Asked on Jun 14, 2013

Laundry smell... on clothes...


Lately I have had a smell out of my towels and clothes, that smell musty and old, after I have washed and dried them. I use baking soda in every load, and vinegar for towels along with laundry detergent for odors, what else can I try to get that nasty smell out?? Its awful, when your fresh out of the shower, grab a clean towel, and it smells!! Help!!!

q laundry smell on clothes, cleaning tips
q laundry smell on clothes, cleaning tips
  51 answers
  • Trish Mull Trish Mull on Jun 14, 2013
    I tried all that you have & this is the only thing that works! = 1/4 C alcohol (90%)- soak - wash as usual - it will remove that awful smell- front loaders are nice in many ways but this is one of the less desirable results -

  • Margita Margita on Jun 14, 2013
    Do you have a front loading washer? I had this problem and figured out it was the detergents I was using. You know they actually sell cleaner for front loading washers to get that smell out. Seemed like a scam to me. Sell 'HE' detergent and then a cleaner to get the smell out. Being from Germany we had front loading machines forever and never had this problem. I researched to see what laundry detergent was made by a german company and found PUREX. I started to use it and I have clean and fresh smelling laundry again. I also started to add the little freshener crystals with the laundry and they keep your towels and sheets smelling fresh for days and days. And a bonus, it is a lot cheaper than the other brands :)

  • Nancy Holbrook Nancy Holbrook on Jun 14, 2013
    If you have a front loader machine, never fully close the door when not in use. That will allow it to completely dry and you won't have that musty smell in the washer...

  • Tammie S Tammie S on Jun 14, 2013
    My mom has a similar problem with her kitchen towels. We've decided it's food smell/oils from wiping the counters. Bath towels may be body oils...? I was thinking that using the 'stripping' method that you use for baby cloth diapers may diaper stripping...

  • Sandra C Sandra C on Jun 14, 2013
    1 use one cup of ammonia with the wash and it works for me

  • Jan bright Jan bright on Jun 14, 2013
    2nd rinse works for me.

  • Lana Booher Lana Booher on Jun 14, 2013
    I started using washing soda, he detergent,hot water & 2 rinses,for softening I use vinegar & add a few drops essential oil, makes everything smell fresh !

  • Becky P Becky P on Jun 14, 2013
    I have fallen in love with the blue Downy Unstoppables, if nothing else works. (the pink & purple don't leave as strong a scent)

    • Athena Spanios-Tickner Athena Spanios-Tickner on Jan 16, 2015
      @ I typically don't use fabric softeners, as I have really sensitive skin... hence the trying to go natural route...

  • Kat Tellez Kat Tellez on Jun 14, 2013
    If it's just one particular load of laundry it may be oil that isn't coming out. I would soak those towels in some rubbing alcohol and ammonia to break them down. If it's affecting everything you are washing, then it is probably the washer. Does your washer itself smell? Sometimes they can get clogged and grow mildew. If so, google how to clean your particular washer (there are different methods depending on what type you have). I found mine had a clogged drain hose, and water was still in the machine causing mildew. Replaced the hose, ran a vinegar and baking soda cycle (no clothes) and it's good as new.

  • Maggievanfossan Maggievanfossan on Jun 14, 2013
    If towels don't completely dry before folding and putting them away they become musty. Or if damp towels sit in a pile before washing they get musty. I add 2 tablespoons to my laundry load, wash towels on hot water. Works every time.

  • Patricia Linn Patricia Linn on Jun 14, 2013
    I was told by an appliance repairman friend as a precaution to be sure to 1. Leave the door open after each use to air out and dry out. 2. Always use HE detergent. NO POWDERS! It can ruin the transmission and drum . 3. Run an empty load about every 2 weeks with just bleach and HOT water. We have 3 front loaders in our campground and these things have worked for us!

  • Sandy Straker Sandy Straker on Jun 15, 2013
    My front loader instructions state to use the cleaner/bleach only cycle, every 30 days.

  • KatieAnn KatieAnn on Jun 15, 2013
    I have a front loader too. Only have had this problem with bath towels. Now I add Borax each time I wash towels it is also great to put in with underware. It's the good old 20 Mule Team Borax. The box says detergent booster, removes stains and neutralizes odors.

  • C Logsdon C Logsdon on Jun 15, 2013
    Tide makes a deodorizer for front loaders. I use borax periodically, and it seems to help.

  • Athena Spanios-Tickner Athena Spanios-Tickner on Jun 15, 2013
    OMG ladies.... Thank You so much for the response.... I don't have a front loader, but as the initial comments and tips came in, I tried them.... I just have to be careful because I live in the south now, and I have a darn septic tank, and have to be careful with what I use. Besides the baking soda and vinegar ... I did try alcohol and ammonia... and washing them separately... I used to put in baking soda, vinegar as the water was filling, and after the first cycle added detergent (Gain)... then I have an option for a second rinse, which I always opted for. So, now, I have used hot water on the towels.. in just alcohol and ammonia... gone through the whole cycle, and rewashed the same load with detergent.... They are in the dryer now... and the musty smell isn't as prevalent. I just wish they smelled nice and flowery... vice musty.. I will try the Downey ... This nasty smell has just been recent, and I just couldn't understand where it all of a sudden came from in the last couple of months.. Next, I will do like I do the dishwasher and coffee pot... just run it through, without nothing in it, and use ammonia, see if it clears whatever may be lurking in the lines... clogged water line or something to that effect. But.... all the tips helped!!!! Thank You so much ladies!! You gals are awesome!!! Love HomeTalk!!!

  • Helen Helen on Jun 15, 2013
    Go online and get a product called 'Smelly Washer' and use according to instructions. By using a smaller amount of detergent should keep from getting this again. As far as the clothes and towels are concerned, I have used Borax in the washer along with your detergent to get the smell out.

  • MARIANN MARIANN on Jun 15, 2013
    I had a lot of trouble with smells. I started mixing the soap 1:1 with vinegar. Makes a lot of difference in the oder.

  • Debbie Stanley Debbie Stanley on Jun 15, 2013
    Athena, I want to thank you for asking about this. I was having a similar problem and I do have a front loader. All these tips have helped me. I had done some of them, but since I bought my washer used, I did not have the manufacturer's info. and now I have some good advice on how to take care of it. Thanks again!

  • Marlene Marlene on Jun 15, 2013
    Don't use Downy Unstoppables they are poison and you will not be able to enter any scent free areas such as hospitals, doctor's offices, some schools, etc... Research hydrogen peroxide 3% for the amount to use to clean the washer. I also found that squirting some lemon juice into the dryer on the clothes and then drying them as usual helps to naturally deodorize

  • Becky P Becky P on Jun 15, 2013
    never heard that @Marlene about the Downey. Maybe just in Canada?

  • Allison Ulm Strovas Allison Ulm Strovas on Jun 15, 2013
    I have this problem if I've left the load in the washer too long after it's been washed or if something sits damp in the dirty clothes hamper. What works for me is both of these: a scoop of Oxyclean powder OR a scoop of 20 Mule Team Borax powder (which I get at Target for about $3 or so-much cheaper than Oxyclean). Whichever one I'm using, I usually run the cycle on hot water, put in my normal detergent and fabric softener, and after the washer fills, I let it soak for 1-2 hours if I have the time. This gets that smell out every time. Good luck!!

  • Gail Salminen Gail Salminen on Jun 15, 2013
    @Athena Spanios-Tickner you are right this is frustrating. I have used the scented downey and it works great along with using a bleach cycle in the washer without any clothes in it. As for downey, I worked with people with sensitivities to scents, there for didn't use scented lotions or perfume, and they had no problem with it and also had no problem with entering doctors offices or hospitals, and I am there frequently with my mother.

  • Melanie T Melanie T on Jun 15, 2013
    Don't use BOTH vinegar and baking soda in the same wash. If you think about it, vinegar is acidic and baking soda is basic. They are opposites and that is why they react so crazily when they are combined. But the 'leftovers' from that reaction are neutral. Soaps are generally basic--so baking soda would be your weapon of choice here. Can you put them out in the sun for a day? Or the rain and then the sun?

    • Athena Spanios-Tickner Athena Spanios-Tickner on Jan 16, 2015
      @Melanie T Hi Melanie, Yes, your right about that... the reaction of combining baking soda and vinegar... makes one think, that there is a whole lot of action going on in that wash tub, but not.... I have also tried just using vinegar, and wash...also using just baking soda then wash... still does not work. I have weaned out the smelly towels and made them doggie towels, for when I bathe my furry diva's... Had to reuse and recycle them.... and when the big white sle goes on, I will try and replenish the bath towels we use!!

  • It appears that everyone is looking at the washing machine for this issue. IT also can be the dryer causing this problem. If the dryer vent is clogged it prevents the dryer from completely drying the clothes. It will also make the clothes smell if its a propane or natural gas unit as well. The heat is really the exhaust of the gas being burnt and if the air flow is not correct the combustion odor will make the clothes and towels smell funky. Check the vent system and see if that helps. Or try to line dry a load or two and see if the odor is gone. If it is, then look into the dryer a bit more.

    • See 1 previous
    • @Athena Spanios-Tickner Its funny and I have no answer but the same thing happens with our towels as well. Yet the rest of the stuff does not have that odor. I think it may have to do with the amount of lint towels produce as it gets trapped in the lint filter.

  • Marlene Marlene on Jun 16, 2013 You can check out this website for the dangers of fabric softeners. My son and I are very sensitive to these scented items so I know how they affect people.

  • P P on Jun 16, 2013
    Clean your washer once a week with a bleach cycle and hot water or use a washing machine cleaner. To remove the odor from the clothing/towels, I reduce the load size and use bleach on the towels and color safe product on the clothing. By keeping the washer clean once a week, I don't have to redo the laundry. You can also leave the door to your units stay open between uses to let them air dry.

  • Ellen Whitehead Ellen Whitehead on Jun 16, 2013
    Get some cheap lavender water at a dollar store. As you put your wet clothes in the dryer, spray them with a few spritzes of the lavender water. A natural way to make them smell good! I put all the clothes in the dryer, then reach in and then spray 2 or 3 times.

  • Helen Helen on Jun 16, 2013
    For front loading machines the 'Smelly Washer' product purchased online is the one to use. Along with using about a fourth of the detergent that you would use in a top loading washing machine. I use the Smelly Washer but I also wipe the rubber in the front at least once a week to clean out the drip track and wipe off the door. Good luck.

  • LeAnn Shultz LeAnn Shultz on Jun 16, 2013
    I know it is rare for people to do this now but, if you have an area, try hanging the towels in the sun to dry, you can even leave them out over night and let the morning sun dry them. The dew and natural sunlight helps to brighten clothes and aides in odor removal. Do the final rinse on your towels with vinegar, no softener and then hang them outside.

  • Irismccloud Irismccloud on Jun 16, 2013
    Do you have well water? It might be that something has changed with your water that is causing the problem. Minerals in the water could be to blame. Just another thought. Iris

  • Marianne P Marianne P on Jun 16, 2013
    My front loading washer has a place on the lower front for opening up and cleaning the washer filter. Directions are actually given there on how to do this. Had a friend call her repairman out to see what was causing the bad machine smell - he charged her for the appt. and then showed her how to do this herself on a regular basis.

  • DeeDee DeeDee on Jun 16, 2013
    Do you use a front load washer? If so, maybe your washer needs to be cleaned, especially if you're using a front load washer of the older version. The older models were known for holding the bad smells. See this link for how I keep ours smelling lovely all the time! P.S. We also changed to home made powdered laundry soap instead of using the liquid soaps and our washer stays so much cleaner now. See the recipe here:

  • Vir186831 Vir186831 on Jun 17, 2013
    @Maggievanfossan ~ 2 Tablespoons of what????

  • Claudia Claudia on Jun 18, 2013
    A friend of mine used vinegar in her washer religiously and it eventually caused it to rust and leach into her clothes...just a thought.

  • Peg Peg on Jun 28, 2013
    I do not close my washer door when the laundry is done for the day, I leave it open to dry out. Otherwise it gets that musty, moldy smell.

  • Debi Patton Dalton Debi Patton Dalton on Jan 16, 2015
    I had the same issue. I have front loading washer and dryer. I never had the problem before I got them. It took forever to figure it out and I was at wits end. It was my washing machine. I now follow the instructions of the washing machine manual and Sanitize it 2 times a month using the directions in the manual and I have not had one problem since. I hope this helps. I know how I felt and I feel for you. :) Have a Great Day!!!!!

  • Tammy Sea Tammy Sea on Jan 20, 2015
    A few suggestions: 1) Hang your towels up after use in a place where they can dry; never put damp towels into a hamper. 2) Clean your washer with a professional product. 3) Run a cycle with just bleach occasionally. 4) Put a small amount of bleach in the washer when washing towels - always use HOT water to wash towels. 5) Never close your washer door all the way. This was never an issue with top loaders, but because the door on a front loader must be water-tight, air has no way to get into the machine. 6) Never let your towels sit in the washer for an extended period of time before moving them to the dryer; if this happens, re-wash with a bit of bleach before drying. 7) Make sure that your towels are completely and thoroughly dry before folding. 8) Don't overload your dryer with too many towels. 9) If you re-use your towels, change out your towels more often. It's bacteria that causes the smell. Hope this helps!

  • Lagree Wyndham Lagree Wyndham on Mar 24, 2015
    If its a front loader thats the problem, get a top loader, they never leak out the door and no smell.

  • Kristy Williams Tillman Kristy Williams Tillman on Apr 07, 2015
    Definitely try sunning. That whitens, brightens and gets rid of odors. Best to put out when wet. As in, not after you have dried them. Also, your washer may need cleaned. You can run a hot load with vinegar and let it soak. You can also take the drum out and clean inside. It really isn't that difficult. Mine was NASTY! Leave the lid open after washer.

  • Tina Riegert Tina Riegert on Apr 11, 2015
    Even the top loader HE will do this. Need to run a pure cycle once a month and leave the lid open after running a load.

  • B. Enne B. Enne on May 21, 2015
    Try soaking them in the vinegar and detergent water (hot) for at least 30 minutes. I do all my laundry in cold water except for undies , bedding and towels. It kills bacteria better with the vinegar.

  • Bill Croley Bill Croley on Aug 17, 2015
    I have discovered this issue with some clothing in my NEW washer that decides how much water I need to use. I hate that.....the water barely covers the clothes and is never really hot even when I select Hot setting. The new technology isn't for me. I like lots of hot or warm water and a good cold rinse. Can't get it from my new washer.

    • Joy Cook-Williams Joy Cook-Williams on Aug 10, 2018

      Agree, no more front loaders for me for this very reason. And all this cleaning rubber seals. There's about 3 layers - pain in the bum. 8 yrs old. Can't wait til it breaks! Going back to top loader.

  • Jan Munroe Jan Munroe on Feb 28, 2016
    I don't use fabric softener any more,. I just put a couple of glugs of white vinegar in the softener dispenser. Front loader never smells now, towels are more absorbent and dry quicker, laundry smells clean even if I forget it for a day.

  • Sally Sally on Feb 28, 2016
    Have you tried using those little beads you add to laundry to give it a fresh scent? I went and grabbed mine: Downy UnStoppables in-wash Scent Booster.

  • Lagree Wyndham Lagree Wyndham on Apr 27, 2016
    double post oops

  • Mary Mary on Jun 07, 2016
    I had this problem, but no more. Simply add 1/2 - 1 cup of BORAX to every wash with detergent. Works like a treat.

  • Glenda Glenda on Jun 07, 2016
    Cup of ammonia in wash ( no need for detergent)takes care of that funky smell on towels or sweaty clothes . Just make sure you Don't BREATHE it in😉

  • RJ RJ on Jun 10, 2016
    I had this problem too and I did several things. I'll start with the hardest one first - take apart the machine and clean the inner drum, there is buildup of soap scum. Think about what your tub would look (and smell) like if you did not scour it - well that's what has been happening in that inner drum. Check youtube for your model and it's not as hard as you think. Secondly, have you tried changing the hoses to your washer, these also get old and smelly? The easiest is to once a month run an empty load with hot water and a gallon of vinegar, then clean the nooks and crannies. There is also a recommendation to run an empty load with hot water and bleach but I don't do that.

  • Michelle Michelle on Jun 10, 2016
    My machine has a clean cycle so once a month I hit the button and it cleans

  • Chloe Crabtree Chloe Crabtree on Apr 01, 2022

    All you need are household staples—vinegar or baking soda. The next time you do a load of laundry, add either half a cup baking soda or a half cup distilled white vinegar to your detergent drawer. If your clothes smell after washing, try these tips to banish odor for good.

  • Shari Fryrear Shari Fryrear on May 03, 2022

    I had the same problem. Turns out that it was the washer. I had a front load LG very expensive washer. The rubber gasket around the door was holding water from each load. Then sour where what a stink. Took an old towel went into the gasket and washed. The nastiest stink ever. After cleaned it. I always take paper towels and wipe it out every wash. I hope this helps you.