What Happens If You Leave Clothes In The Dryer Too Long?

Whether you are forgetful or like to multi-task, you may have left your water tap running overnight or something even worse.

Forgetting your clothes in the dryer for hours is one of those common little accidents that are bound to happen.

Accordingly, What Happens If You Leave Clothes In The Dryer Too Long?

It will depend on the state of the clothes, among a few other things. Expect some mold and a waft of bad odor; for dry clothes, you might have to deal with wrinkles or nothing. Damp clothes create a favorable environment for the growth of certain types of bacteria and fungi, and it only gets better the longer they stay there. Bacterial and fungal growths are often harmful, and it’s no different in this case (more on that later).

The microorganisms that normally grow on damp clothes don’t multiply actively in dry conditions. As such, leaving dry clothes in a dryer for an extended period is largely harmless.

Wait! How Long Is Too Long?

Damp clothes usually pick a smell within 8 hours of idling in the dryer.

After 12 hours, you are assured of an awful odor that may require special treatment or fresh cleaning to remove.

Things tend to get bad to worse from that point.

Therefore, 8 hours is the longest time you can forget to remove laundry from the dryer. If you wait longer, expect these:

1. Mold

If you spot whitish dots on your laundry, you’re likely dealing with mold.

It’s worth knowing that the strain of mold that grows on damp clothes is different from that you’d find growing on damp walls.

Laundry mold takes a little longer to grow on wet, abandoned clothes – anywhere between 24 and 48 hours.

Still, the speed and extent of colonization can depend on the temperature in the dryer.

Mold thrives in a range of 60°F (16°C) to 80°F (27°C) which also happens to be an ideal temperature range for human comfort.

Your dryer permits this range, and that’s why idle laundry almost always grows whitish spots of mold and the familiar musty, pungent odor.

Apparels with allergens

Apart from discoloring your clothes, mold is bad for your health.

Once it matures (something that takes a few hours) it releases spores which may spew in the air immediately you open the dryer. Just a few molds produce allergens.

The Aspergillus strain (the sort that grows on damp clothes) is one of the allergy-inducing ones, although its spores aren’t as hazardous as those from black mold.

Breathing in spores from mold can trigger asthma flare-ups and painful rashes in some people.

Allergic fungal sinusitis (fungus-induced inflammation of the sinuses) is another concern, although it’s rare than the former.

2. Bad Odors

Dryer sheets are intended to keep your clothes smelling sweet and fresh, but there’s a limit on the period they can remain effective.

The prolonged mustiness in the dryer may override the effects of the sheets.

Stink Bacteria

You shouldn’t leave damp laundry idling in the dryer because of the dreadful bacteria-induced odor that often builds up within twelve hours.

Corynebacteria and Staphylococcus strains are notorious for turning sweat, dead skin cells, and moisture into acids and a nauseating odor.

These bacteria exist freely in the air and will almost certainly get in the dryer with your clothes.

Mold, too, does cause a stink.

Mold-induced odors are characterized by a pungent smell (which causes you to feel like you’re choking) caused by the flying spores.

Bacteria-induced odors, on the other hand, don’t choke.

However, the two odors may mix with the increasing time your laundry stays idle in the dryer and could get worse.

No walk in the park

Just like mold stains, microorganisms-induced odors require great effort to remove, including washing the clothes a second time and sprinkling a freshener.

Odors from a mixture of traces of detergent or fabric softener, bacterial activity, mold, and dampness can be harder to remove.

3. Risk Of Fire

Whether it’s OK to leave clothes in a dryer for long periods can also depend on whether the machine is on or off.

A dryer left to run unattended for an extended period can be a fire hazard.

Electric dryers are particularly riskier because they are designed to heat up faster.

Inferno in A Spin

Dryer fires are more common than you might think.

According to the United States Fire Administration, over 2900 dryer-associated fires are reported every year, resulting in damages worth over $35 million.

The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) found even more damning figures – the last half of the last decade (2014 – 2020) saw an average of 13,820 dryer-ignited home fires every year.

Unless your dryer is old (older than 20 years) or faulty, it will likely shut down automatically at the end session or if it overheats.

4. Wrinkles

Another reason to never abandon laundry in a dryer is the tendency of certain clothes to wrinkle, some of them quite extensively.

Some clothes may twist or wrinkle permanently, while others may demand a fresh wash.

Lightweight garments such as t-shirts, vests, and shirts are usually the worst affected, whereas heavier jeans and coats remain largely unharmed.

Wrinkles can be a huge problem if you deal with so many wrinkle-prone pieces because it may mean more ironing.

You don’t have much to worry about for the least affected pieces like jeans and underwear.

Does Overloading Influence the Above Mentioned Effects?

Yes, certainly. You could be tempted to overload your dryer to get most laundry done in the shortest time possible.

However, overloading increases the odds of a fire outbreak.

Secondly, overloading could result in inadequate drying.

Poor drying may mean a small amount of moisture remains in your clothes a little longer, increasing the likelihood of mold or mildew growth.

Also, clothes tend to wrinkle more readily in an overstuffed dryer than in a half-filled dryer.

One May Also Ask, What Can You Do to Reduce the Above Effects?

The best and most effective thing you can do is to not leave your clothes in the dryer in the first place. However, if you are chronically forgetful, try these:

1. Keep Your Dryer Clean

A dirty dryer with tons of lint is at a higher risk of catching fire than a clean one.

Accumulated lint causes your dryer to work extra hard to dry the usual load of clothes.

You can avert a fire accident by clearing the lint and keeping your dryer.

2. Cut Down On Scented Laundry Detergents

If you are prone to forget your clothes in a washer or dryer, it would be prudent you cut on scented laundry detergents.

While there’s no evidence that odor-inducing bacteria thrive better in scented environments, their activities are more profound in such conditions.

Clothes with traces of scented detergents generally pick bad odors faster and are adversely affected. As such, consider using non-scented detergents.

Dry Specific Types of Clothes

Another great way to avoid the bad smell and microorganisms is to avoid mixing different types of garments.

For instance, it isn’t a particularly great idea to dry socks, underwear, and shirts in one dryer at once.


In summary, forgetting your laundry in the dryer can be a devastating mistake depending on whether they are damp and how long they stay there.

Mold growth is the worst thing that could happen to them.