woman smells laundry

Why Your Laundry Smells Bad After Drying

It’s so annoying pulling your clothes out of the dryer or off the washing line, only to give them a sniff and for them to be absolutely humming!

The wretched odour that comes off the laundry can be off-putting. And it really makes you question why you bothered washing the clothes in the first place?!

As you might’ve guessed, dampness and bacteria are usually the main culprits of foul-smelling washing. But they’re not the only ones that give rise to odour-filled laundry!

There are many reasons why your laundry stinks after it’s been dried, and although some of the causes are machine-based, others haven’t got anything to do with an appliance.

Find out what else can make your laundry smell bad after drying below.


Cause 1: Not Starting the Tumble Dryer Straight Away

white towel smelling bad in tumble dryer

If you leave soaking clothes in an air-locked appliance for a long time, they will start to smell funky. And while you may think that this only applies to washing machines, this isn’t true. It can apply to tumble dryers as well.

If you don’t fire up your dryer once you’ve popped a pile of wet washing into the drum, the clothes will just sit idle in the centre of the appliance and start to smell. And this damp-stale-like aroma will continue to linger on the clothes even when they’ve dried.

The way to rectify this situation is to start the drying cycle immediately.

Plus, leaving wet laundry in a dryer’s drum can also make the machine itself smell. As a consequence, you will have to wipe the inside of the appliance down to remove the aromatic traces!


Cause 2: The Tumble Dryer Is Dirty

lint filter on tumble dryer

It’s not uncommon for tumble dryers to start getting smelly if they’re not maintained regularly. And in turn, this foul aroma can find its way onto laundry as it spins around in the drum during the drying cycle!

The lint filter can become clogged with objects like hair and fibres. Sweets and wrappers can fall out of pockets and roll around in the drum. And clothes that haven’t been washed effectively can leave grime and odours in the dryer’s drum.

As noted, this is quite a common occurrence, and all you need to do to rectify the problem is to clean the appliance.

You can clean a tumble dryer by removing the dirt from the lint filter, emptying the water reservoir (if present), removing and clearing out the exchanger (if present), and wiping the drum down with a little solution!

As a rule, a dryer must be cleaned every month to ensure it works seamlessly and doesn’t get stinky. And there are, of course, some jobs, like emptying the lint filter, that need to be done after every cycle!


Cause 3: Using a New Tumble Dryer

new washing machine delivery

If you’ve recently had a new tumble dryer, your laundry might smell because the machine is burning off some residual chemicals that were used during the manufacturing process.

This chemical-like aroma usually goes after the dryer has been used a few times.

Similarly, if you’re using a heated airer or a pod, you might get that ‘new smell’ when you first switch on the machine to dry your clothes.

As noted above, this scent will go quickly and shouldn’t make your laundry smell horrendous! They may just have a slight aroma, but this should wane as you wear the garments.


Cause 4: Using the Wrong Settings on Your Dryer

clothes dryer settings

If you’ve got a burning smell on your laundry after it’s dried, this might be a sign that you’ve burnt your washing somehow. This is usually caused by you choosing the wrong heat setting and cycle duration for the material.

To avoid this, check the care labels on your items and adhere to the instructions. In this case, you must choose the correct drying temperature and cycle duration.


Cause 5: External Factors and Mother Nature

wet jeans during rain

Your laundry may smell bad after it’s been dried for other external reasons, which include:

  • Your clothes were blowing on the line, but a neighbour was having a bonfire, so your laundry smells smoky.
  • Someone was having a BBQ, and the smell has wafted over and onto your garments.
  • A farmer was spreading manure, and the aroma is now on your washing.
  • Your clothes were caught in a rain shower, and they’ve picked up that earthy, damp smell.
  • You left your dry laundry in the kitchen, and someone decided to cook something extremely aromatic! As a result, the clothes smell like food!
  • You live in a dusty or high-traffic area, and your clothes have picked up these scents.

To rectify the cases above, you could either re-wash your garments to make them smell pleasing or simply refresh the laundry instead to save time and money.

You could, for example, spray the smelly items with a clothes-freshening mist to remove the funky odour.


Cause 6: Smells Picked Up During Washing

There are undoubtedly several reasons why your laundry smells bad after it has been dried. But what’s more interesting is that some causes aren’t linked to the drying phase at all. Instead, they’re connected to the washing phase!

If you think your laundry smells terrible after it’s been dried, but you know for sure that your clothes have been dried correctly, you should check out the additional causes below. You’ll likely find the reason for your stinky worries there!

Not removing the wet laundry from the washer quickly enough

smelly wet laundry

The most likely reason why your laundry smells is because it was left in the washing machine for too long before being transferred to the dryer or washing line.

As a consequence, the moisture-filled garments have turned pongy, and this poor odour has decided to linger on your laundry.

Damp, soggy clothes trapped in a washer, with no air for prolonged periods, start to smell stale after a few hours, and bacteria will set up home on the garments.

As you can imagine, this is far from ideal because the odour that starts to move throughout the pile of washing doesn’t leave when the clothes are dried. It grows in intensity when heat is added to the mixture!

To make matters worse, the lingering aroma can stay in the machine you’ve used until it is cleaned out properly.

In general, the way to overcome this problem is to re-wash the clothes and clean the machine. And, of course, to remove clothes from the appliance as soon as the alarm rings!

In addition, you should keep an eye on your washer when it’s on, so in the event that a cycle cuts out halfway through or something else happens, you can react to it. This’ll stop you from leaving your water-logged laundry sitting in the washer for ages!


The washing machine is dirty or mouldy

Clean Mould from Washing Machine Rubber

If your clothes smell mouldy or grimy after you’ve dried them, this could be a sign that your washing machine is filthy and needs to be cleaned.

Let’s face it, if your washer is dirty to start off with, there’s very little chance of you getting immaculate laundry out of the appliance at the end of a wash cycle! Your washing is going to pick up whatever grime and aromas are inside the machine!

You will often find that the seals, filter and hose on a washer can be loaded with debris. This includes bits of food, hair, tissues, and mould. All of which can affect your clothes in the washer.

The issue is, however, relatively common and can be remedied fairly quickly by cleaning the washing machine. 

You can clean a washing machine using white vinegar and hot water. But you can also purchase specialised products like Dettol Washing Machine Cleaner to help you!

As a guide, a washer should be cleaned out every month to ensure that it works effectively and that no funky smells are coming from the drum!

In addition, the seal around the door should be wiped after every use, as this is where stagnant water typically pools. And if left, it can cause mould-related issues.


Your clothes haven’t been cleaned effectively

overloading the washing machine

Clothes can smell after they’ve been dried because they weren’t cleaned effectively early on in the washing phase. 

The trouble is, you may not notice the foul odour when you take the wet washing out of the machine. But when the load has been dried, and heat has been added to the mixture, the bad smell will have intensified. In turn, the stench will be more evident to you.

Clothes aren’t cleaned properly for these reasons usually:

  • The washing machine was overloaded with laundry. Consequently, water and detergent couldn’t be distributed evenly amongst all the clothes, so some items have been cleaned, but others remain soiled. 
  • Similarly, if the washer was overloaded, the detergent may not have been rinsed off the clothes effectively. This residue then makes the items smell.
  • The wrong dose of detergent was used. If you use too little detergent, there won’t be enough cleaning solution to cut through the grime, so the clothes won’t be washed properly.
  • Similarly, too much detergent means that clothes are covered with a filmy residue that can make them smelly.
  • If you’ve hand-washed your garments, you may not have cleaned them as well as you’d hoped. And you might not have rinsed all the detergent off the items.
  • You didn’t pre-soak heavily soiled clothes before washing them. If you’ve got an extra dirty outfit, say overalls that are covered in oil, you need to treat and pre-soak this item before cleaning it in a washer. A pre-soak will help to break down and, perhaps, remove a lot of the grime. In turn, the washer can clean the garment properly and remove the remaining odours from it. So, by the time you get to the drying phase, the item already smells great and is actually clean! 
  • You cleaned relatively clean clothes alongside super dirty outfits. If you wash clean-ish laundry alongside dirt-smeared garments, the odours will transfer between the materials as they get spun around in a washer. Naturally, when you dry these items, the heat will intensify the bad aroma and make it more prominent and displeasing to you.

laundry detergent and clothes in washing machine

To rectify this kind of problem, you could re-wash the clothes. Except this time, you should:

  • Use the right amount of detergent.
  • Add the correct amount of dirty laundry to the machine/sink.
  • Make sure that the items are rinsed properly at the end of the wash!
  • Pre-treat garments.
  • Separate your loads of laundry.

Tip: It’s a good idea to pop the right amount of laundry into the washer because then you won’t stress the machine out and put pressure on its internal parts!


How to Make Laundry Smell Nice

woman smelling laundry

Here are a few ways you can make your laundry smell great:

  • Make sure your appliances are clean before you use them.
  • Choose an aromatically pleasing detergent.
  • Add the correct dose of detergent to the washer. Don’t add too little, and don’t add too much. The wrong amount could result in laundry not being washed properly or detergent getting stuck to the garments in the washer instead of being rinsed off.
  • Pop the right amount of laundry into the washer’s drum so the clothes get washed effectively.
  • Pre-soak extra dirty, smelly clothes and don’t wash them alongside your other garments.
  • Wash similar clothes and items together. Don’t wash your dog’s towels with your t-shirts, for example.
  • Use scent boosters, scented dryer sheets, clothes freshening mists, and fragrant fabric softeners to enhance the smell of your laundry.
  • Always dry your clothes before you pop them away. Damp clothes can turn stale very quickly, and they can make an entire wardrobe stink!
  • You could add some scented sachets to your wardrobes and drawers to help keep your clothes fragrant when they’re hanging up and waiting to be worn.