When we moved into our current house, there was some fitted furniture in the main bedroom, including a closet. Unfortunately, the closet didn't smell great.
I know I should have got rid of the closet smell immediately, but there were 1001 things to do on moving day, and I had nowhere else to put my clothes.
I wish at the time I had just gone ahead and deep cleaned it because what I ended up with was musty clothes that I had to rewash.
If you have a musty closet, perhaps it even has some mildew, then I have the answers for you here in this post.
Today I will be walking you through the best way to get your closet smelling good again and how to keep it that way going forward.
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What causes a smelly closet?
To begin, let's find the source of the smell. If we know what we are dealing with, it is easier to fix.
There are several things that can cause your closet to smell bad.
Let's go through those first. Then I will give you some really effective tips for ridding your closet of all those foul odors!
Any of the following can cause unpleasant smells:
1. Poor ventilation
Do you have far too much packed into your closet? Tightly packed clothing within a small space will prevent air from circulating around the area.
This can lead to moisture getting trapped, leading to mildew forming and a musty smell.
An over stuffed closet can make it hard to find clothes too.
2. Smelly shoes and dirty clothes
Are you storing your smelly gym shoes in your closet? Maybe you have a laundry section that is less than fresh?
Try to store only clean clothes in your closet. If you want to wear an item again, make sure to air it before you put it back in the closet.
3. Damp clothes
Are your clothes fully dry when you put them away? Putting damp clothing in your closet is a major contributor to mildew problems, which leads to bad odors.
How to get rid of the smell in your closet
Now, let's take a look at what you can do immediately to get rid of unpleasant closet smells.
1. Re-launder your garments
The first step is to remove and rewash all your clothes. It's a big task, but any smelly clothes you put back will pollute the rest, so it is best to do them all.
Before you do that, make sure your washing machine is as sanitary as possible.
Run a hot wash with some washing soda crystals and add some vinegar to the rinse cycle.
2. Treat clothes that can't be washed with vinegar
Any clothing that cannot be washed can be sprayed with vinegar.
Vinegar is a natural deodorizer, and it is also antibacterial. You can use it to deodorize clothes that have been impregnated with the musty odors in your closet.
This is a good way to remove odors without having to re-launder them.
- Take out the clothing from the closet.
- Make up a spray bottle of equal parts of water and distilled white vinegar. If you can find a spray bottle that produces a fine mist, it will work the best.
- Lightly spray your clothing
- Leave to dry naturally.
Vinegar has quite a strong scent, but it will dissipate rapidly, so don't worry about your clothes smelling of vinegar for very long.
Always remove any plastic wrapping from your clothes. Moisture can get trapped inside, leading to musty smells.
Make sure all clothing is completely dry before you put them back.
3. Clean inside the closet
The next thing you can do is to remove closet odors with a deep clean:
Here's how to completely deodorize your closet:
- Empty the closet.
- Thoroughly vacuum. Use the crevice tool to get into corners.
- Make up a spray bottle of equal parts distilled white vinegar and water.
- Spray every surface including inside drawers, shelves and floor. If you have custom closets, there might be lots of nooks and crannies to get into.
- Vinegar can kill off the mildew and mold spores. If you have mildew spots, make up a spray bottle of full strength distilled white vinegar, spray the area and rub clean if necessary.
- Let the area dry fully.
If your closet floor is carpeted, sprinkle it with baking soda. Leave it to work for a few hours, and then vacuum up.
How to keep your closet smelling fresh
Now you know how to rid your closet of laundry smell, how do you keep it smelling great?
Here are all my tips for keeping your closet or wardrobe smelling sweet:
1. Make sure clothes are completely dry before you put them in
Always dry items completely before you store them in your closet. Mildew loves to grow in warm, moist environments.
2. Don't cram clothes in tightly
Bad air circulation can cause problems in your closet.
It's important that air can circulate freely around your clothing. If you pack clothes into your closet, moisture and air gets trapped, causing mildew and eventually unpleasant odors to form.
Reduce the number of items you store in your closet.
A good way to do that is to put away all your out-of-season clothes.
I like to go through my whole closet every six months. If I haven't worn an item for a year or so, it goes to the charity shop. If it is out of season, I pack it away.
If you live in humid conditions, be sure to close your closet doors.
3. Make sure your washing machine is sanitized
If your laundry smells musty after washing, it could be time to give your washing machine some attention.
I recommend doing a maintenance cycle on your washer every month. This is especially important if you run a lot of cold washes.
Run a very hot wash once per month with two cups of washing soda crystals directly in the drum and some distilled white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment.
Going forward, I recommend adding vinegar to the rinse cycle. Vinegar will naturally soften, deodorize and kill bacteria in your wash.
4. Keep your bedroom fresh
If you have a fresh, aired bedroom, your closet will benefit too.
I recommend opening windows when you can and keeping the door to your bedroom open.
Another thing you can do is to add an air purifier. These are perfect for filtering out dust, along with the unwanted odors that linger in dust.
We have this air filter by Winix. It has a HEPA filter, so it can remove very tiny particles in the air. It runs so quietly, I can have it on all night.
You might also be interested in this post - Why does my room smell bad when I wake up?
How to naturally remove moisture and smells from your closet
A major cause of a musty closet is moisture. Here's how to reduce moisture in your closet.
Baking soda is a brilliant and cheap way to eliminate and remove musty odors from your closet.
Leave a tray of baking soda in your closet, and it will absorb lingering odors and moisture, keeping your closet fresh.
If you drink coffee like there is no tomorrow, like we do, then you will have a lot of spare coffee grounds.
I love it when waste has another use!
Coffee grounds are great at absorbing odors.
Find an old container like an ice cream tub and drill some holes. Add your coffee grounds and then store it in your closet. Replace every month.
Activated charcoal is another amazing and natural way to absorb smells in your closet or wardrobe.
I found these charcoal bags on Amazon, which are perfect for closets.
Pop them on a hanger, and they will absorb smells deep inside your clothes. A bag will work for a month, and then you can rejuvenate it by leaving it out in the sun for a couple of hours.
Leave some silica gel packs among your clothing. These will absorb the moisture in your closet.
Running a dehumidifier inside your closet will help to keep moisture levels down. You can buy electric dehumidifiers, and also single-use versions.
How to make your closet smell fresh
Now we know how to remove the smell in your closet, how can we add back some fragrance?
Here I have lots of tips making your closet and your clothes smell wonderful:
Add some cedar hangers to your closet to impart a gorgeous and natural smell.
Rather than buy new hangers, I recommend these hanger blocks.
They are made of natural cedar wood, which not only freshens your clothes, but also protects against moth damage.
If you use dryer sheets in your tumble dryer, don't throw them away when they are spent. Use them to freshen your closet.
For best results, put them inside shoes, tuck them inside drawers, or make a hole and pop one on a hanger.
If you want the scent to last longer, use a new one.
Wrap some soap with a scent you love in tissue paper or an old sock. Then leave it in your closet to spread its gorgeous smell around your clothing.
I find that soap smell doesn't last that long. When the smell goes, use it in your bathroom instead.
Cotton balls scented with perfume or essential oils
Do you have a favorite perfume?
Soak some cotton balls with your favorite fragrance and place them in a jar inside your closet. The smell will waft around your closet without being overpowering. Don't be tempted to spray clothing directly, as this could cause stains.
You can also do this with a few drops of your favorite essential oil, such as lavender.
Potpourri is a great way to make your closet smell naturally fresh without chemical air fresheners.
You can buy Potpourri ready-made in lots of lovely fragrances. If you have some herbs growing in your garden, bag some up or tie up some bunches and leave them in your closet and inside drawers.