Why Do My Clothes Smell After Being Stored?

So, winter’s creeping up on you, and it’s time to pull out your warm clothes from storage. However, when you pull your sweaters and woolens out from your closet, you’re faced with a musty smell, even though you’d washed them thoroughly before storing them away. You may be confused, but don’t worry, as there’s a reason for this smell.

The Main Reason Your Clothes Smell After Being Stored

Your clothes smell after being stored because of mildew growth. Mildew growth doesn’t require much moisture, as a shut closet will do the trick, even if it was cleaned before storage. It grows incredibly well in dark places and during summer. However, you can keep clothes smelling fresh in storage.

In the rest of this article, I’ll go into detail about how you can prepare your clothes and your storage space so that you don’t have to worry about a mildew smell the next time you store your clothes away. Additionally, I’ll also look at how you can remove the mildew smell from clothes that have already absorbed it.

Keeping Your Clothes Smelling Fresh in Storage

If you’re getting ready to put your clothes away for the season and you want to ensure that you won’t be faced with the smell of mildew once again next year, don’t worry – the solution is relatively easy.

Prepare Your Clothes

The first thing you’ll need to do is ensure that your clothes are ready for being packed away.

Ensure your clothes are cleaned thoroughly. Even if they aren’t dirty and have no visible stains, they may still contain a build-up of body oils, invisible dirt, and small microorganisms. All of these contribute to the musty smell you experience when unpacking your clothes.

If your clothes have any noticeable odors already pleasant, you’ll need to get them out in the laundry. To do so, add ½ a cup of baking soda to the washing machine and let it run as usual.

Once your clothes are clean, make sure they’re thoroughly dry. As mentioned above, moisture helps boost mildew growth, and damp clothes will only make things worse.

Consider storing your clothes in cloth bags that have a little fabric softener added to them. Fabric softeners are usually perfumed, and the softeners in the bag will reduce the likelihood of your clothes catching a “stale” smell.

If you can’t do this for all your clothes, consider this method for your favorite pieces or your most expensive ones.

Prepare Your Closet

The next step to ensuring you won’t have to deal with mildew and the resulting smell ever again is preparing your closet. Just like your clothes need to be completely clean, so does your wardrobe (or whatever space you’re using to store your clothes).

Ensure the space is cleaned of anything in it, especially items with displeasing odors such as dirty clothes and smelly shoes.

This will ensure that you don’t need to worry about odor transfer. After all, the last thing you want to discover after you go through the hassle of thoroughly cleaning a storage space is that while there was no mildew growth, the smell of the existing items in the space has permeated through your clothes.

Then, clean the space itself. Vacuum the floor, and use a damp rag to clean the walls and any shelves that may be present. Let the space air out for a few hours by leaving the door open.

Storing Your Clothes

When storing your clothes, there are some things you need to be conscious about.

The first thing you’ll need to consider is the storage space itself. Never store clothes long-term in an attic or basement. No matter how much you clean these spaces, you’ll never get rid of the heat and humidity completely.

And, as mentioned above, these are the perfect conditions for mildew growth.

A closet is a great alternative, as are drawers. If you’ve got extra space in your room, or in another room in the house, that can function as a storage space as well.

When you hang your clothes, leave a small gap between each article of clothing. This will reduce the likelihood of your clothes catching an unpleasant smell, as air will be able to circulate between the clothes.

If you aren’t using cloth bags as mentioned above, another option to consider is to store your clothes in opaque plastic boxes. These will protect them from the actions of insects and rodents.

You can also use mothballs to protect your clothes. However, mothballs have a strong odor, so you’ll need to remove this smell when you pull out your clothes.

If you’re storing shoes away as well, sprinkle a touch of baking soda inside each individual shoe. This will absorb both existing and new odors and prevent your shoes from smelling. If you don’t have baking soda handy, you can use fabric softener sheets or baby powder instead.

The baking soda is for your shoes, but is it possible to absorb smells from your clothes as well? The simple answer is yes.

All you need to do is fill a bowl with either:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Cedar chips
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar

Alternatively, you can also fill charcoal briquettes inside a sock. All the items mentioned above are great at absorbing odors from clothes.

Whichever you choose, place it near your clothes, either on a shelf, on a small table that may be present in the space, or even on the floor, and let it do its job.

Other ways you can take to reduce or eliminate the growth and smell of mildew include:

  • Using a closet deodorizer inside the storage space.
  • Place lavender sachets or small potpourri sachets inside the closet.
  • Turning on a light bulb inside the closet for about an hour every couple of days. Even the slight increase in heat provided by the bulb will warm the air enough to curtail humidity and reduce mildew growth.

Make sure to check in on your clothes once every month or so. When you do so, replace the bowl or sock that you left in the storage space. Additionally, if you placed a scented sachet along with your clothes, check to see if the scent is still present in the sachet.

If not, you’ll need to replace that as well.

How to Remove Mildew Smell From Clothes

Prevention is a great option – but what happens when you’ve already got clothes that smell of mildew? Don’t panic. Your clothes aren’t ruined, and with a little bit of effort, they’ll be back to being as good as new.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Scrub off any visible mildew on your clothes. Ensure you’re wearing protection when you do so, including gloves and a face mask, as breathing in mildew and mildew spores isn’t healthy.
  • Air out your clothes by letting them sit out in the sun for a few hours. I recommend putting them out in the day and leaving them until the sun is no longer overhead. Fresh air and sunlight will help break down a good amount of the odor.
  • Wipe away any residue or stains you notice using a damp rag and some lemon juice if necessary.
  • Put the clothes in the laundry, and wash them on the hottest water setting possible, unless doing so will damage the fabric. Along with detergent, add a laundry odor eliminator to the load, especially if the clothes have a strong odor.

If the clothes in question are delicate, you can wash them by hand instead. Once the clothes are out of the laundry, let them dry completely. After they’re dried, they’ll be as good as new and ready to use.

Final Thoughts

Mildew grows in dark places with even the slightest moisture, such as closed closets and other storage spaces. It’s this growth that makes your clothes smell “stale” when you remove them from storage.

However, ensuring your clothes are thoroughly washed and dried and your storage area is completely aired out before storage will help reduce the likelihood of this happening in the future.

If your clothes already have mildew on them, you’ll need to let them air out and clean them thoroughly to get the smell out.

RELATED ARTICLE: What Happens if You Soak Clothes for Too Long?

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