Keeping a laundry hamper fresh

When’s the last time you washed your laundry hamper? Whether you use it just for dirty clothes and linens or put your clean clothes back in it after folding, cleaning it is something that should be routine. Bacteria and mildew can grow inside a hamper, making it smelly and potentially even damaging for fabrics. 

In some cases (depending on the kind of hamper you have), it’s as easy as washing the liner along with your laundry. In other cases, you might need to put a little effort into cleaning your hamper. Here are some tips for keeping your laundry hamper fresh:

mint blue laundry basket filled with gray and black clothes


  • Put wet items in the hamper. If you can’t wash those beach towels right away, hang them over something to dry and then, when completely dry, put them in the hamper. 
  • Keep your hamper in the bathroom. The bathroom is damp and more likely to harbor mold and mildew than other locations. If practical, locate your hamper someplace other than the bathroom.
  • Put gym clothes directly in the hamper. Wash gym clothes (and other sweaty items) right away, if possible. They are likely damp and provide organic material (sweat, dirt, body oils) for mold spores to feast on. If you can’t wash them right away, hang them to dry completely before placing in the hamper.
  • Throw a towel with food on it in the hamper. Either wash it right away, or rinse it and hang it up to dry before putting it in the hamper. Then wash asap.

Washing your hamper

  • For plastic hampers, wash with soapy hot water, then spray rinse.  Dry well with a towel before putting clothes back in it. You might do this in the bath or shower, or outdoors with a hose for less mess. Weather permitting, let the hamper dry in the sun.
  • Hampers with removable liners are easy to keep clean. Simply wash the liner in hot water with detergent when you do your laundry. (Once a week is a good goal.) Add a cup of vinegar to the rinse water to freshen, help kill bacteria, and remove odors. (Every once in a while, you’ll also want to wash the outside hamper as described above.) If your non-washable hamper doesn’t have a liner, consider lining it with a sheet or tablecloth (or even a large pillowcase, if the hamper is on the small side).
  • If the hamper itself isn’t washable (it’s wicker or some other fiber, for example), start by vacuuming it well on the inside and the outside. Then mix up some warm water and baking soda (about 1 cup of soda per gallon of water). Gently scrub the hamper with a soft brush dipped in the water, making sure to clean in all the cracks. Then wipe with a clean wet cloth or sponge, followed by a dry towel. Finish drying in the sun, if possible. 
  • If your hamper or hamper liner has any mold or mildew on it, tackle that before general cleaning. Brush it off, outdoors if you can, with a soft brush. (Be careful not to breathe the spores. Wearing a mask is a good idea.) Then spray with a vinegar/water solution (half and half). If the hamper is wicker or fiber rather than a washable substance, don’t get it too soaked. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then proceed to wash as described above. 
  • Remember to wash the bottom of the hamper, too. 
  • Avoid bleach. While bleach is often recommended for tackling mold and mildew and odors, it only works on a non-porous surface, and it’s toxic. Vinegar is a better bet. Other options that are less toxic than bleach are borax, hydrogen peroxide, and non-chlorine bleach. (BTW, never combine vinegar with bleach of any kind— when mixed, they produce chlorine gas.) Tea tree essential oil is another good option (dilute in water; it’s very strong), though I find the scent overwhelming.
folded towels stacked on top of a tall wicker laundry basket

Here’s something you can do after the hamper is sparkling, as a finishing touch:

I like to put something fresh-smelling in the bottom of our laundry hamper. It might just be a drop or two of citrus essential oil on a cotton ball. I’ve also made deodorizing disks with citrus or lavender essential oils, and they work perfectly. (You could also use peppermint or any other favorite scent.) I’ve used these in the bottom of trash cans, too.  

What’s your favorite kind of hamper? Do you have any more tips for keeping it fresh?

You might also enjoy:


Clothes dryer care — how to make yours last and perform well

Washing machine care

2 thoughts on “Keeping a laundry hamper fresh”

  1. I just got 2 round, tall, canvas laundry bags at IKEA. Only $9.99 each. I plan to get 2 more today. We have an odd space and I like the fact that they are soft and can be tucked in wherever.

    • Perfect! And you’ll have enough of them to divvy up your laundry, it sounds like! (I like having my laundry already separated when I want to toss in a load.) I love IKEA for things like this! Wish there was one near me!


Leave a Comment

For You!

We'll never share your info with anyone.

Sign up for CareToKeep's FREE weekly newsletter for additional tips and inspiration — and a

heads-up about what's on the blog each week! I'd love to share with you!


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter — full of fun and useful tips — and get a FREE

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce