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How To Make Laundry Smell Good: Experts Share 7 Secrets to a Freshly Scented Wash

Plus, the one thing you never want to use

Laundry can be a dreaded chore for many, but nothing beats the invigorating aroma of a freshly washed load! Until you take a clean load out of the machine and it smells musty, mildewy or as dirty as it did before you put it in — all the scented detergent and fabric softener you used didn’t make a dent. What happened? We asked laundry and cleaning pros what could be causing a clean load to smell bad, and how to make laundry smell good with every wash. Keep scrolling for their savvy solutions.

How to make laundry smell good?

Here common culprits and easy solutions:

1. Avoid letting wet clothes sit

One the most common culprits behind unpleasant smelling clothes? “Laundry being left in the washing machine after the cycle is done,” says Matt Connelly, laundry expert and founder of ihateironing. “Wet clothes sitting in that damp environment for hours creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mildew and mold.”

For that reason, you’ll want to ensure you time your laundry so you’re able to complete both the wash and dry cycle back-to-back, or promptly remove clothing from the washer to air dry.  “Make sure you do your laundry when you know you’ll be around to take it out as soon as the cycle is done,” he adds. “Some people even set timers for themselves, especially if they’re in a different part of the house and won’t hear the washing machine signal that it’s done.” Click through to learn just how long wet clothes can sit before they start to smell.

2. Use the right amount of detergent

hand pouring detergent for how to make laundry smell good
Cris Cantón/Getty

Though detergent is specially formulated to get your fabrics super clean, using too little or too much can actually leave items smelling less-than-fresh. The reason: “Using less than the recommended amount of detergent can lead to the detergent not being evenly distributed across all of your items,” shares Connelly. “On the other hand, using too much detergent could run the risk of it not being rinsed out of your clothes properly, which in turn creates residue build-up that can cause a foul smell over time.” (Click through to learn how much detergent experts say you should actually use.)

Unfortunately, it can be tough to see the lines on many detergent caps to know if you’re pouring in just the right amount. What can help: Mark the outside of the cap at the proper measurement lines with a marker or colored nail polish. This way you’ll always be able to see at a glance if you’ve measured properly.

3. Clean the washing machine

Few things are more frustrating than discovering your freshly washed clothes have a funky odor. Sometimes this can be due to the washing machine itself being in need of a deep cleaning. If your machine has a cleaning cycle, you can simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the exterior (like the buttons and control panel) while the cycle takes care of the inside.

 “If there’s no cleaning cycle, you can run the hottest and longest cycle with two cups of white vinegar in the detergent compartment,” says Ledis Hernandez, cleaner for DeluxeMaid. “After cleaning, run a rinse cycle with plain water to eliminate any remaining vinegar.” You’ll also want to clean the rubber seal with a toothbrush or a cloth and a vinegar-water mix, as well as take out the washing machine’s filter (most often located near the bottom of the machine) and rinse it thoroughly. Vinegar’s acetic acid kills off bacteria and mold in the appliance. 

Still dealing with odors? “Sprinkle about half a cup of baking soda directly into the drum and run a short cycle with hot water,” adds Hernandez. “Leave the door and detergent drawer open between loads and wipe-down the insides every now and then.”

Related: Cleaning the Drain Plug on Your Washing Machine Can Stop It From Smelling & More

4. Add white vinegar to each cycle

vinegar and baking soda next to fresh laundry
Studio Grand Web/Getty

Vinegar is good for more than just sanitizing your washing machine! It can also be used with a load of laundry to ensure it comes out odor free. Especially for clothes that have embedded odors from been worn in the gym, while doing stinkier chores or a weekend of camping out. ‘All you have to do is pour about half a cup of white vinegar into the fabric softener slot during the rinse cycle of your washing machine,” adds Hernandez. “Your clothes will feel softer, smell fresher and the scent will last longer. And don’t worry, there won’t be any unpleasant vinegar smell left behind.” (No white vinegar on hand? Learn why apple cider vinegar works just as well!)

5. Dry clothes this way

Not letting your wet garments sit in the washing machine is important to sidestep odors. But how you dry the items is also just as crucial. “When air-drying clothes, make sure you choose a properly ventilated room in your house, and space out your clothes evenly on the drying rack,” advises Connelly.

If air-drying in an especially small, closed space it can lead to a musty smell thanks to a lack of airflow and excess humidity. For that reason, Hernandez suggests using a dehumidifier placed below (or right next to) your indoor drying rack or clothesline. It will soak up that extra humidity so you’re not dealing with odors later on.

“If using your at-home dryer, avoid overloading and always check your clothes after the end of each cycle to make sure they’re fully dry.”

Tip: If you need to speed up drying time, toss a dry towel in with the load. It will soak up water much faster to speed up the process!

Related: How to Dry Clothes Indoors — And Avoid That Mildewy Smell

6. Add in some essential oils


“Essential oils can add a pleasant aroma to your clothes,” shares Tanu Grewal, chief cleaning officer at Pinalen, Cloralen, and Ensueno Laundry. “If using essential oils, I recommend waiting until your washing machine has filled up with water to add the drops in, so they can dilute.” You can also add a few drops of the essential oil of your choosing to a carrier oil (like jojoba or almond) and mix them together before adding to your washer.

An important note: “Some people might develop allergic reactions due to the fragrances or additives in the oil, so practice caution if opting for the use of essential oils,” adds Connelly.

Essential oils can also be used in the drying process. Just add a few drops to a dryer ball and toss into the machine with the load. They’ll leave behind a fresh and pleasant aroma!

7. Include sachets when drying

Another easy way to impart a nice scent: Scented dryer sachets! “You can wrap up a scented sachet (usually made up of dried herbs, flowers, and peels) in a small cloth bag and include it into your dryer — releasing a pleasant smell,” says Connelly.

What not to use to make laundry smell good

You may be tempted to use air fresheners to get clothes smelling better in a flash, but the pros say this isn’t a great idea. “Spraying air fresheners or other non-laundry products directly on your clothes can be too harsh for your clothes and cause damage over time,” advises Grewal. “Stick to laundry products that are designed to infuse scent.”

Finally, regardless of which method above you use to make laundry smell good, be sure to follow the care instructions on your clothing labels. The last thing you want is to ruin an item trying to get it smelling fresh! (Click through for tips on how to read laundry symbols)

For more laundry hacks, keep reading!

Laundry Pros Reveal Genius Hack for Keeping White Clothes White — No Bleach Needed

Maid Pro: Your Just-Washed Clothes May Still Be Filthy If You Skip This Laundry Step

How to Remove Lint and Pet Hair From Clothes — No Lint Roller Needed!

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