Woman smelling musty clothing

How to Remove Musty Smells from Clothes Without Washing Them

You open up your wardrobe on Monday morning, put on your favourite “I’m going to ace this meeting” outfit, only to realise that there’s a nasty musty smell coming off the garments you just adorned yourself in.

Panic strikes because you know the clothes have been cleaned, but they still smell awful… And much to your dismay, you’re in a rush that day, so you can’t fuss around looking for a new outfit to wear!

And, of course, there’s absolutely no time to rewash the clothes. So, how can you remove the musty smell without washing your clothes again?

Read on to find out how you can remove musty smells from clothes!


Why Do Clothes Smell Musty?

Clothes generally go musty for the following reasons:

  • Garments were stored when they were damp.
  • Too many clothes have been rammed and squeezed inside a wardrobe. So much so that air can no longer circulate around the pieces. In turn, they have started to smell musty.
  • Items have been left inside a drawer/wardrobe (and have been forgotten about) for too long. As a consequence, the pieces have never seen the light of day and have not had access to fresh air, so they have started to go musty.
  • The washing machine and/or dryer are dirty, and this grime/odour has rubbed onto the laundry.
  • The laundry was left in the washer for too long. As a consequence, the items in the drum smell stale.
  • Clothes have been worn multiple times but haven’t been washed. A mixture of sweat, bacteria and boldly fluids has made the items smell funky.

Now you know why your outfits smell musty, find out how to rectify the issue below.


How to Remove Musty Smells from Clothes Without Washing Them

You might think that washing your musty garments is the only way to remove the stench from them. But this isn’t the case.

There are several ways you can neutralise the odours on your clothes without washing them! And in most cases, the task is super easy to carry out and won’t cost you a fortune.

Remove the musty aroma from your clothes by carrying out one or more of the options below:

Option 1: Pop your laundry on the line to eradicate the odour

rotary washing line outside

Airing clothes out on a washing line is by far the easiest option you can try out! It also won’t cost you anything either because you can make use of the wind and sun.

All you need to do is hang your clothes on the washing line and allow them to blow about in the breeze for some time.

If you haven’t got a traditional washing line at home, don’t worry. You can hang clothes up near an open window, over the back of a chair on a balcony, or even on your wardrobe doors to give the garment access to fresh air.

Just make sure that plenty of fresh air can get into the room throughout this time (open a window). And, of course, don’t leave the laundry in direct sunlight, just in case the colours start to fade.


Option 2: Brush your clothes down to get rid of the pesky musty smell

steaming and brushing suit

Believe it or not, lots of dirt, hair and general grime can get tangled up in the fibres of your clothes over time. As a consequence, your clothes can start to smell quite musty. 

A quick way to remove the trapped stinky dirt is to brush your clothes with a soft-bristled brush/clothes brush.


Option 3: Purchase a freshening spray to spruce up your laundry

deodorising spray for jeans

If you find that your clothes often smell a little musty, you could squirt them with a clothes freshener! There are various versions to be had, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • The Lab Co. Signature Laundry Mist is made in the UK and, is created from plant-based ingredients, is non-toxic and cruelty-free. The blend contains the following scents Eucalyptus, Wild Lavender and Orange Rind.
  • Norfolk Natural Living’s Garment Refresher is a hypoallergenic and vegan-friendly mist that is also made in the UK! It comes in different smells, all of which have been inspired by the English countryside. These include English Lavender, Coastal Walks and Rose Garden. The mist can be used to scent laundry in between cleans and can be used on various materials.

In addition, you could also make your own clothes freshener. All you need to do is fill a clean spray bottle with water and put a few drops of your favourite-smelling essential oil into the liquid. Then give the bottle a shake and spray a fine mist over your garments.

Tip: Test your chosen solution out on a discreet patch of fabric first. And make sure the solution is suitable for delicate materials, if this is what you need to treat.


Option 4: Spray a white vinegar mist over your garments to take out the mustiness

freshen clothes with white vinegar spray

If you’re after a quick fix to your issue, simply squirt some distilled white vinegar over your garments.

Just fill a spray bottle halfway with white vinegar and top the bottle up with water. Then turn your item of clothing inside out, stand back and spray a fine mist over the piece.

Of course, vinegar may not be the nicest odour around. So, to combat this, put a drop or two of essential oil into the spray bottle to make the solution smell more appealing to you.

When you’re done, you can either put your item on the line to blow about in the wind or hang it up on the wardrobe’s door to dry off.

If you want to skip the whole vinegar idea, you could use lemon juice and water instead. Just fill a spray bottle with lemon juice and water and spray your stinky item of clothing from a distance.

Just be careful that the lemon juice doesn’t bleach your garment – test first!


Option 5: Spray a vodka mist over your clothes

freshen clothes with vodka spray

If you’ve got some spare vodka about, you could use it to remove the musty odour on your clothes.

Just pour a little clear, pure vodka into a spray bottle (don’t fill the bottle up because you won’t need an entire bottle’s worth of vodka to carry out this task), turn your smelly garment inside out, stand back a few feet and spray the whole piece with the vodka.

You can then hang the item up to dry off if you’ve soaked it in a little too much vodka.

Tip: Test the vodka out on a discreet patch of fabric first.


Option 6: Make your wardrobes smell nice

If you’ve got a little time on your hands, you could buy some scented sachets for your wardrobe and allow them to make your clothes smell must-free.

This option does, of course, take more time to carry out. But it’s one way of ensuring that your wardrobe/drawers and their contents stay aromatically pleasing for you.

All you need to do is pick up some sachets that you like the smell of, and then either hang them up in your wardrobe or pop them on the bottom of your closet or in your drawer. As time goes by, the smells will fill the area and, in turn, will ensure that your clothes stay fragrant.


Option 7: Shake your clothes around in a bag of bicarbonate of soda

A little messy and unconventional perhaps, but you could pop your musty item in a sealable bag alongside a generous (two cups) amount of bicarbonate of soda, then shake the bag about a bit.

The item inside the bag will end up completely covered in the powder, but that’s the look you’re going for. All you need to do then is leave the bag sealed for 15 minutes before emptying the contents out and giving the piece a brush down.

It may sound funny, but bicarb is really good at neutralising foul odours, like musty ones.

As mentioned, this isn’t exactly the tidiest method, so prepare your workstation in advance. But it is a relatively cheap way of removing pesky smells from laundry.


Option 8: Give your outfits a spin in the dryer with some scented dryer sheets

dryer sheets

If your musty items are tumble dryer friendly, you can give them a short warm spin in the dryer alongside some scented dryer sheets.

As the laundry and sheets(s) tumble around in the drum, the fragrance on the sheet(s) will coat the items. So, by the end of a cycle, the items will smell much better for you!


Option 9: Freeze the odours out of your garments

put clothes in the freezer

Putting clothes in the freezer! This one sounds like a joke, right?

As it happens, it couldn’t be further from it. Sticking laundry in a freezer has several benefits, and one of these is that it can help to neutralise bad odours on laundry.

All you need to do is put your item of clothing in a sealable bag and pop it in the freezer. You can then leave the piece alone for several hours. When you return several hours later and remove the garment from the sealed bag, you should notice that the lousy aroma is gone.

This isn’t the quickest option on the list, but it is one of the cheapest and most straightforward ones!


How to Prevent Musty-Smelling Clothes

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the future:

  • Make sure that your clothes are dry before you store them.
  • Ensure that your outfits are stored correctly in an area where there is sufficient airflow. So, don’t pack your garments into a wardrobe. Allow the air to circulate around each piece!
  • Make sure that your washing machine and dryer are clean. These machines can get dirty quickly and can harbour some nasty smells. You don’t want these odours getting onto your outfits!
  • Don’t leave your wet washing sitting in the washer for too long. Take the laundry out and dry it so it doesn’t start to smell stale.
  • Leave your wardrobe’s doors open during the day so fresh air can circulate inside the space.
  • Make sure that you use the correct dose of detergent to clean your laundry. Too little detergent, and you won’t remove the grime. But if you use too much detergent, the solution won’t wash off every garment properly, so they’ll be left with residue on them. In turn, your clothes may smell a little musty or unwashed.
  • Never overload the washing machine when cleaning clothes because the machine won’t be able to clean every item effectively. As a result, some clothes will smell foul.