Why Do My Clothes Smell Musty After Drying?

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Hanging laundry after removing clothes from a washing machine

The trash is taken out, and the dinner dishes are washed and put away. It’s time to sit down after a long day and binge-watch your favorite show for the rest of the evening. All you have left of your daily chores is folding and putting away your laundry. However, when you pull the clothes out of the dryer, you are entirely dismayed! The clothes stink! In fact, they smell worse than they did going into the wash. What causes garments to smell after being washed and dried? 

While this is a very frustrating experience, it is simple to resolve if you are acquainted with specific troubleshooting techniques.

Usually, it is easy to determine the cause of clothes that smell musty after being washed and dried. Common issues are overloading the washing machine, using too much detergent, dirty filters, or leaving the clothing in the washer too long. 

Washers and Dryers usually make our lives easier; however, problems can arise if you don’t use them correctly. We’ll go through all the most likely culprits contributing to your sour-smelling clothing. Most of the issues are easy fixes, so you can have your clothes smelling fresh and clean within one laundry cycle.

Some of the topics we will go over include:

  • Why do my clothes smell after drying?
  • Is my dryer making my clothes stink?
  • Is my washing machine causing a musty smell?

After going through our troubleshooting guide, you might determine that the musty, moldy smell isn’t coming from your laundered clothing. If your entire laundry room smells musty and perhaps feels too humid, check out our blog post on how to fix a hot and humid laundry room for troubleshooting ideas.

Why do my clothes smell after drying?

Does your clothing smell musty after they’ve been washed and dried? A musty smell can occur when there is a presence of mold and mildew. Mildew and mold buildup are two of the most common causes of foul-smelling laundry, and they can be challenging to detect.

According to the CDC, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, mold and mildew form in the presence of excessive moisture. If your clothes smell musty after a tumble in the dryer, the first thing to do is find out if there is any excess moisture and how to fix the issue.

A woman smelling musty clothes after they have dried
Image by surachetkhamsuk on Canva Pro

Is my dryer making my clothes stink?

A musty smell can develop when you leave your clothes sitting too long in the washer or dryer while they are wet. Wet clothes trapped inside the washer and dryer without any air circulation are perfect conditions for mildew to grow, leading to that musty smell.

Never forget to move them directly into the dryer after the washing machine cycle is finished if you want to avoid musty clothing!

If you do forget and your wet clothes sit for a while whilst wet, it’s best to go ahead and rewash them before chucking them in the dryer.

Or maybe the dryer shuts off before the clothing is completely dry, and the wet clothes sit in the drum for too long, giving them time to develop that musty odor.  

Wet clothes trapped inside the washer and dryer without any air circulation are perfect conditions for mildew to grow, leading to that musty smell.

A dryer that shuts off mid-cycle isn’t working correctly. Sometimes the sensors get covered with build-up from fabric softener. Try cleaning the sensors to see if that fixes the problem.  

Also, make sure the lint trap is clean, and the dryer is venting properly to the outside (this also helps prevent the laundry room from becoming overly humid).

If the dryer still turns off early, it’s time to call in a professional appliance repair professional to make sure there isn’t an issue with the power supply or the dryer itself.

Is my washing machine causing a musty smell?

Because drying is the last phase in the washing process, you may quickly blame your dryer for the stink on your clothing. But it may not be your dryer causing your problems! Your washing machine might be the source of your smelly issue.

Over time, soap scum, grime, body oil, and hair get caught within the washer’s seals, gaskets, and dispensers. Combine this standing water left in the washing machine with the humidity in the laundry room, and it’s the perfect recipe for mildew.

It’s unfortunate but true that the machine you depend on to leave your clothes with a fresh smell can actually make them smell far worse.

Mold and mildew may grow in all types of washing machines. However, front-loading devices are more likely to contain these fungi than top-loading ones. The design of the front-loading machine has a gasket around the door. This gasket prevents water from leaking and spilling out of the machine. But, this gasket often collects standing water and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, mildew, and mold. 

The good news is it’s easy to get back to a fresh and clean washing machine and banish the mildew forever. Your washing machine and its parts just need a thorough cleaning and drying.

Many washing machines have a self-cleaning or sanitizing option. These cycles use extra hot temperatures to kill any bacteria lurking in the machine.

You can quickly fix the musty smell with natural cleaning products if you don’t have a self-cleaning option. First, sprinkle about a cup of baking soda into the drum of the washing machine. Then pour 1-2 cups of white vinegar into the detergent tray and run the machine for a complete cycle. At the end of the cycle, any trace of bacteria and mildew in the washer will have disappeared!

You will also need to clean the gasket if you have a front loading machine. You can use a combination of vinegar and baking soda or a safe store-bought cleaner for use on your washing machine. Simply spray your cleaning solution onto a cloth and thoroughly clean the gasket.

Keep the gasket and washing machine dry to prevent future water and bacteria from causing a musty odor. After removing the clothes from the washer, keep the door open, so air can flow freely in and dry any leftover water. You can also regularly wipe down the gasket to keep it dry and bacteria-free

Mold build up in a washing machine that causes musty smelling clothes
Image by turk_stock_photographer on Canva Pro

Are there other reasons I have smelly laundry?

If I don’t have mildew, what are other reasons my clothes stink after being washed?

The most common reason clothes smell musty after washing is because of mold and mildew. However, if you are sure that your smelly clothes aren’t due to mildew, here are three more things to get rid of the odors.

Don’t overload the washing machine

Too many clothes in the washing machine, especially high-efficiency machines, prevent it from working correctly. Sometimes it seems more logical to stuff everything into one load, especially if there isn’t enough to make an entire second load. However, doing this can prevent your clothes from becoming clean.

It is hard for the water and detergent to disperse in the washer and be adequately rinsed. Try washing smaller loads at a time and never fill the machine more than 3/4 full to see if this fixes your issues. 

Water levels

Make sure there is enough water in the machine. Often machines come with water-saving adjustments in place, and they don’t allow for enough water to clean the clothes. Your appliance manual for your machine has instructions on how to adjust the water sensor levels. 

Clothing

Sometimes strong bacteria are in the clothing itself. Certain types of bacteria are hard to remove. Certain fabrics, like those used in exercise clothing, keep bacteria locked in tightly.

There are maximum strength laundry detergents or specialty detergents for fitness fabrics explicitly designed to release the bacteria from the clothing fibers. You can also try using vinegar to help remove the odors in the wash.

Make sure to separate clothing properly. Every clothing item, towel, or bedding has instructions on the label for the best way to wash the item. Following these instructions will help ensure that everything is getting as thoroughly cleaned as possible in the best way for that particular fabric.

Take home message

Most musty odors are caused by mildew and bacteria. So never let wet clothes sit around before drying because dampness and humidity are the perfect breeding ground for musty-smelling bacteria.

Thoroughly clean your washing machine of any mold and mildew to ensure everything stays as dry as possible. It’s an easy fix to get your clothes back to smelling fresh and banish the musty smell forever!

Brooke Payne

Brooke Payne

Home Design & Decor Writer

Brooke is a professional home stager and stylist who knows how to make your home look and function at its best.

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