How to remove bad smell from clothes after washing

There’s nothing worse than pulling a freshly washed load of laundry out of the machine, only to be hit with a funky, musty smell. Despite your best efforts to keep your clothes clean, sometimes bad odors seem to linger no matter what. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “Why do my clothes still smell after washing?”, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are several effective ways to remedy this smelly situation and get your garments smelling fresh and clean again.

remove bad smell from clothes after washing

The Root Causes of Lingering Odors

Before you can properly treat smelly clothes, it’s important to understand what might be causing the foul odors in the first place. Here are some of the most common culprits:

  1. Bacteria Build-Up: Bacteria thrive in damp, humid environments—making your washing machine an ideal breeding ground. Over time, this build-up can lead to sour, musty smells transferring to your laundry.
  2. Residual Sweat and Body Oils: Sweat and body oils can penetrate deep into fabric fibres, leaving behind stubborn odors that regular washing can’t always eliminate.
  3. Mold and Mildew: When damp clothes sit too long before drying, mould and mildew can start to grow, producing that telltale musty funk.
  4. Detergent Residue: Using too much detergent can result in excess suds that don’t fully rinse away, trapping odor-causing residue in your fabrics.
  5. Hard Water Buildup: High mineral content in hard water can leave behind deposits that lock in foul smells over time.

Now that we’ve identified some key culprits, let’s dive into simple yet effective remedies to defeat those funky smells once and for all!

Natural Odor Eliminators

For an eco-friendly, non-toxic approach to fresher laundry, try these all-natural odor busters:

Baking Soda: This pantry staple is a true laundry MVP. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your wash cycle to help neutralize odors and leave clothes smelling clean and fresh.

White Vinegar: Like baking soda, white vinegar is a natural odor fighter. Add 1 cup to your wash to help break down residues and remove stubborn stenches.

Lemon Juice: The citric acid in lemon juice helps kill odor-causing bacteria. Add 1/2 cup to the rinse cycle for a burst of freshness.

Borax: This mineral compound is a laundry powerhouse, boosting your detergent’s cleaning abilities while fighting odors. Follow product instructions for proper usage.

Essential Oils: A few drops of tea tree, lemon, or eucalyptus oil can naturally freshen fabrics. Add to the rinse cycle or make your linen spray.

Pro Tip 💡: For an extra odor-fighting boost, combine several natural ingredients! Try making a solution of 1 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 10-15 drops of lemon essential oil. Soak smelly clothes overnight before washing.

Harsh Chemical Solutions

If natural methods aren’t cutting it, you may need to bring in the big guns. These heavy-duty solutions can tackle even the toughest smells (but use them with caution):

Chlorine Bleach: When used properly, chlorine bleach can blast away odor-causing bacteria and mold. However, it should never be mixed with ammonia or acids like vinegar.

Oxygen Bleach: For coloured fabrics, oxygen bleach is a safer alternative that still packs an odor-fighting punch. Try OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover which contains oxygen bleach to eliminate tough set-in odors.

Ammonia: Diluted with water, ammonia is a powerful deodorizer that can eliminate some of the most pungent smells. However, ammonia should never be combined with chlorine bleach.

Enzymatic Cleaners: Designed to break down organic matter, enzymatic cleaners target odors at the source by dissolving sweat, body oils, and other residues. Biz Soaking Solution uses protein-busting enzymes to remove stubborn organic stains and smells.

While effective, these harsher chemicals can be tough on fabrics and irritating to the skin. Use them sparingly and follow all safety guidelines.

The Power of a Good Pre-Treat

Sometimes smells are too stubborn to be eliminated in the wash alone. In these cases, pretreating stinky garments can make all the difference.

For sweat and body odor stains, make a paste with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and a bit of water. Gently rub this potent mixture into affected areas before washing.

To tackle mildew odors, soak smelly clothes in a solution of one part bleach to four parts water for 30 minutes before laundering. You can also use a specialized product like ReStor It Mold Stain Remover.

Did you get a thrift store find with a funky vintage smell? Presoak clothes in a mixture of hot water, vinegar, and borax or baking soda to help release those old, musty aromas.

Remember, pretreating is key for odors that have soaked into fabrics. Taking this extra step can ensure a complete smell removal.

Machine Maintenance is a Must

Smells sticking around even after trying the above methods? The problem may lie with your washing machine itself. Built-up grime, mildew, and residues in the washer drum and pipes can continually transfer funky odors to your fresh laundry.

Running a hot cleaning cycle with a washing machine cleaner every few months will help flush out any foul smells and gunk from the inner workings. Try using a product specifically designed for smelly washers like Affresh Washer Cleaner which uses triple-action cleaning to remove odor sources.

You can also make your natural cleaning solution by mixing 1 cup of vinegar with 1/2 cup of baking soda and running it through a hot cycle.

Don’t forget to leave the washer door open between cycles to allow the drum to fully dry out and prevent mold growth. A little routine maintenance goes a long way in keeping your machine—and your laundry—fresh and clean.

Pro Tip 💡: Use the self-clean or tub-clean cycle on your washing machine monthly to blast away any built up residues and odors.

Banish Drying Dilemmas

It’s not just the washing process that can lead to lingering odors. How and where you dry your clothes also plays a big role.

Items dried in a smelly room or musty basement are prone to picking up those unpleasant aromas. The moisture from damp clothes also creates an ideal environment for mold and mildew growth if left too long before drying.

Whenever possible, opt to line dry your laundry outdoors in fresh air and sunshine—both natural odor fighters. If using a dryer is unavoidable, be sure to clean the lint trap frequently and wipe down the drum to prevent smells from building up inside.

You can also throw a few wool dryer balls in with your load. These natural fabric softeners help lift hairs and create airflow to speed up drying times and discourage funky smells. Try Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls which are chemical-free and hypoallergenic.

Pro Tip 💡: For a quick refresh in the dryer, toss in a couple of scented dryer sheets or a few drops of your favourite essential oil on a clean cloth along with your load.

Targeted Garment Care

Certain fabrics and clothing items require a little extra TLC to keep them smelling their best:

Athletic Wear: Activewear made from synthetic, moisture-wicking fabrics is notorious for harbouring unpleasant odors. To keep gym clothes fresh, always rinse sweaty garments in cold water immediately after workouts, then wash them in hot water with an enzymatic cleaner or odor-fighting additive like Win Detergent – formulated specifically for activewear.

Smelly Shoes: Icky foot funk building up in your shoes? Sprinkling some baking soda inside can help absorb moisture and odors. You can also freeze smelly shoes overnight to kill odour-causing bacteria. Or try using Zhenzhunshu Shoe Deodorizer Spray – a powerful plant-based formula designed to remove stubborn shoe odors.

Smoke-Laden Clothes: For clothing reeking of cigarette or campfire smoke, try soaking in a baking soda and vinegar solution before washing. The combination acts like a powerful deodorizing rinse. You may also need an industrial-strength smell remover like Ozium Smoke & Smell Eliminator Gel for heavy smoke odors.

Vintage and Thrifted Finds: Secondhand clothes often come with mysterious musty smells. A good soak in an enzymatic cleaner before the first wash can do wonders for these funky fragrances. Look for an enzyme-powered laundry soak like Bac-Out Stain & Odor Remover made for removing organic odors.

With just a bit of targeted effort, you can keep specialty garments smelling clean and fresh wear after wear.

Helpful Laundry Hacks

Still struggling with lingering odors? Here are a few bonus hacks to try:

  • Add a bit of hair conditioner to the rinse cycle for extra softness and a light, fresh scent.
  • Pour some cheap vodka into the detergent dispenser to help strip away stubborn smells.
  • Toss a few dry, unused teabags into the dryer to naturally freshen loads with a subtle herbal aroma.
  • Fill an old sock with dry, uncooked rice then tie it off. Toss this homemade deodorizer into the dryer to soak up moisture and musty smells.
  • Use aluminium foil balls in the dryer to create more airflow and faster drying to prevent odors.

Pro Tip 💡: For a quick refresh between washes, spritz clothes with a 50/50 solution of vodka and water. The alcohol helps neutralize lingering odors.

Tips for Preventing Future Funks

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to avoiding smelly situations with your laundry.

Remove sweaty or dirty clothes promptly to prevent odors from really setting in. Don’t let damp garments linger in hampers, washers, or dryers, as this creates prime conditions for mildew and bacteria growth.

Make it a habit to clean washing machine dispensers frequently and never overload the drum, which can lead to improper rinsing and detergent residue.

It’s also a good idea to regularly disinfect your laundry hampers and baskets themselves. A quick wipe-down with a vinegar solution will eliminate any lingering odors.

Pro Tip 💡: Use mesh laundry bags to separate sweaty gym clothes and other smelly items from the rest of your wash. This prevents odor transfer during washing.

With a little know-how and some simple habit changes, you can say goodbye to funky, stinky clothes for good!

Fresher Fabrics for Life

Foul odors clinging to your fresh laundry is more than just an annoyance—it can impact your health. Bacterial buildup and mold growth in smelly garments can trigger allergies, respiratory issues, and even skin irritations in some people. Not to mention, stinky clothes just make for an unpleasant overall experience.

Fortunately, with the right combination of proven odor-busting techniques and preventative practices, you can nip funky smells in the bud before they become an overpowering issue. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect remedy, but a little extra effort is well worth it for laundry that looks, feels, and smells truly fresh and clean.

Remember, smelly clothes don’t have to be a stinky struggle. By understanding the root causes, employing natural or heavy-duty odor eliminators, keeping machines properly maintained, and drying items thoroughly, you can banish those foul fragrances once and for all. With bright, fresh-smelling laundry, you can step out with confidence every single day.

So don’t settle for subpar—start putting these smell-stopping solutions into practice today. Your nose (and your wardrobe) will thank you!

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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