How Long Can Clothes Sit In The Washer?

It’s no secret that it’s best to take your clothes out of the washer and air them as soon as possible because the earlier they’re out of the washer, the fresher your clothes. Don’t ever get so busy and forget your laundry in the washer. If you’ve ever wondered how long your clothes can sit in the washer, then this article is for you.

How Long Can Clothes Sit In The Washer Before Smelling?

No hard and fast rule states precisely how long clothes should sit in the washer, but for optimal freshness, you can leave your wet clothes in the washer for eight to twelve hours. After this, they start to develop an odor, which is usually a sign of the growth of mildew.

This time length recommendation is according to an expert from the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science, Lucinda Ottush. Even Martha Stewart, the home-keeping guru and queen of smart living agrees to this, saying that it’s okay to leave wet clothes in the washer overnight.

Martha, however, warns against making a habit of leaving clothes in the washer overnight or over an extended period if you want your clothes to come out looking and smelling their best.

how long can clothes sit in the washer

What Happens After 8-12 hours?

After 8-12 hours, the clothes begin to smell due to the accumulation of bacteria and mildew. When this happens, no amount of air drying or sun drying will get the horrible odor out of your clothes. Just in case you’re unsure if your clothes have stayed too long in the washer, try the smell test.

It’s a great way to tell if bacteria and mildew have begun to grow on your laundry because they always produce a pungent smell. This smell test is part of why it’s essential to use a detergent that’s non-scented and free of harsh chemicals. This will let you know if your laundry has been properly washed or if there’s a need for your clothes to be rewashed.

Can You Leave Your Clothes In The Washer Overnight?

While you shouldn’t leave your clothes for more than 12 hours in a washer, leaving your clothes in the washer overnight could be good, especially if you plan to air dry clothes on a clothesline. A clothesline helps maintain the quality of your clothes better than a dryer. [How Long Does It Take To Air-Dry Your Clothes?]

Line drying, compared to using a dryer, prevents fibers in your delicate items of clothing from breaking down. This is because the juggling act of the tumbling dryer rubs the clothes against each other and the drum of the machine, breaking down clothes’ fibers.

3 Effects Of Leaving Clothes To Sit Too Long In The Washer

how long can laundry sit in the washer

Mildew On Clothes

If you’ve ever left your clothes in the washer for a long time, you know that after some time, it begins to develop a pungent smell. As established earlier, this unpleasant smell is caused by the growth of bacteria and mildew. The longer your clothes stay in the washer, the less fresh they become, with unpleasant smells coming right out of them.

What Is Mildew? Mildew is a thin dusting of a black, grey, or sometimes yellowish growth on damp clothes, upholstery, or occasionally walls. Mildew usually grows in a humid environment and spreads mostly on clothes made out of cotton, linen, and silk.

It is a small category of fungi; hence the accumulation produces a musty smell or a color change. It could be powdery or downy.

Mildew grows spores that not only cause an unpleasant smell in your clothes but could also cause severe damage to your clothing fabrics. For mildew to thrive, it usually needs a humid environment, needs moisture, darkness, and because it is a living organism, it needs a food source.

Health Issues

Mildew is not only harmful to your clothes but your health as well. In some cases, it has been proven that one can get sick breathing in mildew. People who have existing respiratory conditions such as asthma are more susceptible to getting sick from exposure to mildew.

Other people have more severe allergies to mildew. Exposure to mildew could also irritate your eyes, throat, lungs, and skin. Watch this video on the possible effects of mold and mildew:

Washer Mildew

Apart from causing an odor that does not go until you rewash, and in severe cases, ruining your clothes, mildew on clothes left too long in the washer can damage your washing space, including your dryer.

Since mildew needs moisture to grow, it is only natural that mildew grows in the washer due to moisture. This mildew is commonly called ‘washer mildew.’ It not only lives in your washer but also transfers to other mildew-free clothes when they are placed in the washer. It causes an offensive odor that leaves your clothes smelling worse than when they were placed into the washer.

How Does Mildew Grow On Clothes After Sitting Too Long In The Washer?

how long can clothes stay in washer

As previously stated, for mildew to thrive, it needs moisture or a humid environment, a dark space, and as a living organism, it needs a food source. There are two common types of mildew: powdery and downy.

Mildew or mold: which grows on stale clothes?

Most people mistake mold for mildew and vice versa. Both are types of fungi that are found in moist environments. Mold is what grows on your damp clothes after mildew has been left to fester for a long period. Mold often looks white or sometimes greenish-black. Mildew, unlike mold, only grows on the surface of materials and is usually flat and doesn’t penetrate surfaces. [9 Things You Can Use To Get Mold Out Of Your Clothes]


This is one of the most important factors in the growth of mildew on your clothing fabrics. When an area or item is left moist or damp for an extended period, mildew can grow. Humidity above 65-75% creates the perfect environment for mildew to grow.

This humid and wet environment is always found in wet clothes, and by extension, the washer. There is also little to no ventilation in the washer, especially when damp garments are in it. This is why leaving wet clothes in the washer for too long breeds mildew.

Dark Space

Another critical factor in the growth of mildew in your washer and clothes is darkness. It’s a fact: mildew loves darkness. When your clothes are left in the washer with the door closed for an extended period without sunlight, of course, there would be mildew.

This is because sunlight and heat can kill mildew, so what better place to thrive than your long-closed, airtight washer with clothes in it.

A Food Source

Mildew is a living organism, so it requires a food source. Mildew can get the nutrients it needs to grow from dirt, wood, fabric, and paper. In a washer full of clothes left too long, it feeds off the dirt and material of your clothing fabrics.

This destroys and weakens the fabric of your clothes by creating rot in them. So if you don’t want your favorite clothes getting ruined from mildew, take them out of the dark, damp environment that your washer creates.

4 Ways To Get Rid Of Mildew From Stale Clothes And Washer

leaving clothes in washer overnight

One way to get rid of the pungent smell of mildew from clothes that have stayed too long in the washer is to rewash the whole load and ensure that you don’t leave them in the washer again. Other things you could do are:

Clean your washing machine

Washing machines tend to hold on to stagnant water, moisture, and bacteria. Watch this video on how to clean your washer:

Remember that mildew can very quickly grow in the washer because of all these factors.

Also, leave the machine door open for a bit after a wash cycle to get rid of any excess moisture or humidity. Do not also leave any standing water from clothes that have been washed. Make sure to clean up every drop of water from the washer after taking your clothes out.

Wash your clothes with vinegar

how long can you leave wet clothes in the washer

To remove mildew smell from clothes left too long in the washer, wash them, adding a cup of vinegar as a disinfectant and freshener. You could also add a cup of baking soda to the load if you don’t have vinegar.

Get a Washer Cleaner

left clothes in washer overnight

To get rid of washer mildew, get a washer cleaner that uses safe ingredients to effectively remove mildew and the odor from your washing machine and even your clothing items. A washer cleaner is used when there are no clothes in the washer and with the machine on its hottest cycle.

It can be used at least twice a month to prevent further growth of mildew. You could also use the washer cleaner to get rid of mildew on clothes. The trick is to add one tablespoon of the washer cleaner, and using hot water, allow the washing cycle to complete.

Use Bleach or Hydrogen peroxide

how long can clothes sit in washer

You could soak the mildew-infested clothes in a mixture of 50% bleach and 50% peroxide and leave them in water before washing your clothing items regularly with a good detergent.

Before using this mixture, always make sure you test the solution on a small area of the clothing fabric before using it to avoid any damage to the fabric that may occur. You should also use only high-quality bleach.


To keep mildew from growing on your clothes and envelop them with their pungent smell, take your clothes out of the washer after eight to twelve hours. This ensures maximum freshness. Try not to make a habit of leaving wet clothes in the washer for a long time. Doing this repeatedly damages your clothes and washer.

how long can you leave clothes in the washer

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