Can I Leave Damp Clothes in the Washing Machine Overnight?

Damp clothes left in the washing machine overnight -- or even longer -- could lead to musty odors, mold and mildew on your clothes or even in the dryer itself. Even if you don't notice a musty scent, you may wind up having to wash the clothes again to get them smelling fresh.

Time is of the Essence

Mildew and musty odors generally take longer than 12 hours to develop, so the sooner you are able to dry those wet clothes, the better. There may be exceptions to the rule, however -- if you've washed the clothing once in a while with fabric softeners or if you've overfilled the washing machine, the clothes may not be completely clean even after washing them. Leaving them damp and wadded up when they aren't entirely fresh in the first place may cause them to smell a bit even before 12 hours go by, as you may have noticed if you've ever left a wet towel on the floor or if you failed to rinse a washcloth thoroughly after using it.

Preventive Measures

  • Skip chemical-based fabric softeners to help ensure that all your clothes -- and laundry in general -- come out completely clean. Many fabric softeners leave behind a coating that prevents laundry from being thoroughly washed and rinsed.
  • Always remove damp items from the washing machine as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the chance of odors and the greater the chance you'll forget about those wet washables for an even longer period of time.
  • Leave the lid or door open on the washing machine for at least an hour or two after removing washed items so the inside of the drum has a chance to dry out. This helps prevent odors and mildew within the machine itself.
  • If your washing machine doesn't buzz or beep when a load completes, set a timer to go off approximately when the final spin cycle ends -- or in about an hour -- to ensure you deal with the damp clothing right away. This way you'll be reminded and won't forget, no matter how much multitasking you do while you wait on your laundry.
  • If you simply can't dry your damp laundry right after the spin cycle ends, at least open the washing machine's door or lid. If possible, take the items out of the washer and set them atop a clothing rack or indoor clothes line temporarily, until you have time to put them in the dryer or hang them up outdoors to dry.