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Why Do My Clothes Smell Like Mildew? (4 Common Reasons)

Why Do My Clothes Smell Like Mildew? (4 Common Reasons)
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Have you noticed your clothes smelling of mildew lately? This can indicate other issues, some of which are more concerning than others.

If you notice the scent of mildew exuding from your clothes, you should pinpoint the root cause for it so you can take care of any bigger problems before they get worse. This article will help you do just this, and it will also provide you with some ways to get rid of the mildew smell that is already on your clothes.

Reasons for Mildew on Your Clothes

There are several possible reasons for your clothes smelling of mildew. This is a common occurrence, and it is most often noticed with towels (and you will find out why soon).

Let’s take a look at just how your clothes ended up smelling like mildew, so you can correct the issue.

1 – Clothes Did Not Dry Completely

A very typical cause for mildew-scented articles of clothing is throwing them in a laundry basket after you have taken them out of your dryer even though they are not totally dry yet.

If you do not let your clothes get a proper amount of air to them and they sit around in a pile while damp, it can create the perfect conditions for mildew growth. After all, moisture is mildew and mold’s best friend.

3 – House Has Too Much Moisture

If your clothes smell like mildew, even if you let them dry completely in your dryer, it is possible that your closet or house in general contains more humidity than normal. There are a few reasons this could be the case, and it is important for you to figure out the cause immediately.

If you have a leak in your roof, which is one possibility for excessive moisture in your home, you should get the damage repaired as soon as possible to keep costs from getting even higher as the damage gets worse. After all, as it keeps leaking, the water will continue eroding the roof away.

More importantly, not only is a roof leak bad for your house, the resulting mildew growth can be bad for your health, leading to respiratory and other issues.

This is the worst case scenario, so you should make sure no other reasons are the culprit before hiring someone to inspect and fix your roof. In the meantime, if you suspect the mildew smell in your clothes is due to excessive humidity in your home, you can run a dehumidifier near your closet or dresser.

On that note, to keep your clothes drier, you should try to keep them hung up rather than folded in drawers of a dresser.

3 – Wet Rags in Basket

If you just throw wet, dirty rags and towels, as well as other clothing, into your laundry basket or a pile of dirty laundry without rinsing them out and letting them dry first, it can cause a mildew smell to remain in the fabric even after washing and drying them.

This is why it is important for you to keep your laundry free of super soiled and dirty, damp rags and other articles of clothing. Take that extra time to rinse and dry out these things before putting them in your laundry basket or washer.

4 – Washer Has Mildew in it

If you have not cleaned out your washer in a while (or ever), it is possible that the reason for your clothes smelling like mildew is that your washer has mildew growing in it.

You can help prevent this from happening in the first place by regularly cleaning it and wiping it dry after you use it.

The good news is that if this is the issue for you, it is a very easy process to clean the mildew from your washer. First, grab either some vinegar or bleach as your cleaning agent.

Mix one or the other with hot water, and use a towel to scrub away the mildew using the cleaning solution. You might need to utilize some elbow grease here, as well, to get a thorough cleaning accomplished.

Next, put a cup of whichever agent you decided upon into your washer, making sure to stick with the same one you used to scrub out the mildew so as to avoid a harmful chemical reaction.

If you use vinegar, you can put it into the detergent area of the washer, and bleach should go into its designated spot. Now, run your washer on the hottest setting possible.

After it finishes, thoroughly dry out your washer, and leave its door open for at least a few hours. If you can find the time to carry out this process monthly, you will almost certainly prevent mildew from growing in your washer.

Methods for Removing Mildew

The fact that you are reading this article indicates that you already have a problem with your clothes smelling like mildew. Thus, you most likely need to know the most effective methods for eradicating this smell.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can do this, and they are all extremely simple and effective. Let’s take a look at these techniques for removing the smell of mildew from your clothing.

Lemon Juice and Salt

Mildew not only leaves an undesirable scent behind, but it also can leave a stain. One way to get this stain to disappear involves using just two things most people can find in their kitchen: salt and lemon juice.

Simply grab these two items from your cupboard, and combine them together to create a paste. Then, rub the paste into the areas that have mildew stains, and put the clothing under sunlight to dry.

If you still find the mildew stains after it dries, try to do the whole process again until you have success. This is probably the gentlest way to remove mildew from your clothing, and it does not involve the use of any chemicals.


Bleach can be extremely effective at cleaning many things, and clothing that has mildew on them is no exception. It can get rid of both mildew smells and stains.

Keep in mind, however, that if you go this route, it might end up causing irritation if you have sensitive skin, considering bleach is such a strong chemical. It can also damage articles of clothing in certain cases.

To use bleach with a washer, all you need to do is put a little bit of powder bleach onto the affected areas of the clothing and then throw it into your washer with a half-cup of chlorine bleach. Use hot water to wash it.

If you cannot put the clothing in a washer, you can also easily utilize bleach to clean out the mildew, and it can actually be faster since you do not need to wait for your washer to run through a cycle. Simply put your clothing into a tub with a quarter-cup of oxygen bleach per each gallon of warm water.

It should take about 30 minutes for the fabric to get clean. Remove the clothing at this point and check to see if it looks and smells like it is free of mildew.


This is another method for getting rid of mildew on clothes that does not involve the use of chemicals, which is perfect for those who have sensitive skin or more delicate fabrics that need to be washed.

All you need to do is combine water with an equal amount of white vinegar in a tub or bucket, and place your mildew-affected articles of clothing in it.

For stains that are harder to remove, you can try to use regular full-strength vinegar instead of white vinegar. This should effectively remove both stains and a mildew scent that might be lurking in the fabrics.


Here is another way to remove mildew, and it involves the use of a mineral called borax, which can be picked up online or at any department store. Borax is a combination of water, boron, oxygen, and sodium, and it can do wonders at getting rid of mildew from clothing.

First, take two cups of borax, mix it with two liters of water, and rub the mixture onto the stained parts of your clothing. Next, let the clothing soak in the borax solution for a couple hours, or until the clothing is completely free of mildew. You can let it sit overnight if you wish.

Make sure to rinse the clothes very well after you take them out of the borax solution, then dry them immediately afterward.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, there are multiple reasons you could have mildew on your clothing or towels, and there are also many solutions you can choose from to get rid of this mildew.

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, you should always try to correct whatever issue that is resulting in mildew on your clothes to avoid having to constantly clean it off of them or walk around smelling like mildew. It can also indicate a greater issue, such as a leak in your roof, so it is important to find the root of the problem.