Can You Leave Clothes in the Washer Overnight?

Doing the laundry can be time-consuming. If you are doing it after work at night, it’s easy to forget about tossing the wet clothes in the dryer to dry. Don’t feel guilty. We’ve done it a couple of times too. It’s not a great idea to leave wet clothes in the washing machine overnight. However, expert cleaning and domestic lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart says they would probably be ok.

How Long Can You Leave Wet Clothes In The Washer

In her interview with TODAY, Martha Stewart answered one of the highly debatable laundry questions. That is: Is it okay to leave wet clothes in the washer overnight? Martha answered, “I would say that was perfectly alright. I mean, don’t leave it for a long time. Don’t leave it for a week. If you get up in the morning and throw it in the dryer, it should probably be okay.” It’s okay if you occasionally leave your wet laundry in the washing machine overnight. Just don’t make it a habit, though. Moreover, don’t let them sit there for more than overnight. You don’t want to give bacteria and mildew a chance to thrive in your newly washed laundry after all.

The first eight to 12 hours after is crucial for bacteria and mildew. According to the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science, they can thrive beyond this period.

A sniff test is quite effective in determining whether the clothes you left in your washer overnight have harbored mildew. Martha said that you can kind of tell if your clothes have bacteria and mildews. Infested clothes will release a pungent musty odor. You can also see patches of rotten fabric if you’ve left your wet clothes for long.

A closed washing machine filled with wet clothes is a perfect breeding ground for mildew and bacteria. Molds can grow on damp clothes, if they are left that way for more than 12 hours. These microorganisms release highly volatile compounds called microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). They release strong unpleasant odors in moldy items. Clothes that use natural fibers are more prone to mildews. This is because natural fibers absorb more water. Moreover, they don’t dry as fast.

While most people can deal with mold spores, people with asthma may suffer from them. During an asthma attack, the immune system tries to remove them by sneezing or coughing. Infants and elderlies can suffer from eczema due to mold spores.

How Do You Get Rid Of The Smell of Clothes That Sat In The Washer For Too Long?

It’s best to rewash wet clothes you left in the washer the night before if they already smell bad. Don’t try to dry them. Doing so will only seal the odors in your clothes. Here are more tips to make sure you remove the musty smell of clothes that sat on your washer for long hours.

Air dry your clothes

You can choose to air dry if you accidentally left clothes in the washer overnight and worry about odors. Air drying your clothes can get rid of any potential smells creeping into your laundry. The gentle breeze can usually remove mild musty smells on wet clothes left in the washer.

Run another wash cycle using baking soda

baking soda in a mason jar and a spoonful of baking soda

Baking soda is not just great for baking. It is also an efficient laundry room staple. Using baking soda during the wash can get rid of musty odors from mildew. This pantry staple is a natural deodorizer that kills mildews. You can use a cup of baking soda to remove the musty smell from wet clothes left in the washing machine. Remember to use the hottest water temperature during the wash. Hot water can kill the germs lingering on your laundry.

Kill mildew using vinegar

a bottle of white vinegar against blue background

White vinegar is another natural and efficient deodorizer. This cupboard staple is a disinfectant that fights odor-causing bacteria in environments that’s very pungent. Washing your clothes with vinegar can make wet clothes left in the washer smell fresh again. To use it on musty laundry, put a cup of vinegar in the empty tub. Then you can put the clothes in the washing machine and run a normal cycle. Use hot water to make sure you thoroughly disinfect the clothes during the wash.

Clean your washing machine regularly

In some cases, fresh laundry can still smell musty even if you did not leave wet clothes in the washer. In this case, your dirty washing machine may be the culprit. Sometimes mildew starts to grow in washing machines that are not clean. Mildews and bacteria thrive on damp surfaces. Thus it’s best to leave the washing machine door open after using it. Here’s a guide on how you can clean your washing machine thoroughly.

In Conclusion

You don’t have to panic if you accidentally left your wet clothes in the laundry overnight. Your clothes would probably be ok even if it’s left in the laundry for hours. But, it’s best to check them in the morning and throw them in the dryer. If you deal with them immediately, you will prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria and mildew in your clothes.

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About Sonia Peters

Sonia Peters is a communications specialist and a freelance writer. As a mother of a young boy, she's a self-declared expert on dealing with stains and grimes after a fun day with her child.