How to make laundry smell better – get that fresh ‘dried-outside’ scent every time

These simple tips can make a big impact on the scent of your laundry

A laundry room with pink built-in cabinetry with a lifted washing machine and dryer
(Image credit: Armac Martin)

Freshly dried laundry is one of the small pleasures of everyday life, but lingering odors and musty smells can ruin it. So how do you make laundry smell better?

From the products you use to how you dry your clothing, there are several things you can change when doing laundry that affect the final scent – no matter which laundry products you use. 

These are the seven steps laundry experts follow to achieve fresh-smelling laundry every time and the laundry mistakes you must avoid for the same results.  

How to make laundry smell better

Just because you are making an effort to preserve your laundry's fresh scent doesn't mean you need to sacrifice your laundry hacks to save time. More often than not, small, simple changes to your laundry routine will help improve the freshness of your clothes and linens. 

With that in mind, these are the simple swaps that will make the biggest difference. 

1. Avoid using excessive products

A laundry basket with fodled sheets and laundry detergent bottles

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It might make sense that adding more of the nice-smelling products will make your laundry smell nicer, but the opposite is usually true. 'While you shouldn’t wash clothes without detergent, cutting back on how much product you use can have a big impact on how your laundry smells,' says Corey Tournet, laundry expert and owner of Laundry Alternative Inc.:

‘Excessive detergent and fabric softener leave residues that over time create bad odors and attract dirt and grime,’ he explains. Always stick to the manufacturer's instructions and work according to the size of your laundry load to ensure it is thoroughly rinsed away. 

2. Reduce the time between wearing and washing

A large wicker laundry basket with a removeable lid in the doorway of a country bathroom

(Image credit: Anbôise)

'If you want the best chance of removing odor residues and making your laundry smell nice, it is best to reduce how long your laundry is sitting in your laundry basket,' says James Joun, laundry expert and co-founder of Rinse

‘This gives stains and odors less time to set and can also prevent mold, especially with moist or wet garments like athletic wear,’ he says. ‘Similarly, reduce the time between washing and drying. This is critical as the moist environment inside the washer promotes mildew growth.’ 

Downy Rinse & Refresh Cool Cotton | View at Target

Downy Rinse & Refresh Cool Cotton | View at Target
Downy Rinse & Refresh is a laundry odor remover that helps rinse away the smelly residue trapped within fabric fibers and keep them smelling fresher for longer between washes

Headshot of James Joun, Co-Founder at Rinse
James Joun

James grew up in dry cleaning. He helped his parents’ in their dry cleaning storefront in South San Francisco and developed an obsession for cleaning quality and a deep appreciation for how hard local cleaners work to serve their customers. He helped to find Rinse in 2013 as its Co-founder and COO.

3. Don't let your clothes sit in your washing machine

Industville Sleek Edison Wall Light - Brass image – a neutral laundry room with green and white wallpaper, and an entryway bench to the left

(Image credit: Industville)

'Try to avoid your laundry sitting damp in your washing machine,' urges Corey Tournet, laundry expert. 'You should dry them as soon as possible. Ideally, no longer than one hour after the final spin.' 

Similarly, if you are using a tumble dryer, take the clothes out of the dryer within an hour to prevent them from becoming musty.  

4. Use white vinegar to remove bad odors

vinegar for cleaning

(Image credit: Getty images / Ivan Bajic)

'Using white vinegar in laundry is another way to remove lingering odors and give your clothes a fresh scent without the need for chemicals – perfect if you are looking into green cleaning,' says Beth McCallum, cleaning expert at Oh So Spotless: 

‘White vinegar is incredible for removing bad odors naturally. Add one cup of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle to remove fabric softener build-up and musty odors and help with softening fabrics. If you’re worried about the vinegary scent afterward, don’t fret! It will dissipate as your clothes dry.’

Cleaning Vinegar | View at Target

Cleaning Vinegar | View at Target
It is a good idea to keep a container of cleaning vinegar in your cleaning cabinet for tackling all sorts of household chores. 

5. Ensure your washing machine is clean

Miele washing machine in a chic farmhouse style laundry room with striped wallpaper and flowers in the sink

(Image credit: Miele)

It is not just how you clean your laundry that affects its scent – cleaning a washing machine makes a big difference, too. To prevent mold and musty odors from building up in your machine, laundry expert James Joun recommends cleaning it regularly and performing preventative maintenance on your washer and dryer to keep it running as expected.  

Using a dedicated washing machine cleaner such as OxiClean with Odor Blasters, from Target can help to deep clean the parts you can't reach and ensure lasting freshness.  

6. Line dry rather than tumble dry when possible

Clothes hanging on a washing line drying

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although tumble dryers are the most common way to dry clothes, they are not the best for making clothes smell nice. Often, they can make fresh-smelling laundry smell musty, especially if things do not dry out quickly or fully. 

The best way to dry laundry for a lasting fresh scent is to line dry on a sunny, breezy day. When outside conditions are not favorable, letting your laundry dry on an airing rack with a dehumidifier positioned beneath will emulate this line-dried freshness while also making a home smell nice.  

7. Leave your washing machine open between uses

washing machine with cabinets and sink

(Image credit: Future PLC)

One of the most common washing machine mistakes we make regularly is closing the door after you take your laundry out. Closing the door and detergent drawer stops it from drying out and promotes the growth of mold and bacteria. Leaving the door open will allow it to ventilate. This has the knock-on effect of making your clothes cleaner and smell better.  


Why do my clothes not smell clean after washing? 

If your clothes still smell musty after washing, it can be for a few reasons. The primary causes are using too much product, leading to a build-up of residue that hasn’t been fully rinsed away, and a dirty washing machine that pushes musty odors from the drum and pipes onto clothing. Allow the clothing to dry and rewash with less product once you have run an empty cleaning cycle on your washer.

How can I make my washing machine smell nice?

Making your washing machine smell nice is as simple as cleaning it. Wipe down the exterior of your machine with a cloth and some all-purpose spray before using white vinegar on the seals to help remove mold and bacteria. Then, use your washer’s self-cleaning cycle or a dedicated washing machine cleaner product to help deep clean and freshen up the pipes and drum. Finally, ensure that the filter is clean and free from debris to avoid stagnant water.

It is not just your clothes that will see the benefit of better laundry habits – it can have a knock-on effect on the rest of your home too. For instance, letting clothing air dry and cleaning the washer and dryer are two of the many things people with nice-smelling laundry rooms always do. Swapping out your bad habits for more productive changes is a clear win-win 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.