Why Do Clothes Smell After Being Stored: Guide to Prevent and Remove Musty Odor

Last updated on March 25, 2024

This article provides practical solutions to effectively remove and prevent the musty smell from clothes after storage.

Key takeaways:

  • Musty smell in stored clothes caused by bacteria and mold.
  • Prevent bacteria growth by fully drying clothes before storage.
  • Prevent mold and mildew by using well-ventilated storage and desiccants.
  • Revive musty clothes with vinegar and baking soda treatment.
  • FAQ: How to get rid of smell in stored clothes, prevent odor, and natural odor removal methods.

The Causes of Smelly Clothing

Clothes stored for extended periods can develop unpleasant odors for a variety of reasons. Moisture trapped within the fabric creates an ideal environment for bacteria, leading to a noticeable mustiness.

Additionally, if storage conditions are damp or poorly ventilated, mold and mildew can take hold, leaving a distinctive and stubborn smell. Infrequent washing before storage or residual oils and skin cells can also contribute to the issue as they provide a food source for bacteria and fungi.

The key to addressing these odors lies in understanding and mitigating the factors that allow these organisms to thrive.

Bacteria Growth

Bacteria thrive in moist environments. When clothing is put away damp or stored in areas with high humidity, these conditions are ideal for bacterial growth. Sweat and skin cells left on fabric also provide a food source for bacteria, which produce foul odors as they multiply.

To mitigate this, ensure clothes are completely dry before storing them and consider using moisture-absorbing products in spaces where you keep your garments. Regular laundering, including a final rinse with antibacterial additives, can help maintain a fresh smell.

For items that can’t be washed frequently, such as winter coats, airing them out periodically can also help keep bacteria at bay.

Mold and Mildew Presence

Mold and mildew thrive in damp, dark environments. If clothing is put away while still damp, it can create the perfect breeding grounds for these fungi. Since both produce a strong and unpleasant odor, their presence can significantly affect the smell of stored clothes. They can also leave unsightly stains and degrade fabric quality.

To avoid this issue, ensure all garments are completely dry before storage and that the storage area is well-ventilated. Use desiccants, like silica gel packs, to absorb excess moisture in the air around your clothes. Regularly inspecting stored items for signs of mold and mildew can also prevent the problem from going unnoticed.

How to Freshen Clothes That Have Been in Storage

If you’re faced with the unpleasant surprise of musty clothes after storage, reviving them is simpler than you might expect. Start by shaking out each item to dislodge any dust or debris.

Proceed to wash the garments using a mixture of regular laundry detergent with a half cup of baking soda, which naturally neutralizes odors. For stubborn smells, soak the clothes in a solution of warm water and half a cup of white vinegar for an hour before washing. This acidic solution helps break down odor-causing molecules.

When drying, opt for air-drying outside in sunlight when possible, as UV rays also help eliminate persistent odors and prevent the growth of mildew.

Vinegar and Baking Soda Treatment

Treating your stored clothes with vinegar and baking soda can neutralize odors effectively.

Start by filling a tub with warm water and add one cup of white vinegar.

Submerge your garments for an hour. The vinegar acts as a natural deodorizer, breaking down odor molecules.

After soaking, wash the clothes as usual but add a half cup of baking soda along with your regular detergent.

Baking soda is a well-known odor absorber and will leave your clothes smelling fresh.

Remember to allow your laundry to thoroughly dry before putting it back into storage to prevent the return of any musty smells.


Why do clothes smell stale after storage?

Clothes tend to develop a stale smell after prolonged storage due to factors such as accumulating moisture, especially in damp areas or closets with poor air circulation.

How do you get the smell out of stored clothes?

To remove the smell from stored clothes, create a paste from 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, apply it to the clothes, allow it to dry, scrub it off using an old toothbrush, launder the clothing as usual, and then dry the clothes in sunlight if the weather permits.

Why do my clothes smell weird after sitting in closet?

Your clothes may smell odd after sitting in the closet due to lack of ventilation leading to mildew growth on them.

What causes the musty scent in clothes kept in the wardrobe for a long time?

The musty scent in clothes kept in the wardrobe for a long time is typically caused by the growth of mold and mildew due to improper storage with insufficient airflow or moisture control.

Is there a way to prevent clothes from getting a foul scent during long-term storage?

Yes, clothes can maintain a fresh scent during long-term storage by adding sachets filled with dried herbs or essential oils like lavender or cedarwood, keeping them away from moisture, and ensuring they are fully clean before storing.

What are some effective natural methods to remove odors from stored clothing?

Some effective natural methods to remove odors from stored clothing include using baking soda, white vinegar, fresh air and sunlight, activated charcoal, and pure essential oils.

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