How To Get The Smell Out Of Musty Bed Sheets

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

All kinds of situations can make us sweat in our sleep. It could be a run-of-the-mill reason, like being too warm or having a stressful nightmare. There are also conditions that can contribute to heavy sweating while sleeping, like puberty, menopause, diabetes, anxiety, and more. We all sweat for one reason or another, so it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve for dealing with sweaty, musty bed sheets.

The treatment that I’m sharing with you today digs deep to help eliminate odor and oils that can get trapped in the fibers of your bed sheets. It’s not really for “cleaning,” per se, so if you have spills or stains that need to be washed out, you’ll probably want to wash those out first before starting this process. Here’s how it works!

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

How To Remove Odor and Oil From Bed Sheets

You’ll need:


How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Step 1 – Soak

Fill a sink or bucket with hot water. Add 1 cup of vinegar and a tablespoon or so of dish soap to the water.

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Put your sheets in the water, and use your hands to swish the sheets around a bit. You just want to make sure they’re completely saturated while they’re soaking.

Allow the sheets to soak in the sink or bucket for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Step 2 – Wash

Place 1/2 cup of baking soda directly into the drum of your washing machine.

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Remove the sheets from the water and wring them out a bit, then toss them into the washer.

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Start your washer using the “heavy soil” setting (if your washer has one) and the hottest water setting.

Step 3 – Smell Test

Remove your sheets from the washer and do a smell test to see if the odor is gone. If they’re not quite as fresh as you’d like them to be, simply repeat steps 1 through 3 again. After a second cycle, even the smelliest of sheets should smell great!

How To Wash Odors and Oils From Bed Sheets

Step 4 – Line Dry

Hopefully you’ll be doing this process on a nice day, because drying your sheets out in the sun is a big bonus! Direct sunlight can help kill germs and whiten your sheets, and the fresh air will leave them smelling fresh and clean. Then replace your sheets and enjoy a clean and fresh-smelling night’s sleep! :-)

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Homekeeping Tips

  • As a complete novice o how to use what and when….. I have a frontloadet washing machine – when would u put the borax I the machine? Thanks so much!

  • Curious why you just don’t use Borax in the laundry? It releases grease, fats, oils, dirt and other terrible built ups stains and smells in fabrics. The towels that are left in a damp ball and stink even after washing can be saved with Borax ( 20 Mule Team ). So can the kitchen towel used to wipe up grease that’s gone rancid. And at least to me, it seems to soften too.

  • I have to agree with Ruth, Kathryn and Mary about the humid air. Our house has a sunroom which is great for outdoor drying effect. Living in Missouri in the summertime I know all about that smell. I had a question earlier about the tomato stain. What did you use to pre-treat it with. I used the oxy magic spray and it left a slight grease spot. I didn’t realize until after I washed , that the stain had also gotten onto a layering shirt I was wearing underneath.

    • Have to second this idea.I always use vinegar in the rinse with about 8 to 10 drops of tea tree oil .
      ( I use this mix in a spray bottle for freshening fabrics, and for an all purpose cleaner I just add a couple of drops of dawn )

      Line dry , ( I just love my solar powered wind dryer! , )
      Also vinegar rinse keeps the clothing from sticking to the line when they end up ‘freeze dried’.

  • I love the smell of clothes and sheets dried on the line outside. I do this routinely, unless northern winter weather prohibits it. It’s hard to deal with frozen california king sheets! I don’t even use my other sets of sheets in the closest – just take them off, wash, and put them right back on the bed. And you are right, the sun and ultraviolet rays can kill bacteria and odors just by itself. My husband has gotten used to the idea that socks might dry a little stiffly, and towels are not quite as fluffy, but the savings on the electric bill id definitely worth it.

  • Just an FYI……Living in the Houston area, I can tell you that anything we dry outside comes back in smelling like wet dog. Even a plate with food that my husband takes to the grill will come in smelling this way. So as for line drying…..that may depend on where you live. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, coming in from outside down here smells “fresh and clean”.

    • I’m sorry to hear your air quality is so poor. Is there nothing that can be done about it? Air dried linens are sooo nice. Sandy in the California Mountains.

      • I also live in Houston, and unfortunately our air is just far too humid. It’s not necessarily poor air quality, it’s just the amount of moisture in our air. We often reach 80-90%+ humidity in the summer (it’s not so fun when it feels like it’s 103 at 10am because of humidity/heat index)

  • I have a question that relates to this post, as well as all recipes (wipes) using “the blue” Dawn dish washing soap. I buy Platinum and it is way too soapy. I am just assuming I should cut it way back. Just wanted to check to see if you are using the “basic blue”. THANKS!

  • This is interesting. My sheets have oils spots from sometimes using heavy duty hand lotion. I also have a stain question. I got a tomato sauce stain on a top and pre- treated it before I washed. The stain didn’t come out and is still there. I was wearing a little tank under the top and didn’t know there was some stain on it until after It was all washed and dried. Luckily it wasn’t one of my dressy tops.

    • I get tomato stains out by pre-treating, washing, and then drying in the sun. The sunshine usually removes all of the stain. Sunshine also removes breast-fed baby poop stains from diapers, for those who use cloth. Any stain is going to be harder to remove, though, once it’s been through the dryer. You may need to repeat the process a couple of times.

  • Another extra easy, effective and time efficient way to remove musty smells from a bath towel (and I would assume would work as effectively on bed sheets) is thoroughly wetting the towel with water until it’s dripping wet, placing it into a plastic bag, loosely twisting the top of the bag and then placing the bag with the towel in it into the microwave. I then microwave the towel for about 10 minutes on high. Be careful removing from the microwave as a lot of steam has built up. I generally leave the towel on the microwave plate to carry it to the washing machine to avoid any dripping from any water that has escaped. After washing it in the washing machine, and cold water is all you need, it will come out smelling totally free of any odours (guess the heat kills any of the bacteria that is causing the smell). This method is also perfect for removing any smelly odours and bacteria in kitchen dishcloths also (only need to microwave on high for around 3 minutes and rinse out in kitchen sink to have it smelling totally sweet and be able to use straight away). Similarly effective for musty pillow slips and any other musty smelling cloths/towels etc.
    You won’t believe how effective this is!

  • Or just soak and wash the sheets with Borax, which solves all odor problems, and I do mean ALL. You can use your washer to soak anything, especially if it’s a top loading washer.

  • Hi Jillee, I will try this method on a banlon sweater I purchased at a second hand store. It has a perfume smell that won’t wash out. I will let you know.

  • Luckily, my he washer has a “deep wash” cycle which I have used. Using the same amounts of detergent, bleach and fabric softener, plus being able to dry them outside in our unseasonably warm weather has worked like a charm. This one cycle has saved me a lot of extra work (and mess) several times.

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