Should You Leave Wet Laundry in the Washer Overnight? Here's What Martha Says
Many people learn the hard way that if you leave wet laundry in the washing machine for too long, it starts to develop a smell due to the growth of bacteria and mold. When this happens, no amount of drying will remove the funky odor, which means clothes usually have to be washed again. But it all depends on how long you let a load of wet laundry sit. According to Martha, leaving your laundry in the washer overnight is actually okay.
"I would say that was perfectly alright," Martha says. (When the hosts of the TODAY show once debated this question, they, naturally, gave Martha a call.) "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 okay."
If you're unsure if your wet laundry has been sitting too long, Martha recommends smelling it: "One way you can kind of tell is if it smells all right. That mold and that bacteria that starts to grow on damp clothes and environments, that's very pungent." It's important to use a non-scented laundry detergent that's also free of harsh chemicals, our founder says. Doing so will allow you to smell if your clothes haven't been properly washed and need further attention, which is the case when they give off mold-like odors.
Letting your clean laundry dry a bit in the machine overnight may actually be a smart move if you're planning to air dry clothing items on a clothesline. According to Martha's Homekeeping Handbook ($15.66, amazon.com), using a clothesline allows you to maintain the quality and structure of your clothing much longer than regularly using a conventional dryer. That's because the tumbling action of a regular dryer can rub clothes against the dryer drum and break down their fibers overtime.
Line drying, however, allows delicate items, especially those containing elastic or spandex, to dry without breaking down in the dryer. You can set up a clothesline either outside or inside your apartment (Martha says a well-ventilated bathroom or a basement utility area is best) but soaking wet clothes can drag a clothesline down, so it's important to let the excess water drain off first before hanging them to dry. "The weight of your wet laundry may bring the load sagging to the ground... any clothesline will stretch out after a few uses, so you'll occasionally have to untie it and pull it tight again."
While Martha says it's fine to leave wet clothes in the washing machine overnight on occasion, she does caution against making it a habit. If you want your laundry to look and smell its best, give yourself plenty of time to wash, dry and fold clothes before bedtime.