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Clothes Develop a Musty Smell if They Get Damp

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I have read a lot about mildew smell when washing clothes. I think mine may be a little different, or maybe not. Hopefully someone can tell me what is wrong. When I wash my clothes, they smell very fresh and clean, its when I get them out of the dryer that they lose that smell, and have no smell at all. Then, when we are ready to use the towels they have that musty mildew smell, and when my husband wears his works clothes and sweats it produces the same smell. I don't understand why they go into the dryer smelling nice and come out smelling funky! They are completely dry when I take them out so it's not from them sitting or anything. Hopefully someone out there may be able to tell me what is wrong.

Thanks in advance,



Recent Answers

Here are the recent answer to this question.

By Tiffany J.12/12/2013

The smell is caused from mold which can be killed by chemicals or heat. Use 1:1 white vinegar to gallon of water or boil water and place into pot for 2 minutes after removing from heat. Source: 10 year mechanic in humid region

By sperrine08/25/2013

The reason clothes stink after they get wet is because soap makers use enzymes and not phosphates now days because the epa has ruled that phosphates are not environmentally friendly. You can't prevent it. You may try to cover it up with perfumes, good luck.

By jamie_mcntsh08/22/2013

I live in the country with well water. We have hard water, sulphur and iron. We can't use bleach because it reacts with the sulphurand turns everything brown. I have has the problem of musty towels. They smell fine until they are wet. The only thing that I have found that works is Charlies Laundry soap. And I also buy the Charlies Booster, which is specifically for hard water. I do not have the problem with the towels or any of our clothes anymore. I love the stuff!

I do still have a problem with my husbands stinky, dingy, greasy, sweaty clothes form work, he is a mechanic and wow do they smell. His clothes I can't seem to get clean no matter what I do. I have tried it all. The thing that I have read is hard water actually takes from your detergent to soften the water so there is less to clean the clothes with, but If you use too much detergent it can make your clothes stink too. Anyway, hope it helps Charlies Soap and Booster is on Amazon and at

By Michelle (Guest Post)10/16/2008

I know it has been a long time since the original post, however I just found it today. My sister brought me hand-me-downs for my 3 yo and the trash bag must of had a hole. The entire set of clothes (33gal bag worth) was damp and everything stunk! I washed 2x, no help. I use essential oils for sickness, etc., etc., and I thought 'Hey, they are suppose to kill bacteria,' i.e. mold, (I hope), so I put 20 drops of Lavender, 20 of eucalyptus and 20 drops of a cleansing blend with lemongrass, rosemary, and tea tree.

I added them b4 the laundry went back in and didn't use soap. It couldn't hurt and it's cheaper than buying a whole new wardrobe for someone who will only wear them for 6-9 months. So far(3 wks), they smell lightly floral with no hint of mold/mildew. It may still be there, I don't know. I do know that even when they get washed and dried again, there's no yucky smell. They just sorta smells like grandma's house. I hope this helps the next person with stinky clothes!! :-) Michelle

By Paul Flynn (Guest Post)03/09/2008

Washing machine odor is transferred to towels and clothing and is almost invariably caused by overuse of detergent/fabric softener. The problem is not model specific but is noticed more in front load washers because of the lesser amount of water used. Detergent and fabric softener builds up on the inside of the plastic outer tub and fungus grows on this buildup - causing odor.
If bleach, vinegar or baking soda won't remove odor
I sell a washer cleaner at
that is completely natural and also removes mildew smell from towels and clothing. There is a money back guarantee on it and one order has enough for 24 treatments.

By sarah brown (Guest Post)03/05/2008

this has happened to me and several people i know. it's liquid fabric softener, either in the middle if the aggitator or the downey ball!!! it doesn't rinse well enough and keeps all the funk inside. It also grows mold inside because it never gets rinsed. a friend of mine checked her washer after i told her about this and sure enough, covered in black stinky stuff!! also, don't use too much detergent, it can do the same thing. i know we should conserve and use cold water, but i swear warm water helps too because it rinses things better than cold and reduces the smell. as with other things in my busy life, my rule for laundry products is simplifiy!!

By tammy nickell09/09/2007

I use to live on a farm with a well and we had to Shock the well once a month with a gallon of bleach to kill off bacteria in the well . I would check local hardware store or menards for additive to clean wells . also buy a water softner that helps.good luck

By tammy nickell09/09/2007

Hi all, I found the source of my problem It is from the washing machine- the water that runs into machine is stagnant so I have to run water into the machine, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to first load of clothes then it seems to help. Also have found if you use Laundry detergent with Fabreese or other odor removers in them that when they dry in dryer they smell okay when come out but after a while they smell like wet dog.Line drying is okay but if you use the dryer they end up stinking. It also helps to leave lid open on washer when not in use. I got a brand new washer and as soon as i washed the first load i could smell the musty smell. Our town water man informed me it had to do with hoses and water sitting in them.smell the water when it comes into the basin of your washer and smell if there is a musty smell. Worth a shot.
Hope this helps.

By simon (Guest Post)09/06/2007

Well, I know what your all going through, as I've been having this problem for ages now. I've tried changing detergent brands/scents and I just can't rid the smell of wet dogs. I am doing my drying in between writing this, and I can smell that wet funky smell from my lounge. If I come across an answer that actually works, I'll be sure to let you folks know. But for now. Happy searching.

By Nancy (Guest Post)01/20/2007

JJ I sure hope you find an answer to your question because I am battling the same war. If I find a soultion I will let you know!

By Lynda (Guest Post)08/02/2006

I don't care for Pine oil too much, but something called, "Mint OIL" worked WONDERS for this very problem I call, "wet dog" smell. I used to be able to buy it, but now I can't find it. If anyone finds it for sale, pass it on? Only two caps to my oversized washer load worked great. I hate the smell of vinegar and ammonia, folks, and don't know how anyone can tolerate it even though it might work
wonders. I believe Sun detergent is the best cheap
LIQUID detergent I have found, leaving things O>K>
but not like expensive fragranced Tide-types. I notice that if I am careful to wash the dirtiest clothes together and wash them all twice, it works best. Also,
keeping the warm water temp hotter helps destroy
the odor causing bacteria, except for the lingerie where it lingers in the nylon/poly/rayon fabrics,which
I try to use a little creme perioxide on the crotches,
underarms, and collars for 30 min. prior to washing
using the cap to rub it in where possible. Make certain that socks and jeans are right-side out where the dirt is more easily cleaned. Guess it
destroys the bacteria, too? It works amazingly well.
Also, there are two huge bar soaps used by Mexican
laundresses and ladies from the Middle East sold at
the dollar stores that both smell good and seem to work well, although take more time. They eat lots of
garlic, onions, fish, and strange to me foods, which may be why they need soaps like this that we too need now? As we learn to eat what repels insects, like garlic and onion, we can use all the help we can get. Stress is a factor during these times which produces enormous amounts of hormones/chemicals
that we might not otherwise have during better times.

Lemon Balm plants and tea are wonderfully easy to grow plants and tea to make for stress. Relaxes naturally and is not addictive, although the plant is like mint and reseeds itself if you do not cut off blooms before it goes to seed. Baby powder helps when sprinkled on odors, remember, even for adults.
Baby oil is messy but has been used since Biblical times for LOTS of things from hair to skin, to polishing.

By Mary [12]07/25/2006

I would definitely check the dryer hose for lint buildup. Pull it off the back and blow it out with a wet vac or "dust" it out with a swiffer. Check the vent that goes from the wall to the outside too. Either of those could be causing a back up if there's a lot of lint stuck in the line. It may be staying damp and backing up, throwing that wetness and odor back into your clean laundry.

By Mona from Ms. (Guest Post)07/25/2006

I have also been having this problem. My daughter told me her roomate was also having this problem but she is not.(same washer/dryer) She uses powder detergent and the roomate uses liquid. I also use liquid. I'm gonna give this a try. Then I'm gonna try the vinegar the others have suggested if that doesn't work.

By Dede (Guest Post)07/24/2006

I had this problem a few years back, I think it was lint build up in my dryer hose to the outside. Check that out.

By (Guest Post)07/24/2006

Oh my Gosh!! Cookwie....did they (at All) actually use those words to you? I don't care for All anyway as it doesn't clean well, but that would do it in for me!! They don't know how to win customers do they? Anyway, I had a strange smell in my laundry also and I think it was the combination of the fabric softener and laundry detergent I was using. I have switched to Downey (I was using Costco's brand) and have not had that problem since.

By Barbie (Guest Post)07/24/2006

seems you got lots of suggestions....the only things I can add is this, is it possible your loads are drying too slow.....maybe that there are too many clothes and the dryer doesn't dry them fast enough...either way they will sit in a damp warm stage which would cause that could try doing a load at a laundrymat, this would answer a few questions......if it's the water at your house, or if the dryer is drying too slowly, mosts laundrymats have city water and commercial dryers dry quickly.......take some in wet from home and just dry them and do a load all the way through......might help with the mystery........good luck

By carla bledsoe (Guest Post)07/24/2006

you don't say if you have hard water but minerals that have been "cooked" in the dryer, especially sulpher, will smell worse than they would if they were wet. if you live anywhere there was/is a lot of coal mining you most likely do have sulpher. other minerals will smell too but sulpher is the worse i know of.
using vinegar in your rinse may help. the best bet would be an in line water filter. you can get one for about $100 and if it is only used for the washer it should last quite a while.


Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.

Archive: Clothes Develop a Musty Smell if They Get Wet or Damp While Worn

I never had this problem while I lived at my last house which was on city water. My current house is on a well. Anytime my shirts get damp from perspiration - exercise, yard work, etc. they begin to emanate a musty odor. It resembles the smell which occurs if clothes are left in the washer overnight, and not placed immediately in the dryer.

I've tried everything - cold water detergent, bleach, borax, fabric softeners and I place the clothes in the dryer immediately after washing. I'm sure there's something in the well water which is causing this, but I've had the water tested, and no abnormalities were discovered. Any ideas?


RE: Clothes Develop a Musty Smell if They Get Wet or Damp While Worn

I have a couple of suggestions for you! First, I would use white vinegar in the rinse cycle of the washer to help eliminate any smells! 1/2 cup in the water works well or I use the downy ball half full and toss it in at the beginning of the wash. I also do this when I forget to switch the laundry into the dryer and it sits and gets that musty smell. It works every time and I promise you won't smell like a salad.

Secondly, you may want to look at the water inlet hoses connected to your machine. We have well water which is very hard and I couldn't find the source of a musty type smell and it turned out to be the water hoses. For about $15 in new hoses (and I could have cleaned them out but didn't want to deal with the odor anymore!) we got rid of the smell all together!

Hope that helps. Good Luck!
Rebekah (09/15/2005)

By Madelynnsmama

Try a Different Detergent

It might also be due to the scent in your detergent. I was having a similar (but without the well water) problem. The detergent was liquid All. When I switched to another detergent, the smell disappeared. As this was years ago, I don't know what they are currently using for scent. I called All's customer service and was told that a panel of consumers chose this scent and to mind my own business. Guess they don't need my hard earned money! (09/16/2005)

By cookwie

Baking Soda and Ammonia

Could it be that ONE TIME the clothes got that musty smell from staying in the washer too long? If that happens and you dry it, it is hard to get that smell out and you will ONLY notice it when it gets wet again, like perspiration.

That is what it sounds like to me. Try washing your clothes in baking soda and AMONNIA. NO BLEACH! Bleach has dangerous chemical reaction to ammonia. It will take any smell out. MOThere is a kid in my class that comes to school with sour clothes on. (I am a teacher). It smells SO STRONG! I don't know how they pull it over their head! It is a major asthma trigger for me! I had to go home last week because of it! (09/17/2005)

By Paula in GA


Have you tried vinegar? Add a 1/2 of vinegar to the wash and it should get that smell out! It works great for us! (09/17/2005)

By Cindy.

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