Laundry Hacks That Will Leave Your Clothes Smelling As Fresh As Ever

Some people seem to have pleasantly-scented auras but it's not always because of personal care products. Yep, it could be coming from their clothes. Washing and drying laundry more mindfully keeps things smelling as fresh as ever and others notice the difference. But for many, doing laundry is a dreaded, monotonous task that offers little enjoyment. With larger families, it can seem like never-ending drudgery. There can be overflowing hampers, dirty clothes, and towels laying all over the place, creating unpleasant-looking sights with offensive odors. Those smells develop for many reasons, from splattered oil to moisture that breeds mold, mildew, and bacteria.

These creative, smart hacks aren't just about adding fragranced products into the washer and dryer. The latter certainly works, but other tips are just good habits to get into. But there are also out-of-the-box ideas worth trying and guess what: They work pretty well and some are interesting enough to make doing laundry fun. Okay, that might be pushing it, but give some of these a try to see just how long the fresh scent on your clothing lasts.

Separate the smelliest stuff in hampers or trash bags

Pajamas worn for a few nights might not smell, but gasoline-stained work clothes will. Tossing those in with the rest of the laundry is counterproductive because the odors can spread to other clothing as well as the hampers. There should already be several of these containers to sort things by color and fabric weight, and a third can be added for smelly stuff. Just spritz on an antimicrobial spray after it's emptied to keep it fresh and sanitized.

If there's no room for another hamper in the laundry room, just use scented trash bags. These can be kept in bedroom closets or another room until the clothes can be laundered. Make sure to tie them securely closed so the odors won't seep out. If your hampers are made of wicker, those same trash bags can be used as liners to prevent the smells from getting absorbed into the natural material.

Avoid overloading the washing machine

It's common practice to fill up washing machines beyond their recommended capacities in the interest of saving time. But when there are too many items in the drum, there's less room for them to move around. And since there isn't enough water circulating or friction between the pieces, much of the dirt and odors don't break down and stay where they are. Do laundry in smaller batches to ensure all of the clothes are thoroughly cleaned.

Overloading the machine with more detergent than needed for a load is also a mistake. This can leave residue on everything, including the machine's working parts. And when extra detergent is left on clothes when damp, a persistent, sour smell can develop that doesn't get eliminated when they are dried. The right hack here is to only fill liquid or powdered detergent up to the line in the cap or scoop. When using laundry pods, never drop in more than the recommended amount on the label.

Don't leave worn clothes lying around

Worn clothes are frequently found on bathroom floors, laundry room floors, and other places but that's not where they belong. No judgment here: It's easy to forget when you have other things on your mind. But they can start to smell and if they're damp, that moisture can quickly get into carpeting, comforters, and other fabrics. Those will also need to be cleaned as the distinct, musty smell of mildew only worsens with time.

When it's not possible to wash these things promptly, hang them up to prevent mold and bacteria from spreading. Clotheslines are best because more of the fabric is exposed to the air than when garments are bunched up on hooks. And there's no free pass for washing them quickly if they're left sitting in the machine for too long before going into the dryer. When that happens, they won't have that just-washed, fresh smell any longer and the whole load will probably need to be washed again.

Don't bury workout clothes and bathing suits in hampers

Gym clothes can be foul-smelling while and after being worn because they're made from synthetic fabrics designed to wick away moisture. That's great for a high-intensity workout in the sun and heat but all of the sweat, bacteria, and oil get trapped inside the material. Bathing suits have the same problem but also absorb salt water and chlorine residue. 

It's easy to forget about gym clothes and bathing suits that are buried in the bottoms of hampers too. But when they aren't attended to quickly, it can be nearly impossible to completely remove the odors from those fabrics and nearby ones that the smells transfer to. The materials can repel germs at first, but over time, they bond with the molecules in the fabrics and might never smell fresh again. Make sure to rinse these well in cold water and allow them to dry after wearing if they aren't going to make it to the washing machine fairly quickly.

Try a bit of baking soda

Baking soda is a multi-use product that works wonders in kitchens but it also comes in handy on laundry days. Its scientific name is sodium bicarbonate and it's a natural substance. And since this white, inexpensive powder is alkaline, it works exceptionally well on acidic smells that come from things like cigarette smoke and spilled milk. And unlike fragrances, it doesn't merely cover up smells, it absorbs and eliminates them.

For hand-washing smelly laundry items, add ½ a cup of the powder to a bucket and fill it with warm water. Add the soiled clothes, push them to the bottom, and agitate the water with your hands or a stick. Wait a few hours and rinse with gentle soap and water. 

Baking soda can also be added right into a washing machine. Sprinkle ½ a cup on top of the clothes in the machine and use the normal amount of detergent. Before washing, baking soda can also be sprinkled onto soiled items in hampers to prevent odors from building up.

Pour in some vinegar

Another common, budget-friendly household product that deserves to come out of the kitchen and into the laundry room is vinegar. This might seem like an odd choice because it has such a strong smell. But it quickly bonds with other molecules and helps rinse them away. Vinegar is acetic acid and it neutralizes bad smells and eliminates bacteria; it even loosens up dirt that can leave lingering odors.

Soak hand-wash only clothes in a cup of vinegar mixed with a gallon of water for 30 minutes before washing. To use vinegar in a washing machine, add ½ a cup to the regular amount of detergent. Pour it into the detergent dispensing cup and not right on the clothing. Vinegar removes chemical smells from new clothes too, so try adding it to a load of those to make them smell fresh from the start and for the foreseeable future.

Consider using ammonia

Household ammonia also has a pungent odor that evaporates quickly. It's a common ingredient found in kitchen and bathroom cleaning products, too. The high alkalinity allows it to tackle chemical bonds in proteins, oils, and grease so it removes stains and their odors. Ammonia is also safer to use in the laundry than bleach because it won't affect colored fabrics.

Be careful when using ammonia to remove laundry odors because of its strong fumes. Open a window, turn on a fan, and wear gloves to protect your hands. And never mix it with bleach or laundry products that contain bleach. 

To remove tough odors from laundry, combine the same amounts of ammonia, bleach-free laundry detergent, and water in a sink or bucket. Let it soak for half an hour, and wash as usual. The other option is to add ½ a cup into the washer with detergent and run a hot or warm cycle. 

Buy laundry scent beads

Scented laundry detergents and regular fabric softeners might not be strong enough to completely remove tough laundry smells but you can give them a boost with laundry beads. These products are sold by brands like Downy and dissolve in water, releasing lasting scents into fabrics. The pearls have fragrances inside that smell like lavender, vanilla bean, amber, and other lovely aromas. There are also ones with odor-defense technology formulated to actually neutralize odors in clothes as you wear them after washing.

These fragrance boosters are not substitutes for laundry detergent. But it makes sense to use an unscented one with the beads (also called laundry pearls) instead of mixing two different scents and getting an odd-smelling result. And don't put the beads in the detergent dispenser. Just toss them into the washing machine drum before adding laundry. Use them sparingly, because going overboard with them could clog the drain. 

Air-dry certain things

Laundry that is dried outside on a clothesline can smell amazingly fresh and clean when it's removed quickly enough. There are many other benefits with this too, like not having to run the dryer on hot days, lower energy costs, and the sun's natural ability to kill bacteria. Plus, a retractable clothesline or folding rotating rack can make setup quick and easy.

First, only air dry laundry outside on days when no rain is expected and the humidity levels aren't high, then wipe down the clothesline before hanging anything. Don't overload the line, and allow enough space in between each piece for air circulation. Hang shirts and dresses upside down to avoid noticeable clothespin dents and hang dark clothes in a shady spot to prevent fading from the sun's rays. Heavier things like jeans and sweats take the longest and can end up stiff, so these are often better served in dryers.

Clean the washing machine

If these hacks don't seem to be working, the root of the problem could be a neglected washing machine. Sure, they might seem sanitary because they clean laundry, but product buildup, hard water residue, and moisture can make them unfit for service. All of that nasty stuff can get into the laundry and regular washing and drying won't leave the clothes smelling fresh.

The fastest way to clean these appliances is with bleach. If your washer has a self-cleaning hot water cycle, pour ½ a cup of bleach into the detergent dispenser. If not, run the empty washer through a regular hot water cycle with an extra rinse cycle after. To prevent smells from developing, do this once a month and wipe the gaskets and seals down from time to time. The door should also be left open after the clothes are removed to let the inside dry out in between loads.

Use essential oils

Fragrant essential oils are commonly found in laundry products and there's no reason why you can't choose your own scents to leave clothes smelling as fresh as ever. They are extracted from plants, are chemical-free, and can smell better than artificial scents. But since they're oily by nature, there can be staining if they're poured right onto clothing. It's much better to add a few drops to a wool dryer ball because these fragrances are highly concentrated. Essential oil drops can also be added right into a container of unscented liquid laundry detergent or dripped into the machine's dispenser before running a cycle.

The kind of essential oil chosen depends on personal preference. Some might go for invigorating peppermint for workout wear, while others prefer relaxing lavender for towels and bed linens. Bergamot, lemon, and rose are other good choices. After the dryer buzzes, you'll enjoy the lingering, fresh scent on your clothing.

Put scented pillowcases in the dryer

The cost of dryer sheets can add up and many people don't like using them because they are made with plastics and chemicals. A scented pillowcase is a sustainable alternative, plus the fragrances can be switched out for each load. A standard-sized case works best because it will take up less room than a larger one and there's less wasted space inside of it. To add scent, put in cotton balls soaked in essential oils and toss in fresh herbs. Fruit peels and spices are also options; a bit of orange or cinnamon sticks work well.

Then, secure the end with a hair band to keep everything contained. You can also sew on buttons or pieces of Velcro as closures. Or, you can place a balled-up piece of aluminum foil inside the pillowcase – sounds strange, but it will reduce static just like a dryer sheet. These cases can also be used as temporary hampers for smelly clothes and can be washed together with those when you're ready.

Make homemade dryer sheets

If you don't want to go the scented pillowcase route, try soaking pieces of old, clean material in fabric softener to make homemade dryer sheets. The best things to use for this are free of dyes and lint. Old, cut-up bed sheets and white tees work beautifully.

To make these DIY sheets, pour a cup of fabric softener into a mason jar or other lidded glass container. Cut the material into dryer-sheet-sized pieces and add them to the liquid. Then, close the lid and shake until the fabric is soaked. Pull each piece out, lay them flat to dry, and rinse out and dry the jar. The dried sheets can be stored right inside the jar, and you can use one per load. The best thing is that they can be resoaked and used repeatedly over time. If you prefer not to use fabric softener, try a 3:1 ratio of hair conditioner and vinegar or a cup of vinegar and a few drops of essential oil.

Make sure that laundered items are completely dry

Many people have done this at some point in time and it's an easy way to make clothes smell anything but fresh: putting them away when they're damp. Dryer cycles don't always remove all of the moisture but users sometimes don't notice lingering wet spots. It's a common mistake; sometimes certain items are completely dry while others are damp. The pieces then get folded up and the moisture remains, creating breeding grounds for mold and mildew.  Or, a shirt may be dry in some spots but not others. Remove each item separately, feel for any dampness, and put them back in for another cycle if necessary. 

And if the dryer hasn't been doing its job and completely drying your clothes, check the settings to ensure that the right one is being used. Also, be mindful that you aren't overflowing the dryer, preventing enough circulation or movement for loads to dry. Then, make sure you thoroughly clean the removable lint filter and the housing around it next.  If neither helps, the problem could be related to the machine's moisture sensor, outside vent hose, or energy source, or it may be time to get a new one.

Sprinkle in Epsom salt

This final hack is a pretty surprising one. Although it's typically added to bathwater to ease muscle pains and help people relax, adding Epsom salt to the washer with your clothes makes them smell fresher and feel softer for longer. It is particularly effective on damp and sweaty items and can be used as a laundry detergent booster. As a natural antiseptic, it fights bacteria and also absorbs smells. Dissolve ½ a cup in water before adding it to the dispensing cup and run a regular cycle — adding more for extra-large loads.   

The salt crystals can also be used to make homemade, all-natural laundry beads. Combine some with essential oil, mix well, and add a tablespoon with the detergent. Store the leftover scented Epsom salt in an airtight container. Epsom salt is safe to use on most fabrics but don't use it with delicate materials that could get damaged.