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Stinky clothes? Here's what to look for when buying a laundry hamper

Buh-bye musty towels

A person plugging their nose while dealing with a pile of laundry Credit: Getty Images / CentralITAlliance

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Doing laundry may not be a favorite chore, but it is a necessary one. And, there’s nothing worse than reaching for your hamper and being met with a smelly pile of clothes.

However, this type of stink is one you can avoid. Choosing a great hamper is the first step toward preventing odor build-up in your laundry.

Still, let’s talk about where these smells come from. The short answer: moisture. Any time moisture interacts with existing bacteria, there’s the possibility of strong odors developing, and even mold or mildew growth. That’s why your sweaty workout clothes are always the smelliest of the bunch.

The best way to avoid odors from getting stronger and contaminating your entire laundry pile is to dry them out before tossing them in the hamper. Always hang up your damp towels or sweaty clothes and let them thoroughly dry before tossing them in a pile.

Once you’ve taken basic precautions to keep your clothes from getting musty and smelly, inspect the kind of hamper you’re using. There’s no perfect answer, but some key things to look for are breathability, antimicrobial properties, and washability.

There are different paths you can take to finding the right hamper, so it’s about choosing what’s right for you and your lifestyle.

Find a hamper that can breathe

Credit: Left: Mind Reader | Right: Yamazaki Home

A hamper with lots of ventilation gives your laundry necessary breathing room.

A hamper with lots of holes and cut-outs gives your clothes some breathing room. The best options are usually made from plastic or metal since those materials won’t absorb smells and can be wiped down between uses or spritzed with an antimicrobial spray.

The great ventilation in these types of hampers allow damp clothes some air to dry out rather than trapping the moisture.

Hampers with a cage-like design may work better than [hampers with solid bases, since the latter can cause pooling of moisture at the base.

Find a hamper made with naturally antibacterial or antimicrobial materials

Credit: Left: Target | Right: Rejuvenation

Bamboo and wool have natural anti-bacterial properties that will help keep you laundry fresh.

Certain natural materials have antibacterial or antimicrobial properties making them a better option for storing your clothing. These include bamboo and wool.

Bamboo hampers are everywhere, and those with removable cloth liners allow you to carry your clothing over to your washing machine, rather than hauling the whole hamper.

Wool is another hero in the laundry room. Wool dryer balls help soften clothes and prevent static, so it’s just as good for a hamper.

The downside to some of these natural materials is that they’re a bit harder to clean, so if easy cleaning is at the top of your priority list then wool or bamboo may not be the best option.

When in doubt, go for a hamper that’s as easily washable as your laundry

A line-up of laundry baskets made from steel frames and canvas bags
Credit: Food52

Make sure to let your cloth hamper dry thoroughly before putting any dirty clothes back in.

Laundry hampers are where our dirty clothes go, so consider that your hamper can get dirty, too. Going for cloth-based hampers that are easily washable can help to maintain cleanliness.

However, not all cloth hampers are washable so it’s important to read the fine print. Some laundry bags are air-dry only so make sure to let your hamper dry before putting any dirty clothes back in.

Get the Steele Canvas Elevated Laundry Basket at Food52 starting at $120

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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