Is It Ever Okay To Leave Your Wet Laundry In The Washer Overnight?

Everyone recognizes the struggle of running late, getting dressed in the morning, and realizing you forgot your wet clothes in the washer overnight — or worse, for a few days. When you pull the clothes out, you're greeted with a musty, moldy smell that doesn't disappear after drying. Leaving your wet clothes in the washer for too long can damper your morning routine, but is it bad for your clothes?

According to The Mirror's interview with fabric science expert Lucinda Ottusch, leaving your clothing in the washing machine is okay sometimes, but not for more than 8 to 12 hours. However, leaving clothes overnight won't ruin them. In fact, there may be some benefits of leaving specific garments in the washer occasionally, and this includes items that need to be hung or laid flat to dry, such as synthetic fabrics, sweaters, or gym clothes. Leaving these items in the washer for a few hours allows more draining moisture and makes for quicker drying on the line. 

How to tell if your clothes sat too long

Though it's okay to forget about laundry occasionally, washers create a damp, warm, and dark environment that is prime territory for bacterial growth. It won't hurt to leave your clothes in the washer for up to 12 hours. However, according to Mold Busters, bacteria, mildew, and visible mold can grow on clothes in as little as 24 to 48 hours. When bacteria and mold grow unchecked, they create the distinct musty laundry odor we've all come to recognize. 

If you're unsure if your clothes have waited too long in the washer, smelling them is the best way to tell. Bacterial odors can form in as little as eight hours. Once a musty odor sets in to wet clothes, it's not likely to go away after machine drying or line drying. Drying your musty clothes can create more problems, spewing the odor into your home and effectively sealing the stink into your clothing. You'll most likely need to rewash your clothing to remove odors from bacteria and mildew.

What to do with stinky clothes

In most cases, no amount of drying will cure stinky clothes, so it's better to rewash them right away. Rearrange the wet clothes in your washing machine so they won't stick to each other during the cycle. Rewash the clothes with detergent, and use the hottest water without damaging the fabrics. For defeating a truly intense funk, add a small amount of color-safe bleach or white vinegar to the laundry. Line-drying clothes in bright sunlight may also help, as UV rays kill and neutralize odor-causing bacteria, via American Laundry News. To prevent future accidents, consider setting a timer or alarm to keep track of your laundry cycle.

There is a fix if you moved your clothes in time but still picked up a musty odor. Leave the washer lid open between uses and occasionally clean the machine by running an empty cycle with bleach or white vinegar. Dee Leslie, the creator of Slow Foraged Home, warns about some other common causes of mustiness, including an overstuffed washer, malfunctioning sensors, or a blocked dryer vent. In other words, persistent odor issues may be your sign that it's time to call a laundry repair service.