It’s a no-brainer that you should not let a load of washed laundry sit in the washer for too long.
But, how long is too long?
This post delves into that. Below, we’ll go through what happens when wet clothes are left in the washer longer than necessary. And when it’s safe to dry the load without rewashing.
Let’s get into it.
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According to experts, it’s still relatively safe to leave wet laundry in the washer for up to 12 hours after a wash cycle. However, this depends on several factors, including the type of the washer and the size of your laundry. After 12 hours, however, you may start to notice a musty smell. And even mold and mildew growth after 24 hours.
To extend the life of your clothes and for the good of your health, practice drying the clothes immediately after a wash cycle is finished.
When damp garments are left to sit in the washer for many hours, fungi like mildew and mold start growing. This could happen anywhere between 24 and 48 hours.
These fungi grow on living plants, damp clothes, and organic matter such as leather, wood, and paper.
They only require a food source such as damp clothes, humidity, and warmth to thrive; which are all available inside a washer full of wet clothes.
The growth will be faster if there is mold and mildew already growing in different spots in the washing machine. These spots include the detergent drawer, lid, gaskets, seals, dispenser, and drainage pipe.
Experts recommend leaving the washer’s door open after each wash cycle. Also, you can run a bleach cycle once in a while when the machine is empty.
They also recommend drying damp areas of a washing machine after use.
A normal wash cycle doesn’t kill mildew and mold hiding in the washing machine.
They can only be eliminated using a mold remover. This can be bleach, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, or baking soda.
What Happens When Wet Clothes Are Left In The Washer For Days?
Assuming you forgot your clothes in the washer for a few days – what would happen?
This is usually common when going on a trip or weekend out of town. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget wet clothes in the washer when you’re in a hurry to leave.
If that happens…
In 24-48 hours, mildew and mold will start growing on the clothes. If left longer than this, the clothes and the interior of the machine will be fully covered with mold.
Unfortunately, this can ruin some of the clothes.
While it’s easier to get rid of the musty smell, removing mold and mildew stains is usually a harder challenge.
If you accidentally forget wet clothes in the washer for more than 12 hours, there are a few things you can do.
This will depend on how long the clothes were in the washer and the condition of the laundry.
If it’s been less than 12 hours, do a simple smell test. If there is no foul smell, there is no need for a rewash. Just dry them right away.
If it’s between 12 and 24 hours then the clothes will probably have a foul smell. And you may need to rewash and freshen the load.
Below are a few tips and tricks on how to rescue clothes left in the washer.
1. Rewash Using Hot Water
Every washer expert will tell you that hot water is a sure way to eliminate bacteria and fungi growing on damp clothes.
However, this will not be easy if the clothes are mixed.
This is because different clothes have varying washing temperature limits; depending on the material. Therefore, the solution is to group similar clothing items and rewash them together.
2. Presoak And Clean Using A Mildew And Mold Remover
For garments that have been in the washer for too long, a presoak is necessary.
Before rewashing, you should pre-soak the clothes using a suitable amount of mold and mildew remover.
You can use bleach, white vinegar, borax, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or ammonia. However, you need to be careful not to damage your clothes even further.
Remember, some of these chemicals can discolor your clothes. That’s why we recommend using white vinegar if your laundry is multicolored.
This step will make it easier to remove the fungi and the unpleasant smell. You can do this in a laundry basin.
3. Use A Scented Detergent
It’s a bit obvious… But still worth mentioning.
Scented laundry detergents contain fragrances that can help combat the funky smell; leaving your clothes smelling nice and fresh.
4. Air Dry The Clothes
While drying the clothes in the dryer works, air drying them under direct sunlight and fresh air is way better. This is often a great remedy for musty-smelling clothes.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays work as a disinfectant and can help to dry out the fungi and any lingering musty smells.
Start by wearing non-latex, rubber, or nitrile protective gloves and a face mask. Especially, if the load has been in the washer for a couple of days.
Why the precaution?
Exposure to mold and mildew spores can cause respiratory infections. Sometimes,it can also cause allergic reactions in people with allergies.
Once, you’ve put on protective wear…
Proceed to unload the laundry from the washing machine into a basket(s). As you unload the clothes, assess their condition. And try to separate the worst affected clothes from the rest.
First, check for visible mold or mildew growth. If you can’t find any, then it’s safe to conduct a smell test.
Never conduct a smell test on moldy or mildew-filled garments. That could cause serious health complications.
The next step is to clean the washer itself.
When the washer is empty, run a hot cycle or a tub cleaning cycle with some mold remover. This will help clean all the mildew and mold growth inside the machine before rewashing the clothes.
This step is not necessary if the clothes have been in the washer for a little over 12 hours. But, if there is visible mold and an awful odor, it’s crucial to clean the washing machine first.
As the hot cycle runs, you can separate the clothes according to type and color and then pretreat them.
Pretreating refers to soaking the clothes in a basin or spraying the stains with a mold removal product. It involves letting the clothes sit for up to 30 minutes before loading them back in the washer.
It’s time to load each category of clothes back into the washing machine.
Washing separately allows you to use the right products and settings depending on the color and material of the clothes.
For instance, for whites and color-fast clothes, the ideal product is bleach to remove any discoloration.
But, for colored clothes, we recommend using a combination of white vinegar and baking soda. And of course your preferred detergent.
Don’t mix bleach with vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or OxiClean. The only safe products to mix with bleach are baking soda, borax, detergent, and water.
After loading the pretreated clothes in the washing machine, select the highest temperature that the clothes can handle without getting damaged.
The perfect water temperature to kill viruses, fungi, and bacteria from clothes is anything above 60°C. But you should read the label of each clothing item to avoid shrinking, fading, or heat damage.
Here’s another quick tip…
Some detergents are specifically made for removing mildew and mold stains from clothing. So, check with your favorite detergent brand to see if they have such a product.
You can also use scented detergents to eliminate bad smells. However, be careful if you are allergic to certain fragrances.
Luckily, vinegar and baking soda are also great odor-neutralizers.
If you can, air dry the clothes under direct sunlight to freshen them up.
If the clothes are still musty even after rewashing, consider soaking them again using commercial mold cleaning products.
If you are always forgetting clothes in the washer, there is a smart solution for you.
Go for a washing machine with an extended cycle. This function is also called Fresh Hold or Extended Hold depending on the brand.
A washing machine with this feature will keep on spinning the load in regular intervals until you unload them.
This keeps the load fresh for up to 16 or 24 hours. However, this tiny bundle of convenience is not only expensive to get but also a bit costlier to run.
In the beginning, I said wet clothes can stay fresh for up to 12 hours in a washer.
This is not always the case. Sometimes, clothes can be smelly even after being in the washer for just a few hours…. Why?
Here are some possible reasons.
Your laundry will get smelly if some of the clothing items were already smelly and moldy before washing.
This is very common with damp towels, gym clothes, and swimming suits.
The trick is to air any damp clothing until laundry day. Don’t put it in the laundry basket with the rest of the clothes.
Another trick would be to put damp clothes in an antimicrobial waterproof sack. This prevents the development of mildew and mold.
Your clothes will be smelly if there is mold and mildew growing in the washer. As I mentioned earlier, washing machines provide a thriving environment for mold and mildew.
If that’s the case, deep clean your washer.
When your washer is overpacked, there is no space for the clothes to move around. This also means there is only a small surface area for the detergent and water to work on the clothes.
When that happens…
The clothes will end up smelly and not thoroughly clean.
And that’s everything you need to know about clothes sitting in a washer.
But, remember, while we recommend drying as soon as the wash cycle is done, wet laundry can safely sit in a washer for 8 to 12 hours.
- It’ll start to develop an odor that grows stronger with time.
- After 24 hours, mold and mildew might start growing; mainly, because of the warmth and humidity from the clothes inside the washer.
- Although, this growth might happen sooner if there was mold and mildew present in the washer already.
- To salvage your laundry, use scented detergents while rewashing to remove bad smells. And in case there’s mold or mildew, use a suitable amount and type of remover.
Got it, right?
I hope this post has been helpful. And that I have answered all your questions on how to treat and freshen clothes left in the washer for long.
If you have more questions or comments, leave them in the comment section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Wet clothes can sit safely in the washer for up to 8-12 hours before they get smelly and moldy. However, the clothes will smell faster if the machine already has mildew and mold growth; especially, during hot weather.
If you leave your wet clothes in the washer for too long, mildew and mold might start growing. This is because a washing machine provides all the necessary conditions for mold growth. And if left for too long, the mold might stain or destroy your fabrics.