Clothes Smell After Washing: 11 Possible Reasons and Their Solutions 

When taking a load of freshly washed laundry out of the washing machine, the last thing you expect is to be greeted by the unpleasant smell of wet dog. However, mildew, among other culprits, can make your clothes give off quite an odour, and getting rid of that mouldy smell can quickly get on your nerves. 

If your clothes smell straight after the wash, or even if you start noticing a funky smell after they have been sitting on the shelf for a while, take a look at 10 of its possible causes and how you can solve the issue. 

Why Do Clothes Smell After Washing? 

Clothes can smell after washing for a number of reasons. Your washer may be full of bacteria and need a good clean, you may be using too much or too little detergent and fabric softener, or you may be overloading your washer. 

Over time, detergent and fabric softener will build up in the washing machine, blocking the filters and allowing bacteria to start multiplying. When this bacteria gets into the water you are washing your clothes in, it can start to smell. 

If you use too much detergent, it may build up on your garments and start to smell over time. Using too little of it however will not kill all the bacteria, which can also lead to that unpleasant odour. 

You also want to make sure you are washing your clothes as soon as necessary. Leaving sweaty items in the laundry basket for too long will cause a bacterial infestation that will need more than one wash. 

11 Reasons Clothes Can Smell After Washing 

Clothes can smell after the wash for a variety of reasons. Here are 11 of the most common ones – in fact, practically all the potential causes of clothes smelling after they come out of the wash: 

Your Washer Needs to be Cleaned 

The most common reason your clothes smell after washing is the buildup of bacteria in the washing machine itself. If you don’t clean your washer regularly, its inner workings will start to get clogged, and it won’t be able to do its job well. 

The detergent and fabric softener you use will naturally start to clog your filters. All you have to do is clean them on a regular basis, either by running a hot cycle with white vinegar, or using a store-bought washing machine cleaner. 

Wipe down the inside of the drum as well, and remove any debris as soon as you notice it to ensure the washer keeps working as intended.

Your Washer is on Its Last Legs 

If your washing machine is very old or very damaged, the smell it inflicts on your clothes may be a sign it is about to die on you. 

Make sure to get your washer checked out if it is doing any of the following, apart from making your clothes smell musty or funny: 

  • Making loud noises you have never heard before
  • Failing to drain all the water
  • Leaking water anywhere
  • Tripping your circuits

You’re Taking Too Long to Wash Your Clothes 

Allowing your clothes to linger wet or damp in the hamper can make them smell musty, especially if the items in question are your gym clothes or towels. 

After a workout, wash your sweaty items as soon as possible, and don’t mix them with your dry and dirty garments. If you aren’t expecting to wash them that day, let them air dry before throwing them into the laundry basket. 

As for your towels, in order to keep them soft and smelling fresh, make sure to let them air dry before hampering them, and wash them regularly: every 3-4 days. 

If your clothes are stained, work on removing the stain prior to washing or throwing the item in the hamper, as it can start to smell, especially if the stain is caused by something edible. 

You’re Running Cold Cycles 

The kind of bacteria that causes clothes to smell will only be killed at high temperatures. Running constant cold cycles may thus leave some of your items smelling less than flowery fresh. 

If you notice a foul smell, check your clothing label to see if the offending item can be washed at a high temperature, and run it through a hot cycle. 

Your clothing may also require a deeper clean every once in a while, so make sure you run it through the longest and highest temperature it can handle every couple of months. 

You can also add a teaspoon of vinegar to your detergent to help get rid of that musty and sweaty smell during a regular, colder wash. Also make sure you are using the kind of laundry detergent that works well in cold water.  

You’re Using Too Much Detergent

While using more detergent to get rid of a smell or a stain makes perfect sense, it may actually be contributing to the problem rather than solving it. 

A normal rinse cycle was not built to handle the extra detergent, so it will start to build up on your clothes and facilitate bacteria growth. You will be able to tell this is the case, as your clothes will feel a bit heavier and a bit more filmy when you take it out of the washer. 

Use the amount of detergent the manufacturer recommends with every load, and adjust it based on the amount of clothing you are actually washing. If you stick to the other tips we provide, your washing cycles should be perfectly optimised for the freshest results. 

If you need to remove detergent buildup, reach for vinegar, as opposed to another cycle using the same detergent. 

You’re Not Using Enough Detergent

On the other hand, you may inadvertently be guilty of another offence: not using enough detergent. If you use too little of it, your clothes won’t actually come out clean, and some bacteria may remain trapped in it. 

Again, the solution is to check your detergent’s packaging and carefully measure the amount you add to each specific load, based on the level of staining, type of fabric and the size of the load itself. 

You’re Using the Wrong Detergent

Your clothes can also smell bad if you are using the wrong detergent. If the initial results are fresh and fragrant, but your clothing starts to stink over time, the detergent may be off, or not powerful enough for your cold-wash needs. 

Detergents can go out of date, or can start to go bad if not stored properly (either by you or the store you bought it at), so if the smell keeps persisting, try switching to a different product and see what happens. 

You’re Using Too Much Fabric Softener 

Using too much fabric softener can also cause your clothes to smell bad, even though this is the last thing you would expect. 

Fabric softeners contain oils that make the clothes feel soft, but they will also trap detergent residue, bacteria and mildew in there as well by reducing the absorbency of your clothes, especially if you use too much of them. 

Stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations when dosing your fabric softener, or try using a natural solution for keeping your clothes fresh and fragrant. 

You’re Letting Your Clothes Sit in the Washer 

If your clothes smell damp straight out of the washer, you may be leaving them in there for too long. 

The longer your items sit around damp in a dark and confined space, the higher the chance they will start to smell like wet dog, due to the bacteria and mould that has started to thrive there. On average, it will take 8-12 hours for damp clothes to really start to smell, so you have a proper window of time at your disposal to get them to the dryer. 

The simplest solution is either to use the delayed start setting on your washer, or to set up a schedule that incorporates doing laundry at a time you will be on hand to unload the washer. If your washer is not that good at alerting you it has done its business, you can set yourself a reminder on your phone too. 

You’re Overloading Your Washer 

In order to do its job properly, your washing machine needs some space. If you are overloading it with too many items, the water and detergent won’t be able to get to every nook and cranny, and you may end up with off-smelling garments. 

Instead of stuffing your washer to the brim, do two smaller loads. Remember to also adjust the amount of detergent and fabric softener you use. 

It’s Your Tumble Dryer 

If your clothes come out of the washer smelling perfectly fresh, but you notice a smell after they have been sitting on the shelf for a while, your tumble dryer could be making your clothes smell

Take a look at our tips on determining if this is the case, and pinpoint the cause of your odd-smelling garments once and for all. 

Wrapping It Up 

No one wants to walk around in clothing that smells of mildew or BO. To make sure your washer is not the one causing the stinkiness, clean it regularly, and to adjust each cycle to the specific load you are washing. 

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