8 Ways to Get the Smell Out of Towels

Don’t you hate it when your towels smell? Learn how to clean them.

What is worse than jumping out of the shower and realizing you are drying off with a terrible-smelling towel?

If your bath towels have a musty, mildew, or sour odor, it doesn’t mean you need to replace them. There are many ways you can take to rejuvenate them, and most are inexpensive, quick, and involve using everyday household items. 

Before you begin the process of freshening them up, you may be wondering, why do my clean towels smell? 

Reasons Towels May Have an Odor

They Were Put Away Wet

Because towels are made to be very absorbent, their thick material often takes longer to dry than the rest of your laundry load. This may cause you to fold and put away towels that are still slightly damp. When put away damp, the towels can be a breeding ground for mildew and this can create a stench. 

Your Washing Machine Needs Cleaning

Sometimes your washing machine may have mildew issues itself. Sitting water, too much laundry product, and dirty gasket parts can lead to mildew growth. 

Too Much Detergent or Fabric Softener

It’s possible that your towels have acquired a build-up of laundry detergent or softener.

Bacteria & Oils

If your towels are not being properly washed, bacteria and oils can leave an unpleasant odor on seemingly clean laundry. 

As you can see, there are many reasons why your towels may smell, but don’t worry, they all are common household problems. 

Regardless of the reason, here are a few quick and easy tricks that are sure to fix your stinky towel issues and bring them back to life. 

Two soft and clean white bath towels.

8 Ways to Freshen Up Your Towels

1. Vinegar

Before washing a load of towels, try pouring one cup of white distilled vinegar into your washer’s fabric softener dispenser. Use this in addition to your regular detergent. Just one cup of vinegar is widely known to help dissolve build-up, soften fabrics, and it has antibacterial properties. 

Be sure not to use vinegar and bleach in the same cycle because it can create dangerous fumes. 

2. Hot Water

If you typically run cold water laundry loads, you may want to try using hot water when you wash towels. Hot water helps to reduce bacteria and mildew and sanitizes much better than cold. It can also help to better break down laundry additives, leading to less build-up.  

Keep in mind that bath towels don’t need to be washed with much detergent since they are typically only used to dry off clean water.  

3. Borax

Adding Borax, another common household powerhouse, to your towel loads may solve your issues. Borax acts as a detergent booster and can help to soften water, strip, disinfect, deodorize, and remove stains. 

Just add a ½ cup of Borax to your regular laundry load. You can also use Borax to do hot water soaks with items that need a more thorough strip. 

An unopened box of Borax detergent booster.

4. Baking Soda

Baking soda is alkaline, which makes it one of the most popular solutions for odor issues of all kinds. It neutralizes odors and can also increase the softness of your fabrics. 

Add  ½ cup of baking soda to your regular laundry routine.  

5. OxiClean or Bleach

Again, here are two additives that you likely already have on hand. Either one could very well solve your towel stink issues as both OxiClean and bleach sanitize and remove stains and scents. 

Use one or the other, but do not mix both together. 

Use ¾ cup of color-safe bleach (or regular for whites!) in your bleach dispenser in addition to your regular detergent or one scoop of OxiClean added to your regular wash load.

A stack of white towels on a white table.

6. Wash/Dry Routine

It is recommended that bath towels be washed every 3-5 days or once a week at the minimum. After washing, you can add tennis balls to the dryer to help fluff them up.

Be sure that you hang your towels up directly after each use in between washings. Hang them evenly. This way, they will dry most efficiently, which prevents the mildew smell or musty odor between uses. 

7. Natural Sunlight

If your towels are white, they can be hung in direct sunlight to dry. Unfortunately, if you try this on colored towels, they will be sure to fade. The sun’s rays effortlessly remove stains and also have an antibacterial effect. This is a great, all-natural way to fresh your smelly towels without having to spend a penny!

Drying washed clothes on a clothesline under the sun.

8. Clean the Washing Machine

Sometimes mildew can build up around the gaskets or door of your washer. 

At least once every six months, you should wipe down the inside of your washer with a microfiber cloth and white vinegar. Pay special attention to the rubber gasket at the front where soap scum and hair often accumulate. Next, toss a machine washing tablet in the empty drum and run a hot or cleaning cycle. 

Another important tip to prevent smells in your washer is to make sure to always leave the door open between washes to let it air dry and to avoid stagnant water from forming. 

A hand with yellow gloves wiping a surface using a cloth.

As you can see, odors on towels are a common problem, so don’t be ashamed. Luckily there are several inexpensive and easy ways to freshen them up! Which one of these tricks are you going to try first?

Sarah Wolfenstein
Sarah Wolfenstein is a mother of three and is skilled at DIY projects, design, and cleaning and organization. She never accepts a mediocre job - she is always challenging herself to make things appear better than even professionals with many years of training. Sarah has always strived for perfection in all her projects. She is also very active on Pinterest , where she posts tutorials, ideas, and home decorating tips that are simple enough to even be done at home by anyone with a moderate amount of experience doing basic DIYs.
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