How To Remove Musty Smell From Clothes Without Washing

How to Remove Musty Smell from Clothes Without Washing | 10 methods

One thing about following sustainable fashion is how we care for our clothes. Apart from the cost factor, washing and drying our clothes can have a pretty significant impact on energy and water. Washing and drying clothes is actually 120 million tons of CO2 every year. Doing less laundry is actually a good thing!

Plus, washing and drying our clothes constantly to get rid of odors decreases their lifespan. Luckily, there are many ways to combat mustiness on your clothes without the use of your washing machine.

Related Article: Going Green: Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent

Why Do My Clothes Smell Musty Even After Washing?

Apart from staying sustainable, washing your clothes continually can ruin the fabric and even decrease the lifespan of your washing machine. Here are some reasons why your clothes smell musty after popping them in the machine.

Combination Of Sweat, Oil, and Bacteria

Anyone who works out every day or does hard labor know this smell all too well on their clothes. Your clothes bear the work for the day as they pick up natural body oils and sweat, which build up and eventually create a musty odor.

While this odor is usually gone after one wash, it may be difficult to remove if you leave the clothes unwashed or if your washing machine is not clean.


Mildew On Clothes

If there is sweat and bacteria in your clothes, and they get wet without properly airing out, the dampness can lead to the development of mildew. Mildew sticks to EVERYTHING, including your washing machine, so you have to clean your machine as well. The mildew growth may occur if you do not take out your clothes from the washer or if they sit in the basket for too long.

Your Washing Machine Is Dirty

Take a whiff of your machine when it is dry and empty. If it has a musty, damp odor, then it will transfer to your clothes. If your washing machine has a self-clean function, run it before putting on your next load of clothes. You can also run an empty cycle with warm water and 2 cups of white vinegar, or you can put in some elbow grease and scrub the drum,

Musty Odors Love Synthetic Fabric

Cotton clothes are very breathable, so they hardly have musty odors. However, synthetic materials such as nylon don’t air out as easily. This is why musty odors catch on these fabrics easier and quicker.

Your Hamper Can Cause Mustiness

If you toss your dirty clothes in a basket and leave it for too long, the moisture can lead to mildew. It would help if you always turned your clothes inside before putting them in the hamper. It’s better to put your dirty clothes on a rail until you have a full load of laundry. You can still use a hamper; however, you should always air them out for a while.

10 Methods for Removing the Musty Smell from Clothes Without Washing

There are several ways to eliminate musty smells from your clothes, from vinegar to even vodka. I will also list ways to reduce mustiness when storing your clothes away.

1 Harness the Power of the Air and the Sun

Leaving Clothes In The Sun

Don’t underestimate how simple this is. Simply hang your clothes outside your closet or by an open window. Leave the musty-infested clothes to hang for about a day, and the odor should be carried away with the wind. It would be best if you also allowed your clothes to air out before you put them away in your cupboard. It prevents the development of odor-causing bacteria.

Leaving your clothes in the sun can also kill these odor-causing bacteria. Since the sun is a natural bleaching agent, it is also a free solution to mustiness. Plus, your clothes will smell super fresh and look brighter!

2 Dryer Sheets or Newspaper

This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to eliminate the musty smell from your clothes. Simply layer dryer sheets in between your clothes when folding. This also reduces your clothes from smelling weird when traveling. You can also rub a dryer sheet on a garment if you need to use it immediately.

Old newspapers can also absorb body oils and mildew that cause mustiness. Scrunch the newspaper into balls and stuff your clothes. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight. You can also layer newspaper in your clothes when folding.  

3 Baking Soda

Baking soda has the amazing ability to both clean and take away unwanted smells from your clothes. Place your clothes in a plastic bag and add at least a tablespoon of baking soda. Tie the bag and ensure it’s secure, then shake it up so the baking soda gets on the surface of your clothes. Leave to sit in the bag for 15 minutes.

Take out your clothes from the bag and dust off the extra baking soda. You can also make a baking soda paste with water to spot-treat very smelly areas, such as the groin area of your pants or the underarm areas of your shirts.

4 Lemon Juice

Lemon juice can be used to spot-treat extra musty areas, such as underarm, under collars, and other areas. Lemon contains substances that kill the bacteria that cause unpleasant smells, leaving your clothes smelling pleasant.

Add some lemon juice to a spray bottle of water, and gently spray the surface of your garments. You cannot use lemon juice undiluted as it will stain or cause discoloration. Leave your clothes to air dry.

Lemon Juice

5 Brush Your Clothes

Did you know that fuzz, hair, and lint can trap musty odors? Especially when it’s pet hair or dryer lint, brushing your clothes can help eliminate and prevent mustiness. You can use the upholstery brush from your vacuum cleaner to brush your clothes. A stiff brush will also do; you just need to make sure that the fuzz is gone.

If you did the baking soda method, you could use the brush to dust off excess baking soda from the surface of your clothes.

6 White Vinegar

White vinegar is the solution to all musty smells, even when it’s on your clothes! Combine half white vinegar with half water in a spray bottle, and shake to mix. Spray your clothes with the solution and hang them to dry for a day before use. This ensures both the vinegar and musty smell are gone.

Since vinegar is acidic, it may affect the fabric of your clothes. Try spraying a small area of your garment to test the solution before spritzing on the whole surface. The vinegar should always be diluted, as you may be left with a too-strong vinegar smell, which is worse than mustiness!

7 Essential Oils

Essential oils are natural perfumes that can overpower musty smells on your clothes. However, you cannot add too many essential oils, and you can’t add them undiluted, as this may be overwhelming. Add some drops of your fav essential oil to a full bottle of water.

Spray your clothes, allow them to air dry, and the smell is gone! I recommend essential oils such as lemon, lavender, or peppermint, as they may be more effective at combating musty odors.

8 Sacrifice Some of Your Vodka

Spritzing diluted vodka on your clothes can also get rid of mustiness from your clothes. Don’t worry; you won’t smell like you’re fresh out of a party! That’s why you dilute the vodka with water. Put the solution in a spray bottle and spray your clothes. Hang them up near a window to air dry.


You can also use the solution to spot-treat extra smelly regions of your clothes. I advise you to use unflavored vodka so you don’t get another unpleasant smell and your clothes don’t get sticky, as flavored vodka contains sugar.

9 Freeze Your Clothes

Yes, freezing your clothes actually works! Put your clothes in a large freezer bag and seal it. Put the bag into the freezer and leave it to work its magic. The cold temperatures will deodorize your clothes and kill the smelly bacteria.

When you take your clothes out, leave them to warm up before wearing them. I feel this is perfect for a hot summer’s day!

10 Pop Them in the Dryer

This should be a last resort type of solution as dryers can also reduce the lifespan of your clothes! However, it is true that dryers can also help to get rid of the mustiness. Since it absorbs all the moisture, it kills the odor-causing bacteria. You can add a clean towel and a dryer sheet (alternatively, you can use foil, wool dryer balls, or baking soda) to the smelly clothes. This will absorb all the mustiness. Put a dryer cycle for 10 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is mildew dangerous for my clothes?

Yes, and for your health as well. Mold and mildew make your clothes smell musty, eat away at the fabric of your clothes, and ruin the colors, making them look dull and old. Mildew can affect your chest and cause elevated health problems for those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Does cedar wood help with mustiness in clothes?

Cedar wood is extremely effective at removing moisture from the air, so it is a natural dehumidifier that keeps your clothes free from mold and mildew. Hanging your clothes on cedar wood hangers reduces mustiness and promotes the natural smell of cedar.