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Today I’m going to teach you how to clean towels that smell like mildew or have any other smells that won’t go away.
We’ve all been there. A load of towels gets left in the washing machine a little too long and now they have a mildew smell you can’t get rid of.
There’s nothing worse than dealing with smelly towels, smelly laundry in general is a pain. What’s worse is that often times the foul odor or musty smells are our own doing.
What Causes Mildew Odors?
These unpleasant odors are often caused by wet towels sitting. This can be before they go in the washer from sitting in a laundry basket or from them sitting damp in the washer for an extended period of time.
Towels are made of absorbent fabric which means if they don’t get completely dry bacterial growth kicks in.
How Do I Clean Stinky Towels?
If you’re searching for ways to clean sour-smelling towels you’ll find a lot of different products on the market. What finally worked and continues to work for me is products that are inexpensive and you likely already have them in your laundry room.
Clean Towels that Smell Like Mildew
To get fresh-smelling towels you’ll want to load your washer with “clean” towels, ones that have already been run through the washer. Sort your towels so you can wash them on the hot water cycle.
If you’re like me, you may not even care if colors bleed.
I was ready to throw all my towels out because I couldn’t get rid of the smell. That being said we don’t want colors bleeding and ruining our towels so we’re going to sort them first.
Load the towels into the washer and add 1 cup baking soda to your washer and run the wash cycle with the hottest water you can for your towels.
When that cycle is done add 1 cup of white vinegar to the washer and run the load again on the hottest setting you can.
When the washer is done the second time move the towels to the dryer.
Make Sure Towels are Dry
It’s really important that you get the towels completely dry.
Damp towels become smelly towels over time. The best way to dry towels is to wash small loads so they have plenty of room to tumble and dry them on the highest heat.
Why Do My Towels Feel Like New?
Once you wash towels through these cycles you’ll likely find that they dry quicker and feel newer.
This is because fabric softener residue and dryer sheets, along with laundry detergent all build up on the fabric binding the fibers. This makes them less absorbent and makes them harder to dry.
Fabric Softener Can Clog Hoses
When we had a problem with our front load washer throwing different codes our repair man cautioned us to decrease the amount of fabric softener we were using by like 9/10.
He also recommended that we just switch to dryer sheets if we could.
Too much detergent or fabric softener not only clogs the fabric fibers they can also clog the hoses in your front loader.
Can I Wash Towels with Vinegar First?
I’ve seen people recommend washing bath towels that have a musty smell with a cup of vinegar first and then baking soda.
When I tried this method, no matter what I did my towels smelled like baking soda. It was overpowering when we’d wet our cloths.
The best solution I have found – over years of doing it, was starting with the baking soda wash and finishing with the vinegar wash.
This also works well because vinegar is a natural fabric softener so it’s a good alternative to that and dryer sheets.
Once the towels are dry I’ve not noticed any smell of vinegar, even after getting them wet again.
Can I Use Vinegar to Replace Fabric Softener?
If you’re interested in replacing your fabric softener with vinegar you can always place vinegar into the fabric softener compartment of your washer.
I’ve done this for years and it also helps keep my washing mashine clean.
Final Thoughts on How to Clean Towels that Smell Like Mildew
This combination is great for any fabrics with musty odors. Depending on your fabric, you’ll need to use warm water instead of hot. That’s okay, just use the hottest temperature you can.
If you’re having a hard time getting rid of bad smells in fabric I can’t recommend this method enough. It works with top loader washers and front loaders.
Another tip. I f you’re noticing that your towels are having a hard time drying or not feeling as soft as they did when they were new towels it’s possible they have build-up on them and they need a good washing.
It’s a good idea to regularly run them through a refresh wash to bring new life to old towels.
I try to wash all my towels this way every 6-8 weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions:
We get lots of questions about how to clean towels that smell like mildew. Here are some of the most asked across social media and email.
Why do my fluffy towels feel stiff?
First of all, it should be noted that often new towels have a chemical on them that makes them feel nice and soft.
Refreshing towels with baking soda and vinegar opens up the fibers and makes them feel soft and new again.
Can I use essential oils to freshen towels?
If you’re a fan of essential oils and use them in your laundry you could potentially use them to add a nice scent to your towels. I’m not sure if they will help actually freshen musty towels.
I don’t have a lot of experience with essential oils but I do have experience with baking soda and vinegar!
Can I use dryer balls?
Dryer balls are a great way to reduce the amount of residue build up on towels.
I would not use them in place of baking soda or vinegar when doing a laundry refresh but on a day-to-day basis they’re great.
Is it better to use a powder detergent to wash laundry?
I really think it’s a personal preference what you use to clean laundry.
Liquid, powder, pods – store-bought or homemade there are a lot of options out there and I really think you can use what you like.
That being said, if you’re noticing that your laundry regularly has a sour smell it may be time to try something other than your regular detergent.
What Preventative Measures can I use to prevent the musty towel smell?
I’ve listed most of my best tips for preventing smelly laundry but I’ll share them again here.
- Don’t let laundry sit wet or damp.
- Make sure towels are completely dry before folding them and putting them away.
- Make sure your load of laundry isn’t too big so it can tumble dry or lay it out on a drying rack and allow it to dry completely.
- Run a laundry refresh.
If your laundry isn’t drying in a normal amount of time or your towels are starting to feel rough run them through a load with baking soda and vinegar.
Is there a right way to use baking soda for laundry?
I strongly believe you want to do a laundry refresh starting with baking soda on the hottest setting possible and then washing with vinegar on the hottest setting possible.
This combination, in this order, has worked miracles on my towel odors.
Does Direct Sunlight Help with Mildewy Smells?
I love using sunlight in the laundry. Sunlight is a great stain remover and is also a natural deodorizer. Sunlight has UV rays in it which kill off scents related to bacteria.
I really like fabric softener – can I still use it?
If you are a fabric softener fan you can use it. You likely need significantly less than you think you do.
I’d also recommend running an additional rinse cycle, especially when washing towels.
Can I use baking soda and vinegar on nice hand towels?
If you’re washing nice hand towels, new towels, good towels, etc you’ll want to be careful with your water temperature and heat temperature.
Baking soda and vinegar are pretty gentle to use on any fabric but hot water and high heat can make colors bleed, fade, shrink, etc.
I live in a moist environment, how do I prevent mildew smells?
Moist environments can be a reason towels get a musty mildew odor.
If you’ve lived anywhere where the humidity is high you know you can’t leave anything sitting wet for any length of time without mildew growth.
The last thing anyone wants is to find a bag of wet clothes that were forgotten about.
Just like preventing stinky towels the biggest key to preventing mildew and mildew smells is the drying process.
If you live in a moist environment you simply cannot allow fabrics to sit wet. If you have fabrics with a mildew smell do a refreshing wash and make sure they dry completely before putting them away.
I hope this has helped answer any questions you have about how to clean towels that smell like mildew. I know how frustrating stinky laundry can be.
If you have any additional questions leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer them for you.