Why do clothes smell sour when left in the washing machine?

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Alena Roberts

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Alena Roberts  asked the Naked Scientists:

My husband and I have noticed that in the last few months that our clothes smell sour after they've been washed. This seems to happen more often if we leave them in the washer for any period of time before transferring them to the dryer. We own a high efficiency front loading washer and dryer. What do you think is causing our clothes to smell sour, and how can we stop this from happening.

Thanks for the help.

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Alena Roberts

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Offline Eric A. Taylor

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Why do clothes smell sour when left in the washing machine?
« Reply #1 on: 30/10/2009 10:42:02 »
When you wash your clothes you kill a lot of the bacteria that is responsible for body odor. However you don't kill ALL the bacteria. Many survive and given a warm, dark, wet place to grow they take off again. If you wait long enough these colonies become large enough to cause an odor. It smells different than BO because the bacteria that cause BO live off the oil and dead skin trapped in your clothing. After washing this oil is gone leaving other types of bacteria to dominate.

  The only way to prevent this is to dry your clothes right away. Even bleach will not kill all those smelly little guys.

  Studies have shown an increase in bed bugs and other parasites that like to live in our beds and on our clothes. This might be because we are washing our clothes in colder water. Wash your sheets in hot water and the bugs die. Wash in cool water and you get clean bugs.
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