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How To Clean Clothes Left in the Washer

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Forgetting clothes in the washer is a common predicament that many of us face. Whether it’s because of a busy schedule or simple forgetfulness, we’ve all done it. And the result? Clothes that have a damp, musty smell, which is not pleasant at all. But fear not, we have got you covered with this comprehensive guide on how to clean clothes left in the washer.


To clean clothes left in the washer, first perform a smell test. If they have a musty odor, rewash them with a cup of vinegar along with your detergent or air-dry them outdoors. If the smell persists, use an Oxi Booster pod or similar products. For a stronger smell, use a combination of vinegar, baking soda, oxygen bleach, or enzyme odor removers. Prevent future incidents by setting reminders, creating a laundry routine, and regularly cleaning your washing machine.

Why Do Clothes Smell When Left in the Washer?

Clothes develop a smell when left in the washer for too long because of the growth of mildew and bacteria. When clothes are left damp in a dark and humid environment like a washing machine, it creates the perfect breeding ground for mold, mildew, and bacteria to thrive. These microorganisms can build up in your clothing over time, eventually leaving them with a permanent odor.

Initial Steps to Take

When you discover clothes left in the washer, the initial steps to take are:

  1. Smell test: Check if the clothes have a musty or mildewy odor. If they smell fresh and clean, you can proceed to dry them without rewashing.
  2. Air-dry: If the clothes have a slight odor, you can simply air-dry them, preferably outdoors, to help remove the smell.
  3. Rewash with vinegar: If you prefer to run the load again, add a cup of vinegar along with your detergent when rewashing the clothes. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer that will help freshen up your clothes.
  4. Use an Oxi Booster: If the smell is persistent, you can use an Oxi Booster pod to boost the cleaning power and tackle stubborn stains and odors.

Best Cleaning Products to Use

When dealing with clothes left in the washer, there are a few cleaning products and methods that can help refresh them and remove any musty odors. Some of the most effective options include:

  1. Vinegar: Add a cup of vinegar along with your detergent when running the load again. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer, which will help your clothes smell fresh again.
  2. Baking soda: Enhance the odor-eliminating power of your detergent by adding baking soda to the wash cycle.
  3. Oxygen bleach: This can be used as a laundry booster to help remove stains and odors from clothing.
  4. Enzyme odor removers: These products contain enzymes that break down odor-causing bacteria and can be particularly effective for mildew caused by sweat.

Different Materials, Different Cleaning Methods

Different types of clothing materials require different cleaning methods, as washing some fabrics the wrong way can damage them. Always check the fabric care label on your garments before washing, as it provides specific instructions for the best care of that particular item.

Removing the Damp and Musty Smell

To remove the damp and musty smell from clothes left in the washer, you can try the following methods:

  1. Rewash the clothes with vinegar: Add a cup of white vinegar along with your detergent and run the load again. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer.
  2. Use baking soda: Add a sprinkle of baking soda before running your clothes through a wash cycle on the hottest setting.
  3. Air-dry the clothes: Hang the clothes outdoors, as the breeze and fresh air will help remove the mildewy odor.
  4. Use lemon juice: Lemon juice acts as a natural mildew remover. You can add lemon juice to the wash cycle to help get rid of the musty smell.
  5. Wash with a heavy-duty detergent: Use a detergent specifically designed to remove dirt, oil, and mildew smells, such as Tide Hygienic Clean.

Preventing Clothes from Being Left in the Washer

To avoid forgetting clothes in the washer, you can take several preventative measures:

  1. Set a timer or reminder: Use your phone, smart speaker, or a kitchen timer to remind you when the washing cycle is complete.
  2. Create a laundry routine: Establish a consistent laundry schedule, such as doing laundry on specific days or at specific times.
  3. Use a washer with an extended wash cycle or fresh hold feature: Some washing machines have features that keep clothes fresh for hours after the cycle is complete.
  4. Place a visual reminder near the washer: Put a sticky note, whiteboard, or other visual reminder near the washing machine to prompt you to check for clothes when you pass by.

Maintaining the Washer

To maintain your washer after leaving clothes in it for too long, you should clean and deodorize the machine. Remove any clothes left in the washer, mix ¼ cup of baking soda with ¼ cup of water and add it to your machine’s detergent container. Pour four cups of plain white vinegar into the washer’s drum, and run an empty cycle with hot water to clean and deodorize the machine.

Cleaning Frequency

To prevent odors in your washing machine, it is recommended to clean it about once a month or every 30 cycles. Regular cleaning helps prevent the buildup of laundry soils, detergent, and hard water minerals, which can lead to mold and mildew growth in the washer.

In conclusion, taking care of your clothes and your washing machine can save you a lot of trouble down the line. It’s always better to prevent problems from arising, but if they do, now you know how to tackle them. Happy laundering!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar to clean my clothes?

Yes, you can use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar. Both types of vinegar have similar acidic properties that can help to break down residue and deodorize your clothes. However, white vinegar is usually cheaper and more readily available.

Can I use bleach instead of vinegar or baking soda to remove the musty smell from clothes?

You can use bleach to remove the musty smell from clothes, but be cautious. Bleach is a harsh chemical and can damage or discolor your clothes, especially if they are colorful or delicate fabrics. Always dilute the bleach and try it on an inconspicuous area of the clothing first.

What if the musty smell persists even after washing with vinegar or baking soda?

If the musty smell persists, you may need to use a commercial odor remover or detergent specifically designed to remove stubborn odors. If the odor still remains, it might be time to consider professional cleaning.

Is it harmful to leave clothes in the washer for too long?

Leaving clothes in the washer for too long isn’t typically harmful to the clothes themselves, but it can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. These can cause a musty smell that can be difficult to remove. In some cases, if left for an extended period, this can lead to permanent damage to the clothes.

How long is too long to leave clothes in the washer?

Ideally, you should remove clothes from the washer as soon as the cycle is finished. However, if you must leave them, try not to let them sit for more than 24 hours to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

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