We’ve all done it, and we’ll probably do it again: leave wet clothes in the washer for hours (or more) because we forgot about them or didn’t have time to switch the laundry to the dryer before running errands or going to work. But just how awful is that habit? Here’s everything we need to know about how long clothes can sit in the washer without smelling bad.

How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer Before Smelling

There is no hard-and-fast rule for how long clothes should sit in the washer before smelling, but you can keep wet clothes in the washer for eight to twelve hours for maximum freshness. Following this, they start to develop an odor, which is usually indicative of mildew growth.

This time-length advice comes from Lucinda Ottush, a Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science expert. Even Martha Stewart, the home-keeping guru, and queen of smart living agree that it is acceptable to leave damp clothes in the washer overnight.

If you want your clothes to come out looking and smelling their best, Martha advises against leaving them to sit in the washer overnight or for a long period of time.

What Happens 8-12 Hours Later?

The accumulation of bacteria and mildew causes the clothes to smell after 8-12 hours. No amount of air drying or sun drying can remove the foul odor from your clothes when this happens. Try the smell test if you’re not sure whether your clothes have been in the washer for too long.

It’s an excellent method for detecting the presence of germs and mildew in your laundry because they always produce a bad smell. This smell test is one of the reasons why it’s essential to use non-scented, chemical-free detergent. This will tell you if your clothing has been adequately washed or if it needs to be rewashed.

Can I Leave Clothes Soaking in the Washer Overnight?

Because the fabric is not exposed to air and so takes longer to attract mildew and mold, soaking clothes overnight is less likely to result in mold and mildew growth. If you use an antimicrobial cleaning solution, such as a stain and odor remover, you can inhibit growth while your clothes are soaking.

If you soak your clothes overnight in the washer, make sure to check on them first thing in the morning. This will not only keep undesirable smells at bay, but it will also keep your clothing from dissolving, especially if you’re using a heavy-duty cleaner.

Consequences of Leaving Clothes to Sit In The Washer for Long

#1. Mildew on clothes

If you’ve ever left your clothes to sit in the washer for an extended period, you know that they begin smelling after a while. As previously stated, this unpleasant odor is caused by the growth of germs and mildew. The longer your clothes sit in the washer, the less fresh they become and the stronger the odors they emit.

On damp clothes, furniture, and occasionally walls, mildew appears as a fine dusting of black, grey, or yellowish growth. Mildew thrives in humid environments and is most commonly found on cotton, linen, and silk clothing.

Because it is a small group of fungi, the accumulation causes a musty odor or a color change. It could be powdery or downy in texture.
Mildew produces spores, which not only cause an unpleasant odor in your clothes but can also cause serious fabric damage. Mildew usually requires a humid climate, wetness, darkness, and, because it is a living thing, a food source to grow.

#2. Health issues

Mildew is bad for your clothes, but it is also bad for your health. It has been proved in some circumstances that breathing in mildew can cause illness. People who already have respiratory disorders, such as asthma, are more likely to become ill as a result of mildew exposure.
Some people are extremely allergic to mildew. Mildew can also affect your eyes, throat, lungs, and skin.

#3. Mildew in the washer

Mildew on clothes left in the washer for too long can harm your washing space, including your dryer, in addition to generating a smell that does not go away until you rewash and, in severe situations, damage your clothes.

It is only normal that mildew grows in the washer as a result of moisture because mildew needs moisture to grow. This mildew is usually referred to as “washer mildew.” It not only lives in your washer, but it also spreads to other mildew-free clothes. It releases an unpleasant odor, leaving your clothes smelling even worse than when they sit in the washer.

What Causes Mildew Smell in Clothes?

So, why do clothes smell after being washed? Mildew on your clothes is caused by bacteria and fungi creating funky-smelling gases. The rate at which clothing mildews is determined by various factors, including the kind of fabric, humidity, temperature, and ventilation. Mold and mildew thrive in the humid air and warm temperatures of your washing machine. Natural fabrics absorb water fast and dry slowly while in the washer.

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes that have Been in the Washer

However, suppose you waited too long and your clothes now smell like mildew, so you’re frantically Googling how to remove the smell of wet clothes. Please relax. You have many options for dealing with the issue.

#1. Check that your washing machine is clean.

If you’re trying to prevent mildew from smelling in your clothes after putting them in the washer and haven’t even left them to sit overnight, the issue could be the machine itself. As previously stated, the warm, humid interior environment is ideal for mold and mildew growth. Simply running a wash cycle with only white vinegar and keeping the lid open between washes to air dry can do wonders.

#2. Allow your clothes to dry naturally.

Clothing that is merely mildewed somewhat can be air-dried. If you hang the item outside, the breeze and fresh air will help eradicate the mildew stench and save you the effort of running another load for a few items.

#3. Mildew can be naturally removed with vinegar.

If you’d prefer just run the load through another cycle, and add in a cup of vinegar, which is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. Before pressing the start button, you can add it to your clothes directly. Pour in another cup during the rinse cycle, and when you take your clothes out, they will be smelling not-so-funky fresh.

#4. Baking soda can be used to remove musty odors.

Before running your clothes through the hottest wash cycle, sprinkle some baking soda on them. The only disadvantage is that you may need to put your clothing through the machine several times to thoroughly clean it.

You don’t have to freak out or feel guilty the next time you’re woken awake by the utter fear of a forgotten load of clothes now that you’re a true laundry guru.

How to Prevent a Bad Clothes Smell in your Laundry Room

There are a few things you can do to avoid your clothes sitting in the washer for too long.

#1. Set a timer.

To help you remember to take your clothes out as soon as the cycle is over, install a timer on your washing machine. If you can still hear the timer after the washing cycle is finished, consider making a backup on your phone or another device.

#2. Use a dehumidifier in the washing room.

Using a dehumidifier in your laundry room is another technique to keep your clothes from being exposed to moisture. This will help remove any excess moisture from the air and keep your clothes fresh for a longer period of time. A fan or open window can also aid in the reduction of humidity in your laundry room.

#3. Take your clothes out of the washer asap.

Of course, the best approach to avoid having your clothes sit in the washer for too long is to remove them as soon as you can. If you can’t do it right immediately, try to get them out within an hour or two so they don’t sit in a moist environment for too long.

#4. Clean your washing machine regularly.

Another strategy to keep unwanted odors at bay in your laundry room is to clean your washing machine regularly. This will aid in the removal of any germs or mold that may be causing the issue. Once a month, run a hot cycle with vinegar and clean the door seal and detergent drawer according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Is it OK to leave clothes in the washer overnight?

It’s okay to leave damp clothes in the washing machine overnight on occasion, but don’t do it frequently.

How long can clothes sit in the washer before mildew?

Approximately eight to twelve hours

There is no hard and fast rule about how long clothes should sit in the washer, although you can keep wet clothes in the washer for eight to twelve hours for maximum freshness. Following this, they begin to emit an odor, which is usually indicative of mildew growth.

What happens if clothes are left in the washer too long?

It begins to smell owing to the growth of germs and mold. Many people discover the hard way that if you leave wet laundry in the washing machine for too long, it will begin to smell. When this happens, no amount of drying will eradicate the nasty stench, necessitating a second wash of the clothes.

How long can you leave clothes in the washer before you need to rewash them?

If you leave clothes in the washing machine for more than 12 hours, you should rewash them. Give them a quick scent test if it’s been 8-12 hours, but they generally don’t need to be rewashed. If it has been less than 8 hours, you can just dry them right away.

Can mold grow on clothes left in the washer?

Mold can develop on various surfaces, such as fabrics. You have probably forgotten about the wet towels in your hamper, or you have left a load of clean, wet clothes in the washing machine for too long and it has soured. Mold and mildew spores thrive in these dark, humid environments, so they will quickly begin to grow on wet clothes.

Can mold survive the washer?

Partially. Mold can thrive in washing machines, particularly high-efficiency front-loading versions. Warm temperatures, soil, germs from clothes, detergent, and fabric softener residue, as well as a dark atmosphere, can all lead to a stinking, moldy washer.


Remove your clothes from the washer every eight to twelve hours to prevent mildew from forming and enveloping them in its foul odor. This guarantees maximum freshness. To avoid smelling, avoid leaving damp clothes to sit in the washer for an extended period. Repeatedly doing this harms your clothes and washer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is mold in the washing machine harmful?

“Mold that forms in washing machines can be a concern even when the machine is turned off.” Mold can cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, and congestion, as well as irritate the airways.

Can mold be removed by washing?

When mold is discovered on clothing, the treatment relies on the age of the mold stains as well as the type of fabric. Fresh mold stains are often easily removed by laundering with a high-quality detergent like as Persil Powercaps.

Should I rewash my clothes if I left them in the washer?

If wet clothes are left in the washer for over 12 hours, bacteria can grow and cause mildew or mold. If this occurs, you must rewash your clothes using a different wash cycle.

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