What Happens If You Soak Clothes For Too Long? (Mold & Mildew)

Soaking clothes for too long can lead to several issues:

Mold and mildew growth

If clothes are left soaking in water for more than 30-60 minutes, mold and mildew can start to grow, especially if the water is warm. This leads to bad odors that are difficult to remove even after washing.

Color fading

The dyes used in clothes can start to bleed out if soaked too long, causing darker colors to fade and lighter colors to pick up some of the dye. This effect is exacerbated by warm or hot water.

Fabric damage

Extended soaking can weaken fabrics, causing them to stretch, shrink, or develop holes and tears more easily. The water can also dissolve fibers in the fabric over time.

Recommended soaking times

To avoid issues, it’s generally recommended to soak clothes for no more than:

  • 30 minutes for lightly soiled everyday clothes
  • 1 hour for heavily soiled or stained clothes
  • Overnight for very durable fabrics like denim or canvas

Delicate fabrics like wool and silk should not be soaked for more than 15-20 minutes.

What to do if you soak too long

If clothes have been left soaking for too long:

  • Rewash them to try to remove bad odors
  • Avoid drying them in direct sunlight, which can worsen fading
  • Expect some degree of color fading and fabric damage
  • Watch for holes, tears, shrinkage or stretching

In extreme cases where the fabric has started deteriorating, the clothing may be unsalvageable.

Alternatives to extended soaking

To help loosen dirt and stains, some alternatives to lengthy soaking include:

  • Pre-treating heavily soiled areas with detergent or stain remover before washing
  • Using laundry boosters and enzymes to break down soils
  • Selecting a hot or warm wash cycle for very dirty clothes


While soaking clothes can help remove some stains and soils, leaving items soaking for too long causes issues like mold, mildew, color fading and permanent fabric damage. Limit soak times based on fabric type, and pre-treat heavily stained clothes instead of over-soaking.

We’ve all been there. We’re in a hurry and need to do a load of laundry, but we don’t have enough time to wash everything. So we throw our clothes in the washing machine and let them soak for a while.

But what happens if you soak your clothes for too long? Well, it can lead to several problems, such as the growth of mold and mildew, causing unpleasant smells, and fabric damage.


This blog post will discuss the consequences of soaking your clothes for too long and how to avoid them!

What Happens If You Soak Your Clothes for Too Long?

soaking before washing
credit: canva

The Growth of Mold and Mildew

First, mold and mildew can start to grow on your clothes. This is especially true if the water is warm or hot.

Unpleasant Smells

After a while, your clothes will develop an unpleasant smell because of bacteria and mold growth. Drying them again won’t remove the odor, so you’ll usually have to rewash them.

Damage Fibers

In theory, soaking too long can cause water to enter and damage the fibers. When that happens, your clothes can deteriorate, leading to holes and tears.

Soaking Your Clothes

washing fabric
credit: canva

The Purpose

Pre-soaking before washing is a common practice, especially for more delicate fabrics, to help to remove stains and dirt.

There are several ways to do this:

  • With only water: Fill your washing machine, bucket, or tub with water and let the clothes submerge for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • With a detergent or bleach: Submerge in a mixture of water, and your regular laundry detergent or bleach can help to remove stubborn stains.

How Long To Soak Your Clothes

denim soaking
Soaking overnight for denim pants. Credit: canva

The length of time depends on the fabric type, how dirty they are, the size of your load, and the water temperature.

  • Generally, it would help if you aimed to soak for no longer than 30 minutes. This will help to avoid damage or other problems like mold and mildew growth.
  • If you need to wash heavy stains or set in dirt, it’s generally recommended to soak for at least one hour. This will give you plenty of time to work on the stains and get your clothes looking fresh and clean again!
  • When washing delicate fabrics like silk or wool, it’s best to limit the time to 20 minutes.
  • Soaking overnight can also be applied only to heavy-duty clothing. Clothes are preferred with materials such as denim or canvas that can withstand higher temperatures and submerge for up to 12 hours.

What to Do if You Soak too Long

washing in water
Credit: canva

When this happens, the funky odor will not disappear no matter how much you dry it, so clothes usually have to be rewashed.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Rinse them out with clean water. If your clothes have been soaked in dirty water, they will need a good rinse with clean water before you can wash them. This will help remove any dirt or grime accumulated on the fabric.
  • Wash them in your washing machine. Next, wash them in your machine. Be sure to use the appropriate detergent and cycle for the fabric you’re washing.
  • Hang them up to dry. After washing your clothes, hang them up to dry or put them in the dryer in a low heat setting. And that’s it!


How do you soak clothes?

To soak clothes, you first fill a sink or tub with enough water to submerge the clothing. Then, add a laundry detergent or solution and allow the clothing to sit for a designated amount before washing as usual.

Is it necessary to soak clothes before washing them?

It is unnecessary, but it can help remove stubborn stains or dirt.

Can you soak clothes overnight?

Yes, you can soak clothes overnight. But it can only be applied to heavy-duty clothing such as denim or canvas.

What types of stains benefit from soaking?

It can benefit tough stains such as grass, blood, and grease.

Can you soak different types of fabrics together?

It is generally not recommended to combine different fabrics as they may have different care instructions, and one fabric may bleed color onto another.

Is it okay to leave soaking clothes in the sink for an extended period?

It is not recommended to leave the submerged clothes sitting in the sink for an extended period as bacteria can begin to grow on damp clothing.

Are there any precautions to take when soaking clothes?

It is important to follow care instructions and pay attention to water temperature and type of solution used (i.e., some fabrics should not be soaked in hot water or with bleach).

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