4 Easy Ways to Get A Mildew Smell Out of Clothes

You might have some old clothes that you found in your closet or left in the bathroom for weeks. It might still look great, but there is this damp, pungent scent you can’t get rid of. You do not have to throw your clothes; they can still be saved.

What is mildew?

What is mildew?

You might be familiar with mildew or mildew stains. It is a kind of microscopic fungus that can travel by air using tiny spores. The land is mostly in damp places and multiply when not attended.

Mildew will appear powdery with a light gray to white color when it is just starting to grow. However, it turns yellowish as its ages until it becomes dark brown or sometimes black. There is also a type of mildew that looks like fluffy splotches. It will appear yellow at first and turn to dark brown as its ages.

Just like molds, it smells musty or damp with a pungent scent. It can be hard to differentiate the two with just the smell, so there are things to be considered to know what you are dealing with.

What is the difference between molds and mildew?

What is the difference between molds and mildew

First, molds and mildew do not thrive in the same environment. Molds prefer organic wood, primarily found in walls, floors, and ceilings. Meanwhile, mildew desires a higher moisture level in the bathroom walls and grout gaps.

Molds can be irritating as it damages the surface and beneath it. When the molds infect a wall, it is destroyed and replaced with a new one. It is not the case with mildew. They only grow on the surface where they land and do not penetrate further.

The appearance also differs. Mildew is either powdery or fluffy, but mold is slimy or fuzzy. Molds also have a variety of colors, which can be either green, blue, red, or black, while mildew can only be light gray to white or yellow, depending on the type.

To know more about molds and mildew, you may watch this video.

Can mildew be dangerous?

Unlike molds, mildew is not life-threatening to someone’s health, especially if it is just starting to appear. However, it would be best to take care of it instantly as being exposed to it longer can make someone sick. It may trigger allergy or asthma when the produced mycotoxins are inhaled too much.

It might also build a colony in other places when not dealt with. Clothes will be affected, and washing them with soap and water will not be enough. Here are some ways you may do when your clothes start growing mildew.

How to deal with mildew smells on clothes?

How to deal with mildew smells on clothes

Before starting with the ways of dealing with it, here are some reminders and tips that will help you fulfill your goal rather than destroying the clothes.

Take a deep breath.

You might think it is the end for your clothing, but it is not. Do not stress about it too much. Try some ways to remove the mildew smell from the clothes shown below.

Heavily perfumed laundry detergent and conditioner are not the solutions.

It is a basic instinct to fight it with a good fragrance if something does not smell good. It might solve your problem for a few minutes, but the mildew will remain in the clothes, and the smell will eventually come back.

Maintain cleanliness of washing machine.

Before washing your clothes, make sure that your washing machine is not the problem. Check if there is mildew on the seal. After using the washing machine to remove mold, make sure to clean it thoroughly to avoid infecting other clothes.

4 Easy Ways on How to Get A Mildew Smell Out of Clothes

Out of several numbers of ways on how to get the mildew smell out of the clothes, we have compiled the best 4 ways to remove the mildew smell.

1. Removing Mildew Smell Using a Vinegar

Removing Mildew Smell Using a Vinegar

Vinegar might be good for cooking, but its acidic content is also great for cleaning. Instead of using detergent to wash your clothes, use plain white vinegar. Not only will it remove the fungi and bacteria clinging to your clothes, but it will also remove other product build-ups.

  1. Set your washing machine’s water temperature to the hottest it can get.
  2. Add a cup of plain white vinegar to the water.
  3. Spread the clothes with mildew to the washing machine.

The temperature of the water plus the acid from the vinegar will make break the built-up grimes and kill the bacteria in the clothes. It will leave you with a clean fabric and no more smell.

2. Removing Mildew Smell Using Baking Soda

Removing Mildew Smell Using Baking Soda

If the vinegar does not work well and there is still a mildew smell, rewash your clothes with baking soda.

  1. Set your washing machine’s water temperature to the hottest it can get.
  2. Sprinkle ½ to 1 cup of baking soda on top of the clothes.
  3. For the final rinse, add just a little vinegar to the water.

It will not leave your clothes to smell great after the wash. It will leave no odor because of the alkaline, which neutralizes the smell. But do not use fabric softener yet. Dry it as it is for now.

3. Removing Mildew Smell Using Borax

Removing Mildew Smell Using Borax

If the mildew in the fabric is severe, you might want to use a more potent chemical. You may use an oxygen bleach or borax mixture in this matter.

  1. Prepare hot water in a tub.
  2. Dissolve ½ cup of borax into the hot water.
  3. Soak clothes in the mixture for an hour.
  4. Wash clothes how you normally wash them.

Like baking soda, Borax has a high pH level, making it alkaline. It removes the odor on the clothes and makes the fabric unhabitable for mildew as it makes alkaline spaces.

4. Removing Mildew Smell Using Activated Charcoal

Removing Mildew Smell Using Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is famous nowadays because of its many uses. One of them is to filter water or air. You can buy activated charcoal tablets in pet stores, retail centers, or nutrition shops.

  1. Place the clothes that have a musty smell into a zip lock bag.
  2. Add tablets of activated charcoal in the same bag.
  3. Leave the zip lock bag closed for a day up to a week, depending on how strong the odor is.

The activated charcoal will filter the odor and absorb the moisture from the clothes, making them unhabitable to the mildew. You may also use the charcoal for a campfire after you are done with it.

What to do after removing mildew smell from clothes?

What to do after removing mildew smell from clothes

After following the steps above, you might want to be careful with your clothes the next time. Here are a few reminders on what you should do after following the ways to get mildew smell out of clothes and prevent it from happening again.

Hang clothes to dry right away

After washing your clothes or using towels, hang them right away. Remember that mildew loves damp places, and if you do not dry clothes properly, mildew will live in it again, and you’ll have to repeat the process to remove it.

Dry clothes outside

If you have a garden, backyard, or an open space with direct sunlight, dry your clothes where the sun can reach. The heat from the sun kills bacteria that might cause another smell in your clothes.

Don’t overuse detergent and fabric softener

There are instructions written for each detergent and fabric softener brand. Follow them as much as possible to avoid the build-up of products that feed bacteria. Too much detergent does not mean cleaner clothes, and too much fabric softener will not make your fabric softer and fragrant as promised.

You do not need to waste other good clothes because they do not smell great anymore. You can follow the steps here to remove that mildew smell and make it look new again. Take care of your clothes properly to prevent this from happening again.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is mildew a problem I should worry about?

It might not be as life-threatening as molds, but you still need to take care of mildew. If you inhale spores for a long time, you might have an allergy reaction or asthma.

What is the best way to remove the mildew smell from clothes?

If the mildew is already growing in your clothes and releases a very musty smell, you have to try the Borax mixture to kill it. It will leave no odor and makes the fabric unhabitable for mildew.

What if I don’t have a space outside with direct sunlight?

If you are unable to dry your clothes naturally in the sun, you can still dry them with an air dryer. Just don’t leave your clothes and towels in a damp place, mildew will grow again in the fabric.


Mildew might not eat through the fabric like molds eat through woods. However, it releases spores that are not good for your health. If a pungent odor comes from your clothes, it can be a sign of mildew. Follow any of the steps to get rid of the smell.

How to Get A Mildew Smell Out of Clothes

Leave a Comment