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Here’s Why Your Clothes Still Smell Bad After Washing

A woman smells laundry
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Laundry day can be a chore, but it’s essential to keep our clothes clean and smelling fresh. But despite our best efforts, sometimes our clothes still have an unpleasant odor even after being washed.

Here are a few possible reasons why your clothes may still smell after running through the washing machine according to experts.

Overloading Your Washing Machine

A man does laundry

If you’re cramming too many clothes into your washing machine, you’re not allowing enough space for the detergent and water to circulate properly. According to lifestyle expert Cheryl Nelson, this can result in clothes that are not entirely clean.

If you’ve been dealing with smelly clothes and typically wash large loads of laundry, try reducing the amount of clothing you throw in the washer at one time. You can also follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the maximum load size of your washing machine.

Using the Wrong Amount of Detergent

Someone pours laundry detergent

Using too little laundry detergent won’t clean your clothes properly, while using too much detergent can create a buildup that traps dirt and odors. Many people tend to use too much detergent, but leaning too far in either direction will cause issues with your laundry.

Follow the detergent manufacturer’s recommended dosage or the washing machine manufacturer’s instructions for how much detergent to use. The amount of detergent you need to use will also vary depending on the brand of soap, the dirtiness of your clothes, and even the temperature of your water.

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Using the Wrong Detergent

A man shops for laundry detergent
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Different detergents are formulated for specific types of fabric, so it’s essential to use the right detergent for the clothes you’re washing. For example, using a detergent that’s designed for cotton clothes on wool could damage the fabric and leave it with an unpleasant odor.

If particularly dirty clothes, like the ones you wear while working out, still smell funky after washing, you may need to switch to a stronger detergent.

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Not Cleaning Your Washing Machine

Someone cleans a washing machine
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Over time, washing machines can accumulate detergent residue, fabric softener, and bacteria, which can cause an unpleasant odor. According to Nelson, it’s essential to clean your washing machine regularly, including the detergent dispenser and door seal.

When cleaning your washing machine, don’t forget to check the filter. Locate the filter (usually found at the bottom of the washing machine) and remove any debris or lint. Rinse it thoroughly with water and replace it.

After you clean the individual parts of your washing machine, run a hot water cycle with no clothes and add one cup of baking soda to the detergent dispenser. This will help neutralize any remaining odors.

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Using Fabric Softener Incorrectly

Someone uses fabric softener

While fabric softener can make clothes feel soft and smell great, it can also cause a buildup of residue that traps dirt and odors. Different fabric softeners have different instructions, so make sure to read the label before using it. The instructions will tell you how much fabric softener to use, depending on the load size.

Fabric softeners should be used sparingly. You really only need to use it if you notice that your clothes feel slightly stiff or scratchy after washing.

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Leaving Wet Clothes In the Washing Machine

A woman washing clothes
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Nelson warns against leaving your clothes in the washing machine for too long after the cycle has finished. Doing this can cause a musty odor.

“As annoying as the ‘cycle over alarm’ might sound, it’s a good idea to turn it on to remind you to take your clothes out when the wash cycle is over,” she said.

Always remove your clothes promptly after washing and leave the washing machine door open to allow air to circulate and prevent moisture buildup.

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Try air drying some of your clothes if your dryer is too full.

Not Drying Clothes Properly

A man does laundry
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Drying your clothes correctly is just as important as washing them to avoid musty smells. Don’t overload the dryer, as this can prevent hot air from circulating, which can result in damp clothes and a musty smell.

Dampness is one of the main causes of musty laundry smells. Make sure your clothes are completely dry before putting them away. If clothes are still damp after being in the dryer, add a few extra minutes of drying time.

Finally, don’t forget to clean your dryer regularly. Mildew and bacteria can also build up in this appliance, so you’ll want to clean it often to avoid any funky smells in the dryer.

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Your clothes should smell clean and fresh after being washed. If they’re still smelly, there’s an issue with how you’re washing them. But once you’ve taken care of that weird odor, you might also want to find ways to save time doing laundry, too.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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