Why Your Laundry Doesn’t Smell Clean After Washing

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One of the best feelings is putting on warm clothes straight out of the dryer — except if they have a funky odor. If you’ve experienced this, you may be asking yourself, “Why doesn't my laundry smell clean after washing?”

Many common laundry mistakes contribute to stale-smelling clothes, whether related to routine maintenance or user error. So, what should you do when cleaning your clothes is not enough to make them smell fresh? Keep reading. Here, we’ll break it down for you. 

9 Reasons Why Your Laundry Doesn’t Smell Clean After Washing

Rather than masking that mildew scent with perfume, consider these nine common laundry mishaps most people make that lead to stale-smelling clothes. Eliminate these culprits for fresher than ever laundry loads.

1. Not Cleaning Your Washer

The answer to “Why doesn't my laundry smell clean after washing?” might be that your washer needs cleaning. Yes, even washing machines need cleaning from time to time, as they easily cling to moisture. Over time, they could develop mildew and a musty smell. Here is a quick and guide to clean your washing machine:

How To Properly Clean Your Washer

Give your washer some TLC with the following cleaning method. Regular maintenance keeps your washer free of bacteria and mold. Keep your loads of laundry smelling fresher than ever with routine cleaning.

1. Maintain the Washer Drum

Cleaning your washer drum is an excellent practice that helps rid your clothes of a musty smell. Many washing machines have specific settings for a cleaning cycle. If yours does not, select the hot wash option.

For washer drums with dirt and detergent build-up, add half a cup of vinegar to the drum during your maintenance. Baking soda also works. Add about half a cup. These options eliminate odors and kill bacteria.

2. Clean the Door Seal

After cleaning the washer drum, make sure to scrub the door seal. This seal contains many small spaces where water seeps in, creating the perfect environment for mold and mildew growth. This growth spreads bacteria and is why your clothes smell funky after you wash them.

For grimy door seals, scrub the rubber with either warm soapy water or vinegar. If the smell continues, mold likely sunk into the rubber, and the entire door seal might need replacing.

3. Rinse Your Detergent Drawer

Regularly cleaning your detergent drawer prevents soap and fabric softener residue from clogging your washer and creating a moldy smell. If your washing machine allows it, remove the drawer and disinfect it.

You can also soak the entire drawer in hot soapy water. If your drawer is particularly dirty, scrubbing with a toothbrush loosens any build-up. Wipe it off with a clean rag, and place it back in your washer.

4. Check for Plumbing Issues

If you routinely clean your washer but still notice smells, contact a professional. They will check for any leaking or plumbing problems related to the machine that might be the root cause.

Washer Maintenance Tips

Looking for further cleaning tips for fresher smelling laundry? Here are a few simple tricks you can implement while washing clothes to keep your washer mildew-free.

  • Run a sanitizing wash about once a month to kill bacteria (especially if you do many cool washes)
  • Use detergents without bleach to prevent build-up
  • Keep the washing machine door open for proper ventilation

2. Water Temperature

Not all clothing materials can withstand harsh temperatures, so you might opt to wash with cold water. However, hot water kills more bacteria and is tougher on stains, reducing the odor of wet laundry.

Instead of throwing everything in the washing machine and hoping for the best, try separating your laundry based on fabric type and color. Wash delicate fabrics with cool water and stronger ones with hot.

This extra step ensures your clothes get a proper rinse and smell clean. Additionally, separating your clothes by color can also prevent color bleed. You don’t want white clothes to turn pink or yellow now, would you?

3. Adding Too Many Clothes

Stuffing your washing machine to the brim might save time and money in the short term, but over-filling your washer prevents clothes from being cleaned. Adding too much items of clothing restricts movement. 

The average washing cycle involves mobility, as clothes spin around and lather in soapy water. If the washer is too full, your clothes cannot get as clean as possible, causing a dingy or mildew smell.

4. Not Including a Deodorizer

Fabric softeners add a lovely scent to your clothes, but they only mask any musty smell instead of attacking the problem. Even more, fabric softeners could damage your clothes if you are not correctly using them.

Try skipping the softener and using white distilled vinegar instead. According to Healthline, vinegar kills bacteria, neutralizes unpleasant scents, and keeps your colorful clothes looking fresh. However, you should not mix laundry detergent with vinegar. Instead, you should apply either one separately.

5. Clothing Storage

Aside from properly washing your laundry, folding and proper storage is crucial for freshly scented clothes. Drawers are convenient for storing clothes but do not leave much space for ventilation. Thus, stuffing your folded laundry into drawers might lead to a stale smell.

If hanging up clothes is not an option, try adding used dryer sheets to your drawers to reinvigorate their clean scent. You can also add natural camphor balls to keep clothes dry and smelling fresh.

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6. Folding Damp Laundry

Folding and storing damp laundry could also cause a mildew scent. When clothes are still damp and packed away tightly, they lock in moisture, potentially creating bacteria and bad scents.

When taking your clothes out of the dryer, make sure each item is completely dry. If some are not, lay them out or let them hand dry before folding. This prevents smells and reduces wrinkles.

7. Using Too Little (or Too Much) Detergent

Less is more when it comes to laundry detergent. Adding too much detergent can clog your washing machine and create a nasty build-up that prevents your clothes from smelling clean.

Try using one to two tablespoons per laundry load instead of a capful or filling the line in your detergent drawer. The cap most people use to measure detergent provides way too much detergent than an average load of laundry needs. If you’re in doubt, follow the washer instructions.

8. Skipping a Pre-Soak

For especially dirty clothes, try incorporating a pre-soak into your laundry routine to ensure a fresh, clean scent. Indeed, performing a pre-soak can eliminate any sour odor from a previous washing mishap.

Fill your tub or sink with hot water and about half a cup of baking soda. Once the baking soda dissolves, add your clothes and let them soak overnight. This extra step helps remove foul smells and stains.

9. Leaving Clothes in the Washer

We have all left a load or two of laundry sitting in the washer on a busy day. Forgetting to move clothes to the dryer is easy, but if done too often, it makes your clothes smell.

Mold and bacteria would be having a field day when your clothes are sitting in a damp environment. Indeed, those are the ideal conditions for microorganisms, so don’t let your load sit inside the wash for too long.

For those who have trouble hearing your washing machine, try setting a timer on your phone as a reminder. If you still forget about your laundry, use another hot rinse cycle to kill any harmful smelling bacteria.

Bottom Line

Now you know why your laundry doesn't smell clean after washing. By figuring out the cause of the issue and applying the correct solution, your clothes should now smell fresh every time they come out of the washer.

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