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Can You Leave Wet Laundry in the Washer Overnight?

We’ve all done it: forgot the washing machine had stopped a few hours back and left a load of wet laundry in there overnight. 

If we were lucky, we managed to get away with it completely unscathed. If we weren’t quite as lucky, we probably had to redo the load and hope the musty smell had evaporated. 

What’s the verdict though? Can you leave wet laundry in the washing machine overnight, or is this a habit one should never get into?

Can You Leave Wet Laundry in the Washer Overnight?

You are advised against leaving wet laundry in the washer overnight, as it is likely to start smelling mildewy. The longer you leave it the higher the chances you will need to wash the same load again. 

You may have already left wet clothes in the washer overnight and removed them in the morning smelling perfectly fresh. Mildew will usually start to develop after 8-12 hours, and the state of your washer will also play a role in how fast bacteria starts to spread. 

If you regularly clean your washing machine and make sure to remove any mould from the rubber seal, chances are your clothes will be fine if they spend a night in it. 

However, don’t be surprised if your clothes smell a bit musty if you leave them wet in the washer for a long time: mildew has a mind of its own, and will appear when you least expect it and have the least amount of time to deal with it. 

What Happens If You Leave Wet Clothes in the Washer?

If you leave wet clothes in the washer too long, it will start to smell. The odour is caused by the growth of bacteria and mould on the wet items. The longer your clothes sit in the washer wet, the more likely they are to smell and the worse the smell will be. 

Mildew is a black, grey or yellowish-green growth, caused by the development of fungi. It grows in dark, damp places and spreads easily on clothes made of linen, cotton and silk. 

Mildew spores can not only make your clothes smell rather awful, they can also damage the fabric itself, so you may end up having to throw severely damaged items out. It can also damage your health, especially if you already have a respiratory condition, like asthma. 

Mildew allergies are also not uncommon, and can cause irritation in your eyes, throat, lungs and on your skin. 

How Long Can You Leave Wet Clothes in the Washing Machine?

You should aim to never leave wet clothes in the washing machine for over 8 to 12 hours. This is roughly the timeframe when bacteria and mould will start to cause an unpleasant smell.

It will however depend on your washer and its state of cleanliness, as well as the clothing you’ve washed. Some items seem to hold on to that musty smell longer than others, so you may discover some come out smelling fine, while others smell like wet dog. 

Can Clothes Get Mouldy If Left in the Washer?

Yes, clothes can get mouldy if left wet in the washer too long. This will usually happen after 8 or 12 hours. 

You can sometimes get away with leaving your clothes in the washer overnight without any consequences. To avoid having to do a second round of washing, make sure to get to your clothes as soon as the washing cycle is finished. 

How Long Does It Take For Wet Clothes to Mildew?

It will take around 8 to 12 hours for clothes to develop that mildewy smell when left wet in the washer. 

As bacteria and mould start to multiply in your washing machine and clothes, the smell will become more and more pungent. If you’ve left a wet load of laundry in the washer overnight, do the smell test. 

Sniff every individual item carefully and all over. Any item that smells a bit off should be re-washed. Don’t let it dry, as it will be that more difficult to get rid of the musty smell of clothes

What Should I Do If I’ve Left My Clothes in the Washer Overnight?

If you’ve left your clothes in the washer overnight, the best thing to do is to re-wash them immediately, especially if they’ve started to smell. 

If your clothes smell damp and mildewy as soon as you open the washer door, don’t even attempt to take them out. Run another cycle immediately. 

If you notice a couple of items smell, do a thorough smell test. You may be able to get away with washing only a couple of items, but the best thing to do is still to re-run the entire load. 

Don’t attempt to dry your items: the smell will only get worse and it will be much more difficult to get rid of it. 

How Do You Wash Clothes Left in the Washer Overnight?

Other than rewashing your clothes as soon as you discover they have been left in the washer overnight, there are a couple of more tips you can try:

  • Wash them with baking soda: add a cup of baking soda instead of detergent to the appropriate washing machine compartment and run the hottest cycle your clothes can tolerate. Baking soda effectively eliminates the smell, while the hot water kills mildew.
  • Wash them with vinegar: you can also pour a cup of white vinegar into the empty tub and wash your clothes on a regular cycle. Vinegar has the same effect as baking soda and will refresh your clothing. Make sure you don’t use it on your delicates though.
  • Clean your washing machine: if you’ve left wet clothes in the washer overnight, make sure to run a cleaning cycle to eliminate any mildew and bacteria that may live in the machine itself. 
  • Air dry your items: if your clothes don’t actually smell, but you are worried that mildew may be starting to develop, you can dry them outside. The fresh air and sunlight will kill any bacteria and the wind will eliminate any odours. You can dry clothes outside in the winter too, so this tip isn’t only for the summertime. 

Wrapping It Up 

Aim to be home and available when your washing machine cycles finish. You can use the delay start function to time your laundry when it’s most convenient for you. Otherwise, if you leave wet items in the washer overnight, you may end up needing to rerun the cycle at an even less convenient time. 


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