Forgetting a load of clothes in the washer, piling damp items, such as towels, in a hamper, or storing summer clothing over the winter -- all can result in a musty smell. Catching them at this point -- before mold sets in -- means you can likely use one product or another in the washing or rewashing process to get them smelling fresh again.
Begin by Bleaching the Machine
If you left a load of clothes in the washer, and they've developed a dank smell, the machine will be musty smelling too. Transfer the clothes to a laundry basket. Set the washer to the large-load cycle, add 1/4 cup of bleach, and let the machine run empty. This also works for a washer that emits a foul odor partly because of the dirty job it performs; bleach destroys trapped -- or free-run -- bacteria, stopping it from spreading the foulness to your clothes. After rewashing the clothes with an odor-busting additive, don't put them back in the basket before washing that too.
Vinegar to the Rescue
Without sufficient air flow on a clothesline or in a dryer, bacteria begins to grow on damp clothes within a few hours. If the odor is extremely pungent, use vinegar in place of laundry soap, adding it while the washer fills. For a less-offensive musty scent, use the detergent as usual, and just add a cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle.
Baking Soda Fights Odors
Baking soda -- sodium bicarbonate -- works alongside laundry soap, giving laundry a freshness boost, similar to the way washing soda does. Add a half cup or so to the wash water or soap dispenser to fight a musty odor. Baking soda not only freshens thirsty articles, such as smelly towels and workout clothes, but rids them of fabric softener buildup, which, over time, can hinder their absorbency.
Deodorizing With Detergent
Heavy-duty laundry soap -- such as that used for sweaty or oily work clothes -- contains ingredients that work extraordinarily well to fight not just stains but odors. Use the stink-ridding soap in place of regular detergent, referring to the label for further instructions or warnings, which may include not mixing it with any other product -- natural or chemical-based.