man holding smelly sock from drawer

How to Stop Clothes Smelling Musty in Drawers

When you open your drawers, you want to be transported to the land of Lenor and Febreze to indulge in the freshness.

You don’t want be greeted by a ghastly stench assaulting your nostrils and making your eyes water! What on earth is going on?!

Drawers can be pongy places. And these foul aromas often find their way onto whatever you’re storing in the space too. But why do drawers and the items within smell musty?

Keep reading to discover why your clothes smell foul in your drawers and what you can do about it.


Why Do Drawers and Their Contents Smell?

A drawer is an enclosed space with poor air circulation

two open clothes drawer

Drawers are sliding storage compartments that slot snuggly into an existing frame. There’s usually not much wiggle room with them. They fit into a designated space and shut tightly.

Although many people use drawers daily, they’re generally not open for long periods, so they’re considered ‘enclosed spaces that don’t get much fresh air’. Limited access to clean air leads to stale odours.

As you’d expect, when a drawer is shut, it traps all types of odours inside, and these aromas don’t get released until the drawer is opened.

Naturally, any odours inside the drawers get passed onto whatever you keep in the drawers, like clothes.


Mould can grow in drawers

mould in wardrobe and clothes

Due to the lack of space, very little light, and sometimes raised humidity/dampness levels, mould can grow in drawers. Hence the musty smell.

Mould can also transfer onto clothes. If your clothes are coated in mould, you’ll see specks of green, white and black on your outfits.

You must treat this mould before it spreads and makes your garments unwearable.

Mould does pose various health risks, too (respiratory problems and allergies, for example), so the issue does need to be treated as soon as possible.


The drawers aren’t clean

Drawers aren’t cleaned as often as they should be in most homes. They’re left cluttered and weighed down by garments that haven’t seen the light of day for years and gadgets that have seen better days. Over time, dirt and dust build up on these items, and they start to smell off.

Initially, this odd smell will go unnoticed by you. However, the trapped funky smell in the drawer will grow stronger and become more unbearable with time.

Consequently, the aroma spreads around and attaches itself to other things, like clothes, in the drawers. Hence, you end up with stinky outfits.


What’s stored in the drawers can make it smell

smelly drawer of clothes

As mentioned above, what you keep in the drawers will also influence how they and their contents smell.

If you store a load of grotty, sludge-filled rugby kits in the drawer, you’ll get a mucky smell coming out of it.

Similarly, if you stick loads of sweaty gym wear and underwear that haven’t been cleaned in a drawer, you’ll end up with an odour that can only be described as ‘ewww’!

On the flipside, the drawer will smell lovely if you keep a load of fresh clothes doused in pleasing detergents and scent boosters.

In short, think about what’s in your drawers. Whatever you’ve got in there contributes to the foul aroma permeating your drawers.


An infestation could be at the heart of the problem

Hole in jumper made by moth

Although you’d like to think of your drawers as a clean and well-maintained area, they might not be. In reality, the drawers may be home to some sort of infestation.

Infestations of creatures such as moths can wreak havoc on your clothes and leave a dirty odour behind.

In the worst case, you might have rodents, but hopefully, you’ll have noticed some other signs so that you can deal with the issue swiftly.

You need to check the drawers, find evidence of an infestation and treat it accordingly. If you don’t, the problem won’t go away. Instead, it’ll intensify and become out of control.


A mouldy washing machine could be at fault

dirt in washing machine drum

It’s easy to blame the drawer and its contents for the musty odour you are assaulted by. But the smelly problem may not have anything to do with your bedroom furniture. The issue you’re facing could be down to a mouldy washing machine.

Washing machines are known for getting mouldy. They’re essentially moist environments that are a perfect breeding ground for mould.

If you clean your laundry in a mouldy washing machine, the stale smell might rub onto your clothes. As a result, your outfits will smell funky.

Consequently, when you pop these clothes in your drawers the displeasing odour intensifies.

Cleaning the washing machine is the way to manage this issue. In addition, you need to re-wash contaminated laundry.


How to Stop Clothes Smelling Musty in Drawers

Here are some steps to help remove the odour from your drawers and to keep your clothes fresh. 

Clean the drawers out often

wiping clothes drawer

One of the cheapest and simplest steps is to empty and thoroughly clean your drawers. When everything is out of the drawers, you can inspect them for issues and treat them accordingly.

Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Empty everything out of your drawers. Don’t leave anything behind. You can sort your stuff out later.
  2. Dust and hoover your drawers. Use the tools that come with your vacuum so you can get into the tight spots.
  3. Use a multipurpose cleaner to wipe the surfaces down.
  4. Treat mould and infestations using off-the-shelf cleaners if needed (more on this below).
  5. Wait for the drawers to dry.
  6. Put some measures in place to deal with future smells, for example scented sachets (more on this below).
  7. Replace the items that you need to keep.


Ensure your drawers are well ventilated

Drawers, as noted above, are enclosed spaces that don’t have access to much fresh air. So, open your drawers and leave them ajar so clean air can enter the space.

A bit of fresh air can keep enclosed spaces odour-free. It’ll also help the garments.


Make sure there isn’t an issue causing the smell

It’s not uncommon for obvious issues to be causing a whiffy problem in drawers. Mould, infestations and noticeable grime will trigger aromas. If you see an issue like this, you must treat it with an official cleaner or consult an expert.

You must not let the problem escalate. Mould and insects can give rise to much more significant and costly problems. So, sort the issue once and for all.

While treating the problem, you should remove any contaminated pieces from the area. For example, if your clothes are covered in mould and cannot be saved, get rid of them.


Ensure the clothes are clean and dry before storing them

folded clothes in drawer

Before you store your garments in the drawers, ensure they’re clean. If needed, use scent boosters during the washing and drying process to boost the smell of the laundry for longer.

In addition, ensure that every single item is completely dry before storing it.

If you store anything damp in a drawer, it will start to smell stale. Since a drawer is a confined space, the musty odour will infuse the space and spread onto other clothes.

The damp smell will not go away on its own, and you’ll have to intervene. In this case, dry out the drawer and re-wash the clothes.

And not to mention, dampness gives rise to mould! Given that drawers are prone to getting mould, you don’t want to encourage it even more by giving it what it wants: a moist, habitable environment.


Don’t overfill the drawers

full clothes drawer

Drawers are full of stuff we don’t see from one year to the next. They’re a haven for unwanted items and clutter! In a cluttered space, dust settles quicker, and air can’t flow around effectively, so smells linger.

Declutter your drawers regularly to ensure they aren’t clogged up with rubbish, stuff you don’t need and grime! Decluttering also ensures that your items aren’t packed in too tight and that air can flow around the items.

You don’t have to bin all your unwanted things. You can donate them instead.


Dot some bicarbonate of soda around the drawers

Bicarbonate of soda is great at absorbing foul smells. So, place a few shallow dishes containing a small amount of bicarb into your drawers and allow it to work its magic.

You can do the same thing with ground coffee.

The only issue with this method is that it can be tricky to get right because you risk tipping the shallow dish(es) over or placing your garments on top of the dish(es) when filling the drawers back up. So just take your time.


Use activated charcoal to manage odours

activated charcoal powder in a bowl

Activated charcoal is great at absorbing foul smells. So, consider using activated charcoal to remove pesky odours from your drawers.

The little packs slot into the space, and you don’t really know they’re there. They will also work for several weeks!


Buy some scented sachets

scented sachet and folder clothes in the drawer

A traditional way of making drawers and their contents smell pleasing is to place scented sachets in the area.

Something like Hassett Green’s natural cotton scented sachets would do the trick.

Sachets come in a wealth of aromas, some of which are more pleasing than others. They’re designed to work over a few weeks, and other than their pleasant odour, you don’t notice that they’re in your drawers because they’re small and flat, they’re ideal if you’re short on space.


Make scented sachets

lavender potpourri bags

It’s also possible to create your own version of scented sachets. You just mix a few smelly ingredients of your choice and pop them in a small hanging sack. You can then dot the sacks around your drawers.

It’s always a good idea to pick scents you like and odours that repel bugs. This way, you’ll make your drawers smell great, but keep the pests away!

Some ideas to get you started include:

  • Potpourri
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cedar
  • Mint

Alternatively, spray perfume onto cotton wool balls and dot them around your drawers if you’re in a pinch.


Pop bars of soap in your drawers

An old-school way of keeping drawers fresh is to stick a new bar of scented soap in each drawer.

Leave the soap in place, and its aroma will waft around and fill each drawer with a pleasing (but not too intense) smell.


Grab some cedar blocks and put them in the drawers

cedar woodblocks

Cedar is great for repelling pests and controlling odours in small spaces like drawers. Just pop a cedar block or two in each drawer and leave them be. They’ll soon get rid of the musty aroma and keep potential pests away.


Add some dryer sheets to your drawers

dryer sheets

An easy way to make odours disappear in your drawers is to pop a couple of scented dryer sheets in them.

Dryer sheets are small, making them ideal for tiny spaces like drawers where room is limited. They also come in various smells.

Pick up a pack you like the odour of and pop a sheet or two in your drawers. You can leave them there until their aroma disappears.

The scent won’t last forever, but it solves your pongy drawer problem in the short term.


Refresh your clothes with a refreshing mist

fabric spray

It’s also possible to refresh your smelly clothes to stop them smelling musty in drawers. Simply squirt your clothes with a homemade spray to neutralise lingering stale odours.

You could try:

  • Mix 350 ml of water, 59 ml of rubbing alcohol and a teaspoon of essential oil (lavender/lemon, for example) in a spray bottle. Give the bottle a shake, then spray a fine mist over your garments.
  • Combine one part white vinegar with three parts water in a spray bottle. Grab your garments out of the drawer, turn them inside out and hang them up. Then, spray a fine mist over each garment. In a few minutes, the pesky aromas will be gone.
  • You can also use straight vodka instead of white vinegar. Follow the steps above.

You can refresh your clothes frequently if they spend a lot of time stuck in drawers. That said, if you rarely wear the outfits and spend more time refreshing them than wearing them, consider donating them.

Note: You must do a patch test before you carry out any of these methods.


Air out your clothes

drying laundry on clothes line

A simple way to make your clothes smell better is to remove them from their drawers and air them out.

Your outfits are essentially stuffed in a tiny space all day, every day – they’re bound to get whiffy and stale.

You can hang your clothes on the line for a little while so the air can refresh them.


Try a mixture of the above

A combination of the above will also help to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate the foul odours that are coming out of your drawers and are plaguing your clothes.


How Do You Keep Your Wardrobe and the Clothes Inside Fresh?


Wardrobes, like drawers, can smell stale. Consequently, the items in the wardrobe can pick up the pong and start to stink too.

To keep your wardrobe fresher for longer and, more importantly, keep your outfits safe and clean, utilise the steps mentioned above.

You can clean and maintain your drawers and wardrobes in the same way. 

See our guide on keeping clothes smelling fresh in a wardrobe for some more tips.