Leaving wet clothes in the washer is one of those things people have strong opinions about — and if you do it regularly, you might not broadcast it in fear of being thought of as a lazy, rule-breaking launderer. So, whether it’s purposeful or accidental, what’s the real truth about this practice?
Some people would never dream of leaving wet clothes in the washer, and will time their laundry around making sure they’re available to toss their loads into the dryer as soon as the washer beeps. I, however, won’t go to sleep or out of the house with the dryer on, just because of the fire risk dryers can pose. So I frequently leave wet clothes sitting in the washer. And, yes, often overnight.
Turns out that the home-keeping guru herself, Martha Stewart, says this is perfectly fine. When asked on the TODAY show for her opinion on the matter, she responded with: “I would say that was perfectly alright. I mean don’t leave it for a long time … don’t leave it for a week. If you get up in the morning and throw it in the dryer, it should probably be OK.”
Real Simple corroborates. In “What’s the Worst that Could Happen?” the most likely consequence of leaving wet clothes in the washer is “nothing will happen.”
When asked how to tell if your laundry is alright, Martha has this to offer: “One way you can kind of tell is if it smells alright. That mold and that bacteria that starts to grow on damp clothes and environments, that’s very pungent.”
Yes! The good old smell test. Real Simple, citing Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science’s lead home economist, Lucinda Ottusch, gives the more concrete guideline of 8-12 hours before odor, a sign of mildew, begins to occur.
What to do if your clothes do smell off? Simply run the wash cycle again. Definitely don’t dry the clothes if there’s any hint of them being not fresh; the smell will not go away and you’ll have to do the whole load again anyway. And try not to make a habit of leaving wet clothes in the washer. Long term or repeatedly, it’s not good for your washer or your clothes.