How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes & Towels

Exposure to mold and mildew can cause health problems. For example, it can cause coughing, wheezing, throat irritation, and skin irritation.  Certain types can also be toxic, which can result in severe symptoms. In cases like that, you’ll want to hire a professional mold removal service right away. 

Given all that, it’s easy to see why you want to control the humidity level in the house. After all, these microorganisms thrive on moisture. The last thing you want to do is to provide them with a place to grow!

What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

Mold and mildew are both fungi. The former is usually black or green in color with a fuzzy appearance. Over time, it can create spores, which can become airborne. Ultimately, it’s this process that causes them to spread like wildfire. In contrast, mildew, which is mold in its early stages, is usually brown, yellow, or white. Appearance-wise, it’s also not as fluffy. In fact, it tends to be flat.

Mold and Mildew in the House

High moisture can lead to mold and mildew growth. That’s why you often see them in bathrooms and attics. For example, they can grow on walls and in corners. Left to their own devices, they can multiply quickly.

That’s not the only place where you can find these microorganisms, though. As it is, they can also grow on fabric. Yup, that’s right—they can infiltrate your clothes given the chance. That’s why it’s so important to dry them properly once they’re wet. Leaving them wet for long periods of time will only facilitate mildew growth!

Can Mildewed Clothes Make You Sick? 

Yes, mildewed clothes can make you sick. Remember, they produce spores, which can easily enter the body. It doesn’t matter whether their dead or alive either—both can cause a wide range of health problems. Depending on the type, your skin might even break out into a rash or hives! Who’s at risk? Everyone.

With that said, certain people are at a higher risk for mildew-related health problems. This group includes children, infants, seniors, and those who are immunocompromised. Pregnant women are also more vulnerable. The same thing goes for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions (e.g. sleep apnea, asthma, etc).

The Stink That Comes With Mold and Mildew 

Your clothes will not only become a health hazard but they’ll develop a smell as well. You’ve probably experienced this before—it’s a musty odor that you can’t ignore. Ultimately, what that means is that mold or mildew is growing on the fabric. Once it’s gotten to that stage, the only thing to do is to wash them again.

Don’t just throw them into the washer blindly again, though. Chances are, that won’t be enough to get rid of the mildew. As it is, you’ll probably have to do a few extra steps. Not sure what to do? Well then, you’re in luck—because that’s what we’ll be discussing in this post. Keep reading to find out how to wash mildewed clothes!

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Clothes and Towels

Grossed out by the mildew smell that’s on your clothes/towels? Don’t worry, there are several things that you can do to eradicate it. Here are some of them.

1. Wash with White Vinegar

White vinegar’s not just for cooking, it can also be used as a cleaning agent. For instance, you can use it to remove built-up detergent on clothes. That’s not all, you can use it to eliminate smells as well—obviously, that includes the ones caused by mold and mildew.

Ultimately, what you want to do is add a cup to the rinse cycle (you can think of it as a replacement for fabric softener). That’s it! From there, just run the washer as you would normally. The vinegar will not leave any vinegar smell. If anything, your clothes will come out smelling fresh! After all, the vinegar will effectively kill the mildew. 

Note: For the best results, don’t use any laundry detergent. If you want, however, you can add half the amount that you normally use.

Another way that you can do it is by soaking your clothes in vinegar. Fill a sink with hot water and add in a cup of white vinegar. From there, plunge your clothes in so that they’re fully saturated. Leave them in there for at least 30 minutes—that’ll give the vinegar time to dissipate the smell.

2. Wash with Baking Soda

Baking soda is similar to vinegar in that it has many uses. That is, you can use it for baking and for cleaning! In fact, it’s one of the best deodorizers there is.

Given that, it’s not surprising to know that it works for mildew smells as well. As with the vinegar, you want to add the soda into the wash. In terms of how much, 1/2 cup should suffice—although it depends on the size of your load. For the best results, run the cycle on hot water. If that’s not possible (some clothes will shrink with heat), use cool water.

The great thing about baking soda is that it’s actually capable of killing mold and mildew, just like vinegar. So it won’t just get rid of the smell, it’ll get rid of the underlying problem. The only difference is that it attacks different strains of the mildew. That’s why it’s recommended if vinegar doesn’t work (the vinegar might have been ineffective for these specific strains).

3. Soak with Borax

Borax is a white mineral that’s been used as a cleaning agent for many decades. Not only does it get rid of stains, but it’s also capable of killing mold and mildew. On top of that, it can neutralize odors.

For mildewed clothes and towels, what you want to do is to make a solution. Fill a tub or container with hot water and add half a cup of Borax. Swirl and mix until the white powder is completely dissolved before putting your items in. Make sure that it’s fully saturated with the mixture and let it soak for at least 30 minutes (the longer you soak it, the more effective it will be). Once you’ve pre-treated it with the Borax, you can wash as normal.

Alternatively, you can sprinkle half a cup of Borax onto the dirty laundry before loading it into the washing machine. Do note, however, that if you use cold water, the powder might not dissolve properly. So watch the temperature if you want to go for this method.

4. Make Use of Sunlight

Most washing guides will tell you not to dry your clothes under direct sunlight and there’s a good reason for that—the sun’s rays can damage the fabric over time. Things are different, however, when it comes to mildew. As it is, you can make use of the sunlight to kill it altogether.

Simply expose the garment to sunlight by hanging it outside. Keep in mind, however, that there’s a chance that the rays can also lighten your clothes. Given that, it might not be the best option for dark-colorer items. Another thing is that the sun’s rays tend to work better on natural fibers (e.g. cotton) than synthetics.

5. Use an Enzyme Odor Remover

Enzyme odor removers are commercial products that you can buy to eliminate mildew from your clothes and towels. If anything, they work just as well, if not better, than the other options we’ve mentioned above.

How do these products work? They contain enzymes that are capable of breaking down and dissolving gunk on your clothes and towels (of course, that includes mold and mildew). In doing so, your items will come out smelling fresh. While it depends on the product, you typically just pour it into the machine along with your clothes. Make sure to read the label before using it; some may require you to dilute it beforehand.

For the best results, choose a fragrance-free enzyme odor remover. That way, you won’t have to worry about there being extra chemicals that you don’t need, which can irritate your skin.

6. Use Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach is another option. If anything, it’ll easily take care of your mildew problem. How do they work? They release oxygen once it’s exposed to water. Ultimately, it’s this process that helps to lift dirt and stains from your clothes. Of course, it’ll also kill any mold or mildew that’s on the item.

When washing your clothes, simply substitute it for your regular detergent. Generally speaking, half a cup should suffice. For maximum cleaning power, you can use it in addition to borax.

Preventing Your Clothes/Towels From Developing the Mildew Smell

There are a number of things that you can do to prevent your clothes and towels from developing that musky smell. Here are some tips:

  • Take your clothes and towels out of the washing machine as soon as the wash cycle is finished. Leaving them in the washer will facilitate mold and mildew growth, which will lead to that smell
  • Make sure your clothes and towels are fully dry before putting them away in a drawer or closet
  • If possible, open up your closet doors to maximize airflow
  • Don’t pack your items too closely in the closet
  • Use a dehumidifier if you a moisture problem in the house
  • Place silica gel packs in your closet to remove excess moisture
  • Don’t throw wet clothes in the laundry hamper. Make an effort to wash them as soon as possible
  • Towels should be hung up after they’re used so that they can dry properly
  • Avoid storing your clothes and towels in plastic containers as they’re not breathable; use something like a cotton bag instead
  • Clean your washing machine regularly to prevent mildew and mold from growing inside

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