Clothes Smell After Tumble Drying: 9 Possible Reasons (and Solutions) 

When putting on a freshly washed item of clothing, the last thing you want is for it to smell of anything other than your preferred fabric softener. 

If you catch a whiff of a musty or damp smell, or even if there is some kind of chemical smell emanating from your recently washed and dried items, you need to act as soon as possible and identify the cause. Otherwise, you may soon have a wardrobe full of odd smelling garments you need to douse in perfume before leaving the house – or have to apply other remedies for removing a musty smell from clothing

Here are 9 reasons why your tumble dryer may be making your clothes smell bad, and what you can do about it:

Why Do Clothes Smell After Tumble Drying?

Mould and mildew are what most often causes clothes to smell after tumble drying. Both will develop in a high-moisture environment, so if you leave your clothes sitting either in the washer or the dryer too long while damp, or if you have not been cleaning your tumble dryer regularly, your clothing may start to smell. 

The way you use your dryer can also be the cause of that odd smell. You may be overloading your dryer, so your clothes aren’t actually drying completely, or you may be forgetting to clean your lint trap. 

Certain materials, such as polyester, also tend to hold on to smells longer, so if these items haven’t been thoroughly washed, they will continue to smell, and may infect the load they are washed with as well. 

9 Reasons Your Clothes Smell After Tumble Drying

There are 9 reasons your clothes may smell bad after you take them out of the tumble dryer. In no particular order, they include: 

You Have a New Dryer 

While you wouldn’t expect your new tumble dryer to make your clothes smell bad, it can actually imbue a particularly harsh chemical smell. 

All new dryers need to go through a process called off-gassing, when VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and all kinds of other chemicals released during manufacturing are eliminated. It will effectively burn off any of the debris that may have been left behind in the factory. 

In other words, your new dryer will give off a chemical-smelling odour for the first couple of times you run it, and there is nothing you can do to avoid it. If the smell persists for longer than a couple of weeks though, you might want to have it checked out, as the smell should long have evaporated by then. 

Something is Stuck in the Dryer’s Drum

Anything that gets stuck in your dryer’s drum can start emitting an unpleasant smell when it gets hit by the hot air during a drying cycle. 

Take a look in the drum and run your fingers down all the sides (after it has cooled down of course). If you notice there is any fabric of a sticker stuck inside, wash it off with soap and water, or use a stain remover if it’s on the stubborn side. 

Remember to wipe the inside of your dryer after every cycle, to make sure no unwanted materials remain. 

Your Dryer Needs to Be Cleaned 

Your tumble dryer needs to be cleaned regularly in order to keep smelling fresh. If you clean it rarely or practically never, that could be the cause of the odd smell of your clothes. 

Start by cleaning the filter after each cycle. Lint will smell like the clothes it came from, so if there is any BO residue on it, or if it was already smelling musty, your dryer will pick the scent up. Not to mention that a full lint filter will affect how effective your tumble dryer is. 

Wipe the drum after each use, and leave the door open to prevent any mildew or mould starting to grow inside a damp dryer. 

There is Something Wrong With Your Dryer

A tumble dryer that is on its last legs can also start producing nasty-smelling laundry. However, this is usually accompanied by other symptoms too. Keep an eye out for:

  • A drum that is turning slowly or is shaking too much
  • Little to no heat inside the drum during a cycle
  • More noise than usual: knocking and grating sounds that weren’t there a couple of cycles ago should be a cause for concern

If you notice any of the above, call in a professional to check the tumble dryer out. There may be nothing wrong with it, but you definitely want to be safe rather than sorry. 

How to Remove a Musty Smell From Clothes Without Washing Them

Your Clothes are Still Dirty 

Throwing dirty items into a dryer will only result in a load that smells off. When a stain is hit with hot air, it will release all kinds of odours, so you want to ensure that all of them have been removed in the wash (or, preferably, that you have treated them before the wash itself). 

Check any stained items before throwing them in the dryer, to prevent any foul smells infecting your entire load. 

Your Clothes Come Out Damp

The most common cause of a mouldy smell after tumble drying is damp. Either you have left your damp clothes in the washing machine too long, or you may have thrown damp clothes into the dryer and forgot to turn it on. 

If you tend to run short cycles, or if you stop your cycles before they are done, you may be greeted by that wet dog smell when you were expecting nothing but fabric softener.

When you take your items out of the tumble dryer, give them a couple of minutes to cool down before you fold and store them. If you notice any damp areas, put them back in the dryer, to prevent that musty smell. 

You Are Overloading Your Dryer 

Every tumble dryer has a weight capacity. If you exceed it and throw too much clothes in, they will come out damp and can start to smell. 

While the logic of running one drying cycle instead of two does seem sound, you will get a better result if you underload your dryer. While it will take more time to go through your entire load, you will be more satisfied with the end scent. 

You Have Been Drying Elastic Items 

Items that contain elastic bands, like underwear, swimwear and sweatpants can cause a chemical odour in the dryer. The elastic will burn in the high heat, and may make you think the entire load has been affected. 

However, you will usually only get a couple of offending items. You can pinpoint them by sniffing each item separately, and notice the ones that smell the strongest. 

To prevent any future foul smells, make sure to wash and dry (yes, even tumble dry) these items according to their care labels

It Might Be Your Washer

If clothes are smelling after being tumble dried, the dryer may have nothing to do with the issue. Clothes can also smell after washing, and the tumble dryer may just exacerbate the issue. 

Check out our post on how to tell if your washer is making clothes smell bad to identify the root of your musty, chemical or odd-smelling garments, and prevent it once and for all. 

Wrapping It Up 

Clothes sometimes come out of the dryer smelling pretty nasty. To tackle the problem in its infancy, run through our checklist and determine what is causing the offending smell, to ensure the issue doesn’t spread to your entire wardrobe. 

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