Experts Reveal Just How Long Can Clothes Sit Wet in the Washer Before Getting Moldy

Image by Freepik

We’ve all found ourselves lost in that whirlwind of chores, so much so that we only remember that our laundry load is still in the washer long after we’ve hit the bed. While an overnight stay in the washer won’t ruin the clothes, you’re going to be left with a musty, mildewy— albeit clean— disaster on your hands. Here is some expert advice on keeping your washing machine fresh as a daisy.

How Long?

Leaving damp clothes in the washing machine for a few hours or overnight isn’t usually a problem, but according to home expert Jill Bauer, your nose is the best judge. She suggests giving the clothes a sniff— if they don’t smell funky, they’re likely safe for the dryer.

However, that moist washer is a breeding ground for mold and mildew, causing that musty odor. Bauer warns that leaving wet clothes too long could lead to not just smells but stains and fabric damage. Lucinda Ottusch from the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science reassures that up to 12 hours is typically safe, as, within this time, odors and bacterial growth are less likely.

Fabric to Fabric Changes

Thicker materials like sweatshirts, coats, and towels are super absorbent, making them more prone to trapping moisture. Special attention also needs to be given to cotton, linen, rayon and silk as these fabrics most often develop molds.

It’s best to give them a rewash with detergent before drying them if they’ve been in the washer for more than 12 hours. On the flip side, lighter fabrics such as satin, lace, or chiffon tend to be thinner and more breathable, making them less likely to harbor unwanted odor even after a long stint in the washer.

Tricks to Remember for Washer Timings

If your damp laundry develops an unpleasant smell, fret not. Bauer recommends a natural solution: pouring 1 cup of white vinegar into the detergent dispenser and then running a hot cycle. For an alternative approach, sprinkle a bit of baking soda on the damp clothes before a new wash cycle.

Image by Freepik

To prevent laundry from getting forgotten in the washer, Jill Bauer swears by using her cell phone timer for reminders and ensuring the washer signals are set loud enough. Jordan Page from Millennial Moms suggests a clever trick: keeping a dry-erase marker handy near the washer. Write down the time and day the load started on the machine’s side for a quick reminder of how long it’s been.