Clothes Smell After Washing: Why it Happens and What You Can Do About It

School work is done. The dishes are put away. Your kids are off to bed. You can finally soak up some much-needed downtime. You only have one thing left to do: a load of laundry. But when the load is finished, you’re greeted with a smell worse than when they went in. Why do clothes smell after washing?

Read on to find out why smells don’t always wash out—and what you can do to get rid of the gym-locker odor and get back to that fresh laundry smell in just one wash.

Clean Your Washer to Cut the Stink

Sometimes the source of unwelcomed odors is your washer itself. Fabric softener and detergent can build up, block filters and harbor bacteria. So, as you wash again and again, your clothes are exposed to bacteria in the water.

To fix the issue, pour two cups of vinegar in your detergent drawer. Run your washer empty through the hot water cycle on the longest setting. When it’s over, use a sponge to wipe down the drum. Run the hot water cycle once more to make vinegar traces disappear. 

Or, if your washer has a sanitize cycle like Speed Queen front load washers, you can use that instead. Sanitizing with the Speed Queen Oxi and Allergy cycles ensures hard-to-get bacteria are wiped out.

Thoroughly Dry to Prevent That Musty Clothes Smell

Letting moisture linger in your clothes can cause a musty smell. When you get home from the gym or finish drying off after a shower, don’t mix sweaty gear or used bath towels with dry laundry. If you don’t plan to wash them the same day, let them air dry before throwing in the hamper.

Also, drying clean clothes in a dark place can contribute to fungi growth. If you have clothes you prefer to air dry, make sure you hang them in a well-lit room. Or hang them outside for the freshest smell possible. 

Wash Hot to Eliminate Smelly Bacteria 

Stinky bacteria often can’t survive your hot-water cycle. If your clothes smell sour, check the labels to see if they can handle the heat. If so, run them through a hot-water load.

Cut Down on the Detergent

If clothes smell after washing, have you rewashed with extra detergent? If so, you could be feeding the problem, rather than solving it. Normal rinse cycles may not get that extra detergent (or fabric softener) out of clothes. When that happens, soap scum can get stuck in fabric and foster bacteria growth.

The amount of detergent you need may be less than you think. Check out our video on measuring detergent for tips.

Try a Different Detergent for a Powerful Clean

Sometimes the reason why your clothes smell sour is due to an unlikely culprit—your detergent. If your clothes smell fresh straight out of the washer but then slowly start to stink, it could be your detergent. Because even though your detergent smells nice, that doesn’t mean it’s cleaning well. If you suspect your detergent isn’t powerful enough, consider switching to a different brand.

Use Vinegar or Baking Soda to Kill Mildew

Mildew may be to blame for that musty clothes smell, but it can’t survive old-fashioned home remedies. All you need are household staples—vinegar or baking soda. The next time you do a load of laundry, add either half a cup baking soda or a half cup distilled white vinegar to your detergent drawer. 

If your clothes smell after washing, try these tips to banish odor for good.