How do I keep my shirts from smelling moldy?
July 12, 2016 10:28 PM   Subscribe

I live in the UK and laundry here is just different from in the states for a number of reasons. I hang my laundry to dry, which mostly works fine except for my long-sleeved t-shirts, which always smell musty. I space them out all over the house, they feel totally dry and don't smell at all when I put them away, but a few days later when I pull one out to wear, they smell of mold.

I've tried ironing them without steam before I put them away to no avail. What else can I try to keep them from developing a smell?
posted by stinker to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you regularly clean the inside of your washing machine? It's especially important for front-loading washers. You can use vinegar or bleach; wipe down the detergent drawer and the front gasket, then put some vinegar or bleach in the detergent drawer and run an empty load on a high temperature.

It's also important to hang up damp clothes as quickly as possible and to leave the washer door open when it's not in use.

You can also try adding vinegar or baking soda to the detergent when you wash the shirts.
posted by neushoorn at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

There have been a couple of posts here about smells with front loaders but if it's only those shirt and they're taking longer than others to dry hanging them in front of a strong fan or air circulator might help them to dry before they start to smell.
posted by oneear at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2016

I found that an article of clothing, once it develops the smell, will continue to smell even through multiple washings. Washing it with (or soaking in) vinegar, once, will take care of that, after which you can return to your ordinary practices.
posted by alexei at 10:48 PM on July 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

If they smell fine before you put them away, then perhaps the issue is with your cupboard? Do you hand the long sleeve shirts in one particular spot in the cupboard? Like, is it against a house wall?. Or do you hang them at a particular height? Are the sleeves the bits that smell musty (ie dragging on the ground or against something else that might smell mouldy like shoes?) or is it the whole shirt?

Alternatively, are the long sleeved shirts made from a different fabric (a synthetic) to your other shirts? If so, smells can hang around in the fibres different, and a soak in vinegar as Alexei suggests, plus a thorough cleaning of the washing machine ought to deal with it.
posted by ninazer0 at 10:55 PM on July 12, 2016

Vinegar... but iirc, a lot of homes in the UK have mold issues, or at least they did when I was there. (No one there cared about it too much; I got some ribbing for worrying - it's a huge deal in North America.) But I know the smell you're talking about, and I think that's why it happens (ambient mold spores). I don't think there's a way to perfectly manage it given typical UK weather and housing, but addressing condensation might help. (If it's even possible. The measures proposed to us by the management of one building I lived in were "shower less", and "cook less", so. :/ Plus obviously dealing with any visible mold in the home.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:59 PM on July 12, 2016

I think you need a desiccant dehumidifier. These have a fan, a low power heater, and a rotating disc of silica gel which absorbs water from the air, and then drops it into a container. If you leave one with your drying clothes (and close the door) it will dry them off in a few hours. They are not big, noisy and expensive like the dehumidifiers you'd rent to use after a flood.

The downside is that they do seem to break - they tend to last two or three years, although you can send some brands off for repair. I've been using Meaco ones.
posted by BinaryApe at 11:18 PM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Add vinegar to the "softener" slot in your washer if you have one.
Make sure you have the washer dry out when not in use. Mine holds water in the front; I always dry it out with paper towels when I'm done.
Don't wash things that smell/stay wet (like kitchen washclothes) immediately before or, god forbid, with the clothes.
posted by flimflam at 11:30 PM on July 12, 2016

Keep a dehumidifier in your closet and one hidden away wherever you dry your clothes. I was surprised at how much different was made by a cheapo one which was basically a plastic shell with refillable packs of dessicant (no fan involved) from Robert Dyas.

When I lived in London and air dried my clothes indoors, I always added vinegar to each load. The bonus is that the vinegar smell only goes once the clothes are fully dry, so you'll know that as well.
posted by tavegyl at 11:46 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh and for frontloaders - if it's the kind that collects water behind the rubber gasket, then I second drying it out after each wash. I keep a syringe without a needle for this purpose, there's often a tablespoon or so of water there.
posted by tavegyl at 11:51 PM on July 12, 2016

I have this with heavier fabric t-shirts. Pre-soaking with soda crystals helped. Can also add soda crystals to the wash load, it helps if you have hard water.
posted by yesbut at 11:56 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you hang things outside to dry out? Could you hang your shirts on hangers? These thingies are so dandy – would that make a difference?

And yes vinegar! Also, if you can crank your machine up to 90° c for like a load of sheets or something, that will de-crustify it. I think you have to do it every few months or something
posted by speakeasy at 12:13 AM on July 13, 2016

The longer they take to dry the more the mouldiness creeps in... Humidity builds up inside very quickly, so the moisture sticks around in the fabric. Make sure the rooms where you're drying the clothes are well ventilated and line-dry outside if at all possible.

If you have a portable electric radiator, I know you're not supposed to do this, but I find for stubborn things like long sleeve Ts or the waistband on jeans, drying them on one of those does a good job of chasing out recalcitrant dampness. Good for times when you don't want the whole central heating on.
posted by mymbleth at 12:44 AM on July 13, 2016

Agree on vinegar and cheap dehumidifiers. You can also put one under your clothes horse if you have a clothes horse.

You can get one of those things to clean out your washing machine drum. Lakeland makes some, but you can get them at most supermarkets for cheaper. Don't forget to empty the water... container thing in your washing machine. (I don't know what it's called, it's at the bottom of the front loaders.) And also clean out the compartments that hold detergent, fabric softener, and bleach. I have to do this a lot -- maybe as often as once a month.

You can also pick up some of the Dettol Antibacterial for your wash. It goes in the fabric softener compartment of the washing machine. Our clothes were making us itchy until we used this.

Don't forget to air out your house regularly.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:32 AM on July 13, 2016

Try ironing them once you take them out of the washer as a means to dry them quickly with a lot of focus on areas where the fabric is thicker (ribbed cuffs/collars) or doubled (neckline/hem). And then I'd still hang them for a bit just to make sure there's no moisture left.

For the shirts that currently do smell make sure to give them a really good wash in hot water and once the wash cycle is complete remove your clothes immediately and get to ironing/hanging. Even if you're practicing good drying habits now it can still be difficult to remove the residual smells.
posted by simplethings at 1:44 AM on July 13, 2016

Hang them outside? Hahahaha, but seriously, do the shirts smell bad when you take them out of the machine? I'd try putting the machine on a quick wash at max temp (with detergent) to clean out any mustiness that might be coming from there.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:30 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to a clothes dryer for just one load? I would use it as a control to see if your drying method is the problem. Ideally, you would wash the load in your normal washer and then use the dryer for that same load. Make it all long sleeve t-shirts plus one other piece of clothing. Put them away and pull them out in a day or two. If they don't smell, the problem is your drying method. If they do smell, it is something else. You can do the same thing with the other variables in your process: Different washer but still bring them home to dry. Same washer and drying method, but store them elsewhere.
posted by soelo at 7:24 AM on July 13, 2016

Youve got to work out where the mold is. The smell might be in the clothes, from just one instance of not being dried properly, and the smell reoccurs whenever they get washed, even if the mold has gone. So if you can get rid of the smell, with vinegar or soda crystals, and, if you can, drying outside in strong sunlight, that could solve the problem.

Or it might be that your flat, or just the washing machine, is moldy, so you have to clean the machine, or accept that the flat is what it is, and dry with lots of ventilation, and double spin before you hang them out.

Or a combination of all three...
posted by Helga-woo at 8:09 AM on July 13, 2016

Leave the door/lid of the washing machine open after washes to let it evaporate dry.

Add a couple of glugs of ammonia to your washes; if your washing machine has a port for bleach, pour your ammonia in there (and DON'T use bleach at the same time) and it'll be injected into the wash cycle at the appropriate time.
posted by porpoise at 12:00 PM on July 13, 2016

When I read this question at first I thought laundry can't be that different in the UK. But then I googled clothes dryer uk and I kept getting ads for these so clearly there is a big difference. Can you get a hold of one of these heated airers? I use a boot dryer for shoes and it is amazing how odorless our shoes are now and it's basically the same principle. Are tumble dyers just not common in the UK?
posted by crankylex at 8:23 PM on July 13, 2016

Tumble dryers are common in Ireland and Northern Ireland, in my experience.
posted by soelo at 8:00 AM on July 14, 2016

They are common in the UK, but they are not the norm in rented accommodation. Kitchens tend to be smaller here, and utility/laundry rooms only present in larger houses, which means less room for driers.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:27 AM on July 14, 2016

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