The hour between when you put your laundry into the washing machine and when you take it out is a lawless stretch of time. These minutes can be used for a variety of things, like congratulating yourself for doing laundry in the first place or taking a well-deserved nap after lugging your laundry bag up and down the stairs. Other possible distractions involve getting lost in conspiracy Twitter threads, watching "just one more" dog video, or embarking on an impressive Netflix marathon that makes you all but forget about the sweet call of your soggy clothing.
Thankfully, if you're stuck wondering how long to leave wet clothes in the washer for, the answer is simple. In general, you can leave your wet clothes for a maximum of eight to twelve hours, according to an expert from the Whirlpool Institute of Fabric Science. Martha Stewart, the queen of smart living, agrees, previously telling Today that it's usually alright to leave wet clothes in the washer overnight, just as long as the clothes don't smell.
Of course for optimal freshness, the earlier you can get to your clothes, the better. If you have too much on your plate, however, or fall asleep before the washing cycle is up, it's not the end of the world. This is especially good news for the people who can't help themselves from getting distracted on laundry day, or the ones who swear they just need five more minutes (which somehow always turns into two more hours).
That being said, if wet clothes are left sitting for longer than that period of time, especially in a washer that hasn't been cleaned in a while, the clothes can develop an unpleasant smell. The exact time frame depends on a variety of factors, including how often you clean your washing machine and what kind of laundry detergent you use. Bad smelling clothing is typically caused by the growth of bacteria and even mold, which can develop if wet clothes are left in the washer for too long.
So if you dread laundry day and are interested in reducing your workload, it might be better to set a timer and make sure to move your clothes to the dryer within the first few hours to ensure that you won't have to redo your entire load of laundry. On the bright side, if you just can't get to it that night, your clothes should typically still be fine in the morning, allowing for a less stressful laundry day and a few more hours of free time.