The absolute best ways to remove the musty ‘old’ smell from clothes and leave them smelling fresh and clean.
I know it’s super annoying when your laundry, charity shop bargain or hand-me-down freebie smells musty! No need to stress, there’s loads of ways you can try to bust the odours and bring back the freshness, best of all most of them are natural!
Why do clothes smell musty?
There’s a few reasons your clothes or towels might pick up a musty odour and they’re all fixable.
- Putting clothes away still slightly damp will cause musty smells – so be sure to dry and air them thoroughly before storing them away.
- Putting clothes away that have been worn a few times and not washed can also cause a musty, stale odour and cause the clothes they’re stored with to pick up a musty odour too.
- If clothes smell musty as they come out of the washing machine then you really need to give that washing machine a thorough clean. You can choose to do this with natural products – get the instructions for cleaning your washing machine with vinegar and baking soda here. Alternatively you could buy a washing machine cleaning solution – you can just pick these up at the supermarket in the laundry products aisle.
- And yes… sometimes the kids forget to empty out gym or swimming kit and it festers in a sports bag for a few days, well when that gets emptied, those clothes and towels just stink and a regular wash is unlikely to shift the smell.
Here’s how to get the musty smell out of clothes
Using baking soda to get the musty smell out of clothes
You can use baking soda to help get rid of the musty smell from clothes in a few different ways.
- Sprinkle the clothes with baking soda and leave it to absorb the smells – baking soda is a natural deodoriser. Make sure the clothes are dry before doing this. Baking soda is also great sprinkled in smelly trainers too – to help keep the stink under control!
- Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda in some warm water and soak the musty clothes for an hour or so before washing.
- Use baking soda added to the washing machine (don’t mix it directly with your laundry detergent – just add it into the base of the drum before loading in your clothes.
Using white vinegar to get the musty smell out of clothes
A bottle of distilled white vinegar is always really handy to have as there’s loads of ways you can use it for cleaning around your home.
- Add vinegar to the fabric softener section of your washing machine so that the clothes get a rinse in vinegar at the end of the cycle – vinegar is also actually a good fabric softener for towels too! It works as a natural deodoriser and helps to kill bacteria.
Warning – don’t mix washing detergent or softener with vinegar and never add it to products containing bleach as it creates toxic fumes.
How to really get the musty smell out of clothes
Okay – if you really want to shift the musty smell then you need to be persistent – follow each step and be prepared to run through the whole routine a couple of times for really stubborn smells.
- Wash the item as per washing instructions (on the hottest wash the label states) using your regular detergent and adding baking soda to the washing machine drum and white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment (depending on how much the clothes smell you might want to do this more than once)
- Dry the item on a washing line outside so it can really blow through – leave it outside blowing in the wind for at least a day.
- Then wash the item again as per the washing instructions using regular detergent and regular fabric softener.
- Again dry the item outside on the washing line – leaving it to blow through for at least a day.
- If the item still smells stale try washing through again using laundry cleanser added to the washing machine and then again – line dry outdoors.
Using fresh air and sunshine to get rid of stale musty smells in clothes.
Sometimes clothes just have that stale smell from being stored away and you can remedy this quickly by pegging the clothes outdoors on the washing line and leaving out to blow in the wind for a day.
How to get rid of musty smells from clothes quickly
If you’re really short on time and have no time to wash or air the item of clothing then you’ll need a fabric freshener spray – you can pick these up in the supermarkets on the laundry product aisle – they’re simple to use, just spritz the clothes (I’d always recommend a test area first just to be sure it doesn’t mark the clothing)
I find the fabric spays offer a blast of freshness to cover up any lingering odours but really – if you want to be rid of the musty smell you do need to get the item properly cleaned and aired.
How to prevent your clothes from smelling musty and stale
When storing your clothes away – especially if you’re packing them away for the season or just storing kids clothes away maybe to hand down to the next kid in a few years – just take a little extra time and care and follow these steps to keep clothes as fresh as possible.
- Only store away freshly washed – clean and properly dried and aired clothes.
- You can use little deodoriser sachets or lavender or herb bags in amongst the clothes to keep them smelling fresh.
- Fold tumble dryer sheets tucked in amongst your clothing for a fresh scent.
- Be sure to store clothes away from where they’ll get really cold or damp.