The Best Laundry Detergents for Odors and Musty Smells

Tackle laundry loads that really reek with a detergent designed to banish the worst musty and sweaty odors.

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Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Options

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Gym socks, work clothes, pet items—not to mention a pretty blouse after a stressful day—can hold on to odors, even after a run through the wash. To get these laundry loads smelling clean and fresh, reach for an odor-eliminating laundry detergent. The best laundry detergent for odors contain ingredients to break down and remove bacteria, grime, and other elements that create a stink. These products come in different formulas with various features, so read on to learn what type will suit your smelliest laundry loads, and find out why the following products are considered among the best laundry detergents to eliminate odors.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Persil ProClean Liquid Detergent, Odor Fighter
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: OUT ProWash Workwear Odor Eliminator
  3. BEST FOR BODY ODOR: Active Wear Laundry Detergent
  4. BEST FOR ACTIVEWEAR: HEX Performance Laundry Detergent
  5. BEST FOR PET ODORS: Defunkify Powder Laundry Detergent
  6. BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN: All Liquid Laundry Detergent, Free Clear
  7. BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Biokleen Natural Sport Concentrated Laundry Detergent
  8. BEST STAIN REMOVER: Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean With Odor Blasters
The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option

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What to Consider When Choosing the Best Laundry Detergent for Odors

When choosing a laundry detergent for general odor-busting power, look for formulas that get rid of smells rather than cover them up. Also consider the source of the stink: Perspiration and pet odors, for instance, may benefit from a targeted product. Formulation, additives, and even eco-friendliness may also go into your detergent decision.

Type

Laundry detergents are available in a range of convenient formats. The most popular types include liquids, powders, pods, and detergent strips.

  • Liquid: Liquid laundry detergents come in a concentrated liquid form that must be measured for each load. These detergents easily dissolve in water and, as liquids, are great for pretreating stains and hand-washing delicates.
  • Powder: Powder laundry detergents, often the most budget-friendly option, must be measured for use. Like liquids, they are designed to dissolve in water but may not dissolve fully in cold water cycles.
  • Pods: Laundry pods are convenient premeasured packets made to toss in the washer with no risk of spills or messes. They tend to be pricier than liquids and powders, and since they are premeasured, users can’t adjust the amount per load.
  • Strips: Thin, eco-friendly detergent strips are small and very concentrated, requiring less packaging and no measuring or mess. The entire strip is water soluble, dissolving in the washing machine to clean clothes.

Scented vs. Unscented

A pleasant fragrance can make clothes smell fresh, sometimes long after they come out of the dryer. But keep in mind that a scented product may not have what it takes to remove strong odors from fabrics.

Laundry detergents can incorporate natural or artificial fragrances. Artificial fragrances are made from chemical compounds that impart scent, from fresh and floral to earthy and warm. For those who prefer natural ingredients, there are laundry detergents that use essential oils, which typically have floral or herbal scents. Unscented laundry detergents are a good pick for those with allergies or fragrance sensitivities. These laundry detergents omit fragranced ingredients entirely, sticking to a cleaning formula only.

Additives

Detergents developed to banish smells contain ingredients to remove or break down odor-causing components such as bacteria, oils, and grime. They can also include additives to improve the look and longevity of fabrics by brightening colors, whitening whites, and removing stains. Common ingredients include surfactants, enzymes, optical brighteners, bleaching agents, and sodium percarbonate.

  • Surfactants: Surfactants do the heavy lifting when it comes to soaps and laundry detergents. These ingredients break down the bonds between water and malodorous oils and dirt, so that the nastiness lifts from fabrics and rinses away.
  • Enzymes: In laundry detergents, enzymes (which can be naturally or chemically derived) break down stains and odorous compounds to be washed away. Different types of enzymes break down proteins, fats, starches, and cellulose, making them an effective solution for ridding fabric of stains and smells.
  • Optical brighteners: Optical brighteners make fabrics appear whiter and brighter without the use of bleach. While they don’t tackle odors, they can make clothes, especially white garments, look whiter and cleaner.
  • Bleaching agents: Bleaching agents help remove stains as well as whitening and brightening fabrics. To protect clothes, most laundry detergents do not contain harsh chlorine bleach, favoring gentler bleaching agents instead. A common ingredient is oxygen bleach, such as sodium percarbonate, which is easier on dyed fabrics. Oxygen bleach is a stain remover that helps brighten clothes without corroding fabrics or fading color.

HE Formulas

High-efficiency (HE) washing machines are an eco-friendly alternative to standard washers. These high-efficiency machines use less water in each cycle, lowering the impact on the environment, and your water bill.

However, lower water use requires these washing machines to use only HE laundry detergents. HE detergents produce fewer suds and won’t clog up the appliance with soapy residue. HE detergent is suitable for both HE and standard washing machines, and most of these detergents will display the HE logo on the label.

Eco-Friendliness

Eco-friendly laundry detergents often include natural and plant-derived ingredients. But that doesn’t mean they lack cleaning power. Naturally derived enzymes can still tackle stains and odors, but without as many chemical ingredients. Many natural fragrances are just as pleasant as chemical fragrances.

Those wanting a greener option can look for the EPA Safer Choice logo. This indicates that the detergent has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to contain safer ingredients than other products. Some manufacturers also try to lessen their footprint by using eco-friendly packaging, opting for minimal or recyclable packaging options.

Our Top Picks

Sweat and body odors, pet accidents, smoke, and that musty mildew smell can be extra tough to remove with ordinary detergents. The targeted laundry detergents described below can help break down odorous compounds rather than mask them.

Best Overall

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: Persil ProClean Liquid Detergent, Odor Fighter
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To get everyday laundry clean and banish the worst odor offenders with one product, consider this powerful general-purpose detergent from Persil. It features the brand’s ProClean formula with an added boost of Odor Fighters to attack stains and smells with its one-two punch. Various enzyme ingredients help this detergent get the job done, deep cleaning fabrics in both standard and HE washing machines.

To ensure that fabrics retain their good looks, this multipurpose product whitens, brightens, and fights stains—working hard in hot or cold water. Its low-sudsing, clean-rinsing liquid won’t leave an unpleasant residue behind. The super-concentrated formula will clean 82 loads with one bottle of detergent.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: OUT ProWash Workwear Odor Eliminator
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Developed to tackle stinky work clothes at an affordable price, OUT ProWash Workwear laundry detergent is a solid choice. Its heavy-duty odor-fighting formula is safe for use in both standard and HE washing machines, in cold water, and on all washable fabrics from jeans and gym clothes to overalls, uniforms, activewear, towels, and even pet items.

The liquid formula reaches deep in between fibers to break down oils, a major cause of smells in dirty work clothes. The detergent also prevents dirt and oils from sticking onto the fabric again, so dirt and odors wash away. Stains and odors caused by perspiration, cooking grease, food, smoke, and pet messes all go down the drain. OUT even leaves a fresh scent behind for an extra-clean feel.

Best for Body Odor

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: Active Wear Laundry Detergent
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Keep body odor and perspiration from clinging to clothing with this powder laundry detergent from Active Wear. The formula features a proprietary triple-enzyme blend, relying on plant-based enzymes to break down trapped oils, sweat, and contaminants, washing away odor-causing compounds. This plant-based detergent is dye-, SLS-, phosphate-, bleach- and gluten-free.

The detergent is suitable for HE and standard machines at all temperatures, and one 48-ounce package of this concentrated powder washes up to 90 loads of laundry. It’s unscented, too—when the laundry is done, it simply smells clean!

Best for Activewear

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: HEX Performance Laundry Detergent
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Most activewear is made from moisture-wicking synthetic materials that pull sweat off the body but, unfortunately, can hold on to those nasty smells. HEX Performance laundry detergent was designed to penetrate these tightly woven fabrics so its blend of surfactants, chelating ingredients, and enzymes can break down and wash away odors.

Plus, to maintain the sweat-wicking properties of activewear, this concentrated formula has a water-like texture that delves deeply but won’t leave any gunk behind. It protects fabrics against odors, stain reabsorption, and loss of stretch and wickability. This detergent two-pack washes up to 64 loads in all water temperatures and all machines, imparting a crisp apple and citrus fragrance.

Best for Pet Odors

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: Defunkify Powder Laundry Detergent
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Animal lovers who prioritize their pets’ safety can feel secure using Defunkify Powder Laundry Detergent on their furry friends’ gear. This EPA Safer Choice-certified laundry detergent offers a deep clean to eliminate odors from pet toys, blankets, and bedding—as well as the laundry that humans imbue with dirt, stains, and smells.

This powder formula is free of fragrances, dyes, chlorine, and fillers, relying instead on powerful plant enzymes. Most pet smells are caused by biological compounds, so an enzymatic laundry detergent is an ideal pick. Defunkify works at all temperatures and in all machines, and each package of concentrated powder cleans up to 92 loads.

Best for Sensitive Skin

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: All Mighty Pacs Free Clear Odor Relief
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Using detergent with a pared-down ingredient list can be a boon to those with sensitive skin. All’s Free Clear Odor Relief formula is 100 percent free of perfumes and dyes, the additives that some people find irritating.

Although gentle, this product contains powerful agents to tackle stains and odors. The hypoallergenic detergent features Odor Relief, with surfactants and enzymes to lift smells and stains. It is safe to use at any water temperature and in any washing machine.

Best Eco-Friendly

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: Biokleen Natural Sport Concentrated Laundry Detergent
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Biokleen Natural Sport laundry detergent features a concentrated enzymatic formula to naturally break down sweat, odors, and stains. It’s made of biodegradable ingredients and plant-based surfactants, and it contains no phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, brighteners, or artificial colors or fragrance. This product is EPA Safer Choice Certified and is not tested on animals.

One bottle cleans an impressive 300 HE loads (or 150 standard loads) using a super-concentrated liquid formula that helps reduce packaging waste. Lightly scented with eucalyptus and lavender extract, this detergent imparts a light floral fragrance.

Best Stain Remover

The Best Laundry Detergent for Odors Option: Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean With Odor Blasters
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Odors and stains often go hand in hand. For effective cleaning power, reach for a detergent with powerful odor- and stain-removing ingredients. These Arm & Hammer laundry pods boast the stain-removing benefits of OxiClean, a well-known brand of oxygen bleach, plus Odor Blasters to send smells packing.

The scented pods are a five-in-one product for tackling odors and stains, as well as whitening, brightening, and scent boosting ingredients to leave a fresh fragrance that lingers. The convenient pods work in all machines and all water temperatures, including cold, and each package contains 40 pods.

FAQs About Laundry Detergents for Odors

Odorous laundry often needs an extra stink-busting kick. If you’re still undecided about which odor-fighting detergent to choose, consider the answers to these frequently asked questions for more info.

Q. Why do my clothes never smell clean?

Certain odor-inducing elements like sweat, skin cells, oils, salts, and fats can remain in the fibers of clothing, even after going through the wash. These components can make “clean” clothes smell funky. Odor-eliminating laundry detergents have ingredients to help break down this residue and get rid of bad smells.

Q. How much laundry detergent should I use?

The amount of laundry detergent to use depends on the concentration of the selected product, size of the laundry load, and type of washing machine (standard or HE). Manufacturers will specify a recommended amount on the packaging. It is best to follow these recommendations to avoid dirty or sudsy clothes.

Q. How many scoops of washing powder should I use?

Most powder laundry detergents will include a measuring cup with the product. Since the right amount of laundry powder depends on the product concentration, size of the laundry load, and washing machine type, it is best to follow the recommendations on the detergent packaging.