why do my clean sheets smell?
Questions And Answers

Why Do My Sheets Smell Bad After Washing?

Last Updated on February 11, 2024 by Louise Carter

We all like a bed with clean, fresh-smelling sheets. Unfortunately, our bed sheets can smell, even when no one has ever slept on them.

Sheets that smell bad after being washed can make it hard to sleep. If your sheets have a musty odor after washing, there will be an explanation.

The smell can be rectified by re-washing, properly drying, and storing your sheets differently. If this is ineffective, you may need to clean or repair the washing machine.

If you don’t want to re-wash the sheets, there are ways to freshen up the bedsheets.

Why Do My Clean Sheets Smell?

Sometimes, sheets smell musty after they’ve been washed for the following reasons:

Stored Too Long

If you’re bringing extra sheets out of storage, they may smell musty despite being clean. In most cases, this happens due to low levels of air circulation where they’ve been stored.

This results in a poor smell, just as stored clothing will begin to have an odor. Hanging the sheets up for 1-2 hours before putting them on the bed will freshen them up.

sheets don't smell fresh after washing


If you store clean textiles in a dark, damp environment, they’ll begin to form mildew.

According to the Journal of Engineering and Science, mildew thrives in textiles and prefers natural fibers. If allowed to grow and multiply, it can result in staining and long-term damage.

It’s unlikely that mold will form on sheets stored this way. However, if mold is present in the environment, spores will land on any sheets stored there. This can cause adverse reactions if you or the person sleeping in the bed has an allergy or sensitivity to mold spores.

If mold or mildew is the cause of smelly sheets, you must re-wash them.

Improperly Dried

If the sheets haven’t been in storage or they’ve only recently been washed and put away, perhaps they weren’t properly dried before you stored them.

Sheets put away wet are susceptible to mildew and fungal growth. According to the University of Florida, even low levels of dampness or humidity can allow mildew, mold, and fungi to form.

Of course, things can go wrong during washing, leading to your sheets smelling bad.

If you have re-washed your sheets and allowed them to dry thoroughly, the issue is likely in your washing machine or the sheets themselves.

Why Do My Sheets Smell After I Wash Them?

Do your sheets and clothes smell bad when they’ve just been removed from the washing machine? Then, there’s a high probability the problem is the washing machine itself.

Of course, this assumes that you quickly removed the clothes from the washing machine. If the sheets sit in the washing machine for more than 1-2 hours, they’ll smell bad quickly.

If not, two other things could have gone wrong:

Overloading The Machine

If you’re cramming in more sheets and clothes than is recommended, the washing machine won’t be able to agitate and rinse them properly.

This will lead to dirt on the sheets due to the washing machine’s inability to remove dirty water. The odor can also remain on the sheets, and you may notice that your whites are dingier.

Wrong Amount of Detergent

Too much detergent could lead to stains and residue on the sheets. However, not enough detergent will prevent them from being properly cleaned.

Cool Cycle

You could have washed the sheets and clothing at too low a temperature, which often happens with improper detergent use.

It’s common for people to use a cool wash more often these days because it’s more eco-friendly and cuts down on energy costs. The problem is that cold water won’t clean your sheets because it doesn’t kill bacteria and dust mites.

Allergists recommend a water temperature of 130-160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that dust mites and oils are neutralized. Also, the heat will break up hard sebum deposits.

Of course, saving energy is important. It may make sense to wash clothes at low temperatures most of the time with the occasional hot wash for hygiene.

However, sheets, underwear, and gym clothes should always be washed in hot water.

Why Do My Sheets Smell Sour After Washing?

There may be mold or mildew inside the washing machine. Sometimes, the smell is strong enough to notice when you open the washing machine door, but this isn’t always the case.

Mildew and fungal substances can thrive in washing machines due to residual water. While washing machines are good at removing water, small amounts can be left below the drainage line.

This creates a damp and humid environment for mildew, fungal growth, and mold. Getting rid of this buildup can be difficult, especially if you mainly use a cool wash.

Many assume that they’ll have to dismantle their washing machine to clean the side of the drum and remove it, but this isn’t the case.

You can often remove mildew by applying mold and mildew spray and allowing the washing machine to go through a hot wash cycle while empty. The heat should kill bacteria and wash away mildew.

sheets smell sour after washing

How To Freshen Smelly Sheets

If your sheets smell strongly of mold or mildew, you may have to wash and dry them again.

However, there are ways to freshen clean sheets without re-washing them:


The least time-consuming fix is to use a fabric freshening or linen spray.

Many sprays have odor-neutralizing ingredients to ensure freshness. You can buy citrus varieties to keep away pests, ensuring that stored sheets remain clean for longer.  

White Vinegar

You won’t end up with sheets that smell of vinegar if you dilute the vinegar with water on a 1:1 basis.

Put the solution in a spray bottle and spray the sheets. Once you’ve done this, hang them outside or in a bright space with good airflow.

Vinegar is among the most reliable ways to freshen sheets without washing them. It contains acids that break down residues and combat bacteria, especially when combined with sunshine and fresh air.

You can only use white vinegar to freshen bedsheets, not brown or malt vinegar.

Baking Soda

Place the sheets onto a flat surface and pour baking soda over them. Ensure the surface is covered evenly, and let it sit for a while.

You can hang the sheets outside to air them after using baking soda, which is especially effective if it’s sunny outside. Then, shake the sheets thoroughly to dislodge the excess baking powder.