Why do clothes smell after drying? (Remove bad odor)

Quick Answer

Clothes can smell bad after drying due to a buildup of moisture often caused by a delay in transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer, blocked airflow in the dryer, a malfunctioning dryer vent system, or the presence of bacteria in the clothes.

In most cases, the bad odor is caused by mold and mildew growth inside the drum or when the clothes are damper than usual after washing.

Moreover, you must have added dirty or smelly items to the dryer by mistake.

Key Takeaways

  • Mold and other bacteria can grow over time in a washing machine, causing smells to permeate the clothes. When the clothes are dried in a dryer, the bacteria and bad odor can get stuck on the clothes, making them even worse.
  • As a best practice, wipe the inside of the drum with a damp cloth and leave the dryer door open for some time so that the musty smell disappears.
  • Transfer clothes from the washing machine to the dryer promptly and avoid keeping the clothes in the washer for extended periods of time.
  • Regularly clean the lint filter and the dryer vent system to ensure proper airflow.

Possible causes and tips to prevent clothes from smelling bad

Keep the dryer door open when idle

A clothes dryer’s job is to dry your clothes by taking the moisture out of them and letting it out through the blower and into the venting system.

Therefore, when your washer or dryer is not in use, you should always make sure to keep the doors open for a while because moisture may occasionally get trapped inside the dryer drum.

As a best practice, keep doing this after each use because it will prevent moisture from building up, thereby limiting the growth of mold and mildew.

Do not leave clothes damp for longer

After washing the clothes by hand or in your washing machine, you should immediately transfer them to the dryer.

At times, we casually leave the laundry in the washer for an extended period of time or transfer it to the dryer without running the dry cycle.

This practice is actually bad for both your clothes and the washing machine.

If your clothes are damp for an extended period of time, they will begin to release a bad odor.

And the buildup of bad odor tends to stay in the washer for a longer time, therefore affecting the other clothes that you put in the washer.

So, if your clothes have already started to smell, it’s best to rewash them with a disinfectant like vinegar or Lysol and then use a dryer immediately after completing the wash cycle.

Alternatively, you can even use a clothesline to dry the clothes after washing.

Lint buildup

If there is a lot of lint in the dryer, it can block the airflow and make the clothes smell bad.

This is because hot, humid air can stay in the dryer for a long time, which can lead to mold and a musty smell in the clothes.

Moreover, lint accumulation is always risky and can lead to fire hazards.

So, if your clothes or the dryer smell after the dry cycle, it may be due to lint accumulating inside the dryer or the vents.

So, make sure to clean the lint filter and the venting system right away. Also, use a damp cloth dipped in a disinfectant solution to wipe down the dryer drum.

Once done, leave the dryer door open for some time before using it again.

Something got stuck in the dryer

It is also possible that a plastic wrapper or an elastic material has melted and is hidden in your clothes.

So, check the dryer drum for any melting objects that may be stuck on the drum.

Furthermore, just like fabric lint, burned hair also produces a foul smell when heated in the dryer.

So, check around the dryer’s lint filter and inside the drum for any such burnt hair clumps.

Worn out components

Worn-out components in the dryer can be another cause of the foul smell coming from the clothes and the dryer itself.

It can be anything from a burnt motor to parts that rub against each other during function, such as worn-out bearings.

If that’s the case, you will need to immediately call a service professional for help and get it fixed at the earliest possible time or before you run another cycle.

The smell or odor caused by internal burning components will be different than the regular mold-infested clothes.

Run the tub cleaning program.

It’s important to run a tub cleaning program at least two to three times a month if you are a frequent user.

Cleaning the washtub and the filter of your washer keeps the machine overall clean and in good condition.

Just run a “tub clean” program (if your washer has this function) or simply add a cleaning solution and run an empty cycle using the hot water setting to get the job done.

You can also use baking soda or vinegar to clean the drain filter, hose, drum, and door seal by hand.

So, by keeping the washer clean, you are not allowing dirt and bacteria to build up and spread around your home, ensuring a cleaner and healthier environment.

Excessive use of detergent

Excessive use of detergent can cause clothes to smell bad after drying because residue from the detergent can remain on the clothes, leading to the growth of bacteria, which can emit an unpleasant odor.

Your washer may be struggling to fill the appropriate amount of water

When clothes are dried in the dryer, dirt and leftover detergent can remain in the fibers if your washer is having trouble filling them or if it does not use enough water to thoroughly rinse your clothes.

Overloading your washer

Overloading your washing machine can cause clothes to smell bad as the agitation and water movement needed for effective cleaning may be reduced.

So, if overloading results in insufficient cleaning or rinsing, detergent residue can remain in the clothes, creating an environment for bacteria growth, and contributing to a bad odor.

Overloading your dryer

Overloading your dryer can prevent the clothes from tumbling freely and evenly.

The excess moisture and heat trapped in the tightly packed clothes can create a perfect environment for bacteria to grow, leading to a bad odor.

Make sure you are allowing your clothes to dry properly

Make sure that you are allowing your dryer to run for an appropriate time so that the clothes can dry properly.

So, if the dryer is not set to run for an adequate amount of time or if the wrong cycle is selected, there is always the possibility of odor buildup.

As a best practice, spin dry your clothes in the washer to eliminate as much water as possible, and then, without wasting any time, put the clothes in the dryer on the recommended dryer settings mentioned on the care label of your fabric.

Tips to remove odor from your dry clothes

Homemade odor-eliminating spray

You can make a homemade odor-eliminating spray by either using vinegar or lemon juice.

All you need to do is, mix some distilled white vinegar with water and put it in the spray bottle.

You can also make a homemade odor-eliminating spray by squeezing the lemon and adding it to a spray bottle filled with water.

Once you have the solution ready, start spraying this solution on the affected fabric.

Simply wash it again

This is pretty straightforward, if your clothes are dry and smell bad, rewashing them might be the best option.

So, if you have some time on your hands, it’s best to wash the clothes with a detergent that has good cleaning and deodorizing properties.

Freeze to kill odor-causing germs

Freezing can help eliminate odors from clothes by killing the germs and bacteria that cause the odor.

Bacteria and germs thrive at warm temperatures and are less active or may even die at freezing temperatures.

So, by placing washed and dried clothes in the freezer, the low temperature can help kill the odor-causing bacteria and leave the clothes smelling fresh.

Use Odor absorbers

An odor absorber is a product or solution that helps eliminate bad odors from clothes and usually comes in the form of a sachet, spray, or sheet.

It contains fragrances and odor absorbers, such as baking soda, charcoal, or enzymes, that neutralize unpleasant odors and leave clothes smelling fresh.

The odor catcher or absorber can be placed in a closet, dresser drawer, or laundry hamper to prevent the buildup of unpleasant odors in the first place.

Air out the clothes under the sun

The sun has natural sanitizing properties that can help kill bacteria and neutralize odors.

Furthermore, fresh air also helps to circulate and dissipate any unpleasant smells.

This technique works best in bright, sunny weather when the sun is strong and the air is fresh and dry.

Therefore, hanging your clothes outside for a few hours can help refresh and deodorize them, leaving them smelling clean and fresh.

Store your clothes in a well-ventilated area

Storing clothes in a well-ventilated space can prevent the buildup of bad odors by allowing air to circulate and preventing moisture buildup.

Clothing that is stored in a cramped, poorly ventilated space can become damp and humid, creating an environment that is ideal for bacteria and other microorganisms to thrive. 

To store your clothes by keeping the above factor in mind, you can make use of a laundry hamper with a breathable liner, a closet with open shelves and good airflow, or simply hang your clothes in an open, airy space.

Final Thoughts

There could be a number of other reasons why the laundry is smelling.

It can be as silly as leaving the damp clothes in the dryer too long, or perhaps the detergent you are using is not strong enough to completely rinse away dirt and bacteria.

It is therefore important to identify the exact cause and fix it accordingly.

In most cases, the bad odor is due to damp clothes sitting in the washer or dryer for too long.

So, to eliminate bad odors from the dryer after drying, you should take the holistic approach, i.e., as a best practice, you should keep the washer’s door as well as the dryer’s door open for some time after every use.

For any technical causes, you should always call a service professional or contact the manufacturer of your drying machine for help.

Manish Singh is an expert in electrical engineering with a Diploma in the field. With over 12 years of experience, he specializes in repairing music systems, washing machines, dryers, and other laundry-related appliances. His in-depth knowledge in electrical repairs and decent knowledge about garment care makes him a trusted authority in the field of appliance repair and laundry related topics. If you have any questions or need assistance with your appliances, you can reach out to Manish through email: manish.singh (at) portablelaundry.com