10 Simple Tips to Make Laundry Smell Good

Published August 18, 2020
Young woman doing her laundry at home

Don't resign yourself to stinky, sour smelling laundry. Learn how to make laundry smell good with these 10 simple steps. From how you clean your machine to the temperature of water you use, there are some easy solutions to the problem of stinky laundry.

Why Does My Laundry Smell Bad?

Before you can get fresh-smelling laundry, you need to figure out what's causing the bad odor. There are several common culprits.

Moldy Washing Machine

If you look inside your washing machine, chances are, it looks pretty clean. However, in the hidden areas, especially around the door gasket in front loaders, you may find lurking mold. According to Consumer Reports, this problem plagues at least 17 percent of those who own front-loaders, and it may be an issue with some top-loading machines too.

Overloaded Washing Machine

Just because you can fit that entire laundry basket full of dirties in the machine doesn't mean you should. Overloading your washing machine can keep the clothes from getting washed properly and lead to stinky laundry.

Filling the Washing Machine

Body Soil That Isn't Going Away

When you wear your clothes or use sheets and towels, body soils get on the fabric. The Washington Post reports that 70 percent of laundry dirt is actually body soil, and today's laundry habits and detergents don't do much to combat it.

Laundry That's Wet for Too Long

If your laundry isn't dried quickly and thoroughly, it creates a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. These can lead to a sour smell that's hard to ignore.

Wrong Amount of Detergent

If you use too much or too little detergent, your clothes won't smell clean. Too much detergent creates an opportunity for dirt and mold to stick to the fabric and cause an odor. Too little detergent doesn't adequately clean the dirt off the fabrics.

Pouring too much detergent in washing machine

10 Simple Solutions for Great Smelling Laundry

Getting great smelling laundry is easy if you follow a few simple rules. Keep these tips in mind to get the sour smell out of laundry and keep it smelling fresh.

1. Clean Your Machine

Start by eliminating the mold in your washing machine. Just as you can use vinegar to treat laundry, you can also use white vinegar to clean your washer. Run a load with a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. Alternatively, fill the bleach compartment of your washer and run it on the self-cleaning cycle if you have one. Keep in mind, you should never mix bleach and vinegar; simply choose one method to try. Either way, when the machine is done running, take a sponge or soft cloth and wipe the gaskets to remove mold.

2. Leave the Washer Door Open

Once your washer is clean, keep it that way. When you're done running a load of laundry, leave your washer door open so it can air out. Mold prefers dark, damp places, so good air circulation and old-fashioned sunlight will do a lot to keep it away.

3. Wash on Hot When You Can

One major component of body soils is sebum, which is an oily substance produced by skin. As with removing other oil stains, the solution involves detergents and hot water. The Washington Post article on body soil reports that more than 60 percent of today's fabrics are made from synthetics that can't handle hot water washing. However, in addition to sorting by color, you can sort by fabric type and washing requirements. That way, you can wash high-sebum laundry like undershirts and underwear in hot water.

4. Choose the Right Detergent and Correct Amount

If you can't wash on hot, choose a detergent that does well on body soils. Older laundry detergents may not be able to tackle the newer cold-water-wash-only fabrics. Consumer Reports recommends Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release, but there are many that can work. Select detergent that's designed to work in cold water and that does well with body soils. Then read the label and use the correct amount for your load of laundry.

5. Don't Wait to Wash

For very soiled items like workout clothes, don't wait to wash the laundry. Waiting gives bacteria time to reproduce. Instead, wash a small load as soon as you have it. Similarly, don't let unwashed laundry pile up if you can help it. Try to wash regularly, especially in the summertime or if you live in a warm climate.

Woman looking unhappy as she reaches in for the laundry

6. Consider a Pre-Soak

If you want to get a perfume smell out of laundry or eliminate that sour odor from a previous washing mishap, take a little time to pre-soak. You can make a simple pre-soak by filling your laundry tub or sink with water and adding half a cup of baking soda (which can also help get rid of skunk smells). After the baking soda has dissolved, let the stinky clothes soak in the water overnight.

7. Don't Overload the Machine

On laundry day, resist the temptation to get the work done more quickly by overloading the machine. Part of properly doing laundry involves loading the machine correctly. Your machine shouldn't be more than 3/4 full, and you shouldn't pack the clothes tightly. Everything needs plenty of room to move.

8. Take Your Time With Hand Washing

Hand washing smelly laundry isn't fun, but it's sometimes the only option if you have delicate items. Refresh your skills on hand washing clothes so you know the overall process. Then take your time. Allow the clothing to soak in the soapy water for at least an hour. After that, make sure you rinse especially well. If you're in doubt, perform a second rinse.

Washing Laundry by Hand

9. Dry Laundry Right Away

Whether you're hand washing or machine washing, don't let the laundry stay wet. Immediately move items to the dryer if you can machine dry. For laundry you plan to line dry, ensure you have plenty of space between wet items so air can circulate. Consider moving your line drying to a spot by a window or outside so the sunlight can help kill any lingering mold spores or bacteria.

10. Make Sure Laundry Is Totally Dry

Before you put your laundry away, make sure it's totally dry. Sometimes, you can reduce wrinkles and shrinkage by leaving clothing just a little damp. If you do this, hang the item to dry completely before you put it away. Never fold damp laundry.

Kill the Germs That Cause Laundry Odor

Germs and mold spores are at the root of most laundry odor issues, so use the correct and best smelling laundry detergent or other type of cleaner you can to get that fresh scent you're looking for. In addition to avoiding odors, you can protect your family's health by using simple methods for disinfecting laundry. Clean, germ-free laundry always smells better. For more laundry tips, learn how to get chemical smells out of clothes and make them fresh again.

10 Simple Tips to Make Laundry Smell Good