Why Do the Clothes in My Drawers Smell? Keeping Clothes Fresh

Your wardrobe is a major part of your life. Your clothes are washed, folded, and stored without a second thought. Yet, oftentimes, you open your clothes drawer, and you are met with a musty smell. It is a familiar that cannot be mistaken. It is a sour, old smell that you just want to get rid of. But how did your clothing drawers get smelly in the first place?

The clothes in your drawers smell because of mildew. Mildew forms in damp environments that are also dark. Mildew can form because of damp clothing and high humidity. The clothes may also smell because of bacteria caused by dirty clothes and dirty drawers.

It can be frustrating to open your clothes drawer and smell that familiar old musty scent. Nobody wants to deal with it, and it may seem like it will not go away. Read on to discover why the clothes in your drawers smell and how to take care of them.

What Causes Clothes in Your Drawer to Smell?

There are many reasons why the clothes in your drawers may smell. However, the main component is a damp atmosphere. For example, you may have stored your clothes when they were still a little damp. It may not seem that they are that “wet,” but even a little dampness can cause that unwanted musty smell.

So, what specifically causes the clothes to smell besides mildew? Rather, what causes the mildew to form in the first place? Once you know the causes, you will be able to avoid them in the future. Consider the following reasons.

  • Damp clothing
  • Clothes left in the washing machine too long
  • Dirty drawers
  • Humidity

Each of these reasons can be avoided. At first, you may not know what the cause was because it is easy to miss. However, how do these elements contribute to the musty smell that is emitted from your drawers when you open them?

Damp Clothing

Damp clothing, while not “wet,” still has enough moisture in them to cause issues. Often, people take clothes prematurely out of the dryer or off the clothesline and fold them. This is trapping the moisture even further.

When damp clothing is stored, it creates problems.

  • Mildew spores will begin to form.
  • These spores are what cause the musty, sour smell.
  • Damp clothing can ruin the drawers themselves.

Over time, if damp clothing is continuously placed in a drawer, the drawer can get water damage, dirty, and even moldy. Therefore, it is important to make sure your clothes are fully dry before putting them in your drawers.

It may seem that the clothes are “dry enough,” but you must make sure that there is no hint of moisture in them. You can tell just by touching the clothes. If they are not damp to the touch then they are ready to put away.

Leaving Clothes in the Washing Machine

Another reason why the clothes in your drawers may smell is that you left them in the washing machine for too long.

When you leave clothes in the washing machine for a long time before transferring them to a dryer, they can form a musty odor that can be difficult to get rid of without additional cleanings. You may not have noticed the scent and put them in the drying machine and then stored them in the drawers.

It is best to monitor the clothes being washed. Try and remove them as promptly as you can after washing them to avoid any smells that may occur.

Dirty Drawers Can Cause Smelly Clothes

If the drawers you store your clothes in are dirty, they can cause the clothes to smell, too. It is important to check if the drawers are dirty.

Dirty drawers can have any of the following components inside them and more that contribute to smelly clothes:

  • Dirt
  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Moisture

Moreover, if you store dirty clothes, the scent of the clothes can become trapped in the drawer.

Drawers become dirty over time. Storing dirty clothes is one way that they become soiled much quicker than if you always store clean clothes.


Humidity is when there is a high moisture level in the air. There are times of the year when the humidity is much higher than normal. This usually occurs in the summer months. If it rains, the humidity levels can reach near 100 percent.

This moisture content in the air will transfer to your clothes, even the ones you have stored away. Clothes that were once dry will now have moisture introduced to them. Humidity can also affect wooden drawers themselves.

Mildew and mold can form from high humidity. You may smell a musty odor on everything during humid days, but this musty odor, when not provided with circulation (like in a drawer) will linger on your clothes.

How to Stop Clothes From Smelling in Drawers

With all the causes of musty-smelling clothes, you may wonder how you can stop the clothes from smelling. If they already smell, your best bet is to wash them again. You may use some diluted vinegar to help the process.

However, there are other methods you can employ to stop the clothes from smelling and to avoid further occurrences of that foul smell. Consider these methods to stop your clothes from smelling.

  • Use natural air fresheners
  • Clean the drawers
  • Avoid storing damp clothes

These are simple remedies, but they are effective at preventing your clothes from smelling in your drawers. Consider them more closely, and you will be able to implement them immediately.

Use Natural Air Fresheners

Using natural air fresheners in your drawers is a great way to both stop your clothes from smelling and prevent the smells from returning. There are many natural air fresheners you may choose from to combat the musty odor in your drawers.

  • Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds are a natural remedy for bad odors because they naturally cancel out those smells. You can put some coffee grounds in a small pouch and place it in the drawer to help cancel that musty smell.
  • Herbs: You may use nice smelling herbs like mint or lavender that you have in your pantry as natural air fresheners. Pick your favorites and make small, sealed pouches with them. You can use any sort of pouch that will not block the scent. Place these pouches in the drawer.
  • Drawer liners with natural scents: You may decide you do not want to make your own air freshener, which is fine. Instead, you can buy drawer liners that come naturally scented.

Using natural air fresheners will eliminate the bad odor in your drawers. You may also buy regular drawer fresheners if you choose.

Clean Your Clothing Drawers

If a dirty drawer is the cause, then you need to clean it. Cleaning your drawers is easy. First, remove all the clothing. You may want to wash them again as a precautionary measure.

Next, you want to remove any loose debris that may be present. Wipe down the inside of the drawer to remove any mold. Finally, using a soap made for wood, wash the inside. You may add a drop or two of essential oil for added benefit. You must let the drawer air dry before replacing the clothes.

Avoid Storing Damp Clothing

The best way to avoid clothes from smelling in your drawers is to avoid storing them while they are damp. Damp clothing is a breeding ground for bacteria. You do not want mildew to form.

Make sure your drawers are clean and the clothes are dry. If you make sure these two elements are met then you will not have anything to worry about.

In Conclusion

The clothes in your drawers smell most likely because of damp clothing that causes mildew to form. However, if your drawers are dirty, they could be transferring bad odors to your clothes. Moreover, dirty clothes, even clothes that do not seem dirty, can cause foul odors to occur.

Make sure your drawers get good circulation. Make sure you wash your clothes even if they do not seem dirty. If you make sure your clothes are clean and the drawers are clean, then you will find that a musty smell will not return.