How Long Can You Leave Wet Clothes in the Washing Machine?

Illustration of washing machine, laundry basket and ironing board

One of the best things about Erie Station Village is that every apartment and townhouse includes a washer and dry (no more laundromats for you!). When doing your laundry, there’s something that happens to everyone sooner or later. You put a load in the washer fully intending to get it in the dryer when it’s done, but something comes up. You decide to go to bed early, the kids need your help, or you just get distracted. If you’ve ever wondered how long wet laundry can sit in the washer – and what to do about it – read on.

The simple answer is 8-12 hours. That comes straight from the experts at Whirlpool, who make washing machines. Of course, the sooner you get them into the dryer the better. The timing can also depend on the type of fabric. Natural fibers, like cotton, absorb a lot of water and dry out slowly, which means you shouldn’t let them sit in your washer much longer than 8 hours.

So, what happens when you leave clothes in the washing machine too long? The environment inside your washer promotes the growth of mold and mildew, which can release spores. If you’re sensitive to mold or have breathing issues like asthma, those spores can cause health issues. The best way to know if you’ve let your clothes sit too long is to smell them. If you can easily smell a pungent musty odor, it’s too late.

In that case, the obvious solution would seem to be rewashing your clothes. While that will help, you could do better. Adding a cup of white vinegar to washing machine will make a big difference. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. You can also help avoid the issue by running your washing machine on its cleaning cycle (assuming it has one) with white vinegar once a month. Some washing machines, especially front loaders, can grow mold when empty just from being kept closed.