How Can I Make My Clean Laundry Smell Better?

Updated on January 06, 2017
S.F. asks from Beverly Hills, CA
18 answers

So I have kind of a strange question. Does anyone know how to achieve "that smell" you know the one where your clothes smell like you literally poured fabric softener on your clothes. I have an HE washer and no matter what I use for detergent and softener I can never smell it on my clothes.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your advice I guess I should I have been more specific with "that smell". What I want is for my clothes to just not smell like musty. I feel like no matter what I do, even after spraying down my washing machine my clothes always smell like I left them in the washer for a day and then dried them. I just wasn't sure if anyone had some tips on that. I will try the vinegar. Thanks again.

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answers from Norfolk on

Spray Fabreeze on it before you fold it and put it away?
I'm not one for enjoying heavily scented clothes - it's just my opinion but I think they can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
To me - clothes that don't smell of anything seems more clean because I don't think I need a perfume-y scent to cover up anything that might smell sweaty or dirty.

On a side note - those commercials where they say some rooms stinks and 'you need to clean it' and they accomplish this by spraying with Fabreeze - makes me nuts.
Spraying a perfume does NOT clean anything and it's not addressing the cause of the stink in the first place.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

We use the dye/fragrance free stuff here because of my son. My daughter was always telling me how nice her friends' house smelled - they use the same detergent we use, but for her towels they use dryer sheets. So maybe give that a whirl :)

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Miami on

White vinegar. Cheap and it works.

Also, leave your washer door open when not in use. It could be that you've got some mold in there...

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

"That smell" is chemical fragrance, and a lot of detergents are now fragrance free and dye free. And there's one additive that is banned in many areas because of its effect on the environment/water table. I think it's phosphate but check me on that. So the smell you are missing could have been eliminated for a distinct reason.

Also, is yours a front loader? There are a lot of problems with mold and odors with those washers - check Consumer Reports for objective reporting. It's possible that you have a problem that is counteracting what you're doing. You have to leave the door open a lot to get rid of the problem, and sometimes that's not enough. Depending on how hard or soft your water is, you may smell changes as well.

I was clueless in the grocery store and bought the wrong detergent when I saw the sale and coupon deal. I got regular Arm & Hammer in the yellow bottle instead of one of various companies' fragrance-free version. You can smell it in the next room when someone's doing laundry, and my husband has now developed a rash from it. If that's the smell you want and if no one reacts to it, you could try that!

I add baking soda now and then to a full washer (no clothes, just water) and I add white vinegar to the rinse sometimes. Both help get rid of odors and some of the scum. But don't use them together! That's the secret to those science fair volcano projects. Do a regular wash in between.

If there's nothing wrong with your washer, then I think you might consider changing your definition of what "clean" smells like. There's a big commercial now about how chlorine bleach is the key to the "clean" smell - and that's because chlorine bleach sales have dropped off precipitously. I think more and more people are rebelling against the chemical additives, and many are drying their laundry in the sun in good weather. Maybe that's why you're not smelling an odor you associate with long ago?

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Reading below: I'm guessing you're not looking for a scent, but you are looking for that really fresh, clean smell, right?

Well I'm so glad you asked this, because now I can pass on one of the best pieces of advice I've gotten from this forum: Oxyclean! I used to use vinegar, but Oxyclean is even better. You use it along with your regular detergent.

And if you have a front loader, make sure to leave the door open in between washes to avoid mold. You might want to run a bunch of vinegar through your washer on occasion to remove old build up soap scum, etc.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Do your laundered clothes small a bit funky or are you just wanting to have a scent? If your towels and clothes do not smell clean, you're probably using too much detergent. Run a washer cleaning cycle. Then wash your clothes with Borax, without detergent, as many times in a row as needed until they smell clean. Then run a washer cleaning cycle again.

You really do not need the full amount given by the detergent company. My Dad, who sold and repaired appliances, said to use 1/2 the recommended amount. If your washer is HE, only use HE detergent. Regular detergent foams more, gets into the washer's working parts and causes the washer to breakdown sooner than it should. I know from experience. You should see very little sudsing as you wash clothes. Even if your washer is not HE and you use regular detergent, there should not be much sudsing.

If you just want to add a scent to your clothes, put a couple of drops of essential oil yo a cloth and toss it in the dryer with your clothes. Again, from experience, I found that commercial fabric softeners gradually reduce the absorbency of fabric. I've not used a fabric softener for years, yet my towels come out fluffy because I use less detergent on the wash.

I use fragrence free detergent and OxyClean in a front loading HE washer. It's a few years old. Perhaps 8 years

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

if your laundry is actually clean, it doesn't need to 'smell better.'
the fabric softener perfume is achieved through chemicals.
if you're using it and can't smell it, it's probably just that you're noseblind to it.
i sprinkle baking soda on top of my laundry, and put white vinegar in the fabric softener chamber.
i want my laundry clean, not drenched in perfume.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

This is kind of a weird tip but I'm kind of a weirdo so, if you have a dresser try putting a good smelling soap in each drawer. I keep my pajamas and workout clothes in a dresser and I love the way my lavender soap makes them smell.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I always add Borax to my laundry soap dispenser in my HE washer. I usually use a combination of unscented and scented Arm and Hammer detergent. I actually hate the smell of the concentrated detergents. It's supposed to smell good, but it's way too much. I get just the right amount of fresh smell with this combination. I use as little detergent as possible. Some of these detergents have unhealthy chemicals that can penetrate your skin. The "good smell" is usually more chemicals.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Maybe you need to clean your washer.

I have an HE that's front loader about 3 years old. When I run white towels I load up on vinegar or Clorox on that load to clean the washer.

My clothes smell great. Just last week my daughter commented that her laundry smelled amazing and asked what I did. I use Gain or All along with the Downy pellets you add when you first place clothes in the washer.

My suggestion is to thoroughly clean the machine and then do it on a regular basis.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Gain detergent.
I purposely don't use it on my clothes, because I don't like that smell on me. All clothing is washed in free and clear stuff. But I do like the Gain smell for bath towels.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I purposely use unscented laundry detergent/softener/etc. and also use a vinegar rinse on my clothing. I want folks to smell my perfume (I LOVE good perfume), not my laundry soaps.

However, I can smell anyone using Gain laundry detergent a mile away. I think that one has a very strong and unique smell. Try it and see if you notice a difference. You can also buy those smelly granules that you can add to the wash cycle for heavier fragranced clothing.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

The house we're renting came with an HE washer, and so I'm learning quite a lot from using one for the first time.

For one thing, did you know you have to use an HE washer cleaner to clean the washer? That sounds so stupid, but apparently it's true. Our washer even has a setting with "clean the washer" printed on it. They sell HE washer cleaner with the detergents, and you put it in with no clothes loaded and run a cycle. After I did it, our clothes smelled better, so I do it once a month now.

Then, we discovered those little Downy tiny balls, I think they're called Unstoppables. They have helped tremendously. You just sprinkle a capful on top of the dirty clothes.

I know that whenever we move and get our own place, I wouldn't buy an HE washer.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I don't use fabric softener because my son has very sensitive skin. I've found that Mrs. Meyers and Caldrea brands have the best scents and they don't irritate my son's skin. Mostly I use All free and clear for detergent but I will buy the bottles of those others and throw in just a bit into my regular detergent. They smell nice when they are done drying.

Recently I found these things made by Mrs. Meyers that comes in a giant salt shaker type thing and you sprinkle it in the wash before you start. They really work well but I think they are kind of expensive. I would let it go but my husband REALLY likes that fresh laundry smell as well so that's what I use it. I buy them at Target but I think you can get them on Amazon too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

If your laundry doesn't smell clean? It's most likely NOT clean.

If you have a new top loader? You only get 3 gallons of water or something like per load. So you need to watch how much you put it in. If you have a front loader? I'd see how much water fills the barrel and if it's not showing up? I'd call for maintenance on it.

Make sure you are using the right detergent.
I use the Downy Unstopables and the Gain enhancers. But my washer is an "old" top loader and I don't have issues with lack of water.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I find, also, that Gain has a strong scent that lasts. Tide dryer sheets do as well. Look for the new fabric freshener crystals, like downy un-stoppables, purex or bounce. They are like little beads you sprinkle in with the laundry and can use just a little or a lot for varying scent strengths.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I don't use HE cleaners or listen to what they say about them. Mine always smells fine.

I use HOT water when I'm washing towels and sheets that won't fade or anything. I use HOT water on my whites. I use warm water and normal wash or quick wash cycles. I dry on delicate or perma-press 90% of the time.

I use BLEACH too. I fill the bleach dispenser and my Gain original scent laundry detergent goes in it's slot. I also use Downy with the green lid.

I use Gain dryer sheets or Bounce Free so that my scents aren't confused.

I think that there are so many issues with stink in the front loading machines because people use the HE stuff and it's just not great. I leave my washer door open when it's not running too. This allows the seal to dry and any left over moisture in the tub to not sit and fester bacteria.



answers from Milwaukee on

I don't like using a lot of chemicals so I use dye/scent free detergent. My son also has sensitive skin so that helps a lot. I miss the clean laundry smell myself so I put a few drops of essential oil on my wool dryer ball so when my clothes come out of the dryer, they smell great without all the added junk.

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