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How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes & Towels

December 2, 2023

Exposure to mold and mildew can cause health problems. For example, it can cause coughing, wheezing, throat irritation, and skin irritation.

Certain types can also be toxic, which can result in severe symptoms.

Given all that, it’s easy to see why you want to control the humidity level in the house. The last thing you want to do is to provide them with a place to grow.

What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

Mold and mildew are two types of fungi. The former is usually black or green in color with a fuzzy appearance.

Over time, it can produce spores, which can become airborne – this is what causes them to spread like wildfire.

Mildew, on the other hand, is usually brown, yellow, or white, and not as fluffy.

Mold and Mildew in the House

mold vs mildew differenceHigh moisture can lead to mold and mildew growth. That’s why you often see them in bathrooms and attics. For example, they can grow on walls and in corners. Left to their own devices, they can multiply quickly and lead to a noticeable mildew smell.

That’s not the only place where you can find them either. For one thing, they can also grow on fabric.

That’s why washing towels and drying them properly is so important. Leaving them wet for long periods of time will only facilitate mildew growth. In other words, you’ll end up with stinky towels.

Can Mildew Clothes Make You Sick?

Yes, mildewed clothes can make you sick. This has to do with the fact that mildew produces spores, which can easily enter the body. It doesn’t matter whether they’re dead or alive either—both can cause a wide range of health problems.

And certain people are at a higher risk for mildew-related health problems. This group includes children, infants, seniors, and those who are immunocompromised. Pregnant women are also more vulnerable.

The same thing goes for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions (e.g. sleep apnea, asthma, etc).

So it’s not just an issue of having a mildew smell in the house – it can actually impact the health of you and your loved ones.

The Mold and Mildew Smell

Your clothes will not only become a health hazard but they’ll develop a musty smell as well. You’ve probably experienced this before—it’s a musty odor that you can’t ignore.

If anything, it’s a tell-tale sign that mold or mildew has grown on the fabric and once it’s gotten to that stage, the only thing to do is to wash them again.

Don’t just get fresh towels and throw them into the washer blindly again, though – that won’t be enough. You’ll either need to use laundry soap or do a vinegar wash to get rid of that musty towel smell (more on that later)

What’s the best way to do that? Do you use detergent or fabric softener for musty smells? How should you dry towels?

For the answers, be sure to keep reading. We’ll be going over how to get rid of that mildew smell in detail below. Keep reading to learn how to make your clothes and towels smell fresh again!

How to Get the Mildew Smell Out of Towels and Clothes

Do you have stinky towels? Or maybe your clothes have mildew odors even after a wash cycle? Don’t worry, there are several things that you can do to eradicate that mildew smell.

Here are a few options.

1. Wash Your Musty Towels with ACTIVE Detergent

ACTIVE makes a high quality laundry detergent that’s powered by enzymes, meaning that it has the ability to break down dirt and grime, including odor-causing bacteria. This makes it an excellent choice if you’re dealing with smelly towels or lingering mildew on your clothes.

It’s easy to use too – simply add one scoop of the powder detergent to the detergent drawer or tub and run a wash cycle as normal. If necessary, you can also add a half cup of distilled white vinegar or baking soda for extra deodorizing power. Avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets as they can facilitate mold growth.

Once the cycle is finished, toss the towels and garments in the dryer and tumble dry on low (you can add a few dryer balls, if necessary). Alternatively, you can dry them outdoors under natural sunlight.

2. Freshen Towels with White Vinegar

how to get mildew smell out of clothes and towels vinegar

White vinegar’s not just for cooking, it can also be used as a cleaning agent. For instance, you can use it to remove built-up detergent on clothes. That’s not all, you can also use it to eliminate mold and mildew smells.

Simply add one cup to the tub during the rinse cycle. From there, run the washer as you would normally. The vinegar will not leave behind any vinegar smell. If anything, your clothes will come out smelling fresh.

Just remember to take your clothes out as soon as the cycle is done – you don’t want to leave them in the washer overnight as the moist environment can result in more mold and mildew.

Note: For the best results, don’t use any laundry detergent.

Alternative: Soak Towels and Clothes in Vinegar

Another way that you can do it is by soaking your clothes in vinegar. Fill a sink with hot water and add in a cup of white vinegar.

From there, plunge your clothes in so that they’re fully saturated. Leave them in there for at least 30 minutes—that’ll give the vinegar time to dissipate the smell.

3. Wash with Baking Soda

how to get mildew smell out of clothes baking soda

Baking soda is similar to vinegar in that it has many uses, and as it turns out, you can also use it to remove mildew smells.

Generally speaking, half a cup should suffice, although it depends on the size of your laundry basket and load. For the best results, run the cycle with hot water. If that’s not possible (some clothes will shrink with heat), use cool water.

The great thing about baking soda is that it’s actually capable of killing mold and mildew, just like vinegar. The only difference is that it attacks different strains of the mildew.

That’s why it’s recommended if vinegar doesn’t work (white vinegar may be ineffective for certain strains).

3. Soak with Borax

Borax is a white mineral that’s been used as a cleaning agent for many decades. Not only will it give you clean towels, but it’s also capable of killing mold and mildew, meaning that it’ll neutralize any musty smells that are present.

borax remove mildew smellFor mildewed clothes and wet towels, start by making a solution. Fill a tub or container with hot water and add half a cup of Borax. Swirl and mix until the white powder is completely dissolved before putting your items in.

Make sure that it’s fully saturated with the mixture and let it soak for at least 30 minutes (the longer you soak it, the more effective it will be). Once you’ve pre-treated it with the Borax, you can wash as normal.

Alternatively, you can sprinkle half a cup of Borax onto the dirty laundry before loading it into the washing machine.

Do note, however, that if you use cold water, the powder might not dissolve properly. So watch the temperature if you want to go for this method.

4. Make Use of Sunlight

Most washing guides will tell you not to dry your clothes under direct sunlight and there’s a good reason for that—the sun’s rays can damage the fabric over time.

sunlight for mildew smellThings are different, however, when it comes to mildew – the sun’s UV rays can actually kill it altogether.

Simply expose the garment to sunlight by hanging it outside. Keep in mind, however, that there’s a chance that the rays can also lighten your clothes.

Given that, it might not be the best option for dark-colored items.

5. Use an Enzyme Odor Remover

Enzyme odor removers are commercial products that you can buy to eliminate mildew from your clothes and towels. If anything, they work just as well, if not better, than the other options we’ve mentioned above.

How do they work? They contain enzymes that are capable of breaking down gunk on your clothes and towels, including mold and mildew.

This means your items will come out smelling fresh each time. While it depends on the product, you typically just pour it into the machine along with your clothes and damp towels.

Make sure to read the label before using it, though, as some may require you to dilute it beforehand.

6. Use Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is another option. If anything, it’ll easily take care of your mildew problem.

How does it work? It releases oxygen upon being exposed to water. This will help lift dirt and stains from your clothes and kill any mold or mildew that’s on the fabric.

It’s easy to use too – just substitute it for your regular detergent (half a cup should suffice). For maximum cleaning power, you can use it in addition to Borax.

Preventing Your Clothes/Towels From Developing a Musty Smell

There are a number of things that you can do to prevent your clothes and bath towels from developing that mildew smell. Here are some of them:

  • Take your clothes and towels out of the washing machine as soon as the wash cycle is finished. Leaving them in the washer will facilitate mold and mildew growth, which will lead to a musty smell
  • Make sure your clothes and towels are fully dry before putting them away in a drawer or closet
  • If possible, open up your closet doors to maximize airflow
  • Use a dehumidifier if you have a moisture problem in the house – that will help prevent that musty towell smell from developing
  • Place silica gel packs in your closet to remove excess moisture
  • Don’t throw wet clothes in the laundry hamper. Make an effort to wash them as soon as possible
  • Wash towels regularly and allow them to dry completely
  • Avoid storing your clothes and towels in plastic containers as they’re not breathable; use something like a cotton bag instead
  • Clean your washing machine regularly to prevent mildew and mold from growing inside
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