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Laundry Smelling Bad After Drying? Do This Next

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Doing laundry is already a chore, but what makes it even worse is your clothes coming out of the dryer with a funky smell. You just washed them, so what could make your laundry smell bad after drying?

Laundry can smell bad after drying for multiple reasons, such as the type of fabric softeners or detergent you use or washing your clothing with heavily soiled clothes. Your dryer might be going bad, or your washing machine is the culprit. 

In this article, I will discuss the different reasons why your laundry may smell bad after drying and how to fix or prevent it. Let’s jump right in!

Why Your Laundry Smells Bad After Drying

Tor holding a pair of smelly pants.

Laundry can smell bad after drying for numerous reasons you might not have considered. Sometimes the detergents aren’t the right ones you need, or it all boils down to your dryer needing to be replaced. 

Other times it can be what you’re washing is too dirty and can’t get thoroughly cleaned. And sometimes the issue isn’t the dryer at all.

Fabric Softeners Build Up and Creates a Smell

Strange-smelling fabric softener I bought.

One thing that might cause your laundry to smell bad after drying is your fabric softener or detergent. This may sound odd, considering those things are supposed to make clothes smell better and get clean. 

However, fabric softeners add a film to your clothes to give them a softer feel. 

Over time this builds up, and according to Prudent Reviews, the longer it does that, the harder it is for water and detergent to break through and adequately clean the clothing.

So, when this happens, your clothes aren’t getting completely clean, and when you dry them, they still don’t smell fresh. If you’re religiously using fabric softener, this may be the culprit, and you might want to stop. 

If your clothes are starting to turn grey as well, that increases the chance that this is the culprit. Learn more about it here.

Alternatives To Fabric Softeners

A Complete Guide to Wool Dryer Balls (Step-by-step)
Woolen dryer balls are a great option as the balls will help soften up the garments and reduce static when used correctly.

There are alternatives for fabric softeners that won’t cause this issue, such as wool dryer balls that keep your clothes feeling soft. They can also double as a dryer sheet, and you can add essential oils to them to make your clothes smell even better. 

Try the Smart Sheep: Wool Dryer Balls – 6-pack XL Premium Natural Fabric Softener (Amazon paid link) to soften your clothes without using liquid fabric softeners. They’re affordable, durable, and reusable.  

Woolen dryer balls in a dryer.

You can also make a homemade fabric softener using baking soda and vinegar. 

According to Speed Queen, you’ll need 2 parts water, one part baking soda, and one part vinegar. Then use about a quarter of this solution per laundry load.

Your Detergent Is Wrong For Your Water Type

Regarding your detergent, you may use the wrong one for the type of water you have. Some detergents don’t work well with hard water if your water source comes from a hard water supply. 

If you have hard water, it makes it more difficult for the detergent to work properly, leaving your clothes not completely clean. You can purchase detergents that are made specifically to be used with hard water. 

Rockin’ Green 45oz (90 Loads) Hard Rock Laundry Powder Detergent for Hard Water
  • Formulated For Hard Water – Hard Rock Rockin Green laundry detergent fights tough stains and banishes odors while maintaining fabric quality. This natural laundry detergent works best in hard water with high mineral content, preventing residues and mineral deposits without the need for water softeners!

The Rockin’ Green (90 Loads) Hard Rock Laundry Powder Detergent for Hard Water (Amazon paid link) is explicitly made to be used with hard water. It’s also all-natural and great for sensitive skin. This detergent will help you get your clothes clean without using harsh ingredients. 

Your Dryer Is Old and Wearing Out

Like any other appliances, dryers can get old and worn out and eventually start to die or need parts fixed. When this happens, it can affect your clothes and how they smell from the dryer. 

A visual representation of an “old” dryer, haha.

The following are issues that can go wrong with your dryer:

  • Heating element: Sometimes, heating elements in the dryer can go out and need to be replaced. When this goes out, your clothes will take longer to dry and may smell musty due to them not getting dry enough.
  • Burning smell: If your clothes come out of the dryer smelling burnt, this can signify numerous issues. A buildup in the lint trap, a malfunctioning thermostat, or a problem with the motor could bring this on.
  • Dryer not rotating: Sometimes, the tumbler on your dryer will go out, so your dryer won’t spin to dry your clothes evenly. Therefore they’ll come out damp and have a musty smell from sitting wet for too long. 
  • Lint buildup: This isn’t necessarily your dryer going bad, but lint building up can negatively affect airflow within the dryer, which is essential for drying. When this happens, humid air gets stuck in the dryer, causing mold growth. 

Depending on how old your dryer is and what needs to be replaced, it might be better for your expenses just to get a new one. However, this is entirely up to you. While waiting for repairs or a new dryer to arrive, you can air dry your clothes to prevent the bad smell. 

Dry Clothes WITHOUT a Dryer (Using Indoors Drying Rack)
Here’s a video I made on how to use a drying rack to dry your clothes.

Your Laundry Smells Bad Due To Incorrect Washing

Another reason your clothes smell bad after drying could be nonrelated to your dryer. Sometimes the issue is that your clothes weren’t washed correctly in the washing machine, so dirt and bacteria were transferred to the dryer.

If you wash clothes and leave them in the washing machine for longer than a few hours, this can cause a smell. Leaving clothes in too much moisture over time can harbor bacteria growth. So, when you put these clothes in the dryer, they’re not going to smell so great when they come out.

Clothes that are left in the washing machine for too long will develop a musty/moldy smell that transfers to the dryer when you go to dry them. 

Make sure that after washing a load of clothes you put them into the dryer shortly after the cycle is done. If you forget and leave them in the washer, it’s best to just rewash them before even trying to dry them. 

Another issue when washing clothes is overloading the washing machine. 

Way too many clothes in a washer.

Just because it fits doesn’t mean everything is getting equally cleaned. The detergent and water can’t clean the clothes properly if there’s no room for them to be spun around. Therefore the clothes won’t be completely clean, and when dry, they’re not going to smell fresh. 

Laundry Can Smell If You Wash Heavily Soiled Clothes

Sometimes what you’re washing, and drying can cause the smell issue. If you have heavily soiled clothes, such as work clothes from a dirty and grimy job, it’s going to be harder to get them all the way clean. 

Therefore when you put them in the drier, they didn’t smell fresh, to begin with. 

Washing machines can only do so much when it comes to the really gross stuff on clothing, so if you find an issue, here’s what you can do:

  • Wash heavily soiled clothes alone with no other laundry. 
  • Use a detergent that’s tough on filthy items.
  • Wash them twice if necessary to ensure all the dirt is washed out. 
  • Do a smell test before putting the clothes in the dryer to ensure they smell clean. 
  • Rinse off what you can of the dirt and grime outside with water before putting the clothes in the washing machine. 

Smells such as cigarette smoke are hard to wash out of any type of clothing, so washing clothes that smell heavily of cigarette smoke will transfer to your dryer. They will come out smelling like cigarette smoke still. 

Your Dryer Is Dirty, Which Causes Laundry To Smell Bad

A really dirty lint filter.

Just like other appliances, you need to occasionally clean the inside of your dryer, especially if you’ve had issues with it before, such as broken parts that needed to be replaced. Mold and bacteria may still be in there from the dryer not working correctly. 

It’s relatively easy to clean your dryer. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Put water and white vinegar mixture in a spray bottle and coat the inside of the dryer with the mixture. 
  2. After letting it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, wipe the solution off. Any bacteria that may be lurking in your dryer will be destroyed by the vinegar.
  3. Clean your lint trap with a vacuum hose and get all the lint that might be stuck. 
  4. After that, spray the lint trap with the same vinegar solution and let it sit for a few minutes. Rinse it out thoroughly with water and let it dry. 

Your Laundry Smells Bad Because Of Your Washing Machine

Clothes Smelling Sour? Here's how to fix them
Here’s a video I did on fixing sour clothes if the washer is the culprit.

Sometimes when your clothes smell bad after drying, the culprit isn’t the dryer at all, but actually the washing machine. Different issues with your washer can cause a bad musty smell on clothes that doesn’t go away in the dryer. 

Detergent Dispensers Get Dirty

A build-up of powdered detergent and fabric softener over time is common, especially if you generally use too much of it.

One of the main culprits of a musty clothes smell is dirty dispensers. If your washing machine has a place to pour your detergent, this would be the area to check. Excess water often gets stuck in those parts, so the water is just sitting there festering bacteria.

Then after you do another load of laundry, that nasty water is released back onto your clothes. This is a common issue because most people don’t think to clean an area with washing detergent. 

To clean this, wash the dispensers with warm water and soap and scrub them thoroughly. Rinse it off and let it thoroughly air dry or dry it with a towel. 

To prevent this from becoming a problem, it’s essential to do this routinely. If you’re doing several loads of laundry that day, wait until you’re done cleaning them. If you’re going days in between doing loads of laundry, then clean it in between loads. 

Hard Water Creates a Buildup Of Soap In Your Washer

Hard water causes many issues when it comes to laundry. Not only does it make it hard to wash clothes thoroughly, but it also builds up in your machine. The minerals in the hard water make it hard for the clothes to get clean and create a build-up of soap in the machine. 

Therefore the clothes are being washed in this bad smelling build up and not getting completely clean. 

Calgon Liquid Water Softener, 32 Oz (Pack of 2)
  • Get clothes cleaner, whiter, and brighter vs detergent alone
  • Removes limescale and mineral build-up
  • Two Pack of 32 Fl Oz bottles

You can prevent this by using a water softener when doing laundry. Calgon Liquid Water Softener (Amazon paid link) is an excellent option if you have hard water. You can add this to your laundry, and it won’t harm your clothes. 

In fact, your clothes will probably look even cleaner after using this water-softener product.

Your Washer Needs a Deep Clean

How to Clean a Front Loading Washer (Step-by-step guide)
Here’s how to deep-clean your front-loader.

If you haven’t taken preventative measures for hard water and buildup and have never cleaned your washing machine, it’s probably time to do. Your washing machine needs a deep clean, like other home appliances, since soap, grime, bacteria, and water accumulate over time.

If you aren’t cleaning your washing machine, this can leave a nasty buildup to affect the wash cycle leaving your clothes smelling weird or musty. Then, of course, the smell doesn’t go away after you dry them leaving them to smell bad when you get them out of the dryer.

Distilled white vinegar is great for cleaning both clothes and washing machines.

To clean your washing machine, pour 2 to 4 cups (0.47 to 0.94 L) of white vinegar into the machine and run a hot water cycle with no clothes or detergents added. Vinegar can remove any scum built up in the machine because it’s acidic.

Once the cycle is done, run another hot water cycle to rinse out any leftover vinegar. You should notice a difference in the smell of your clothes and washing machine.

Washing Machine Cleaner Descaler 24 Pack
  • Works With All Washers – Perfect For High Efficiency Or Standard Toploader, Front Loading Compatible With GE, LG, Samsung, Whirlpool, Maytag, Electrolux, Etc. (Not For Dryer)

You can also purchase washing machine cleaning pods to help eliminate the scum buildup. The Active Washing Machine Cleaner Descaler 24-pack Deep Cleaning Tablets (Amazon paid link) is a great choice. These are compatible with all washing machines, and all you have to do is add a tablet to an empty load of hot water. 


The reason your laundry smells bad after drying can be multiple things. The fabric softener you use is building up on your clothes and washing machine, or hard water is affecting your wash. 

Sometimes dryer parts go bad and cause your clothes to not dry completely. This leads to too much moisture, which leads to mold. Make sure you also thoroughly wash heavily soiled clothes before drying them.

Another reason is that your washing machine is the source of the bad smell. This could be because it needs to be cleaned thoroughly to remove buildup. 

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