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How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer (Ultimate Guide)

How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer

Did you forget the laundry soaked in the washing machine again? Or maybe you fell asleep while the machine churned the clothes in its huge stomach? Well, don’t worry!

We all come across this situation where the clothes sit in the washer for a long time. But, sometimes, we want to leave the clothes in the machine. This intent may occur because we’re too tired from the day’s work, have an emergency, or something else.

In any case, it’s important to handle the clothes properly. You shouldn’t leave them too long, or they will be destroyed. So, how long can clothes sit in the washer? Let’s discuss the topic below!

How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer?

There’s no definite answer to this question. According to several cleaning experts, it’s fine to leave your clothes in the washer for around 8 to 12 hours. But that’s not a rule.

How Long Can Clothes Sit in the Washer

Martha Stewart, the American icon of domesticity, says it’s alright if you let the clothes sit in the washer overnight. If you wake up and throw them in the dryer, they will probably be okay. So, even 13 hours will be alright.

However, it’s better to take the clothes out of the washer as soon as possible. If you leave them in for too long, there’s a risk of damage to your clothes!

What Happens If You Let the Clothes Sit in the Washer For Too Long?

Letting the clothes sit in the washer for too long results in two things; a pungent smell and mildew. Sometimes, both of them develop in your clothes, and sometimes, there will be only one of them.

Pungent Smell

Damp clothes that have been sitting out for too long often have a stale, yucky smell. But, when the clothes are soaked in the water, they develop a very pungent, nauseating smell. The kind that makes you gag!

Pungent Smell

This pungent smell occurs due to different reasons. First, it is because of the water in the washing machine. If you left the clothes soaked in dirty water, chances are that the detergent suds, suspended dirt particles, and body soils were all present in the washer.

These substances would have all seeped back into the cloth fibers with the water. So, the smell is actually of dirty wet clothes!

Another reason behind the pungent smell is a fungal growth that we’ve discussed below.

Mildew & Mold

The washing machine has all the ideal conditions for a particular type of microorganism to grow called a fungus.

Mildew & Mold

It’s a spore-producing organism that feeds on dead organic matter. This includes leaf litter, debris, and even dead skin cells. What’s more, fungus requires humidity, water, and complete darkness for growth.

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All these elements are already present inside a washer. There’s water, dead skin cells, humidity, and darkness. So, it’s no wonder that letting clothes sit in the water for too long leads to fungus development.

And, what’s even grosser, the fungus doesn’t stay in a separate area. It rapidly reproduces to form mildew (flat growth) that affects both the washer and the clothes.

You’ll notice irregular white patches on the soaked clothes. Or, there will be blue, green, and gray specks all over the garments. They will also radiate a musty and earthy odor.

What To Do If You Left Clothes in the Washer for Too Long?

If you’ve done the mistake of leaving the clothes in the washer for too long, don’t panic because the clothes might still be okay. The only way to ensure that is to conduct the smell test.

Take out the clothes from the washer. If they are soaked, squeeze out the excess water. Now, hold the clothes close to your nose and take a sniff. Here’s what the smell will determine:

  • Stale smell –the clothes are okay, and the smell is just from the prolonged wetness. Let the clothes air dry under the sun or put them in the dryer to remove the smell.
  • Pungent stale smell –the odor has developed because the dirt and body soils have all soaked back into the clothes. It’s best to rewash the clothes and dry them immediately.
  • Pungent musty, earthy smell –the clothes aren’t okay. Mildew has formed, and although you might not see the spots, it has also settled in the clothes.

How to Get Rid of Mildew in Clothes?

Mildew in clothes shouldn’t be taken lightly. Wearing or touching mildew clothes can cause serious health issues. People with allergies and asthma are likely to experience a more severe reaction to the mildew.

So, if you spot even the smallest bit of your clothes affected by mildew, treat it immediately. Here’s what you can do to get rid of mildew in clothes:

● Baking Soda & Vinegar Combo to Get Rid of Mildew in Clothes

Bicarbonate of soda or baking soda is a popular cleaning agent. Many people use it routinely to clean their floors, walls, windows, sinks, and whatnot. The white powder has an alkaline nature, which makes it an effective grease cutter.

Baking Soda & Vinegar Combo

It also works well at dissolving dirt and stain from surfaces. You can use it directly on clothes, but baking soda alone would be ineffective against mildew. So, we will combine it with vinegar to strengthen its performance.

Vinegar is made from acetic acid that is powerful enough to dissolve grime and mineral deposits in seconds. It also kills the majority of bacteria and other microorganisms. With baking soda, it will be highly effective in removing mildew from clothes.

  1. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Double the quantity if the mildew is in a lot of areas.
  2. Fill a spray bottle with this solution and spray on all the mildew-affected places. Make sure the fabric is saturated with the solution. Another way is to pour the solution into a bucket of water and soak the garment in it.
  3. Let it rest for at least half an hour.
  4. Take out the garment and squeeze it out to remove the excess solution.
  5. Now, wash it on a regular cycle in the washing machine. Use the dryer to dry it or hang it under the sunlight. Repeat if you still see mold patches and specks.
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● Borax to Get Rid of Mildew in Clothes

Borax is another common household cleaner. It is a powdery white substance that typically comes in bright orange packaging. Some people also call it sodium borate, disodium tetraborate, and sodium tetraborate.


Perhaps, you can tell by its many names that borax is an ionic compound consisting of boron, oxygen, and sodium. It’s a very strong soluble salt, and when dissolved in water, it creates an alkaline solution.

You can use it on the toughest of stains and discolored patches. The substance will restore the item to its original condition. So, there’s no wonder that borax also cuts down mildew in clothes.

  1. Go to a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves. Borax is a dangerous substance and can irritate your skin.
  2. Measure ½ cup of borax and add it to a bucket of hot water.
  3. Wait for it to dissolve completely.
  4. Now, add mildewed clothes into the washer and fill an appropriate amount of water.
  5. Add the detergent to the dispenser or directly into the washer.
  6. Pour the borax solution and set the washer on a regular cycle.
  7. If the mildew is gone, rinse the clothes again and hang them out to dry. Otherwise, repeat the process.

● Bleach to Get Rid of Mildew in Clothes

There are two types of bleach that you can use to remove mildew from clothes; oxygen-based bleach and chlorine bleach.


Oxygen-based bleach uses sodium percarbonate as the active ingredient. It breaks down into carbon and hydrogen peroxide when dissolved in water. So, basically, this is a stronger version of hydrogen peroxide (a common cleaning agent).

It has a good effect on mildew in clothes. It not only removes the fungus but also disinfects and whitens the clothes. There is no harmful impact on the cloth fiber too.

You can use it on all types of clothes without stressing about the damage. Oxygen-based bleach is gentle and color-safe.

Comparatively, chlorine bleach uses sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient. It is much more powerful and corrosive than oxygen bleach. The substance can potentially weaken the cloth fiber and fade the colors.

But it’s not all bad. Chlorine bleach has deodorizing properties along with disinfecting and whitening. Your clothes will smell nice and pleasant after their use.

Our advice would be to choose oxygen-based bleach if there are only small mildew spots and specks on the clothes. If you notice large patches, use chlorine bleach.

  1. Pour ½ cup of bleach into a bucket of water. Increase the quantity if there are more clothes.
  2. Soak the mildewed clothes and let them rest for up to 15 minutes.
  3. Using gloves, take out the clothes and squeeze the excess bleach mixture.
  4. Rinse the clothes with fresh water and detergent. An alternative approach is to add half a cup of bleach to the regular wash cycle (for less mildewed clothes).

However, before using any bleach, check the clothing labels to ensure it is bleach-safe. Or else, the mildew will be removed, but the clothes will be destroyed.

Tips on Removing Mildew from Clothes

Interaction with the fungus can be dangerous. The microorganism produces spores that travel by air. So, you need to take great care when removing mildew from clothes. Following are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Never smell mildewed clothes.If the mildew has grown to an extent where you can see it on the clothes, never take a sniff. Even when doing the smell test, keep your nose at a distance.
  • Always wear gloves. There are many open pores and cuts in our skin. If fungus interacts with these openings, it can cause a fungal infection!
  • Don’t mix mildewed clothes with other laundry. The fungus reproduces rapidly and will find ways to expand. If there’s a mildewed garment that you have to treat, store it in a separate bag or airtight box.
  • Wash the bucket or washer thoroughly.It doesn’t matter whether you’re treating the mildewed clothes in a bucket or the washer. Make sure to clean any item that has come in contact with the mildew. You can use baking soda and vinegar to eliminate germs.
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Is it okay to leave clothes in the washer overnight?

Yes, it’s okay to leave clothes in the washer overnight. Clothes will stay good for a span of 8 to 12 hours. But, if you leave them inside for too long, mildew might start to develop.

What happens if you leave clothes in the washer for a week?

Leaving the clothes in the washer for a week is a recipe for disaster. It’s best to inspect your clothes for mildew. If there’s a pungent earthy, musty smell, the mildew has settled, and you need to treat the clothes.

But, if there’s only a stale smell of wet clothes, you’re lucky. Rewash the clothes and dry them immediately.

Should I rewash the clothes left in the washer?

It depends on how long the clothes were left in the washer. If you left the clothes for less than 8 hours, then no. Just put them in the dryer or hang them on the clothesline.

If the timespan is between 8 to 12 hours, give them a rinse and dry them. However, if you left them in the washer for 12+ hours, check for mildew. In case it hasn’t settled, rewash the clothes with detergent.

Last Words

To sum it up, clothes can sit in the washer for up to 12 hours. But the best approach is to hang the clothes out to dry as soon as they are washed.

If you don’t want to wrap up the laundry (because you’re tired, have an emergency, or whatever the reason is), never leave the clothes in the washer. Take them out and hang them on the clothesline even if they are not fully washed.

This will prevent mildew or bacteria growth in your clothes. It will also keep any kind of smell away. When you’re ready to do laundry again, put them back in the washer and carry on!

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