How do you treat/prevent stinky laundry?
December 10, 2011 7:22 PM   Subscribe

How do you treat/prevent stinky laundry?

I guess I somehow made it well into adulthood without learning how to properly do laundry. My clothes come out of the dryer smelling fresh, but as soon as they get sweaty or towels get wet, they smell unclean. (This has gone on for many years with many different washer/dryers - I am the problem, not the machines). Now that I think about how I do laundry, it's no wonder that they come out smelly. I never sort items, just separate into two or three piles of random items (gym clothes, towels, regular clothes, bedsheets, dishrags) throw them in the washer, add detergent, set to cold water and hit start. I know hot water is better for deep washing, but worse for running colours, and that the amount of detergent is important (too little - not clean / too much - residue buildup). I just started separating out dishrags and adding bleach, so that they don't cross-contaminate clothes, and separating out towels and washing on hot to try to rinse out the stink. This hasn't worked, though, and I'm ready to learn proper laundering skills. Do I throw everything out and start over, or can the stink be remedied? How do you treat/prevent stinky laundry?
posted by rabbitfufu to Home & Garden (50 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I know what you're talking about. Try:

1. use less detergent - you need less than the bottle calls for
2. Rinse thoroughly
3. dry extra long, make sure things get **really** dry
posted by bunderful at 7:30 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: It still could be the machines -- almost no one cleans their washer regularly. And run a few empty cycles with plenty of bleach.

Also, make sure your dryer is clean and, more importantly, that the vent is clear, straight and free of excess lint. This can lower the temperature of the dryer, making for a long cycle that also adds stink.

Worst case scenario is not that you have to throw clothes away, but dunk them in boiling water.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm perhaps misunderstanding your question, but you would like your clothes to smell clean after they've been sweaty?
posted by Brent Parker at 7:32 PM on December 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

The smell is likely mildew and only bleach and hotwater is going to get that out. So sort like colours together, fill the washer tub with water. Mix in 1/3 cup bleach then add your items and hope for the best. Anything the bleach ruins was already stinky (note, don't do this for non stinky things).

In the future don't throw wet anything (towels/rags/work out gear) into the hamper without letting them air dry first and pull clothes out of the washer and into the dryer right away.
posted by saradarlin at 7:32 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Double rinse.
posted by timsteil at 7:33 PM on December 10, 2011

My clothes stink if they don't get fully, fully dry in the dryer. In other words, they dry a bit mildewy, and though they smell fine dry, the smell is reactivated when they get damp.

There may be something growing on them...a bacteria that lives on your body? Ask your GP, although my dermatologist would be more useful for something like this than my GP.

Sounds like you've already tried my first suggestion, which was washing on hot. I have two other offbeat suggestions which are Oxyclean (if it works you can buy it in bulk at Costco or Sam's). The other is "Professional Strength Pet Force", which has been GREAT for me for odor with my cats. You can just dump some in the laundry with the wash, and let it soak for half an hour.
posted by thelastcamel at 7:34 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you leaving laundry to sit in the washing machine for a long time (say, overnight) before putting it in the dryer? That can cause a sort of mildewy smell. Try to get laundry into the dryer right after the washer finishes.
posted by dayintoday at 7:35 PM on December 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: There are lots of good tips above, especially the ones about drying clothes fully and not letting them sit around damp in the washer or hamper.


Try to use powdered detergent instead of liquid detergent--I recently learned that liquid detergent leaves a residue on clothes and washing machines. Residue collects odours. That's also why you shouldn't use fabric softener, either the liquid kind or the dryer sheets; they also leave a coating on your clothes for odours to cling to.

When I have accidentally left laundry in the washer overnight, I've re-washed it with EITHER a cup of vinegar OR a half-cup of borax, and that seems to prevent/eliminate any mildewy smell. Occasionally I'll just throw vinegar or borax into a regular load as well. I have read that both can have mild colour fading properties, though I haven't noticed it myself. Perhaps it's because I don't do it all the time, though.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:46 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, sounds like mildew. How are you drying? You need to make sure that happens as soon as the washer cycle or clothes will start to smell sour. You might also consider pre-treating the stinky bits of your sweaty clothes. Finally, consider using a laundry booster. Brand names include Biz, but even some borax in your wash will help take it to the next level of clean.
posted by Gilbert at 7:47 PM on December 10, 2011

What kind of washer, dryer, and detergent are you using?
posted by k8t at 7:56 PM on December 10, 2011

I'm not convinced you have a laundry problem. As Brent Parker noted, you seem to be saying that you want your clothes to smell clean when they are not (yours smell fine when they come out of the drier but not after they are sweaty ["My clothes come out of the dryer smelling fresh, but as soon as they get sweaty or towels get wet, they smell unclean."]). I don't think it works like that.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:58 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: It sounds like mildew might be the problem. Clothes can start to mildew surprising fast in the washer and the dryer if left if either too long and if the mildew isn't killed completely by either the washer or the dryer.

Sort by color first - get all your whites together but don't mix undies and dish cloths (that's my personal position - no panties with the cloth I use for doing dishes). White and light colored towels that ares OK to bleach can be washed together and with the dish cloths. Use HOT water. If you don't have a bleach dispenser, add detergent and bleach and let the washer fill up with water before adding laundry OR add laundry first let wash cycle start and add a cup of bleach mixed with 2 quarts of water (i.e. a pitcher of bleach water). Bleach kills mildew. Do this for your white undies load too. If they are delicate you can use a cooler temperature. Immediately after washing, put laundry in the dryer and make sure everything is fully dry, not kinda dry. Heat also helps kill mildew. If your undies are too delicate for the dryer put them on dryer racks and put a fan or space heater nearby. Don't leave them to dry for a few days in a damp bathroom.

For colors - add a cup of ammonia, vinegar or Borax to the washing machine. If the ammonia smell is still apparent, do a light wash cycle or a second rinse. Borax should be mix with water so that dissolves completely. Again, dry thoroughly.

DO NOT MIX BLEACH and AMMONIA - in case you didn't know that already.

Do not leave your damp, sweaty clothes in a hamper or basket. Your sweaty clothes need to dry before being mixed with the rest of your laundry.

Also, occasionally run the wash cycle empty with a cup of bleach and hot water.
posted by shoesietart at 8:00 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nothing beats hanging clothes out to dry on a breezy, sunny day.
posted by zadcat at 8:02 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can also use 1/2 cup Pine Sol in your laundry to kill all the mildew. I do this for my towels and dishrags.

(Original formula only, not the funny-scented versions.)

And is it "as soon as they get sweaty"? Could it perhaps be that you work out in a shirt, drop it on a chair, and then later when you pick it up, the shirt smells bad? That's well within normal operating parameters.

Hanging up your damp things so that they get good air circulation while they dry will help this problem.
posted by ErikaB at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.
To clarify, wetness seems to bring out the smell. I used sweat as an example, but when I really notice it is when taking a freshly washed towel and using it to dry off after a shower. So I am clean and the towel is clean. Shouldn't have used the sweat example - the same smell would come out if I added water to clean clothes.

To add some information, I'm using a HE front loading washer and front loading dryer (both Maytag Neptune). I am very good about promptly transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer and drying well, so I'm thinking the mildew makes its entrance into rags and workout clothes while they sit in a moist heap before laundering. I always take the lint out of the dryer, but I haven't checked the washer for a lint trap. I'm using liquid Tide Free detergent, and started using half of the recommended amount as an experiment in case there is residue, but haven't seen improvement. I will do a bunch of experiments, based on your suggestions. Thanks!
posted by rabbitfufu at 8:13 PM on December 10, 2011

wash rags separately. I used to wash these with my whites, and the non-rags started to smell bad.

Rags go through the road warrior thunderdome washer setting - hot water, bleach (or oxiclean) plus detergent. And they stay separate from anything I want to wear.
posted by zippy at 8:24 PM on December 10, 2011

Oh, sorry, I see you already separated these out. Never mind.
posted by zippy at 8:25 PM on December 10, 2011

This may be coincidence, but I've always hated the way my clothes smell when using Tide, even the fragrance-free kind. Maybe try a different brand? I'm digging Method brand stuff currently.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:28 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: I had the same problem with an he front loading machine and liquid detergent which COMPLETELY disappeared by switching to powder/dry detergent.

Just by the way, I also use about 2 Tbs of the dry stuff (way less than the scoop suggests) and maybe a little scoop of oxyclean. I haven't yet found powder he detergent in the store easily, so I just order a box off amazon and it lasts forever.

It's a pretty common complaint.
posted by lilnublet at 8:33 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: HE washers are wellknown to have mildew problems. Leave the door slightly open and buy a Tide HE wash packet to clean it out.
posted by k8t at 8:40 PM on December 10, 2011

My HE washer would collect water after a wash in the bottom rubber seal. I noticed mildew started to grow after a while.

Now I try to quickly wipe that area with a rag afterwards
posted by User7 at 8:52 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

How long do you use your towels before you wash then? I ruined some towels (they smelled nice out of the dryer, but gross when they got wet) because I would use them for two or more weeks before washing. Put more towels into your rotation- don't use them for longer than a week.
posted by MadamM at 8:59 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is I think a lint trap in your washer (I believe yours is similar to mine). It's accessible through the panel that's right along the bottom front of the washer, in a plastic housing. It's a bit of a pain to clean out (and you always get a puddle when opening it because the system never gets completely emptied out). I've had to clean it out a couple times when dog hair clogged it up. This might be one reason mildew is persistent in your system, btw. It's a poor design, that doesn't empty out all the water each time. Is a good idea to run bleach through your system occasionally for this reason.
posted by zomg at 9:00 PM on December 10, 2011

I know the smell thing. If the clothes or towels or whatever get hotter or wetter, they release an unpleasant smell, not dissimilar to a dirty kitchen rag that's been sitting out too long, right?

The smell is mostly germs/fungi growing in the laundry, and their accumulated chemical signature. Kill the organisms and get rid of the chemicals.

1) Get the clothes as dry as possible after washing, as quickly as possible. When laundry starts to "want" to smell, it must not be allowed to sit in the machine after washing at all. Dry immediately!

2) Wash each article of clothing at as hot a temperature as it tolerates.

3) Sunlight is magical. The ultraviolet radiation in sunlight actually kills the germs growing on your laundry, and breaks down the smelly molecules. Hang everything out to dry. Even in cold weather. Even in freezing weather, up to a point. The key is getting UV exposure.

I have accidentally allowed my laundry to build the tendency to get smelly. I've never needed bleach to fix it.

Seconding the "make sure your machines are clean" sentiment.

Sunlight is the key, however. Really. I promise. Sunlight. Synthetic fabrics are worse w.r.t. smell than organic fibers because the shape of the extruded fibers allow germs to sort of "hide" in folds in the fibers, and you can't easily was them out. So I had gym clothes that I was about to throw out because I just couldn't get the latent smell out. Someone told me about sunlight - sunlight is a disinfectant - so I hung these articles out for a long while, turning and twisting them to get exposure to sunlight all over ... and the smell went away. Sunlight!
posted by krilli at 9:15 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's that new product, Tide Washing Machine Cleaner, that cleans HE washers that I believe k8t was referring to. Your HE machine may be the culprit if it's not your laundry itself causing the problem.
posted by shoesietart at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Leave the door slightly open...

My mother has one of the first consumer front-loaders that was widely available in the US (at least where she lives; an Asko) and she told me the manual says to leave the door open when not in use (it is hidden behind an outer door) to allow the drum to dry out. She also uses just a small amount of regular powdered detergent as HE detergents were not widely available back when she got hers.
posted by TedW at 9:22 PM on December 10, 2011

We have found Febreze for laundry helps keep towels smelling fresher longer.
posted by blurker at 9:33 PM on December 10, 2011

Aside from sorting laundry and cleaning the machine, I recommend Using less of the HE detergent and add 1/2 cup of baking soda to a medium sized load. It augments the chemical function of your detergent by balancing the pH level of the water+soap to eliminate bacteria, neutralize odors and remove stains. Hope this works for you.
posted by i_wear_boots at 9:40 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One more answer to agree with some of the above. I've always experienced the thing you talk about, basically moisture-activated bad smell. It often happens if the clothes have been sitting wet for a while. This often happens if I leave the clothes in the washer too long before transferring them to the dryer. Then even re-washing them does not get the smell out.

Here's some things I've found that helps:

-Always transfer items out of the washer right away. If they've been sitting for more than a few hours, they've "gone bad".
-Always leave the washer door ajar when it's not in use. Even w/o clothes, it'll smell bad if left closed & wet.
-Smell clothes before putting in dryer. The dryer will mask the bad smell, but it'll come back. If they smell bad, then they'll need to be re-washed with...
-If clothes smell bad, wash as you normally would but put white vinegar in the "bleach" bin of your washer (as if you were using bleach on whites). Works wonders.
-Use one of those clothes-washer cleaning packets to clean out your washer. Then take care of the washer.

If you get rid of the smell from the washer, keep it dry (leave door open), and make sure not to let clothes sit, then you'll probably be pretty good. The vinegar trick is the #1 fix for me. If clothes have gone bad, I can rewash all I want but the smell doesn't leave. One wash with vinegar fixes a load of bad clothes, no smell when they get wet later.

Sorting clothes is good, using warm is good, but I don't think either are related to your (our?) problem. Good luck!

Definitely post back what you try & what works (or doesn't).
posted by jumpfroggy at 9:42 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Towels definitely get a mildewy smell. Every once in a while, add a cup of white vinegar to the wash with the detergent -- makes a huge difference. (I've only done this with towels, not clothes.)
posted by kestrel251 at 9:57 PM on December 10, 2011

Some HE washing machines have a special cycle to clean themselves. I know my new Samsung top loading HE does. I use really hard water which seems to leave a bit of a smell to the clothes for some reason (also I can smell it when showering), so I've take to using white vinegar in the wash, I just put it in the bleach dispenser instead of bleach and that seems to help and my clothes don't smell like bleach when they are done. If you are living somewhere you can hang clothes out in the sun to dry, the sun is a great disinfectant and makes clothes smell great.
posted by wwax at 10:06 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: No, no - don't use bleach unless the load is white whites, and hot water isn't necessary - it may even damage your clothes. Hot water is good for sheets and towels, but not much else.

Add 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar to each load; that will give your detergent a big boost, remove old soap residue, and eliminate odors. And by all means, buy good laundry soap if you're having this problem - stay away from the off brands. I've read that powdered soap is better and I believe it because my wash has always been cleaner when I use powdered soap, but I know for certain that the big name brands are better at removing sweat and body odor and stains than the cheap stuff.

If I were you, I'd wash everything now in good detergent with 1 cup of white vinegar per load, double rinse it and dry it thoroughly. If you like fragrance and you don't like static electricity, add a dryer sheet to each load in the dryer.

One other thing to consider: Where do you keep your dirty clothes before you get around to doing the laundry? Be absolutely certain that even the dirty clothes are air-dried before piling them together in a hamper for several days - that's a sure way to spread the sweaty-sock smell to your nice shirts.
posted by aryma at 10:11 PM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. use less detergent - you need less than the bottle calls for
2. Rinse thoroughly
posted by bunderful

I'm from a laundry family. Grandfather invented a bunch of dry cleaning and laundry equipment.

He had a laundry laboratory in the basement of his home. One of his chief findings was that using 1/2 to 1/3 of the amount stated on modern laundry detergent packaging resulted in cleaner clothes. Otherwise the detergent left residue, and the "cleaned" clothes could be heavier than the dirty clothes. Detergent residue acts like flypaper for dirt.

Use cold water, and reset the dial on the washing machine to repeat the final rinse and spin cycle. Ideally rearrange and reconfigure the clothes before the second rinse, either by hand or with a laundry paddle, which is basically a stirring stick.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:17 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been told to run an empty load through HE machines with powdered DISHWASHER detergent every few weeks. Dishwasher detergent kills bacteria and enzymes that laundry detergent doesn't. We do this and run a Hot empty load with a ton of bleach, leave the door open and have had no problem.
posted by pearlybob at 10:35 PM on December 10, 2011

Here is a trick to getting your washing machine and dishwasher to work effectively.

Trisodium Phosphate.

Yep. That phosphate stuff that they took out of consumer dishwasher detergents. (Commercial/restaurant dishwasher products still have TSP.)

The thing is you don't need TSP in every load and when you need it you need very, very little. That $4 box should last you years. About every tenth or twelfth load, I put a scant 1/2 of teaspoon in the dispenser along with my normal soap. The TSP does two things:
1 - It brightens the hell out of my clothing/towels/dishes because it helps the soap wash away fully. That load is clean. As in clean the way your grandmother washed clothes.
2 - It washes away all the bioslime that has accumulated in the washer which makes clothes smell funky.

Now, don't go tossing TSP in every laundry/dishwasher load. You don't need to use it every time and we really don't need algae blooms and such. However, when your dishwasher or washing machine stop working a load with soap and TSP will help tremendously.
posted by 26.2 at 11:43 PM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had this problem with my towels. I don't even have a dryer, so I have even more troubles.

I solved them by
1. Washing the towels in hot water (I do it at 75 C).
2. Hanging them outside in the sun to dry if possible.
3. Making sure that they have ample space to dry after being used.

3 seems to be an important one. Before we had two towels on a small towel rack, such that both towels needed to be folded in half. This way they never dried out properly, and would start to smell. Now we hang the most recently used one on the drying rack over our bathtub, which gives both towels more space to dry out and not catch mildew.

I would also try to find a place to hang up your rags and sweaty workout clothes so that they dry out before they go into the hamper. Workout clothes you can just put on hangers and hang from a door jamb or a curtain rail. If you don't let things stay wet they won't get mildewy. Things that already smell mildewy almost certainly need either hot washing, bleach/vinegar, or both.
posted by that girl at 12:41 AM on December 11, 2011

It doesn't really sound as if you're washing the right clothes at the right temperatures. Or taking care of your washing machine properly or both. So run your washing machine on the hottest setting a couple of times with some cleaner to be sure that's not it. Check the seal etc.

Then go about laundry in a more organised manner. Sort by colour and how hot you can wash stuff and wash everything as hot as possible to see if you can't shift those smells. For most items you can get away with a warm or cold wash most of the time, with a hot wash every once in a while. What I mean by that is that I always wash kitchen and bathroom towels and flannels and rags together and on hot. With improvements in laundry detergents and in wanting to be environmentally friendly I try to put these into a warm wash every couple of years, to see if they get as clean as I want them to be. So far they fail to get completely clean. Bathroom towels less so but tea towels, dish cloths and flannels (I take my make up off with a flannel, using a new one every day) and the marks just don't come out.

Finally I sometimes find that my work tops, which have a fair amount of elastic in them, will not get clean properly on low temperatures, i.e. smells will not be properly removed. So once in a while I end up chucking them in a hot wash, too, and that takes care of that. Most do survive this abuse and I write the ones that don't off as bad investments.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:16 AM on December 11, 2011

I'm not sure it's you, or the machine, but the soap you use. For some reason liquid detergent just doesn't work as well as powdered. I'd try switching over to powdered, or add some washing soda/borax, or start using ammonia especially on dirty rags, towels and your gym cloths to help get the grease and body oil out of the cloth fibres which might be the main contributor to that funky smell.
posted by squeak at 6:03 AM on December 11, 2011

The TSP does two things:
1 - It brightens the hell out of my clothing/towels/dishes because it helps the soap wash away fully. That load is clean. As in clean the way your grandmother washed clothes.

The phosphate in that does more than clean, it fluoresces under UV light, which is present in both indoor and outdoor white light.

When bleaching whites, use hot water and the smallest practical load size, to concentrate the bleach. Let the machine fill up with the lid open and the clothes out. Add the bleach, close the lid for a minute, and let the water an bleach agitate, then open the lid and add the clothes. Part way through the wash cycle stop the machine and let the clothes sit in the bleach for an hour, then restart. You can then do another wash cycle, cold water and large load size, no soap, to get the bleach smell out, if you'd like.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:47 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

thelastcamel: ""Professional Strength Pet Force""

Where can you buy this? My usual go-to sources (Amazon, Petsmart) don't know about it.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:07 AM on December 11, 2011

The phosphate in that does more than clean, it fluoresces under UV light, which is present in both indoor and outdoor white light.

I had no idea about the fluorescence, but I can confirm that anecdotally. When I wash my husband's white office shirts in a TSP load, they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building. They are glowingly white. That the phosphate fluoresces makes perfect sense considering how those shirts look.

I think the benefit to the OP is that the soap/funk washes away better with TSP. The brightness is just a bonus.
posted by 26.2 at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2011

almost no one cleans their washer regularly. --- Much like our car tells is when it's time for an oil change, our washer tells us when it's time to run it empty with a tablet that supposedly cleans it and all the traps, ends up being about once every three months. But when we do, I notice my clothes end up sometimes having a nasty smell to them, especially after I've worn them for awhile.
posted by crunchland at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2011

I believe baking soda helps detergent rinse more thoroughly out of the fibers so that the cloth can dry better. I especially notice the difference in towels lasting longer before smelling mildewy.
(I add about a quarter cup to each load.)
posted by spbmp at 11:20 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to try a different detergent--there's only one on the market I really like, and pretty much all the others I think make clothes stink. And it's not a price point thing either; the one I can stand is actually super cheap and the more expensive name brands I hate.

Also, I know you said it's not the machines because it's always been like this, but if you are using one at home and it's a front loader a lot of them get a mildewy gross smell if you don't let them dry out between washes by either keeping the door open when not in use or spraying down the rubbery rim with something gentle like diluted vinegar to get rid of the mildew between washes.

And you don't let your clothes sit wet for long before moving them to the dryer, do you? That's also a biggie. And you're letting them get truly dry, right? If they never seem to get dry enough, check your lint filter--are you really scraping it completely clean every time?
posted by ifjuly at 1:01 PM on December 11, 2011

Ohmygod, go buy this stuff: Downy Unstoppable Scent Boosters.

Yes, I know it is essentially pouring chemicals onto your clothes, but they smell so good, for so long! And Amy Sedaris is hawking it, so that's something.
posted by kinsey at 6:25 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Leaving your clothes in a moist pile is part of the problem, as that girl mentions above. The moisture will foster the growth of mildew, which is likely the cause of your problem.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:36 PM on December 11, 2011

When I had a mildewy smell like yours, I just soaked my clothes in a detergent and oxyclean bath overnight. You have to be careful, though, because that can loosen some dyes.

Another option is to add a capful of Lysol to the laundry water. That is pretty hard on clothes, but it gets smells OUT.
posted by gjc at 7:21 AM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: So here's what I did:
To de-funk the washing machine
First, I ran an empty hot wash with a cup of bleach
Then I ran some HE washing machine cleaner on warm and left to soak for 4 hours. I double rinsed and left the washer door open overnight.
In the morning I noticed that the washer smelled fresher. I hadn't noticed before that the funk smell was also in the washer. You guys were totally right!

To de-funk coloured items
I then ran some gym clothes through on warm water with vinegar and powder detergent for HE washers with a double rinse, and dried thoroughly. They came out smelling fresher than usual. I then went for a sweaty run and left them in the hamper until the following morning. They smell like sweaty running clothes should - like sweat - not like funky mildew!!! I have since been running the washer steady going through all my colored items with vinegar. I will try borax later too, though I think it will have the same effect - need an acid to kill the mildew!

To de-funk whites
Use bleach and hot water and double rinse, then dry thoroughly. In this case it's the base that kills the mildew. Wow - thanks for all your responses. That was my first askMe question and there will be more to come :)
posted by rabbitfufu at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2011

One thing I might do differently, if I were you: Add the vinegar to the last rinse cycle instead of at the same time as the detergent. I've found that vinegar helps get all the detergent residue out of my clothes when added to the rinse cycle. By adding them at the same time, you're making them duke it out for supremacy, and neither is as effective as they would be solo.

I could be wrong about it how it all works though - I'm no chemist, and this is just my experience with [softened] hard water and no mildew problem, so YMMV.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks SuperSquirrel. The detergent drawer for my washing machine has a detergent side and a bleach/fabric softener side, so what I did was put detergent in the detergent side and vinegar in the bleach side. I'm assuming that the water flows through the detergent side for the wash and the bleach side for the rinse automatically, but maybe I'm wrong??
Also, the vinegar made my bed sheets very scratchy, so maybe I will use less next time (or none at all, since the smell is now gone - and just use preventative measures like keeping the washing machine door open, air drying moist items before washing, drying washed items thoroughly and running bleach through the washer every now and then).
posted by rabbitfufu at 9:45 AM on December 13, 2011

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