How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Clothes

The nemesis of all laundry endeavors is a mildew smell.

Whether from a load that sat too long in the washer or from old work-out clothes you forgot to wash, mildew leaves clothes smelling musty instead of fresh and clean, and many people struggle to remove the smell of the fungus from their laundry.

Mildew smell in clothes can’t be removed with a normal wash, but don’t despair.

We’ve done the research on how to get mildew smell out of clothes so that you can get the musty smell of mildew out of your clothes and out of your life.

What You’ll Need

You will need a few basic things to get the mildew smell out of your clothes.

1 cup of distilled white vinegar

When combined with hot water, vinegar is a traditional method of eliminating odors because it kills bacteria and fights the grime, often responsible for musty smells in your clothes.

You don’t need a fancy type of vinegar or a scented vinegar.

I recommend regular distilled white vinegar for fighting a mildew smell.

I really like La’s Totally Awesome Cleaning Vinegar that I found on Amazon.

It gets great reviews and will get the job done.

Although vinegar itself smells strong, you don’t have to worry about your clothes smelling like vinegar.

Once your clothes are washed and dried, you won’t be able to smell vinegar or mildew.

1 cup of baking soda

Baking soda is also traditionally used to eliminate odors because it also fights off mold and mildew.

Vinegar and baking soda are effective against different varieties of mildew, so I recommend using both to make sure you get rid of the mildew smell the first time.


While you can put your laundry in the dryer, I recommend line drying your clothes in the sun if it is at all possible.

The sunlight also helps get mildew smell out of clothes because the sun naturally kills some of the bacteria responsible for that musty smell.

So, I recommend having enough clothespins to hang up all affected clothing items.

Continue reading for detailed instructions on how to get mildew smell out of clothes.

Step-By-Step Instructions For How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Clothes

Removing mildew smells from your laundry takes some work, but if you follow these three steps, you will find your laundry clean and free from that gross musty smell.

Step 1) Wash Your Clothes With 1 Cup of Vinegar

Put your musty-smelling clothes in the washer and add 1 cup of vinegar.

Set your washer to the hottest water setting your clothes can handle and wash your laundry.

Don’t be tempted to put detergent into this load; the detergent may limit the effectiveness of the vinegar by getting between it and your clothes.

Pro tip: I recommend putting the cup of vinegar into the bleach/fabric softener container because this allows the washer to distribute the vinegar evenly. 

Step 2) Wash Your Clothes With 1 Cup of Baking Soda

After the first wash is finished, spread your clothes back out in the washing machine drum, and sprinkle in 1 cup of baking soda.

Again, wash your laundry in the hottest water setting possible without damaging your clothes.

Again, do not put detergent into this wash cycle.

If you find your baking soda is not as effective as you would like, you can add a little vinegar in the rinse cycle of this load.

Step 3) Dry Your Clothes Promptly

As soon as you have finished both washes, take your clothes outside to line dry in the sun.

This has several benefits.

The sun naturally fights and kills certain musty-smelling bacteria, which gives you another layer of mildew smell fighting power.

Also, drying your clothes outside will make them smell nice, and you will save energy by not running the dryer.

Of course, you can put your clothes in the dryer, but make sure you set the dryer to the proper setting for the clothing.

Pro tip: Line drying your clothes in the sun works better for cotton and wools than it does for nylon or other synthetic materials.

Commonly Asked Questions About How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Clothes

What should I do if my clothes have a musty smell after they come out of my washing machine?

If your laundry smells like mildew after it comes out of the washer, you may have mildew build-up in your washer, particularly in the seal.

This is especially common in the front-loading washer, but luckily, it’s easy to fix.

Clean the seal around the door and all detergent dispensers and containers with a hot, soapy rag.

Then, pour in 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 cup of baking soda, and run a wash cycle.

This will clean your washing machine and get rid of the musty smell. 

How can I prevent a mildew smell on my laundry?

You can take some preventative measures to stop mildew smells from settling into your clothes in the first place.

Mildew thrives in damp and wet conditions, so the best preventative measure you can take is to dry your clothes as soon as possible.

Wet towels should be hung up, wet clothes moved to the dryer, and damp athletic wear should be draped over a laundry basket or a bathtub.

The longer your laundry is exposed to moisture, the greater the chance mildew smell will develop. 

In addition, you should only use the recommended amount of detergent because bacteria can feed on leftover soap on your clothes and create that musty smell.

Ensuring your clothes are completely rinsed will also help decrease your chance of mildew.

Is there a way to get rid of the musty smell without putting my clothes in the washing machine?

I understand that there are some clothes you really can’t put in the washer.

If you notice that these clothes start smelling musty, you can put those items in your freezer for a couple of hours, although overnight is better.

Put your clothing item in a resealable plastic bag, and then leave it to freeze overnight.

The extreme cold of the freezer kills off some of the musty-smelling bacteria, which reduces the mildew smell on your clothes without needing to use the washer.


I hope you have enjoyed learning how to get the mildew smell out of your clothes.

Mildew is easy to treat with a little vinegar, baking soda, and sunlight.

Now you are equipped to tackle that musty smell when you discover it in your laundry, making mildew smell in your laundry a concern of the past.