How To... Make Your Laundry Smell Great

If your laundry stinks or your washing machine smells terrible, you're not alone. Smelly laundry -- usually caused by a build-up of bacteria and mold -- may leave you wanting to throw away your towels and clothes. But there are deodorizing solutions! Here's how to make your laundry smell good again.

Woman with smelly laundryStep 1: Don't delay drying

Don't leave clean laundry in the machine after the load has finished washing -- especially not overnight. With a nice warm, dark environment like a closed washing machine, bacteria and mold both thrive.

Step 2: Avoid the damp

Never put damp laundry in the washing pile. If you can't wash wet or damp clothes and towels immediately, pre-treat as needed and then let them dry to avoid getting smelly.

Step 3: Dry well

Thicker towels and heavy clothing such as jeans take longer to dry, so be sure to dry them thoroughly each time.

Step 4: Get a clothesline

Hang your laundry outside to dry. The sun can help keep mold at bay -- just be sure to dry everything completely (even if it means some time in the dryer inside).

Step 5: Soften carefully

Avoid using liquid fabric softener in the washing machine, as some people have experienced a build-up of "gunk" from its use. (Vinegar is said to be a natural fabric softener.) If you do use store-bought fabric softener, dilute the mixture with water before adding it to the machine, and realize that the softener can make laundry harder to dry.

Step 6: Try different washing machine additives

There are many different laundry additions you can try -- get some suggestions below. But be aware that these measures are guidelines only, and effectiveness will depend on many factors, including size of load, water temperature and amount of water used, origin of the bad smell, etc.

Step 7: Non-toxic/natural solutions

Try allowing each load of smelly laundry to pre-soak for at least 15 minutes in hot water, using one of these additives per load to see what (and how much) works best for you: borax (about 1/2 cup), vinegar (3/4 cup), lemon juice (about 1/2 cup), baking soda (3/4 cup), hydrogen peroxide diluted to 3% (1/2 cup).

Step 8: Commercial cleaning products to try

Try running your stinky washloads with the addition of one extra cleaning product at a time, such as Clean Control, Simple Green or PineSol (1/4 cup - and only if you can handle the scent).

Step 9: Common household products - but beware

You can try using 1/4 cup bleach (add to wash water and make sure it has been diluted significantly before adding smelly laundry, and never use bleach with any other additive besides regular detergent). Another option is to add 1/2 cup ammonia to a load of laundry, but BE SURE not to use with bleach to avoid creating dangerous fumes.

Step 10: Detergent with a bonus ingredient

Try a commercial laundry detergent that has an odor-removing additive, such as Febreze or Renuzit.

Step 11: Go with hot water

Use hot water to wash loads that smell.

Step 12: Wash the washer

To help keep your smelly laundry problem from returning, you may need to give your clothes washer a deep clean of its own. Find out how to deodorize your smelly washing machine here.


Comments on "How to make your stinky laundry smell better"

Nanee Annie December 23, 2013 | 7:52 AM

Sandy, first of all my prayers are with you and your husband! Second of all, since I don't know exactly what you are using and the process you use, the best recommendation I can come up with would be to do a good long soak of all the laundry in some sort of semi concentrated solution of maybe baking soda and borax or baking soda and vinegar: overnight if possible. This would be best done in the washing machine because when the soak is done you can just drain and wash. Then when you wash, add a cup of vinegar to the wash cycle (rise cycle to if you want). If you do not have time for an overnight soak, out soaking ingredients in the washer, add the clothes and aggitate for at least ten to fifteen minutes,drain, then continue on with washing. If course, this process will not work with a front loader since you can't run partial or extended cycles so if you do Not have a to loader you will have to adjust accordingly. Good luck and Good bless!

Sandy Batesel October 28, 2013 | 11:27 AM

HELP ~ My husband's clothes have a very odd odor and I canNOT get it out. I've tried everything, commercial and otherwise (vinegar, Arm & Hammer, OxyClean, etc.). He was in a horrible car wreck on April 24th of this year and received 3rd & 4th degree burns over 65% of his body. He has had a host of infections that go along with burns. A combination of the meds they use on him (he's still in the hospital) and sweat from rehab and the smell of the wounds themselves combine to create an AWFULLY unusual smell. For you med types you can read his facebook page https://www.facebook/RodneyBateselTheGuyInTheWhiteTruck and see the types of infections and the types of meds used on him ... see if you can match those up with the correct cleaner so I can have fresh smelling laundry for him again. Thanks ~ Sandy

kate October 03, 2013 | 12:05 PM

Hi Donna, I've come to like the vinegar smell - it means my clothes are clean without chemicals to me, and such a relief after a struggle with a moldy smell. You could try switching to baking soda instead, which would absorb smells and clean well without chemicals as well.

Donna January 04, 2010 | 12:06 PM

I have been using vinegar as fabric softner for my towels but now they have a slight vinegar smell. How do I solve this. Can I add vanilla to the laundry? H E L P

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