Removing Musty Smell from Clothing

Allowing clothes to be damp for too long can result in a funky smell. This guide is about removing musty smell from clothing.

Basket of musty smelling clothing.
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All of our clothes have been stored for a year. Last night I washed them in All detergent and baking soda. The musty, oily odor is still there. What else can I use?

By Diane from Iowa Park, TX

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Try washing them again, but add 1-2 cups of white vinegar along with the detergent.

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I find All detergent to have a musty smell of its own. Try a non-scented detergent.

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I have some cotton shirts that were stored in the basement for 18 years. How do I get that smell out of them? I did soak them in borax and then in a lemon/water mix, but they still smell.


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Hanging them out on the line for a day or so might help. The sun will kill the mildew and the fresh air would do them good.

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There is a dusty smell in a recycled sweater-like robe I bought at the thrift store. I have washed it, but let it air dry. It is like a crocheted sweater type material that probably would not do well in the dryer.

It is white so it could be bleached. It just smells so dusty you cannot wear it. I do have allergies. Thank you so much.

By Dianne D.

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Try soaking the robe in enough warm water to cover it with 2 cups of white vinegar mixed into it. Soak at least overnight, 2 days is even better. Then wash and air dry. I have had this work on smelly thrift store items. Hope it helps with yours.

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I've been hanging my clothes inside to dry. Lately they've been having a musky smell. How can I get rid of the odor?

By Kathy

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I would stop hanging your clothes indoors. That is likely what is causing the musty smell. You are not getting enough air circulation to dry properly.

What I would do first, if possible, is rewash these clothes with vinegar in the wash, and then hang them out in the sun and wind. If that doesn't work, check out the archives here as there are tons of suggestions, and one in the tips section of today's newsletter.

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Here's the "Solution"

I had a brand new bedspread, that picked up a musty smell from an RV we had used. I tried everything, to get the odor out. Of course I could not use bleach on this fabric. A musty odor is almost impossible to get rid of, once an item has been exposed, no matter how clean you get it! Ahhh, at last, I remembered that I still had some "Simple Solution Stain and Odor Remover" on hand. You can buy it at most pet stores. It's the best thing I have ever found, for removing the smell left in the carpet from our aging, incontinent kitty. It has never damaged my carpets, so I thought, why not?! So I put two cups of "Simple Solution" into a washing machine full of water with the bedspread. I let it soak for four hours and then ran it through the normal cycle. The musty odor is now gone! And the bedspread has a very light pleasant scent. I am so happy that a brand new, very expensive item was saved! I would have no hesitation to use this product on any type of furniture that may have picked up a musty smell. Musty Odor? This nasty problem will not be a problem for me ever again!

By Diane =^..^= from New Braunfels, TX

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I have an expensive leather motorcycle jacket that has been stored for years and it smells very musty. Is there something I can do to get the smell out?

By MaryJane

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I have two methods

If the jacket is clean (except for the smell) put the jacket in a good box and unwrap a load if Irish Spring soap bars (dozen). Lay the soap around the jacket. Box size needs some air space. Use a box the size you would use to give the jacket away as a gift). Place unwrapped bars around jacket. Add some inside the lining. Replace lid.

Put the jacket away for a month and when you remove it from the box the smell will be gone. If not completely, replace lid and wait a little longer.

You can still use the Irish Spring in the shower.

I had a vintage car that had been leaking water into the trunk. Strong smell. My brother claimed (the sports car restorer) my method would never work in the trunk of this car.. Needless to say I had to get the car into a dry garage, out of the rain (Seattle). Boy was he surprised when the Irish Spring worked beautifully.

If your jacket is soiled as well as musty I'd suggest you might try washing a dirty leather jacket from the thrift store first, using this method.

Measure the length of sleeves and perhaps length of back.

Use cold water, soap and wash jacket in washing machine. If jacket is soiled on cuffs, neck, etc, I always use Zout(laundry spot remover on soiled areas first). (I have washed dirty leathers by the dozen). I have not had to deal with mildew but by adding vinear at the end of the wash, and letting it soak over night, it will be the secret to killing the musty smell. Add vinegar if you can still smell the jacket when jacket is washed and you are ready to add the softener to the rinse..

Hold off on the softener and add vinegar first.

Have water in washing machine (pour a couple of gallons into wash with 2 cups of vinegar) if water is gone.. Swish jacket around by hand if necessary and let the jacket soak all night.

Let the vinegar water drain for the rinse cycle.

Add one to two cups of softener to rinse cycle.

I always add a load of fabric softener to the rinse. At least 1 cup, maybe two. Once the spin cycle is over following the rinse, have a strong hanger waiting. You may need a place for the jacket to drip dry. (Tub or concrete floor) Put jacket on hanger and let drip (some garments will almost run water and others not so much).

Once the jacket is finished dripping I make sure it it hanging well on the hanger. Check out the length of arms and legs with tape measure.

Drying time will take about three days. If your jacket dries stiff, do not panic.

When is it completely dry, crumple it in your hands and roll it around in towel. Wear it around the house and you will be amazed how it will restore itself.

If you do the trial run thrift garment first, select a dirty item from the thrift store and pre spot it with Zout or other pre spot removers.

I also pour on the liquid detergent onto the worst areas of garment.. You do risk a chance the item will shrink a bit. That is why you want to stretch it slightly before it dries.

Try taking measurements of the thrift store item before you place in wash. Measure length of sleeves or the leg of pants. That will giive you an ideas of how long the sleeves or legs should be before you leave it alone on the hanger to dry. Stretch it a little everywhere like you were shaping a sweater before letting it dry.

I decided to give this method a try when they came out with washable leathers. I thought, did they reinvent the cow? Not likely.

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I am looking for way to remove the musty smell from clothing that has been in storage.

Michael from Oakland, CA


Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

If they are washable I would wash them with Oxiclean. The stuff is wonderful. Also, you could lay each item out in the full sunlight for a good while. The sun kills mold and that is what you are smelling. Good luck. (08/09/2006)

By caraing

Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

Fresh air and sunlight can help a lot, free too. (08/09/2006)

By aardvark

Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

Toss in the dryer on air only and then hang outside in the fresh air. You might also use Febreze on a towel in the dryer with the clothes. Good luck. (08/09/2006)

By 2oma

Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

Wash the clothes again with detergent and a cup of baking soda. Baking soda will remove most odors the first time around. (08/09/2006)

By linex_4

Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

I would wash with a cup of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar. It does work.

By meoowmom

Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

Wash them with your normal detergent, then hang them outside on the line for a couple of hours on a sunny, breezy day before drying them with a dryer sheet. That should work.

PS--Make sure to put used dryer sheets in between the layers of clothing in the bin the next time you store your summer or winter clothing. It helps keep them fresh-smelling, especially if they are sweaters. (08/09/2006)


Musty Smell on Stored Clothing

I wash musty clothing in woolwash using fabric softener and air dry on the clothes line. My daughter has a musty smell in her cupboard and I have just filled a clean, small children's sized empty yoghurt container 1/2 full with bi-carbonate of soda or baking soda. Seal the top of container with aluminum foil, poking foil gently with a fork or skewer to let musty smell to be absorbed by soda. I put it in a couple of hours ago and cannot smell the musty odour! (08/10/2006)

By debt free

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I have gym clothes that I am ready to replace due to a musty smell. They are not too old and they appear to be in good condition otherwise. I only notice the smell once I am at the gym sweating and no it's not my sweat or b.o.! It really is the clothes.

I have a Whirlpool HE machine. Should I soak in borax? Or should I add vinegar to the fabric softener compartment and wash without soap on hot? Where do you put the borax in an HE machine as a laundry booster? Thanks!

By Gina from Philadelphia


Removing Musty Odor From Clothes

You should be able to buy Borax in the larger chain grocery stores. You'll find it in the detergent section. Add 1 cup of white vinegar along with your detergent in every wash load. Vinegar is excellent for getting rid of odors and musty smells. (09/10/2010)


Removing Musty Odor From Clothes

One cup of white vinegar added to washer filled with water and let it soak for at least an hour before running the load. Works great on towels, too. (09/13/2010)

By dlginlove

Removing Musty Odor From Clothes

One big problem is that too much detergent is used. One full tablespoon of HE detergent is more than enough. For towels, I add some vinegar also. Now for the machine: Leave the door open, wipe down the rubber gasket, and leave an old sock or whatever in gasket to allow it to totally dry out. We have the same appliances at our stores and never have an odor on the clothes we clean. (09/15/2010)

By Barbara Lev

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I have had a problem with my water heater leaking in my basement and leaving a ton of water on the floor. I didn't notice until it was too late, that some dark clothing got wet and sat in the water for some time.

I pre-washed and soaked everything in hot water with a combination of my normal laundry soap, Oxiclean, and color safe bleach and then washed everything in the same combination. Most things came clean just fine, but I have some jeans and such that still just plain stink like mold. Does anyone have any ideas to get these clean or should I just count my losses and throw these few items out?

By Danielle from MI


Musty Smell on Clothing

Have you tried putting vinegar in the wash? Sometimes it can remove odors from laundry. We normally use about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of vinegar, when our towels start to smell bad. (08/09/2010)

By WildIrish

Adventures with the Musty Old Trunk of Doom- A Love Affair with Vinegar.

I recently went to an estate auction where I found a very nice, but very dirty, old clothing trunk full of old clothes. It's the kind that you see on the top of stage coaches in Clint Eastwood movies. I knew it smelled, but I was enamored with the piece of furniture and thought a little mildew smell would be no big deal. Poor, poor naive me. Knowing what I know now, it really wouldn't be a big deal. Bring on the vintage clothes, I got this. But getting to this point was chaos.

For starters, let me explain that this trunk had clearly been being stored in a barn. It was covered with dust and spider webs and frankly, filled with silverfish. I didn't know about the silverfish until I got home. But a little soap and water had the outside looking oh so vintage chic, with a little oil on the old leather and metal cladding. The outside was no big deal. Then, I turned my attention to the innards. I don't know how old the clothes in the trunk are, or how long they have been sitting in the old barn. But I was told that some of the sweatshirts were WWII issue, and there is one full length petticoat that is probably turn of the century.

Most of it is men's farmer garb, but evidently in good condition, and most strange of all, my size. I'm tiny all the way around. Now, I love me my vintage, so I wasn't about to throw any of this away. We're talking a little over two good washing machine loads of wardrobe here. There didn't seem to be any rot or even moth holes. The only problem really was the smell.

The first really bad idea was to throw half of the mess into the clothes washer with as much bleach as was reasonably safe for the local water table. I probably did some injury with the sheer amount of bleach I actually used at the end of this. Within minutes, the entire house stunk of the horrible, greasy, evil mildewy smell. My instinct was to remove it from the house as soon as the load was done, but my mother was a little quicker on the gun than I was and ran it through again with more bleach, just trying to get the smell out of the house. I think we were shell shocked and didn't really understand what was going on at this point. After two washings, I took it all outside and dried it overnight on the chain link fence. It still reeked. I was now thoroughly terrified of the other half of clothes still left with the trunk.

Basically the house stunk for a week. We opened windows, we washed walls, we burned candles. We ran the clothes washer through various cleaning cycles with bleach. All we really ended up doing was making ourselves sick with mold allergies (and probably bleach fumes). And the clothes still stunk, and now they were a little faded from all the bleach. While I was trying to figure out what to do with the clothes, I began to tackle the trunk itself. First, I stripped the old paper out of it and scrubbed the insides with comet. It still smelled, but at least I was sure the silverfish were eradicated. Then I bought a quart of lacquer to seal the wood.

My thinking was that since lacquer is so thin, it would soak up really good and seal down any remaining mold. And it did, but the lacquer smell was pretty potent too. And the wood was so old and dry that the quart can didn't even make two coats. So I ended up getting another quart of polyurethane (clear satin), which is slightly thicker and far less stinky, and gave it another three coats. Finally, after five coats, the pores were starting to fill in, it started to have that satiny rich look, and the mold smell is completely gone.

But back the clothes. Frankly terrified of these toxic clothes and wondering if I was going to have to toss the whole thing in the garbage, I read online that several people had used either liquid fabric softener or vinegar to get rid of moldy smells in towels. So I hedged my bets and got both. I got the uber cheap fabric softener, Purex lavender, I think. Then, not about to bring these clothes anywhere near the house, I got out this big vat we usually use as a dog bed. To give you an idea, it's large enough that our 90 lb. golden retriever has had puppies in it. I filled it with water from the hose, dumped in a gallon of vinegar (might have been overkill), three capfuls of fabric softener, and in went the washed-half of the moldy smelling clothes.

The effect was instantaneous. I don't know what the science is, but vinegar did what bleach could not do. I want to know if the smell is caused from the living mold, if bleach is just not killing the fungus, or if the vinegar somehow breaks down some sort of toxin in the air? I really want to know the mechanics of this. For good measure I let them soak for another three hours in the sun. I am so smitten with this notion of a wise and powerful vinegar that I honestly don't know if I have any cause to buy bleach ever again.

Long story short, I tossed these over the chain link and dumped in the other half of the clothes. I was a little dubious, even still. This second batch hadn't been machine washed and bleached twice and had been sitting sealed in a garbage bag outside all week in some corner where we could give it a wide berth. Again, instantaneous results. If I had only known about this before sealing the wood inside the trunk, I certainly would have given it a good dousing with vinegar just for good measure. I mean, maybe I'm downplaying the fabric softener too much here, but I really think it was the vinegar. I went inside and poured a bunch of both vinegar and fabric softener in the washing machine, ran it on a cleaning cycle, and the funky smell in the house went away completely with just one cycle, after a week of terrorizing the entire house.

Listen to me, I'm practically waxing poetic over vinegar. (But seriously. Distilled White. Try it, it will change you.) I've also learned over the years that you can put a couple of drops of vinegar in a Netty Pot (sinus rinse doohickey) and it helps with things like sinus infections (because, as you might have guessed, I'm very allergic to mold). Diluted vinegar is also great for breakouts or just that tacky moist skin you, or at least I do, sometimes get on the face and neck. And apparently, it can rehabilitate vintage barn finds. Vinegar, old friend, you just vamped me with a new wardrobe. (10/10/2010)

By encartaphile

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How do you get the smell out of clothes and towels that have a moldy, unfresh odor?

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Last spring I put my winter clothing in my garage. Now that I am getting them out, they smell very musty. What can I do to get rid of the smell?

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How do you get rid of musty smells in clothes?

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My basement flooded and all of our son's clothes got soaked and started to smell musty within that day. We washed them, but they still smell.

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I have a very small closet space in my room, therefore I have to store my clothes in my basement in a closet during the off seasons.

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I have some clothing that was in storage and became damp. So far there isn't any mold just a musty smell.

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Home and Garden Cleaning OdorsNovember 29, 2012
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