My Closet Smells Like Mildew (How to Fix It)

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My Closet Smells Like Mildew

There are few things more disheartening or frustrating than spending hours doing laundry, going through the seemingly endless process of washing, drying, and hanging up clothes, only to find that when you open your closet the following day, rather than being met by the scent of freshly washed laundry, you’re overcome by a damp, mildew smell. Leaving you wondering, “my closet smells like mildew and how do I get rid of it?”

There are a number of potential reasons for your closet smells like mildew, and in most cases, it’s a fairly simple problem to fix. However, it can be time-consuming and might take some trial and error before finding the true culprit behind your damp-smelling closet.

The great news is there’s no need to turn to harmful and toxic chemicals or cleaning products when it comes to refreshing your closet and eliminating any of these damp smells. You can solve this problem using all-natural, eco-friendly, safe products.

In this article, we’re going to aim to uncover exactly why my closet smells like mildew, and how you can go about fixing this. We’ll also look at some key prevention tips for avoiding this annoying problem in the future.

Let’s start off with the basics…

Why Does My Closet Smells Like Mildew?

Here are some of the most common causes of the damp smell that’s often found in closets. You might find that one or more of these factors are to blame for your closet not smelling its’ freshest.

1. Build-Up of Dirt or Mildew in Your Washing Machine

It’s easy for washing machines to become breeding grounds for bacteria or mildew. They often run at high temperatures and the warm, damp environment is perfect for germs and bacteria to grow. This is especially true if the washing machine door is left closed between washes, as this reduces the amount of air circulating in and out of the machine and increases the chances of mold growing in there. The drum isn’t the only place that bacteria can grow either; the detergent drawer and lint filter can also become riddled with mold and mildew.

This is exactly what you don’t want when it comes to washing your clothes. It doesn’t matter how much laundry detergent or fabric softener you use, a damp or dirty washing machine will not effectively clean your laundry!

Related: How to Remove Mold from Clothes Using Baking Soda (and Other Methods)

2. The Closet Itself is Damp or Needs a Clean

Similar to your washing machine, closets are typically kept closed. This dark, enclosed space can quickly become extremely unsanitary. If the interior of your wardrobe has become damp through leaks, your laundry is not being dried, or any other means, the whole closet and all of its contents can soon be contaminated with a damp smell.

The closet is often a neglected space and doesn’t typically get deep cleaned as frequently as other areas, which can lead to a build-up of bacteria. This is especially true if you keep shoes and outerwear in your closet, as these are more likely to be wet or have dirt on them from outdoor wear.

3. Your Clothes Were Hung Up Before Being Fully Dry

This is one of the most common causes of damp mildew smells found in the closet. If clothes are hung in the closet before they are fully dried, they will smell damp and will also cause other items kept in the closet as well as the closet itself to take on the mildew smell.

Particularly in winter, it can be difficult to get your laundry completely dry. Hanging laundry outside to dry might not be an option and using a dryer is not always the most cost-effective or thorough way of drying clothes. Clothes that are left to dry in enclosed, cold environments will begin to smell damp and unclean. A drying rack can be a simple and cost-effective solution.

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4. Your Clothes Are Packed in Too Tightly

Closets’ that are over-stuffed or too tightly packed are most likely to take on that damp smell. When clothes are packed into tight spaces this doesn’t allow for proper air circulation and can cause that stale, damp smell that we’re trying to avoid.

This is especially true if one of the aforementioned factors is also at play. If one item is put away in the closet and is not sufficiently dry, packing it in amongst all of your other clothes will cause the damp smell to spread.

How to Get Rid of the Mildew Smell

Getting rid of the smell might involve some hard work and you’re likely to need to do some extensive deep cleaning. If you’re unsure exactly what the cause of the damp smell in your closet is, you’ll probably need to carry out each of the following steps to ensure that you’re getting rid of all traces of mildew or dampness. Look at this as a positive though – it’s a great opportunity to give this often-neglected area of space some much-needed TLC – and might even inspire you to have a bit of a clear-out in the process!

Deep Clean Your Closet

Deep cleaning your closet should be your first course of action. Start by removing everything from the closet, meaning all of your clothes, shoes, bed linens, and anything else that you’re keeping in there. Now is the time to give your closet some much-needed attention and make sure every inch of the space is clean and free from any mold or mildew.

While the closet is empty, have a look for any signs of water damage or leaks. If there are any, this could be the main culprit behind the mildew smell and should be fixed before refilling your closet.

Now get to work cleaning the closet. Sweep or vacuum out any dirt or dust and then wipe down every surface of the closet. A mixture of equal parts warm water and white vinegar is great for removing any bacteria and is completely non-toxic. You could also add in some essential oils if you’re looking to give the closet a nice fresh scent.

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Do this as many times as it takes to completely eradicate any unwanted smells and then be sure to let the closet dry completely before putting anything back inside. This is extremely important!

Remove Old Wallpaper or Carpets From Within the Closet

While your closet is empty, this might be a good opportunity to get rid of the old wallpaper or carpets that have been in there for as long as you can remember. Carpets and wallpapers are excellent at clinging to smells and bacteria and leaving these in can make it extremely difficult to fully sanitize the space.

When removing wallpaper, using hot water or steam is the best way to loosen the paper and should allow you to peel it right off. Once you’ve done this, give the walls a good clean with your water and vinegar mixture and allow this to fully dry before refilling the closet.

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If it’s not possible for you to remove the carpet or wallpaper in your closet, there are some cleaning options you could try. The warm water and vinegar mixture should work on the wallpaper, and there are a number of natural carpet cleaners available that eliminate odors and leave the carpet looking and smelling fresh. If you’re looking for a DIY solution, baking soda mixed with water and vinegar is a great natural cleaning agent for carpets and fabrics.

Re-Wash the Contents of Your Closet (…In a Clean Washing Machine)

Once you have taken the time to deep clean your closet, the last thing you want to do is refill it with all of your damp-smelling clothes and shoes. It might seem like a huge task but now is the perfect time to give all of your clothes and laundry a good clean and a refresh.

There might be things in your closet that you haven’t worn for years and have therefore not been washed in just as long, so this is a great opportunity to do so. You might also find items that you no longer want and can donate to Goodwill or sell for a profit.

When washing your clothes in your washing machine, look for a great chemical-free laundry detergent and fabric softener to give your clothes an excellent deep clean without the need for harmful chemicals that could be damaging to your clothes as well as the environment and the well-being of you and your household.

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Again, baking soda is great for washing clothes and can be added straight into the detergent drawer of your washing machine.

Just be sure that your washing machine is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before doing this, or this whole step could prove obsolete. We will look more at how you can deep clean your washing machine in the following section…

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Mildew Smells in Your Closet in the Future

Now that you’ve got your closet smelling nice and fresh again, it’s important to take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and save yourself the hard work of going through this process again. To ensure your laundry and your closet maintain that fresh smell, consider implementing some of these tips and tricks into your routine:

Deep-Clean Your Washing Machine

When it comes to deep-cleaning your washing machine, there are a few steps you’ll need to take.

Firstly, remove the detergent drawer and any filters that you can. Soak these in a sink full of warm water and white vinegar and then give them a good scrub using a dish sponge or cloth. Remove any mildew or dirt and then set these aside to dry.

Next, give the drum and the door of the washing machine a clean using the same water and vinegar solution. Concentrate on the rim of the drum as this is where bacteria and dirt tend to collect.

Once you’re satisfied that you have thoroughly cleaned your washing machine, you’ll want to run it on the hottest cycle possible to remove any remaining dirt or grime. You have a couple of options here, you could either add some baking soda directly into the drum of the machine before the cycle, or you could add white vinegar to the dispenser drawer. Both of these options will remove bacteria and give the machine a really thorough clean.

Consider Alternative Laundry Drying Methods

The best way of drying your clothes to avoid damp smells is always to air dry them outside or in a room with plenty of ventilation and air circulation. This might not always be possible, in which case you might wish to use a tumble dryer.

Tumble dryers are often very effective in drying clothes. A great way to ensure your clothes are fully dry and fresh is to run the dryer as normal on a hot setting until the clothes feel mostly dry. Then switch to a cold setting and add in a dryer sheet substitute with your choice of essential oils. This will leave the laundry smelling fresh and lightly scented. Just be sure to only add in the essential oil sheet when using a cold dryer setting as they can be flammable when used in dry, hot settings.

Buy or Make a DIY Closet Deodorizer

Purchasing natural air purifying deodorizers, such as activated charcoal bags, is a simple solution to help with unwanted smells in the closet. These products can be refreshed by leaving them out in the sun for a few hours to then be reused again.

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DIY closet fresheners or deodorizers are so easy to make and can be extremely effective in preventing damp smells in your closet.

To make your own, simply take a container and pierce holes in the lid. Add in some coffee grounds or baking soda and your choice of dried botanical (lavender or jasmine are great), then leave the container in the bottom of your closet for constant freshness.

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Install Ventilation Within Your Closet

Finally, you might want to consider adding some form of ventilation to your closet to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

Final Thoughts on My Closet Smells Like Mildew

It’s easy to become frustrated or embarrassed when you realize “my closet smells like mildew”, particularly when you know that you have spent time doing your laundry, only to find that your clothes smell worse than before they were washed.

Hopefully, this article should have given you a better idea of what might be causing the damp, mildew smell coming from your closet, and you should be well equipped to tackle the problem and prevent it from reoccurring in the future.