How to Remove a Mildew Smell From Clothes Left in the Washer

Clothing, when left in a washing machine for an extended period of time, will almost inevitably develop mildew. Active mildew occurs when moisture remains on absorbent objects for prolonged period of time. MIldew spores are drawn to the moisture, which activates them and causes them to emit a musty, unpleasant odor. If you have mistakenly left your clothing in the washer, you can remove the mildew and its associated odors, but you will need to use an appropriate cleaning method. A standard wash will not always do the trick.

Kill mildew by placing clothes in the sun.
  1. Place your clothes outdoors. If they still feel damp, leave them in the sun until they dry completely. Scrub the entire surface of each garment with a firm brush to remove any dried mildew spores.

  2. Sprinkle lemon juice over the surface of each odorous item. You do not need to saturate the garments, but apply the juice liberally. Afterward, sprinkle some table salt over the fabrics. Sodium chlorine and citric acid will attack mildew even in its most microscopic forms, helping to remove the trace residue that contributes to lingering odor.

  3. Place your clothes back in the washing machine. Add a full cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser along with a cup of your preferred detergent. If washing colored garments, make sure to use a color-safe oxygen bleach. If excessive odor plagues your fabrics, you can also sprinkle some baking soda over the clothes. Set the washer on the hottest cycle that is safe for your clothing and complete one full cycle.

  4. Hang your clothes in the sun to dry. Sunlight not only dries clothing effectively in a fresh and wrinkle-free manner, but also serves as nature's most powerful anti-mold agent. If you cannot hang clothes in the sun, use a dryer as a last resort. Use the highest heat setting and do not remove until every garment is 100 percent dry.

  5. Place your clothing in a dry location to prevent recurrence. Mildew breeds where moisture prevails, so keep the clothing away from poorly-insulated rooms, hampers and any other locations where moisture where collect.


  • If you suffer from allergies, asthma or any respiratory difficulties, always wear a protective mask when handling items affected by mildew.