and stir until fully dissolved.
  3. Soak: Submerge the clothes in the borax solution, ensuring they’re thoroughly wet.
  4. Duration: Let them soak for at least one to two hours.
  5. Rinse & Wash: After soaking, wash the clothes in a regular wash cycle with your usual detergent.
  6. Dry: Air-dry your clothes, ideally in a sunny spot.

Freshen Up with Lemon Juice and Salt

Benefits and Procedure:

Lemon juice, with its natural acidity, and salt, a known abrasive, can together create a potent mix against mildew.

  1. Preparation: Mix equal parts of lemon juice and salt to create a paste.
  2. Application: Apply this paste to the affected areas of your clothes.
  3. Let it Sit: Allow the paste to sit for about 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Rinse: Wash off the paste from the clothes with warm water.
  5. Wash: Proceed to wash your clothes in a regular wash cycle.
  6. Dry: Once again, air-drying in sunlight can be beneficial.

When battling the tenacity of mildew smell, sometimes, you need to go the extra mile. With these soaking techniques, you’re equipped to eliminate even the most stubborn odors and enjoy fresh, clean clothes again.

Post-Washing Tips

You’ve waged the battle with mildew in the washing machine, but the war isn’t over yet! The post-washing phase is just as crucial in your quest to eliminate that stubborn mildew smell from your clothes. Let’s explore some essential after-wash strategies that will not only prevent the return of mildew but also give your clothes that fresh-out-of-the-laundry scent.

The Power of Sun-Drying

Natural Anti-Microbial Benefits of Sunlight:

Sunlight is more than just a source of light and warmth; it’s nature’s disinfectant. When you dry your clothes under the sun, you’re harnessing its ultraviolet rays, which have natural anti-microbial properties. These UV rays can kill lingering mildew spores and bacteria, ensuring your clothes aren’t just dry but also sanitized.

The Art of Ensuring Complete Drying

Tips on Ensuring No Moisture Remains:

  1. Spread Out: When hanging clothes to dry, make sure they’re spread out and not bunched up. This ensures every part of the garment gets ample air circulation.
  2. Turn Them Over: Halfway through the drying process, turn your clothes over to ensure both sides dry evenly.
  3. Check Pockets and Folds: Areas like pockets, cuffs, or thick seams can retain moisture. Give them a check and squeeze to make sure they’re dry.
  4. Use Dryer Wisely: If you’re using an electric dryer, ensure you choose the right setting. “More Dry” or an extended cycle can be helpful for thicker garments.

A Final Touch: Fabric Refreshers and Sprays

Recommendations and Precautions:

Fabric refreshers can be a great final touch, adding a pleasant scent and eliminating any last traces of mustiness.

  1. Choose Wisely: Opt for sprays specifically designed for fabrics, and preferably those labeled as anti-microbial or mildew-fighting.
  2. Spot Test: Before using any product, do a small spot test to ensure it doesn’t stain or discolor your clothes.
  3. Use Sparingly: A little goes a long way. Over-spraying can leave clothes feeling damp and potentially revive mildew problems.
  4. Read Labels: Some sprays may have chemicals that can irritate the skin. Always check the ingredients and choose one that aligns with your comfort and health preferences.

In wrapping up, remember that the journey to fresh-smelling clothes doesn’t end once the washing machine stops. These post-washing tips can be the final arsenal in your battle against mildew. Employ them consistently, and you’ll find that not only do you know how to get mildew smell out of clothes, but you also know how to keep them smelling great!

Challenges in Removing Mildew from Different Fabrics

Mildew is no respecter of fabrics. Whether you have a silky blouse, rugged denim jeans, or a sporty polyester jacket, mildew can set its sights on them. But, as with many things in life, one size doesn’t fit all. Different fabrics have distinct properties, which means they require unique care when removing mildew. Understanding these challenges can significantly enhance your efforts in restoring these fabrics to their former glory.

Delicate Fabrics: Handle with Care

Silk, Wool, and Lace:

Delicate fabrics can be tricky. They’re sensitive, and aggressive cleaning methods can damage them.

  1. Silk: It’s protein-based, so avoid high temperatures and acidic solutions. Instead, opt for gentle soaks in mild detergents and rinse with cool water.
  2. Wool: Warmth and moisture can cause wool to shrink or lose shape. Use cool water and mild detergents designed specifically for wool. Always lay flat to dry.
  3. Lace: This intricate fabric can snag or tear easily. Hand-washing in cool water with a gentle detergent is best. Avoid wringing it out; instead, press water out gently between towels.

Heavy and Thick Fabrics: The Sturdy Challenge

Denim, Upholstery, and Winter Wear:

Heavy fabrics might be robust, but they can retain moisture, making them a haven for mildew.

  1. Denim: While sturdy, it can fade with harsh treatments. Opt for soaking in a vinegar solution, followed by a thorough rinse and sun drying.
  2. Upholstery: This is tricky since it’s attached to furniture. Spot-clean using mild detergents, ensuring you dry the area thoroughly afterward. Consider professional cleaning for severe cases.
  3. Winter Wear: These are often thick and multi-layered. Ensure complete drying by turning them inside out and providing ample air circulation.

Synthetics: The Modern Fabric Dilemma

Polyester, Nylon, and Acrylic:

Being man-made, synthetic fabrics have their unique set of challenges when it comes to mildew removal.

  1. Polyester: It’s resilient, so you can use vinegar or baking soda solutions for soaking. However, always avoid hot water as it can affect the fabric’s structure.
  2. Nylon: It’s sensitive to heat and sunlight. Use cold water washes and avoid prolonged sun exposure when drying.
  3. Acrylic: Mild detergents work best. Avoid wringing as it can distort the fabric. Air dry, ensuring complete moisture removal.

Understanding the challenges each fabric presents is crucial when battling mildew. Tailoring your approach based on the material can save you a lot of heartache and ensure that you not only get rid of the mildew smell but also preserve the integrity of your beloved garments.

Long-term Storage Tips to Prevent Mildew Smells

Picture this: You eagerly dive into a box of stored clothes, perhaps in anticipation of a new season, only to be met with that all-too-familiar musty aroma. The culprit? Neglected storage practices that paved the way for mildew. But fret not, with a few preventative measures, your stored clothes can remain as fresh as the day you put them away. Here’s how:

Embrace the Power of Absorbents

Using Silica Gel Packets or Cedar Balls in Wardrobes:

  1. Silica Gel Packets: Often found in the packaging of new shoes or bags, these little packets are designed to absorb moisture, making them perfect for wardrobes. Spread them out among your clothes, especially in sealed storage containers, to keep the environment dry.
  2. Cedar Balls: Aside from their pleasant natural scent, cedar balls act as a repellent for pests like moths, and they also absorb excess moisture. Place them in drawers, boxes, or directly on shelves to maintain a fresh environment.

Cleanliness is Key

Ensuring Clothes are Clean Before Storage:

Any trace of dirt, sweat, or food particles can attract pests and create a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

  1. Wash: Always wash or dry-clean clothes before storing them. This ensures they are free from substances that might promote mildew growth.
  2. Inspect: Give them a thorough look-over to ensure no stains or spills are present, even if they’ve been cleaned. Some stubborn residues might require a second wash.

Let Your Clothes Breathe

Periodically Airing Out Stored Clothes:

Clothes, like us, enjoy a bit of fresh air now and then.

  1. Scheduled Check-ins: Every few months, open up your storage boxes or containers and shake out the clothes. This helps disperse any trapped moisture and refreshes the fabric.
  2. Sun Session: If possible, hang them out in the sun for a few hours. Sunlight acts as a natural disinfectant and can kill off any budding mildew spores.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure. By integrating these long-term storage tips into your routine, you’re not just avoiding the daunting task of learning how to get mildew smell out of clothes later on, but you’re also ensuring your garments remain in top-notch condition, ready for whenever you choose to wear them next.

In Conclusion

Battling the persistent foe of mildew smell in clothes is more than just a laundry challenge; it’s about preserving the value, longevity, and freshness of garments that often hold memories and significance in our lives. From understanding the root of the problem to employing immediate washing solutions and ensuring optimal long-term storage, every step plays a crucial role. Armed with the right knowledge and tools, you’re not just eradicating unpleasant odors but also ensuring the well-being of both your clothes and your health. As you incorporate these practices into your routine, you’ll find that the sweet scent of success is, indeed, the absence of mildew. So, next time you pull out that cherished outfit or blanket, you can be confident that it’s as fresh, clean, and vibrant as your memories associated with it.


While bleach is effective in killing mold and mildew, it’s not suitable for all fabrics, especially colored and delicate ones. If you decide to use bleach, always follow the label instructions and do a patch test first to avoid discoloration.

Ideally, air out stored clothes every 2-3 months. Regular airing reduces trapped moisture and helps to keep the fabric fresh.

Plastic bags can trap moisture, creating an environment conducive to mildew growth. Instead, opt for breathable fabric storage bags or containers with ventilation holes.

Persistent smells might require a combination of methods. Try pre-soaking in vinegar or baking soda solutions before washing. Also, ensure you’re drying clothes thoroughly and, if possible, under direct sunlight.

While fabric softeners might mask the smell temporarily, they don’t address the root cause of the problem. It’s essential to eliminate the mildew first before adding any fragrances.

Yes, natural solutions like vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and sunlight can be very effective against mildew. They not only neutralize odors but also have anti-microbial properties that combat mold and mildew growth.

Prevention is key. Ensure clothes are completely dry before storage, use moisture absorbers like silica packets in wardrobes, and avoid leaving damp clothes in dark or poorly ventilated areas.