How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer?

It’s happened to all of us. We start a load of laundry, and then we get swept up in another household chore.

Suddenly, it’s been two hours and our clothes are still sitting in the washer. So, is this a problem? 

Yes and no.

Obviously, you don’t want to leave your clothes in the washer for days on end. But a few hours probably won’t hurt them. If you’re able to get your clothes in the dryer within an 8-hour window, you’re probably in the clear.

Of course, there are a few exceptions that we will dive into so that you can make the best decision for your clothes and your washer.

If you’re unsure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and take your clothes out of the washer sooner rather than later.

Photo showing clothes inside a washing machine

How Long Can You Leave Wet Clothes in the Washer?

The answer to this question depends on a few factors, such as the type of washer you have and the fabric of your clothing.

Let’s talk about fabrics. Natural fabrics like cotton can start to mildew if they sit in a wet environment for too long. This is because natural fibers are more absorbent than synthetic fibers.

So it’s best to get these wet clothes in a dryer as quickly as possible.

Thinner or synthetic fibers won’t retain as much moisture as other fabrics, so you can leave them in the washer for a little longer without worrying about mildew.

The cleaning agent you used to wash your clothes will also affect their longevity in the washer. If you use a bleach-based product, your clothes are more protected from odors and mildew.

However, if you’re using a natural laundry detergent, it’s best to take your clothes out of the washer sooner. This is because washing products don’t have the same bleaching agent that protects against mildew.

The weather environment will also play a role in how long you can leave your clothes in the washing machine.

If it’s a humid or hot day, your clothes are more likely to mildew if they sit in the wet environment of the washer.

With all of these factors to consider, it may seem confusing to be able to tell how long you can leave wet clothes in the washing machine.

But in general, you should be able to leave your clothes for up to 8 hours without noticing any major changes such as a mildew smell.

What Happens if Wet Laundry Sits in the Washer Too Long?

Photo showing 3 cicles with images of mold and mildew in it

If you leave wet clothes in the washer for an extended period of time, you’ll eventually be greeted by an unpleasant smell.

This smell happens because damp clothes attract mold and mildew.

Mold and mildew are both types of fungi that thrive in moist environments. They can cause your clothes to rot and disintegrate over time and even stain them if not treated.

Not only is this a smelly problem, but it’s also a health hazard. Mold and mildew release spores into the air that can cause respiratory problems, trigger allergies, and aggravate asthma.

There isn’t an exact time frame for how long it takes for mold and mildew to start growing on your clothes. However, you’re more likely to see this problem if you leave your wet clothes in the washer for more than twelve hours.

Can I Leave Clothes Soaking in the Washer Overnight?

Soaking clothes overnight is less likely to cause mold and mildew growth because the fabric isn’t exposed to air and will therefore take longer to attract mildew and mold.

If you’re using an antimicrobial cleaning agent such as a stain and odor remover, this will also help to prevent any growth while your clothes are soaking.

When pre-soaking your clothes in the washer overnight, make sure to tend to it first thing in the morning.

Not only will this prevent any unwanted odors, but it will make sure that your clothing isn’t disintegrating, especially if you’re using a heavy-duty cleaner.

How Do You Get Smell Out of Clothes That Sat in the Washer Too Long?

Photo of clothes in washing machine with a hand holding a cup with liquid

If you have let wet laundry sit and it has an odor, there are a few things you can do to remedy this:

Re-Wash Your Wet Garment

The first and most obvious solution is to re-wash your wet clothes. This will work if the smell is coming from bacteria that is still on the clothing.

If your clothing can tolerate it, run a hot washing cycle.

This will help to kill off any mold, mildew, or bacteria. According to WebMD you should “Do your laundry in water that’s at least 140 F to kill any viruses or bacteria.”

Wash Your Clothes With Vinegar

Vinegar is a great way to gently remove odors from your clothing. It’s a natural disinfectant that can break down mold, mildew, and bacteria.

For a small load of laundry, add ½ cup of vinegar to the washing cycle.

For a larger load, add one cup of vinegar. You can also soak your clothes in a mixture of one part water and one part vinegar for about 30 minutes before washing them.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is another great way to remove odors from your clothing. It’s a natural deodorizer that will absorb smells.

Add ½ cup of baking soda if your wet clothes sit long to remove the scent as well as any mild stains.

You can also make a paste with baking soda and water and rub it directly on the smelly areas of your clothing. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before washing it off.

Use Bleach

If you’re washing a load of white fabrics you can add bleach to the cycle. Bleach will disinfect your clothing and remove any lingering smells.

Use a ¼ cup of bleach for a small load and a ½ cup for a larger load. You should always test a small, hidden area of your clothing first to make sure it won’t damage the fabric.

Hang Your Clothes in the Sun

Photo showing white clothes hanging on a laundry line

The sun is a great way to naturally disinfect and freshen your clothing. Hang your wet, smelly clothes outside in the sun for a few hours.

The UV rays will kill any mold, mildew, or bacteria and remove any musty smells.

Just make sure that your clothing is colorfast before hanging it in direct sunlight.

How to Prevent a Bad Clothes Smell in Your Laundry Room

If you’re worried about your clothes sitting in the washer for too long, there are a few things you can do to prevent this.

Set a Timer

One way is to set a timer on your washing machine so that you remember to take your clothes out as soon as the cycle is done.

If you can hear the timer after the washing cycle completes, consider setting one on your phone or another device as a backup.

Use a Laundry Room Dehumidifier

Another way to prevent your clothes from sitting in a humid environment is to use a dehumidifier in your laundry room. This will help to remove any excess moisture in the air and keep your clothes fresh for longer.

A fan or open window can also help to reduce humidity in your laundry room.

Take Your Clothes Out of the Washer ASAP

Of course, the best way to prevent your clothes from sitting in the washer for too long is to take them out as soon as possible.

If you can’t do this right away, try to at least remove them within an hour or two so that they’re not sitting in a wet environment for too long.

Clean Your Washing Machine Regularly

Another way to prevent bad smells in your laundry room is to clean your washing machine regularly. This will help to remove any build-up of bacteria or mold that could be causing the problem.

Run a hot cycle with vinegar once a month and clean the door seal and detergent drawer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

The Bottom Line

Doing laundry is a necessary but sometimes tricky task. By understanding how long you can leave clothes in the washer, you can avoid any unwanted smells or damage to your clothing.

And if you do find yourself with smelly clothes, there are ways to remove the odor and get your laundry smelling fresh again.

Implement some of these tips and tricks for a less stressful laundry day. You’ll be surprised at how much easier your laundry routine becomes.

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About Emma

Hey there! I'm Emma. When I'm not wrangling kids I like to walk aimlessly around hardware stores and watch HGTV for hours on end.