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On Forgotten, Funky-Smelling Laundry

On Forgotten, Funky-Smelling Laundry

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

In a break from all the recent (excellent) advice about sleeping and in-laws and grandmas, I was hoping you could help with a domestic issue.

I did a load of laundry last week. And then I forgot about it for a couple days. By the time I pulled it out of the washing machine it was pretty stinky. I did run it through again with a bunch of vinegar and a splash of bleach, and that helped. But it didn’t get the stink out entirely. I’d put it all out on my deck to dry in the sun, but we just had Snowmageddon 2013 and there’s no sun in sight.

So what do I do to it now?

I also have this issue in the winter with hubby’s long-sleeve shirts. He won’t let me put them in the drier because he’s afraid they will shrink. So I hang them on my drying rack, but then they get stinky sometimes because they don’t dry very fast. I need a better way.


Ah, yes! I do believe a little break from the recent spate of heavy family drama questions is in order. Let’s get wild and crazy and talk about LAUNDRY. Do we know how to party up in here or what?

First, you are a woman after my own heart. I…uh…routinely forget to take loads out of the washer and am then confronted with that lovely mildew stench. My procrastination (ugggghhhh I don’t feel like dealing with it right now wanna crush candies) just leads to more work for myself since that stink isn’t always the easiest thing to get rid off, but do I learn? Ever? No. Not even a little bit. I bet there’s a load of wet laundry in my washer RIGHT NOW.

Anyway! You had it half right with the vinegar, but I’ve found that you need to let a smelly load soak in it for awhile. I used to soak mildew-y laundry overnight in cold water and a cup of white vinegar, then add detergent and wash normally the next morning. Worked like a charm. Now I have a (#[email protected]) HE machine with limited soak options, so I can only soak for a max of 180 minutes, and it automatically moves to a wash cycle without letting me add detergent separately. So sometimes I’ll just add detergent with the vinegar and let it do its thang all at once; other times I’ll run it a full second time with the detergent. (The irony that I end up having to inefficiently run my HE machine more times to mimic what I used to be able to do in my old dinosaur top-loader is not lost on me, no.) Repeat as needed until the smell is gone, and don’t put anything in the dryer that still smells stanky when it’s wet.

I have hard water, by the way, and vinegar is excellent at dealing with all the related minerals and softening it a bit. If you have soft water, I’d recommend using baking soda instead.

Moving on to the stinky shirt issue, I have to laugh because OMG, our laundry area is a freaking JUNGLE of clothing that my husband refuses to put in the dryer. Forget just his nice work shirts, he won’t let me tumble dry anything other than like, underwear and socks. Pants, jeans, cheap-o graphic t-shirts from Target — all it must be air dried lest it shrink. And I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or just a passive-aggressive need to be as precious about it as him, but I admit I won’t put the majority of my clothes in the dryer either.

(Oooh, can I bitch about my HE machine some more? I SWEAR my clothes are wearing out so much faster since we bought that thing. I think maybe having less water in there doesn’t keep things from tangling up and getting all friction-y? I don’t know, but I’m finding more fabric pinholes and worn seams than I ever used to. Am I alone here? Tell me I’m not alone here, Internet!)

The key to keeping clothes smelling nice (or at least inoffensive — I don’t go for overly-fragranced detergents and rather my clothes smell like nothing than like, lavender meadow breezes) is to NOT overcrowd your drying rack and hang stuff UP to dry whenever possible. We have a big metal beam that runs right over our laundry area — basically the central support beam of our townhouse — and it has a lip that we can hook hangers onto. Everything that won’t get damaged by a hanger gets hung up there, with at least a couple inches of space in between so wet fabric isn’t rubbing against wet fabric and stuff can dry as quickly as possible. I hang jeans and pants up by hooking the hanger into the waistband (so they hang full lengthwise rather than doubled over). If you want to get to anything on the other side of the basement, be prepared to duck. Sorrynotsorry.

(In our old condo we had no such luxurious beam but were equally neurotic, so we just hung clothes up on the tops of door frames. It was way classy. But hey, no shrinkage!)

Our drying rack is a four-tiered monster, by the way, which should illustrate exactly how insane we are about protecting our precious, precious novelty Old Navy t-shirts from possible shrinkage and early wearing out. The drying rack is totally where clothes are more prone to slower drying and thus a less-than-fresh smell, so I try really hard to hang things strategically and give them as much air flow as possible. If your drying area is in a basement/area prone to a lot moisture in the air, a small dehumidifier might help things dry faster.  My mother-in-law has an oscillating fan near her laundry nook that she’ll turn on to speed up the drying process, but I have no idea where we’d put a fan because we dedicated the last patch of free, non-essential walking space in the basement to our GIANT FREAKING DRYING RACK.

But worst-case, you can always toss your air-dried clothing in the dryer for 15 or 30 minutes to freshen them up. You can toss a dryer sheet in there too, if you want. Just pick “fluff” or “touch-up” or whatever-the-hell no-heat/low-heat option your machine offers. I used to hit wet clothes with Febreze but eh, fluffing in the dryer for a bit seems to work just as well without the need to buy another product. Unless we’ve just become immune to our own mildly mildewy smell. I mean, you’d tell me if I smelled like mildew, right Internet? RIGHT?

Oh, my God.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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