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How to get mildew smell out of clothes
Laundry can be a chore, and when you discover your clothes are coming out of the washer smelling of mildew, the chore can seem even more daunting. Not only can mildew appear on clothes as ugly stains, it has a bad odor and can be an allergen, causing health problems. There are a handful of methods for getting the mildew smell out of clothes, towels and other laundry.
1. Sort out clothes with mildew stains
Mildew is a type of mold that loves high humidity and warm areas such as the washing machine. Mildew can transfer to your clothing, staining it and causing it to have that unpleasant smell.
You must first sort through the laundered items that smell of mildew and look for mildew stains. If you find mildew-stained clothes, set those items aside. The smell may be coming directly from the stain, so the stain will need to be treated directly in order to remove the mildew and finally get rid of that unpleasant smell.
2. Remove mold from the washing machine
Now that you've identified and set aside your affected clothing, inspect the washer for mold patches. Look inside the washer drum (inner tub) and along the agitator in top-loading machines. In front-loading machines, gently pull back the rubber door gasket and check for mold or mildew there.
Note: Mold can also grow inside the machine’s internal discharge/drain hose, causing the unpleasant clothes smell after washing. Schedule service to have the hose replaced if you suspect mold is hiding there.
If you have a smelly washing machine, see our tips for treating possible mildew. If the smell persists, give your washing machine a thorough cleaning. These methods recommend use of bleach to kill the mold, so be sure to wear protective gloves and keep the room well ventilated.
Once the machine is free of mildew, run a wash cycle on a hot-water setting and without laundry to thoroughly rinse away any cleaning solutions left over from cleaning off the mildew stains. To be more thorough, add in 1 cup of white vinegar before you begin the cycle.
3. Remove stains from laundry
Now that your washing machine is clean, you can return your attention to your affected laundry. Take the mildew-stained clothing outside and use a clean nailbrush or clean toothbrush to brush off as much mildew as possible. Any remaining mildew must be treated, so try one of these treatment options before rewashing the clothes in the clean washing machine:
Fill a clean spray bottle with white vinegar. Spray the mildew stain with the vinegar. Let the treated items sit in the sunlight on a clothesline or drying rack for 15 minutes. Note: This method may take more than one treatment-then-wash round.
Mix 1/4 cup lemon juice with 2 tablespoons of salt. Apply mixture to stains with a clean rag. Dry the treated clothing in sunlight for 15 minutes.
Create a paste by combining 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup warm water. Wearing rubber gloves, apply the paste directly to the mildew stain. Dry in sunlight for 15 minutes. Rinse the paste off with cool or warm water.
OxiClean powder can be used to treat the mildew stains as well. Follow the package instructions for pretreating and stain removal using this product.
Mix 1/2 cup borax with 2 cups hot water. Rub the mixture into the stain with a clean rag. Let soak for 2 hours and then rinse with cool water.
To treat whites only, mix 1 quart warm water with 2 tablespoons liquid chlorine bleach. With a clean rag, dab the bleach mixture onto the stain. Let it stand 15 minutes in the sun and then rinse with warm water.
- Always test fabrics for color fastness in an inconspicuous area first before treating the mildew stain.
- Do not use chlorine bleach on colored fabrics or silk, wool, spandex, nylon, rayon and other delicate fabrics.
4. Rewash clothes with the mildew smell
Use your regular detergent and add white vinegar, baking soda, OxiClean or borax to the wash cycle to further remove mildew odors from clothing.
To add OxiClean or borax to the wash, follow the instructions on the package and refer to your washing machine manual for any additional instructions for washing with powdered formulas.
To add vinegar or baking soda:
Top-load washer: Pour 1 cup of the white vinegar or baking soda straight into the water.
Front-load washer: Add the vinegar in the dispenser usually used for bleach. Fill it only to the recommended fill line; it may not take the full cup. Do not put baking soda in the any of the liquid dispensers in a front-loading washing machine. These could clump and build up, clogging the dispenser.
- Use only the recommended amount of detergent per load.
- Use only high-efficiency (HE) detergent in HE washers. Get more tips on using high-efficiency detergent.
- Remove wet laundry from the washer within 30 minutes after the cycle has stopped to prevent mildew growth.
- Leave the door or lid of the washer open in between washing loads to allow maximum air circulation.
If your clothes still smell, there may be additional issues with your washing machine. Schedule washing machine repair service.