Naturally Freshen Stinky Laundry

Last updated 05/9/2020 | |

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Does your laundry smell sour or musty, even after you've washed it? Here's an easy, natural way to get the bad smells out of your clean laundry.

wicker basket of clean linen in front of a clothesline

Thanks to Little Peanut, we've been doing a lot of laundry these days.

toddler waving from crib with flowers painted on the wall in background

Between the spit up and the other [ahem] biological weaponry she wields, the towels and baby clothes just smell funny.

They're clean but they have a sour smell that doesn't come out--and we use unscented laundry detergent, so it's pretty obvious.

By the way--there are lots of recipes out there for homemade laundry soap. They usually involve grating a bar of soap, adding a few ingredients, and using it to wash your clothes. However, there's a big difference between soap and detergent, and laundry needs detergent.

I did a bit of research and found the secret to fresh-smelling laundry was already in my natural cleaning supplies. Here's how easy it is.

wicker laundry basket and towels outside

wicker basket of clean linen in front of a clothesline

Freshen Your Laundry Naturally

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes



  1. Wash half the amount of clothes you would normally put in a load. This ensures everything has plenty of room to swish around, get clean and then get rinsed well.
  2. Use the hottest water the garments can handle. For me, this is hot water with a cold rinse.
  3. Fill the fabric softener dispenser with plain white vinegar. If you don't have a dispenser, pour 1 cup in the washer during the rinse cycle.
  4. Add 1 cup baking soda along with the laundry soap while the washer is filling.
  5. After the clothes have agitated for a minute or two, turn the washer off and let the clothes soak for about 30 minutes.
  6. After the soak, turn the washer on and let it finish as normal.
  7. Get the clothes in the dryer right away (or line-dry them for extra credit and freshness). Enjoy your fresh, fluffy laundry!


This tip works best with top-loading washing machines.
If you have a front-load machine or a water-saving machine, soak the clothes in the bathtub with the baking soda. Squeeze them out and put them in the washer with the vinegar to complete the process.

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  1. Rada Robinson on January 28, 2020 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you for wonderful tips! I actually always use baking soda in my laundry and I am adding white vinegar as a fabric softener, in washing dispenser ! This helps to keep my clothes freshly smelling, brighten the colors and keeps washing machine clean!

  2. Melody on January 9, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    Sally, it is spelled “manual,” not “Manuel,” which is a Hebrew male given name that means “God is with us.”

  3. Jacee on May 7, 2019 at 10:57 am

    A smart person reads every single manual for every product they ever buy. Manuals are written so that the product is used properly and lasts as long as possible. All washers are not created the same. I feel sorry for your washer.

  4. Roslynde Kosterman (@blaqkoko) on April 23, 2019 at 7:39 am

    You are really rude. A person isn’t stupid because they read the owners manual. Actually very smart. They are getting the proper understanding of how to use their machine so they won’t be replacing it sooner than necessary. I hope that you take the time and reevaluate your life.

  5. maxie on April 11, 2015 at 7:59 am

    I have used vinegar, will try baking soda, great tips!

  6. Mikw on September 19, 2013 at 11:47 am

    My HE machine has a “Bulky/Sheets” Cycle. That uses the most water of all the cycles. When I want to soak, I wash in the Bulky?Sheets cycle and pause the machine after about 5 minutes into the cycle.

    • Diane on November 15, 2013 at 9:10 am

      So fortunate…my HE washer has a soak cycle! So grateful after reading this thread. Our towels need the soaking treatment!

  7. Anonymous on October 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    You know, I rarely soak laundry unless it’s especially filthy. If you can’t soak it before you put in the the HE, then how about in a tub on top on the washer? That’s what I do with all the dirty diapers 1 part white vinegar, 1 part hot or warm water, and a squirt of dish soap. Fill the container with liquid and then add your clothes.

  8. "Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane on August 29, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Great laundry tip, and thank you. But what a CUTE baby!

  9. Maya on August 29, 2011 at 5:04 am

    Not being able to soak clothes is my one complaint about high efficiency front loaders. My mom’s front loader from several years ago can be manually soaked by pausing it after the clothes get saturated, but our high efficiency one only adds as much water as the clothes need and it takes seeeeeeeveral minutes of spinning and sitting. We can’t regularly remember to go back to the washer after 10 or so minutes to pause it.

  10. Lisa - the Granola Catholic on August 29, 2011 at 3:45 am

    These are great tips, I especially like putting less clothes in and letting them soak overnight. i do this with my kitchen towels as they tend to get the dirtiest.

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