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

To make laundry day a bit more enjoyable, this type of stink is one you can avoid. Choosing a great laundry hamper is the first step toward preventing laundry that smells bad.

Still, let’s talk about where these bad 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 clothes are always the smelliest of the bunch–they’re a breeding ground for moisture and bacteria.

The best way to avoid odors from getting stronger and contaminating your entire dirty 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 fragrant (and not in a good way), inspect the kind of laundry hamper you’re using. There’s no perfect answer, but some key things to look for are breathability, antimicrobial properties, and washability.

Seeking out these properties in a laundry hamper will brighten up laundry day and keep your smelly laundry fresh before it even hits the washing machine.

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 hampers allows damp clothes 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.

And you can still keep your laundry hamper covert. If you want a laundry hamper with a lid, find one with holes in the side. This way you can give your sweaty clothes some air but keep them covered up when you have guests over.

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 smelly laundry. These include bamboo and wool.

Bamboo hampers are everywhere, and those with a washable liner allow you to carry your clothing over to your washing machine, rather than hauling the whole laundry hamper.

Wool is another hero in the laundry room. Wool dryer balls help soften clothes and prevent static, and are similarly beneficial in a hamper.

The downside to some of these natural materials is that they’re a bit harder to clean. To get these hampers clean, white vinegar and water mixed together is a natural and effective cleaner. Put vinegar and water in a spray bottle and mist the surface of your laundry hamper. But remember–let it dry thoroughly.

If easy and thorough sanitization is at the top of your priority list, then wool or bamboo may not be the best option. In that case, go for something that you can actually throw in the wash.

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 laundry 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. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a cycle of smelly laundry.

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