Smelly Towels? 4 Easy Ways to Fix It

The last thing you want to do when you step out of a nice warm shower is dry yourself off with a nasty-smelling towel. The stench can be overwhelming, and it really puts a damper on that “fresh from the shower” feeling. Luckily, this problem is easy to solve! With a few strategic cleaning cycles, the musty stench can be a thing of the past.
Here’s how:
The Golden Towel Rule: Do not let your towels stay wet! For each of these methods, it’s important that the towels are dried immediately. Set a timer to ensure that your clothes are switched from the washing machine to the dryer promptly. If you line dry, hang the wet towels in a sunny spot until they’re completely dry.
Method Vinegar Riding SoloMusty, smelly towels don’t play well with others, so give them their own load. Add one cup of white vinegar to the load – no detergent or fabric softener – and run the washer on the hottest possible setting. The vinegar will kill any lingering bacteria. Then, leave the clothes in the washing machine and run a “normal” load with a standard amount of detergent. Tip: Don’t add other items to your cycle – the towels should ride alone!
Method Baking Soda and Vinegar ComboYou may remember the baking soda-vinegar combo from your grade school science class days (think: homemade volcano), but these two kitchen powerhouses work well outside of the beaker, too! For this strategy, you’ll run two towels-only cycles. In the first towels-only cycle, add a quarter cup of baking soda and then run the hottest cycle possible. Then, during the second cycle, add a full cup of white vinegar. Think of it as a one-two punch to knock out bacteria and mildew.
Method Microwave Your Hand TowelsIf your stinky culprit is a hand or kitchen towel, moisten it and pop that baby in the microwave for 30 seconds. The zap from the microwave will kill bacteria. Important: Let it sit in the microwave for about 10 minutes before removing the towel to avoid a burn.
Method Double-Whammy DetergentSometimes, a double-dose of detergent over two cycles is all your towels will need to kick bacteria to the curb. Keep the load “towels only,” and run the same load back-to-back using your normal amount of detergent in each cycle. Tip: Avoid using fabric softener because it can add residue to towels and make them less absorbent.
If None of These Work: Still got must or mildew? The problem may be your washing machine itself. (This is especially true if you use a front-load washer.) If so, run an empty cycle on the hottest setting and add two cups of white vinegar. This will kill any bacteria lingering in the machine.
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  2 questions
  • Sue Speier Sue Speier on Jul 10, 2018

    Where are the instructions for this hack?

  • Tam Tam on Apr 29, 2022

    LOVE THE POST...SOOOO HELPFUL....THANK YOU..... One question....how do you add it to the front loader? Do you put it in where you normally put the liquid detergent? Thank you kindly! Have a FANTASTIC DAY!

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  • Karen Boyd Karen Boyd on Sep 08, 2020

    I use a product called affresh in my front loader every month. It has made a huge difference in keeping it from getting smelly. I also use it in my dishwasher monthly. I used two tablespoons of vinegar as fabric softener and always extra rinse my clothes. I removes all of the detergent from the clothes. Because I am extremely sensitive to fragrances and others I rarely use scented products in my laundry. Since I started using afresh which cleans all the residue from my washer and vinegar that removes odors and residue from my cloths they come out fresh every time.

    • Ginger Ginger on Aug 08, 2022

      I do the same thing. I use wool dryer balls in my dryer and put a few drops of essential oils on them sometimes when I dry a load of clothes.

  • Karen Boyd Karen Boyd 6 days ago

    I am highly sensitive to many fragrances so I don't use essential oils. I also use dryer balls, but alas not wool. I have hard water, so I believe the extra rinse with vinegar, removes any detergent residence. In any case, with I find my laundry gets very clean and smells, like nothing, which is what I want.

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