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How to Remove Musty Odors from Clothing

Clothes dry by hanging on clothes line at the balcony

Clothes dry by hanging on clothes line at the balcony

Musty smells on clothing are a nuisance. Plus, to the keen human olfactory sense, unpleasant odors can point to unsanitariness. In the case of clothing, musty smells can be a result of mold or mildew growth. Removing musty odors from clothing may be accomplished via any of four easy steps.

Issues with Musty Smells

Clothes that wreak of offensive odors are a health risk. Since musty smells are often an indication of mold or mildew, breathing in these mold spores or mildew is hazardous. Inhaling mold spores can trigger asthma symptoms and other respiratory conditions in vulnerable people.

Mold spores are rarely fussy eaters. The spores will thrive anywhere with a continuous moisture source, oxygen, and an organic food supply—like clothing. Moisture is present in places with inadequate ventilation, such as the basement, attic, closets, and hampers.

Moisture can also be the outcome of a leaky pipe or excess humidity in the home. When clothes are stored in vicinities with abundant moisture, mold is likely to grow. The soft materials in clothing provide nourishment to hungry mold spores and allow the colonies to proliferate.

The musty smells in clothing do not come strictly from the mold. Rather, the mold emits gases called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC). As the mold flourishes through its different growth stages, these chemical compounds are released. As a result, moldy clothing gives off musty odors.

MVOCs form hundreds of different types of molds and mildews. While MVOCs occur in nature, they are also considered to be an industrial chemical. MVOCs have a low odor threshold. This means that musty smells are detected easily; and, when they are smelled, the odor is powerful.

Here are some ways on how to remove any musty odors from your clothes.

Inside the washing machine

1. Clean the Washing Machine

When musty odors are present in clothing, it is important to handle the problem right away. Washing machines and dryers are the first place to check for lingering mold. Clothes that smell musty right out of the wash signals a mold problem within the washing machine itself.

Clean the washing machine by running it on an empty cycle with hot water. Use laundry detergent or bleach to maximize the effectiveness of the cleaning cycle. Between washes, keep the lid of the washer open to accelerate the drying process within the machine and prevent mold from latching on.

If moldy smells still manifest after cleaning the washing machine, it will be necessary to disassemble the washing machine. Examine the parts for mold. Upon detecting mold growth, clean with hot water and a cleaning solution. Hire a professional service if the task is challenging.

In cases where the clothing items are infested with mold, a wash with a mold inhibiting product will remove the musty smells. Bleach, vinegar, ammonia or baking soda will successfully eliminate musty odors from the clothes when they are added to the wash cycle.

Spring Cleaning

2. Wash with Vinegar

Vinegar is a household staple and inexpensive to purchase. The liquid neutralizes offensive smells, is safe to use (since the solution does not contain harsh chemicals) and is environmentally friendly. Plus, vinegar is non-toxic and color-safe. It even works as a natural fabric softener!

Treating clothing with vinegar will not leave the smell of vinegar on the clothes—both the vinegar and musty smells disappear in the washing cycle. Per load, pour in two cups of vinegar. Soak the clothes in the hot water and vinegar for 30 minutes to kill the mold spores.

While the vinegar neutralizes the musty odors, the hot water disinfects the clothing and dislodges any remaining bacteria. Hot water also deodorizes the clothing. Next, rinse the clothes in cold water. Run the clothes through a wash cycle using detergent. Dry the clothes. If musty smells linger, repeat.

4. Wash with Bleach

Similar to the efficacy of vinegar, bleach may be added to the wash to remove musty odors embedded in fabrics. Although chlorine bleach is powerful enough to eliminate strong odors, the solution is unsafe to use with colored or synthetic clothing materials.

When choosing to use bleach to remove musty odors, inspect the clothing label for a “do not use bleach” warning. If it is safe to use bleach, pause the washer once it fills with water. Add a cup of bleach to the water and complete the wash cycle.

Alternately, soak the clothes in two gallons of hot water and one cup of bleach for at least one hour. Be careful when opting to use bleach. Mixing a powerful chemical like bleach with ammonia, for instance, can unleash toxic gases and be harmful to the lungs if inhaled.

4. Dry Clothes Outdoors

Prevention tips to keep clothing from smelling musty include drying them immediately upon washing. Or hang the clothes outside to dry in the sun. Light and heat inhibit mold growth. An additional benefit is that clothes hung outside to dry have a fresh, clean scent.Bright solarium-style sunroom off the master suite.

Moisture problems of all varieties can lead to a mold infestation in the home. Flooding, sewage backups and the fire extinguishment process can introduce excess water into the home and cause extensive mold growth. Call ServiceMaster when mold colonies seize your home.

ServiceMaster provides quality content cleaning and pack-out services to homeowners and businesses. Our technicians can restore many personal possessions. The key to a successful restoration is contacting us immediately after the disaster to begin restoration services.

Our restoration specialists arrive quickly after your call to assess the extent of damage. Once it is determined what items can be salvaged or restored, we initiate a thorough cleanup and sanitization. Offsite cleaning is also available. Deodorization of the affected area completes our efficient procedure.

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Home and business owners in south central and southeast Nebraska are advised to contact ServiceMaster soon after a natural or manmade disaster to begin restoration. Avoid permanent damage to your belongings and call us for content cleaning and pack-out emergencies 365 days a year.