woman putting clothes in washing machine

Why Do My Clothes Still Smell After Washing Them?

Posted on February 16, 2024 by Steven Toltz

The aroma of freshly laundered clothes is truly one of life’s simple pleasures. The scent of clean laundry not only refreshes our senses but also marks a task well accomplished. It’s the kind of reward that almost makes the whole laundry process — from sorting to folding — worth the effort. So, it’s understandably frustrating and disheartening when, instead of being greeted with a fresh scent, you find your clothes still smell after washing.

The irony of having your laundry and your washing machine smelling after they’ve been run isn’t lost on us. Clean laundry should smell clean, right?  If your clothes are giving off a musty or foul odor despite going through the wash, it’s important to understand the underlying causes.

Today we’ll explore the common culprits behind lingering smells in your laundry and provide practical solutions to ensure your clothes come out smelling as fresh and clean as they look!

Read More: Washing Machine Tips to Make Clothes Last Longer

Why Clothes Still Smell After Washing

There are a variety of root causes and common laundry mistakes that could lead to clothes smelling even after washing them. Don’t worry — these things can happen to anyone, and it’s a common issue for good reason. Understanding why clothes retain unpleasant odors even after washing is crucial in solving this frustrating issue, so we’ll walk you through those reasons before we tell you how to get the musty smell out of your clothes.

Common Reasons for Smelly Clothes

Bacteria Buildup In Your Washing Machine

Washing machines tend to hold onto stagnant water, especially front loading machines, which can harbor bacteria, limescale, and mold. Leaving the washer door closed traps moisture inside, creating a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria, which can transfer to your clothes. Washing machines need to be cleaned regularly in order to provide the best wash for your clothes.

How can you tell if your dirty washing machine is the culprit? If you remove your clothes from the machine right after a wash cycle and notice a smell that wasn’t there before, then your washing machine likely needs a deep clean!

Clothes Left In The Machine Too Long

Tend to forget about your clothes in the washer? It happens to the best of us! When clothes end up sitting in the washer for hours, or even days, they become vulnerable to the perils of a dark, damp, bacteria-friendly environment and will likely take on a dank and unpleasant stench.

To avoid this, transfer your clothes to the dryer as soon as they are finished with their wash cycle. You can also set a timer or reminder on your phone to make sure you don’t forget!

Read More: Laundry Tips for Fresher, Cleaner Results

Overstuffing Your Washing Machine

A washing machine that’s jam-packed with a giant load of laundry will have a hard time properly cleaning each article of clothing. Reduce your load size a bit and make sure you’re leaving enough space in the machine for clothes to move around as they’re washed, as that’s how your machine will function at its best.

While you might think you’re saving time or resources by loading your machine to the brim, you’ll likely have to rewash your clothes after the first try, costing you more time and energy in the long run.

Using Low-Quality Laundry Detergents or Incorrect Amounts

The misconception that more detergent equals cleaner clothes can actually lead to the opposite effect. Excess or poorly-made detergent can leave a residue on clothes, trapping odors. Conversely, using too little detergent won’t effectively remove the dirt and bacteria, leading to lingering smells.

Lingering Residue in the Washer

Over time, detergents and fabric softeners can accumulate inside the washing machine, especially if too much is used or if it’s not suitable for your specific machine. This buildup can trap odors and foster bacteria and mold growth, which in turn can leave clothes smelling less than fresh. This is another reason to regularly clean your washing machine.

How to Get Rid of Smells from Clothes

If you’re dealing with clothes that have already developed a stubborn stink, don’t despair. There are numerous laundry smell removal methods that can rescue your garments and eliminate those persistent odors.

  • Pre-Wash Treatment with Detergent

Apply a small amount of liquid detergent directly to the stinky areas before washing. Rub gently and let it sit for a few minutes. This can help in breaking down the odors right at the source.

  • Vinegar Soak

Vinegar is a natural odor neutralizer. Soak the smelly clothes in a mixture of one part vinegar to three parts water for about an hour before washing. The acidic properties of the vinegar will help break down odor-causing substances — just make sure to test a small amount of the vinegar solution on an inconspicuous part of your clothing first, in order to test colorfastness.

  • Baking Soda Treatment

Baking soda can also be a powerful ally in fighting odors. Sprinkle baking soda directly on the smelly garments and let them sit for a few hours before washing. Baking soda absorbs troubling scents and can help lift them from fabric.

  • Use an Odor-Eliminating Laundry Booster

Add a laundry booster specifically designed to eliminate odors to your regular wash cycle. Products containing enzymes are particularly effective as they break down odor-causing molecules.

  • Use Cold Water for Washing

Sometimes, hot water can set certain odors, especially sweat-based smells. Washing stinky clothes in cold water can prevent this and help in better odor removal.

  • Let the Professionals Handle It

Powerful smells need powerful cleaners. Some odors can only be solved by the experts. If you encounter a garment with a smell that just won’t go away, consider finding a reputable dry cleaner to tackle the issue for you.

Related: How to Find a Reliable Dry Cleaner

How to Clean A Smelly Washing Machine

  1.  Pour two cups of white vinegar where you’d pour your detergent
  2.  Run your empty washing machine through the longest hot water cycle or the sanitizing cycle, if your washing machine has one
  3.  After the cycle, use a sponge to wipe down the inside
  4.  Run a second hot water or sanitizing cycle to fully remove the vinegar
  5.  Leave the washer door open to air dry
  6.  Now that your washing machine is clean, maintain it by keeping the door open after running a load of laundry to let it air dry and giving it a deep clean every 90 days.

Types of Clothes Prone to Odor Retention

Certain fabrics are more likely to trap and retain odors, demanding special attention during the laundry process. Synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, and nylon are prone to trapping body oils and sweat, leading to odors. Wool, with its natural fibers, can also absorb smells more readily. For these materials, frequent washing with specialized detergents is key. Cotton, while generally more breathable, can also hold onto body odor if not properly cleaned. Delicate fabrics such as silk require gentle cleaning to avoid trapping odors. Regular airing out and appropriate washing techniques for each fabric type can significantly reduce odor retention and dreaded “forever smells” in these materials.

Related: What Fabrics Require Dry Cleaning?

Professional Dry Cleaning for Odor Removal

Some smells may seem invincible, but they aren’t. Before you throw out your favorite sweater or piece of athletic wear, let the professionals take a look first. Dry cleaning is the undisputed king of removing stubborn odors from clothes, and could solve all your laundry woes. The process involves using specialized solvents that effectively break down and eliminate odorous compounds without the use of water. This method is particularly beneficial for delicate fabrics and materials that may not fare well in traditional washing machines. Dry cleaning not only removes odors but also helps in preserving the quality and longevity of garments, making it a great choice for tackling persistent smells and getting a level of cleanliness you won’t find elsewhere.

Related: Learn About Green Dry Cleaning

Clean Clothes Should Smell Clean

The frustration and disappointment of laundry still smelling after being washed is something most adults have experienced, but everyone deserves to enjoy the freshest, cleanest clothes! At Dependable Cleaners, we’re all about providing customers with the cleanest garments and the least amount of hassle. For a stress-free solution to your laundry needs, try out our wash & fold services, same-day cleaning, 24 hour self-serve kiosks, or our VIP laundry pickup and delivery services. Every garment in our care undergoes our 7-point quality inspection and is protected by our renowned quality guarantee, ensuring that your clothes always come back looking their best!

Ready to rid your closet of odors and make a statement in your best fit? Give us a call at 303-777-2673, or find one of our 20+ Colorado Metro locations.