Forgotten Laundry (How to Remove the Stink from Clothes Left in the Washer)

Ever forget to move a washed load of clothes to the dryer?

I have.  At least once . . . .

So today’s Thursday.  Since there was extra laundry this week, I kept Monday’s  Laundry Day going on Tuesday.  But at some point, I forgot to change over a load of wet clothes to the dryer.

Then . . . I left yesterday morning at 8:30 a.m. for Bible Study.

Then . . . I went straight from there to spend the day with my best friend (and meet her newly adopted boys).

Then . . . I spoke at an evening MOPS meeting.

Then . . . we took advantage of the Wednesday enchilada special at our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant.

Then . . . I drove an hour and arrived back home at 10:30 p.m.

Then . . . I helped count money for a school fundraiser first thing this morning.

And then . . . I took a sick kid to the doctor.  (Thankfully, he doesn’t have the flu.)

Anyway, those “clean” clothes don’t smell so clean anymore.  So I drew on the experience I gained in the years before I started a Laundry Day.

Y’know, the years when 6 out of every 10 loads of laundry had to be re-washed.

At least once. 

The trick?  Add vinegar when you run the load again.  I don’t measure.  I just do a once-around-the-washer pour.

I add another once-around if the musty smell is extra-strong.

Do you use vinegar in your washing machine?  I saw a tip last month in All You magazine that vinegar can be used as a fabric softener!

Affiliate link alert: The All You link is my affiliate link.  I love that magazine.

If this makes sense to you, and you want more home management strategies that actually make sense (to us not-naturally-organized types), check out my new book, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind. The book will be released wherever books are sold on November 8th, so pre-order now. HowToManage_3D

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--Nony get-how-to-manage-your-home-without-losing-your-mind-wherever-books-are-sold


  1. 1
    Rae Ramses says:

    Yep, I’m totally guilty of the same thing. I use vinegar as fabric softener and it gives the clothes that “fresh off the clothesline, baked in the sun” kind of smell which is wonderful. Also, the clothes come out softer than anything I’ve ever used. I was able to get my best friends, sisters and even my mom to start using vinegar as their fabric softener. They are still amazed by how soft their clothes are, especially their towels. I’ve got to warn you though: that true fresh clean scent is addictive! 😉

  2. 2

    Vinegar works great as a fabric softener. Regular fabric softener messes up the absorbancy of towels and cloth diapers, for those loads I use vinegar. My little ones are out of the cloth diaper stage but it did help with diaper smell too.

  3. 3

    Thank you! I am better than I used to be at remembering to move my laundry, but alas, it still happens. I am so happy to read you hint!!

  4. 4

    I use vinegar in every load. Extra in smelly loads. Vinegar works a fabric softener by rinsing every last bit of soap out of the clothes. If you didn’t rinse all the shampoo out of your hair it would feel stiff, right? Your clothes feel stiff if all the soap isn’t rinsed out. Vinegar gets it done.

  5. 5

    Good to know.

    I wrote a post a week or so ago about how I was a laundry superstar and then yesterday I forgot to switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Last night, when I was in bed, I had a moment: “Oh, no! I forgot to switch the laundry.” Oh, well. Too late. So first thing this morning I went down there and washed it again. Fortunately it wasn’t in long enough to stink but I did wonder how you take care of that. So thanks for sharing.

    And I’m never calling myself a superstar about anything again.

  6. 6

    I love the versatility of vinegar!! You can drop a few pounds and get the musty smell out of clothes ALL from vinegar!! =)

  7. 7

    LOL…no kidding I just posted about vinegar and the laundry today, too! I had to google to find out how to “clean a washer tub”…yep, vinegar!
    I actually bought a (shhh) Downy Ball and am using 1/2 cup of vinegar in it in place of fabric softener…loving the FRESH SCENT of the clothes!! No artificial scents to deal with, just purely clean clothes—soft, too! And the cheapest fabric softener!
    Your posts always make me smile! I can relate on so many levels.

    • 8

      Right. I am allergic to MANY artificial scents.

    • 9

      I am glad I am not the only one who uses the downy ball for vinegar 😀 I use it more for the vinegar than I do the fabric softener, as I don’t use fabric softener often – but I’m always forgetting clothes in the washer LOL

  8. 10

    1. I use vinegar for forgotten laundry (and not forgotten) too! 2. Good to know someone else in blogland who knows what MOPS is. The only people I know who know are in it. 🙂

  9. 11

    This will even get cat urine smell out of things to. Gross I know! LOL! It works though. I keep a bottle in the laundry room at all times!

  10. 12

    Vinegar is also great for extra-smelly clothes. Like your kids tossed a wet towel in a basket of dirty clothes. So gross. Just wash it with vinegar the first time and save yourself the trouble later. 🙂

  11. 13

    If I had to use a dryer, I think every load would come out stinky. Just as well we hang things out on the washing line here – though I suppose if I used it more than a couple of times a year I’d probably get used to using and emptying out the dryer.
    Does everyone in the US automatically use a dryer? (I’m Western Australian – it doesn’t snow here, and even in mid-winter you get enough non-rainy days to dry outside nearly always)

    • 14

      Yes, I’d say that the vast majority of people in the U.S. use a dryer.

    • 15

      I don’t have a clothesline outside to hang clothes up but if my husband was still alive, I probably would. I have a short hanging rod in the laundry room and also use the shower rods when needed. I try not to use the dryer except to get out any stiffness in towels and jeans after they’ve been hung to dry. On a day as windy as today (here in West Central Texas), I’d be chasing any clothes hanging outside all over our property!

      • 16

        Where in West Central Texas. I will drag my husband to your house and put up a clothes line if you want one. Seriously.

    • 17

      I can only speak for myself…..I use the dryer for sheets and towels….but all my other clothes go just long enough to get them to release the wrinkles (I hate ironing)…usually about 5 minutes or so. I started doing this to keep my clothes from fading, shrinking, or just plain looking old. (I wear lots of black, red, purple.–deep or bright colors–and lots of cotton, rayon, etc….) It is amazing what a difference it makes!! I have clothes that are over 10 years old that still look great!

    • 18
      Tina Bryant says:

      And if you have something with stains, the best thing to use in my opinion is “mean green.” It costs like $2.00 at most stores. You spray it directly onto whatever you are wanting to clean. The more you spray the better. It will NOT fade any kind of clothing, curtains, bedding, etc. I use it only everything. You spray it on your items good and then throw them into washer and wash as normal.

  12. 19

    Vinegar is also great when your cat has an accident on any clothing, bedding etc it takes the smell right out!

  13. 20

    In my dishwasher, I use it instead of the rinse aids. Works great. It also is wonderful for when our daughter’s puppy has an accident.

    Love it in laundry too!

  14. 21
    celina boulanger says:

    i didnt have much success with this…could have been just in my head….when i rewash i add the downy unstoppables (about a third of what they and comes out good…

  15. 22

    I love using vinegar as my fabric softener. I use a cup in every load.
    And when i forget a load of laundry in the washer for….(who knows how long?)…when i rewash i just put in some baking soda (it’s a natural deoderizer). I don’t really measure either, i just keep an old laundry scoop in the baking soda and throw in a full scoop. Works every time. 🙂

  16. 23

    Oh yes, I use it as fabric softener all the time in my front loader. When I was given some great-smelling fabric softener from the store, I excitedly tried it. BUT, after awhile, it left an awful smell, similar to cigarette smoke. I googled it and discovered many front-loaders get that smell from a build-up of residue. So I reverted back to vinegar, ran a few empty cycles, and it eventually went away. Also, very important: always leave the door open!

    And, I get my kids to take out the wet laundry and put it in a basket as soon as the machine dings. If I never get around to hanging the clothes (I rarely use the dryer), they still won’t go stale because there’s enough air around the basket. Now my kids are older (7 and 9) they can hang most of the laundry, even though it takes a lot longer that way.

  17. 24

    I love using plain white vinegar in the wash too. It is a must add in my hubby’s smelly work clothes. I also keep a bottle that I have added some lavender essential oil too in my laundry cabinet. I fill a Downey ball with the scented vinegar and use it when I wash sheets and towels, they come out soft and smelling wonderful!

    • 25

      That’s a great idea! I use essential oils for everything but hasn’t thought of adding it to the vinegar..duh.

  18. 26

    I use it for getting out icky smells, as a sanitizer in laundry, and as fabric softener. I’m on sceptic so I can’t use traditional fabric softeners but vinegar (and Borax!) does the trick. Plus it doesn’t affect the absorbency of towels. 🙂

  19. 27

    Yes! For super smelly loads of clothes (e.g. my sweaty gym attire that may or may not have been balled up in my gym bag overnight) I put baking soda in with my detergent, and then run an extra cold rinse with vinegar. Which is a trick I learned from cloth diapering (what’s smellier than fermented baby waste!).

  20. 28

    My clothes will smell if I leave them overnight. I have been frustrated when I honestly just ran the washer at 10 pm (or later), and it’s already smelly at 7:30 the next morning. However, I’ve discovered that all I have to do is run it through a rinse, and it’s fine. It doesn’t work for clothes that really smell musty, but for my whoops-I-left-it-overnight loads, it’s great!

  21. 29

    When I was a child, the only time we used vinegar was at Easter to dye eggs. I gagged when I smelled the vinegar. Now it smells clean. I’m sensitive to smells and have a daughter with eczema. I use vinegar in my Downy ball. Plus I don’t have to worry about build-up on my lint catcher. I also use vinegar as a rinse aid in my dishwasher and as an all-purpose cleaner. I mix it with equal parts water and give it to my daughters to clean. I use full strength for tougher messes. I use the vinegar water for pet accidents and to wash away ant trails. It doesn’t keep them from coming back, but it takes away the chemical trail they leave.

  22. 30

    This is good to know because sometimes I leave loads too long too. Of course, I have a good excuse – don’t we all? I can’t run my dyer for very long at a time without it overheating, so that slows my laundry process down and leaves more room for error. But….better planning, you know. It’s a wonderful thing if you can find where they sell it. 🙂 Anyway, now I know what to do to restore those nasty smelling loads. Well, sometimes I get funny smelling loads without the clothes even sitting – we think it’s something in the water sometimes (well water, not city).

  23. 31

    Thank you so much for coming to speak at our MOPS group! We loved having you!

  24. 33

    I use vinegar in just about every load of laundry and I so regularly leave a load to sour that I use vinegar to get out the smell too. I use less in a daily load but when it comes to a sour load I use more then let it fill with water and soak for at least and hour. Sometimes you can smell the vinegar on the clothes after but usually it goes away after they are dry. Line drying helps the most.

    Funny I should run across this. I was pretty sure I was running out of vinegar so at the store this morning I picked up two of the largest bottles. When I went to put them in my trunk guess what! There was a bottle already in there that I had been too lazy to get out last week. So now I have three full bottles, and two half empty (or full haha) bottles.

    • 34

      OH and I meant to add that as I was lugging the three bottles to the door I was wishing there was a way to make vinegar. LOL!

  25. 35

    I was reading this post last week when I suddenly realized that I had (once again) forgotten a load of laundry in the washer, and of course it was four days musty – yuck. Usually I just grit my teeth and rewash w/ detergent (which never quite seems to get the smell out until the clothes are thoroughly dried), but this time I added vinegar, and was thrilled to discover it really works! For anyone with one of those HE (high efficiency) models that doesn’t use a lot of water, however, I would suggest either going easy on the amount of vinegar or hitting the extra rinse button to get the scent of too much vinegar out of the clothes.

  26. 38

    Thanks for this!! Just what I needed. 🙂

  27. 39
    SusanCK says:

    Me? Forget about laundry in the washer for more than one day? Okay, okay, yes it’s happened on occasion…. I’m so thankful for this tip! I usually just rewash and rewash again to get the musty smell out but not anymore! I hope I remember if… well okay when it happens again.

  28. 40

    I like your stat of 6/10 washes get done twice. That’s common around here too. If the clothes are whites or lights, I add a very small bit of bleach to the rewash and that helps. I use vinegar for darks and have found that it’s the ONLY thing that removes the hideous odors from my workout clothes after hot yoga.

  29. 41

    I have a HE (high efficiency) washer. Where do I pour the vinegar?

    • 42

      I don’t know. I don’t have a fancy washing machine!

      I pour the vinegar directly on the clothes in mine, since at this point they’re already packed down from the previous wash. Could you do that?

    • 43

      Try using the fabric softener dispenser area for the vinegar, or even the soap dispenser if this is the second wash.

      • 44

        Thank you! I can’t believe vinegar worked! At first I just poured the vinegar right on the clothing, worked like a charm!

  30. 45

    I use it when I run out of fabric softener and it works fine. When my dad had cancer they used Desitin on his back to keep him from getting bed sores. I couldn’t get it our of the sheets and someone told me to use vinegar. It worked great!!

  31. 46

    Pour your vinegar in the fabric softener slot is where I put it. Makes the towels so nice and soft. Has sure cut down on any smells I might get from the washer as well.

  32. 47

    Yes we’ve used white vinegar as a fabric softener and deodoriser since the days of using washable nappies! and my kids have eczema and react really badly to fabric softener. And it’s cheap! I understand it has about a million other uses as well …

  33. 48

    Nope not in the new HE washer per the instructions. But do try vinegar in a foot bath with hot water. Takes dead skin o
    ff , kills fungus under your toenails, leaves your toenails looking white, removes foot odor and leaves your feet very soft!

  34. 49

    FYI ladies…it works wonders for those with toddlers. Kiddy pee is potent and foot for me never washed out no matter what soap I used nor how much I washed it. Vinegar is my guru.

  35. 50

    Hi, I’m not an expert at this, soooo, embarrassing question, where do I put the vinegar?

  36. 52

    Hey I got my clothes all mildew-smelling the other day and then I washed them again and they smelled only marginally better.

    Now that I know about this vinegar solution, should I wash with detergent again with the vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser, or just wash with only vinegar?


  37. 57
    Cassie Lee says:

    I love using vinegar in the wash. When I can I add a splash to every load.

  38. 58

    I’m anxious to try this since I seem to have several clothing items that I just can’t get the mildew smell out of. However, I’m a bit hesitant. I make my own laundry detergent and a big part of that is baking soda. I remember as a kid we used to make volcanoes using baking soda and vinegar together because they would react and foam up, pouring over the sides of our dirt volcanoes. Does anyone here make their own laundry detergent using baking soda, and if so, have you had any problems adding vinegar to it? I really don’t want it to bubble up and overflow my washing machine. That would be bad… 🙂

    • 59

      Yes, that would be bad!! Maybe run a load with ONLY vinegar and no detergent and see if that helps. Or just soak them in vinegar water and then rinse out.

      • 60

        I make my own but I using WASHING soda, not baking soda and I use vinegar in a Downy ball. Since it only releases the vinegar in the rinse cycle, it shouldn’t matter that you are using baking soda. Or you can just add . it during the rinse cycle…..which I ALWAYS forget…lol…..hence the Downy ball!

    • 61

      I have used baking soda and vinegar in the wash for my towels I forgot about, and it was fine no ron overs

  39. 62

    Brandi- I use baking soda with every load (it makes detergents work better) and I always use vinegar in the rinse. Not only is it a great fabric softener/ deodorizer , but it gets the residue out of the clothes. Works great for baby stuff too, so there is no need to spend extra money on special baby detergent. No residue left behind to irritate you or your little ones. And yes – it is amazing for pet odor too! Great tip Nony!!!!

  40. 63
    unmowngrass says:

    Personally, I’m not going to rewash any laundry that was only done in the last 24 hours. If your clothes still smell, go play outside and you either won’t notice it or it’ll… go away.

    But tumble drier sheets are like a gift from God. 😉

  41. 64

    I often use vinegar in the fabric softener tray of my washing machine. It even works here if the clothes are stinky from sitting in the washer too long…yes, I know from experience.

  42. 65

    I love vinegar! I use it as a fabric softener in every load. It gets rid of odors, soap residue, kills germs and mold and mildew, etc. I use it for cleaning too. I put 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar in a spray bottle for cleaning. The smell goes away quickly. Cheap too and natural.

  43. 66

    Well, I suppose I am the cheapskate, “green earth” commentator thus far: Definitely, white vinegar is necessary. But instead of pouring your good baking soda into the washer, gather up your expired PLAIN ASPIRIN tablets instead. When I have a load of stinky towels, I toss 1/2 cup of white vinegar and about 10-15 aspirins into the washer on HOT water temp. The aspirins will quickly melt. Throw in the stinky towels and wash on your washer’s max time setting. It usually works for me and over the years, we’ve had four washing machines, three teens, a swimming pool, and hot tub. And you would not believe how stinky those towels can become!
    Socks! Throw in some extra vinegar and a few more aspirin!

  44. 68
    Sandi Anderson says:

    Thank you for the help. I had sheets in the dryer and then had family member in the hospital, forgot those sheets for a week!!! Have to try this now!

  45. 69

    yup… sofa slipcovers got washed last week, then (i thought) dried. hubby was helping, and took them out of the dryer to do some other wash. left them sitting in a ball on the table in the laundry room. i went to get them out today to finally put them back on the sofas only to find that the center of the large ball never fully dried. then it sat for a week. in the basement. yuk. i use vinegar in my laundry all the time, but somehow thought you had some other magical solution, lol.

  46. 70
    Jeanine says:

    Be careful not to add vinegar to bleach. The chemical reaction produces chlorine gas, which has been used as a chemical weapon. It damages the lungs.

  47. 71

    I have been making my own laundry detergent for over 2 years now. I use a Downy ball and fill to line with vinegar in every load. And when I wash my hubby’s nasty, stinky work clothes, I add a little more. Works like a charm. Recently my son left clothes in his broke down car. When we cleaned it out, we found where critters had made a nest in his clothes. The clothes not ruined by said critters smelled horribly. I used my homemade laundry detergent and vinegar and the clothes smell clean and fresh!!!

  48. 72

    I do the whole ‘forget the clothes in the washer’ thing way too often. I use vinegar too! I actually use it as my fabric softener anyway, but I used more for smelly clothes. ALSO, I used it in my HE washer all the time at my old house. The appliance guy told me that the manufacturers don’t want you to use it because it’s GOOD for your washer! He said that stinky smell that people complain about in their front load HE washers is nothing more than mildew. He advised me to always use vinegar and to leave the door open so that the inside dries out. We had ours for 4 years with never one minute worth of trouble with it. I would still have it now, but it went with the sale of our house and the new house had a brand new set of top load ones. Just thought I’d let everyone know that it DOES work well in HE washers. Keeps the pipes cleaned out too! 😀

  49. 73

    I couldn’t stop smelling my clothes, lol. I have never had them smell so fresh. I’m going to start doing this on a regular basis. Thanks for this tip.

  50. 74
    Jennifer says:

    Well I hate our front-end washer!! It makes clothes smell. Once the musty smell is there, it does not come out. I tried vinegar, essential oils, detergent and it does NOT take it out. I add vinegar to the rinse cycle in every wash. What am I doing wrong? My clothes do not smell fresh. :((

  51. 75

    Thank you, Dana, for the tip.

    And thank you, Linda in #50, for asking the newbie question I also had!

    Now I’ll go and deal with my pile of smelly clothes.

  52. 76

    I make my own laundry detergent and then in the dryer, I don’t use dryer sheets, I use dryer wool balls! Put a few drops of essential oils and the clothes smell fabulous! I will now also try the vinegar!

  53. 77

    See I use vinegar in every load and even the forgotten ones do not have the same smell after the vinegar use and drying right away I wish my washer had a way to stop and soak the clothes but even with my kid open my wash cycle runs all the way till the end

  54. 78
    Lisa A Misterek says:

    I wish mine was only $25! I misplaced/forgot about the only notice I received. Now my original $28 fine has been submitted to a collection agency for $48!!! Hopefully, this will be the last of its’ kind as I slowly(!) work through my deslobification (I LOVE that word!).

  55. 79

    I’ve been using vinegar in my washer as a fabric softener for about 5 years. I think it works better and it doesn’t gunk up the washer like softener does. One less job to do ;-)!

  56. 80

    Does it matter what temperature of water you use? I have an HE front loader and poured 3/4 cup vinegar directly on clothes and put detergent in the tray but the smell is still there. What did I do wrong? More or less vinegar? Warm or cold water? Should I put vinegar in fabric softener slot instead?

    • 81

      I’m not sure! Is the smell a constant? I have heard things like that about some front loaders.

      • 82

        The smell is only in the forgotten wet clothes. It is a front loader and monthly I run the clean tub cycle and drain the water in the bottom lint/dirt collector compartment on my LG washer. Thanks for your response

  57. 83

    So I just discovered that miscommunication between the hubby and I resulted in a 1 week old large load of laundry, full of our best towels and some bedding, in our 8yr old Samsung HE washer. I have terrible mold allergies and he has sarcoidosis, but we can’t afford to replace what’s sitting in the unopened front loading washer. We used to have 1st floor laundry access in our home but due to unfortunate circumstances we lost our home of 7yrs but made sure we moved my pride & joy HE washer and dryer (my 1 big splurge when buying the house). Unfortunately we moved into a home with basement w/d hook ups, both have physical disabilities, so it’s easy to forget laundry now that it’s not in a room off our main hallway. I almost bought vinegar while shopping today but tried to minimize what we’d have to carry into the house, before discovering this great thread of posts. When we’ve left laundry for 1-3 days in the past, extra Tide HE has worked out fine with Downy Free because I have so many allergies to detergents, perfumes, etc… I was going to run it on a double cycle of Sanitize, where it’s Extra Hot with steam. Would it be better to get the vinegar and run a cold cycle instead? I’m debating waiting 1 more day and getting the vinegar since we also need it for our coffee maker but desperately need the towels currently sitting in the washer. Any advice for HE washers is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!!!

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