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Clothes Smell Like Bleach After Washing? Do This Next

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After doing a load of laundry, you expect your clothes to smell fresh and clean when the cycle is complete. Bleach has a fresh, antiseptic smell but this is not what most people want their laundry to smell like. So, what does it mean if your clothes smell like bleach after washing? 

Your clothes smell like bleach after washing because you’ve used too much bleach, or the laundry hasn’t been rinsed thoroughly. It could also be because you live in a hard water area, and you didn’t use a water softener in your laundry load. Swimwear can also smell like bleach after washing.

In this article, I’ll discuss the main reasons your clothes smell like bleach after washing. I’ll also explain what to do when this happens, and how you can prevent it in the future. Let’s dive right in! 

Reasons Your Clothes Smell Like Bleach After Washing

The smell of bleach that lingers on clothes after washing is a common complaint from many people. The culprit is chlorine bleach, which is a strong oxidizing agent that can leave behind a strong odor on fabrics. 

Although most people don’t want their clothes to smell like bleach, the odor isn’t entirely unpleasant because it’s associated with hygiene and freshness. 

I’ll discuss the main reasons your clothes smell like bleach below: 

You’ve Used Too Much Bleach

Bleach is an excellent whitener and can remove stubborn stains on lightly-colored laundry. A little goes a long way, and you need only half a cup (4 fl oz) for a regular laundry load. Using any more than this is too much, and may leave a lingering bleach smell on your clothes after washing. 

Your Laundry Wasn’t Rinsed Properly

When using bleach to remove stains or brighten whites, you should ensure that your washing machine rinses it thoroughly after the bleach, pre-treatment cycle. If not, there will be a bleach residue on your clothes, and they’ll smell like bleach. 

Your Clothes Were Washed with Hard Water

Hard water has excess minerals (such as calcium and magnesium) that can form limescale. If you live in a hard water area, not using water softeners when running your the washing machine can cause the limescale to build up in the internal components, and trace amounts of limescale can break off and land up on your clothing in the drum. 

This can cause your clothes to smell of bleach.  

You Didn’t Wash Your Swimwear Properly

Chlorine is a common product to keep swimming pools sparkling, hygienic, and algae-free. However, pool chlorine is more concentrated than household bleach, and it can leave a lingering bleach smell after swimming. 

Your swimwear can smell like bleach after you’ve washed it if the washing program wasn’t thorough enough or suitable. 

How To Get Rid of a Bleach Smell on Your Clothes After Washing

A bleach smell on your clothes after washing is usually most noticeable when they’re first taken out of the dryer. This is because dryer heat makes the smell more intense. 

Here’s how to get rid of the bleach smell: 

Use Essential Oils 

Essential oils come in many varieties, and can mask or neutralize a strong bleach smell. These oils are natural and concentrated and originate from plants and herbs. 

The most effective ones include the following: 

  • Lavender oil
  • Tea tree oil 
  • Lemon oil 

To use essential oils to remove the bleach smell, follow the steps below: 

  1. Add a few drops of your chosen essential oil to a cup (237 ml) of water. 
  2. Place the solution in a large container, sink, or bucket, and let your clothes soak for 30 minutes. This will help to absorb the smell from the fabric
  3. After soaking, rinse the clothes in cold water.
  4. Hand wash or use your normal washing machine program to wash your clothes. 
  5. You can also add a few drops of lavender oil to your regular laundry detergent and wash your clothes as usual.

Air Dry Your Clothes

Drying your clothes in a dryer can exacerbate the bleach smell, and you should avoid using your dryer in this case. Air dry your clothes instead. 

You can do this by hanging them up outside in a sunny place or in a well-ventilated room with plenty of natural light. If humidity is an issue in your area, use a fan or dehumidifier to speed up the drying process. 

For an extra perfumed boost, mix some essential oils with water and spray the clothes a few times after hanging them out to dry. 

Baking Soda and White Vinegar

If you’re looking for a natural way to get rid of the bleach smell, try using baking soda and white vinegar. This involves washing your clothing again, but it will be worth it, as this method is highly effective at eliminating unwanted smells. 

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and can absorb odors, while vinegar also has deodorizing properties, and helps break down the molecules that carry the smell. It’s also a cost-effective method; you can buy them in a grocery store or online. 

Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Fill a sink or large container with tepid water, and place your clothes in it. 
  2. Add half a cup (118 ml) of baking soda to the water and then add half a cup (118 ml) of white vinegar. 
  3. Allow the clothes to soak for half an hour, and then rinse them well with cold water. 
  4. Wash your clothes as you normally would. If the bleach smell is particularly strong, add another half cup of baking soda and vinegar to the drum. 

Always read the care label on your clothes before washing, and be aware that too much vinegar can damage certain materials, so always dilute it. 

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a great natural deodorizer that can be used to remove odors like smoke, pet smells, and even bleach odors from clothes. The acid in the lemon juice helps break down the odors, leaving your clothes smelling fresh and clean.

To use lemon juice as a deodorizer, simply mix equal parts of lemon juice and water in a spray bottle and spray it on the affected area.

Alternatively, add two tablespoons (30 ml) of lemon juice to the rinse cycle of your washing machine. 

For a more intensive treatment, you can soak your clothes in a mixture of lemon juice and water for a few hours before washing them. This will help remove the bleach smell even more effectively. 

Additionally, you can add a few drops of essential oils to the mixture to give your clothes a pleasant scent.

Wash Your Swimwear Again

If your swimwear still smells of bleach, it still has chlorine residue on it. You could always mask the smell with a fragranced fabric spray but to eliminate it completely, you’ll need to wash it again. 

Consider soaking the swimwear in half a cup of baking soda before washing it, as this will help break down the chlorine molecules. 

When washing your swimwear, select a long washing program with a long rinse cycle. 

Fabric Softener Beads

Fabric softener beads are specially designed to help soften fabrics and keep your clothes smelling fresh. They’re small, round beads that can be added to your wash cycle. 

Fabric softener beads are made from perfume ingredients like citronellol which comes from citrus fruits and help to keep clothes soft and static-free. They also help to keep clothes smelling fresh, as they add a light scent of your favorite fabric softener.

They’re easy to use – just drop a few beads in your washing machine before running a cycle. 

The beads can also help minimize wrinkles, so your clothes come out looking and feeling great. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the smell of bleach anymore!

Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are a must-have for any laundry room. They contain fragranced fabric softener and other ingredients to make clothes smell fresh and reduce static. Dryer sheets are placed in the dryer with freshly washed clothes and left to work their magic.

As the sheets tumble with the clothes, the fabric softener is released, leaving them feeling softer and smelling great. 

Use a Fabric Freshner Spray

If you don’t have time to rewash your bleach-smelling clothes, you won’t be able to eliminate or neutralize the smell completely. Instead, you can mask it by using a fabric freshener spray. 

This will impart a clean and pleasant scent to your clothes, and hide the bleach smell. Febreze Unstoppables Fabric Spray from is an excellent example. It works immediately after application, and you can also use it for other fabrics, such as bedding or drapes. 

How To Prevent Your Clothes from Smelling Like Bleach

After sorting out the unpleasant bleach smell on your clothes, you’re probably eager to prevent it from happening in the future. You can do this as follows: 

Only Use Half a Cup of Bleach Per Load

Experts recommend only using half a cup of bleach per laundry load. However, for severely stained laundry, you can use up to one cup. Using any more than this will make it challenging for your washing machine to rinse and remove. 

You might also consider if bleach is really necessary for your laundry load. It’s effective at brightening whites and removing stubborn stains, but if your current laundry load isn’t badly stained or dull white in color, you should probably forego the bleach. 

Ensure Your Laundry Is Always Rinsed Properly

If you use bleach in a load of laundry, always ensure that the washing program you select has a thorough rinse cycle. To play it safe, run the washing program as you normally would, and then rinse the laundry a second time to remove any residual bleach. 

Don’t Overfill Your Washing Machine

Overfilling your washing machine can cause the laundry detergent to be less effective and can also result in the washing machine being unable to rinse the laundry properly. If you’ve used bleach in an overfilled washing machine, the clothes will likely smell of bleach. 

As a general rule of thumb, always ensure that you can fit your hand in a laundry-filled washing machine drum. 

Use a Water Softener If You Live in a Hard Water Area

If you live in an area with hard water, you should use a water softener product to prevent limescale build-up, which can impart a bleach smell. 

Calgon Liquid Water Softener from Amazon works well with washing machines and will protect the internal parts from limescale damage. 

Rinse Swimwear After Using It 

If you enjoy using swimming pools, ensure you always rinse your swimwear in clean water after using it. This will help eliminate most of the chlorine. When you wash your swimwear, your washing machine will be able to remove any remaining chlorine bleach. 

Should You Use Bleach To Wash Your Clothes? 

With all this talk about washed clothes and bleach, you might wonder if you can use bleach to wash your clothes. While bleach can be useful for killing germs and getting stains out, it can also damage your clothes and your washing machine if not used correctly. 

The best way to incorporate bleach into your laundry routine is to use it sparingly and only on tough stains. 

If you find that your clothes smell like bleach after washing, it’s a sign that you’re using too much. 

Too much bleach can also damage the rubber seals of your washing machine and cause it to break down over time. 

So, before using bleach, it’s always a good idea to read the label and take note of the directions. That way, you can ensure you’re using the right amount and help keep your machine running smoothly.


The smell of bleach on your freshly washed clothes can be quite a nuisance. Fortunately, there are simple steps that you can take to remove the bleach smell from clothes after washing:

  • Use essential oils
  • Air-dry your clothes
  • Use baking soda and white vinegar
  • Use lemon juice
  • Apply a fabric freshener spray
  • Wash your swimwear again
  • Use fabric softener beads 
  • Tumble dry the laundry with dryer sheets

I have also written a guide on what to do if your laundry smells like vomit that may interest you to read next.


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