If you think your closet itself is the source of the musty smell, there are a number of potential sources of the problem (in addition to the possibility that you’re storing damp clothing). Shoes, for example, are often stored or tossed into closets while still damp from weather or sweat.
Pets can sometimes mistake the closet for a bathroom, and mice can leave droppings behind. And if you’re a smoker (or live with one), you know that smoky garments can create a serious odor problem in any closet.
Let’s look at some options for musty laundry odors…
1. WHITE VINEGAR
My husband’s great uncle ran a commercial laundry for many years, and he swore by white vinegar for stain and odor removal. It also helps to remove hard water and detergent build up on clothes.
Note: Make sure you use the right type and amount of detergent when you wash clothes. Detergent residue traps moisture, making it more likely that you’ll end up with musty towels and lingering odors on sweaty clothes.)
I’ve used white vinegar in the rinse cycle (instead of fabric softener) for years. Fill up the fabric softener spot and you’re good to go. Add a cup of vinegar per load for top loaders, 1/4 to 1/2 cup for front loaders.
Some online guides suggest washing your musty towels in hot water with a full cup of white vinegar (no detergent) to remove mildew smell.
2. BAKING SODA
Another classic odor remover, baking soda can be sprinkled directly in with your clothes your clothes in the washing machine. Again, I use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda per load, followed with a white vinegar rinse.
3. ENZYME ODOR REMOVERS
Since body odor was largely responsible for my son’s musty clothes, I figured enzyme cleaners could help break down the stink.
The synthetic shorts got better, but not 100%. I had better luck with them removing pet urine odor.
The BioKleen product was better than the product from the local farm store, because it was odor free. Strangely, the farm store product had a heavy, perfume-like scent.
4. 20 MULE TEAM BORAX
In the book “Talking Dirty Laundry with the Queen of Clean”, the author recommends pretreating heavy soiled musty towels with borax.
To pretreat, soak towels in a tub of hot water and 1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax for an hour before washing. Wash your clothes as normal.
I’m a big fan of line drying clothes when the weather allows me to do so. Sunlight exposure kills some odor causing microbes, and a nice breeze helps improve air flow to all the nooks and crannies.
The downside of using sunlight is the bleaching effect. Over time, it will lighten clothes, making them look more worn.
Sunlight also breaks down elastic and spandex with repeated exposure, the same way it makes plastic brittle. The odor removal power of sunlight also works much better on natural fibers such as cotton, and not so well on synthetics.