How to Eliminate Sour-Smelling Laundry

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Washing laundry might not be your favorite thing to do, but nothing beats pulling out fresh, warm laundry — unless that first sniff smells sour instead of clean. Sour-smelling laundry can be caused by several issues, so you'll need to pinpoint the cause and correct it. Rewashing after you solve the problem gets your clothes back to smelling fresh again. Laundry smelling sour lately? Here's what causes it and what to do about it.

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Why Clothes Smell Sour

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Sour-smelling laundry can happen for a variety of reasons. Identifying the cause can make it easier to fix the problem.

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Sometimes, your washer is dirty and is making your clothes stink when you wash them. This can happen more often with a front-loading washing machine since it seals so tightly. Too much laundry detergent can make clothes smell funky, as can failing to dry your clothes completely. Bacterial buildup in the fabric can also leave things smelling sour.

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How to Eliminate Sour-Smelling Laundry

1. Wash the Washer

Your washing machine is designed to clean clothes, but it's not a self-cleaning appliance. The fabric softener, detergent, and other additives you use to get your clothes clean and fresh smelling can build up in the washer and cause odors. Front-loading washers can grow mold and mildew along the seal, and bacteria can also cause odors.

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Here's how to clean inside a washing machine:

  1. Remove the soap tray and other removable parts. Wash them in the sink with mild soap or vinegar.
  2. Wipe the rubber seal if you have a front-loading washing machine. Check for mold or mildew and wipe it away.
  3. Wash the inside of the drum, the soap dispenser, and other parts that you can't remove using vinegar. Use a soft sponge or cleaning brush.
  4. Run a wash cycle on the hottest setting with the machine empty. Put 1 cup of vinegar in the washing machine before running it.

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Tip

If you have a front-loading machine, wipe the seal each time you're finished using the machine to dry it well. You can also prop open the door until the seal is dry. This prevents mold and mildew from growing and can reduce odors.

2. Rewash the Clothes

When you know the washing machine is clean, it's time to rewash the clothes. Follow these steps to get rid of the smell:

  1. Read the care instructions to see if the clothes can handle hot water. If so, use the hot water setting to help kill bacteria that cause odors. If not, use the highest water temperature recommended on the label.
  2. Measure the detergent to make sure you don't overdo it.
  3. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the load to help remove bacteria and buildup in the clothing. Alternatively, you can sprinkle 1/2 cup of baking soda into your load of laundry and wash it normally.
  4. Turn on the extra rinse cycle if your washer has one to ensure it rinses all of the detergent out of your clothes.
  5. Check the smell of the clothes after the cycle is finished. Run them through another wash cycle if necessary to get rid of the smell.

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Tip

Vinegar can affect the elasticity of your clothes over time. Limit how often you use it on your clothes to avoid shortening their life span.

3. Dry Your Clothes Thoroughly

When your clothes stay damp for a long period, they can grow mildew or bacteria, which can cause a stinky smell. Don't toss damp clothes or towels in your hamper, as they can start to smell and cause other laundry in the hamper to stink as well. They should dry first before you toss them in with the other dirty clothes.

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Your clothes dryer is one final way you can prevent your clothes from smelling sour. Once your clothes smell clean after washing them, dry them thoroughly before removing them and folding them. When air-drying clothes, hang them outdoors or in a sunny indoor spot to prevent odors.

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