There are a number of products that can be used to clean stinky towels, including ones you probably already have around the house. This is a guide about cleaning stinky towels.
I use "OdoBan" in my final rinse. It makes towels, (and all my laundry) smell fresh wonderful. For stubborn musty odors in clothing, I turn off the washer, and let the final rinse soak for thirty minutes or so.
It is inexpensive ($10 for a full gallon jug plus a 24 oz refillable spray bottle). It has too many uses to mention. It is not a masking agent. It eliminates all odors and kills 99.99% of germs. With six dogs, I wouldn't be without it.
By Erika from Tallahassee, FL
What am I doing wrong? My towels smell after washing, when I leave them in the basket down in the cellar. Will those new detergent boosters work? Fabric softener sheets do not seem to work.
By Barbara W. from OH
Vinegar is my solution for smelly towels and I have found that when I bought a front loading washer I was using way too much soap. I have cut way back and use the kind of detergent meant for front load washers but I still run all my washed clothes and towels through an extra rinse.
By the way, do not use dryer sheets or fabric softener on your towels. That may seem odd, but the dryer sheets and fabric softeners make the towels not as absorbent, so they don't dry you off as well. My husband read about this tip in our local paper and I tried it and my towels are much, much more absorbent, yet they still feel soft in spite of not using a dryer sheet in the load!
My child is always leaving towels lying around on the floor, or the furniture. They are never dry when she drops them where she does.
I have found that if I put a Downy ball full of apple cider vinegar in the washer for the rinse cycle, it leaves the towels fresher longer, even when they are wet and lying on the floor.
Source: I don't remember where I got this idea, but it has been many, many years.
By Donna S. from Beatrice, NE
How do you remove the mildew smell from towels. They smell OK until they get used again after a shower. The towels are cotton.
Jayne from Minneapolis, MN
OMG, I read somewhere on the internet that liquid Tide is the problem, which is what I was using. I also read about a homemade laundry detergent consisting of 1 box of borax, 1 box of washing soda and 1 bar of Feldsnap soap shaved and mixed in. I made this and washed my towels and with just one wash, no more bad smell after using the towels. I also had the problem with some t-shirts as they were drying when hung up wet. I've tried a commercial powder detergent and it seems to work. I have an older top load washer. No more liquid Tide for me!
Why do my towels still smell after washing and drying immediately?
By Electra from Lebanon, OH
I had a similar problem and discovered that I wasn't getting my towels dry enough before taking them out of the dryer. They were getting a musty/mildewy sort of smell folded in the cupboard. Now, I leave them in the dryer (I use the highest heat setting) an extra 10-15 minutes after it says they are dry. The problem is gone.
What can I put in the washing machine when washing towels and washcloths to eliminate a strange odor that occurs when using them. I have tried baking soda, Biz, vinegar, and cannot get them to smell nice and fresh.
I once had problems removing the odor or residue on used towels. I then decided to use Simple Green, since the label on the bottle indicated that it was also a "degreaser." I then decided to wash my towels in hot water, add some Simple Green and a little baking soda, and that solved my problem. Depending on how soiled the towels are, you might want to soak them first, then wash them through a complete cycle. I also use the same technique to take out the black oil out of my towels which I use to wash my car.
I have relatively new towels and wash cloths that are stinky. What can I do to get rid of the odor?
By Fran from Palm Springs, CA
Ours does that from time to time, hubby says it is because all of the detergent, and some water doesn't sling out in the spin, sits in the washer, and gets musty smelling. The baking soda and vinegar worked well for us, as well reducing the number of towels per load, and making sure they didn't sit in either the washer or dryer after the cycle was done.
My facecloths were getting to the point of making me want to vomit from the smell they gave off once wet. I found that lots of people are having this problem. I noticed that it was worse if they were not left for enough time in the dryer!
This all started when I started to use liquid washing soaps. So I went back to powder and hot water and a soak for facecloths, towels, and sheets. I also use a similar process for the dishwashing and cleaning cloths we use. I use gel Javex and powdered soap in hot water, to kill those nasty bacteria because cold water "does not" kill any of that.
Well to my total amazement after the first wash all smells have disappeared completely. They are back to smelling like cloth should smell. I am so happy I got rid of it. Believe me, I tried everything (vinegar, soda, soda wash, and so on and so forth). I was thinking of buying new everything again, but I had changed everything last year. The problem is now solved, try it!
By Elfy from Quebec, Qc. Canada
I have well water and all the laundry after a wash and dry is fine, but if it ever gets damp again from sweating or anything it then has a very rotten spoiled smell to the clothing. My husband's shirts after work smell like rot, what can I put in the wash to keep this from happening?
About that lemon ammonia in your towels - in the wash or rinse? I have a front loader & use minimal Tide. My towels don't smell anymore, but they don't smell "pretty" either.
I wiped something up with a towel and did not realize it was garlic and washed it with the other towels now I can't get the smell out. What do I use to get it out?
Vinegar would probably take the smell out. I would use it during the rinse cycle. The vinegar smell won't last. It evaporates. Good luck:)
Removing mildew smell from towels: Even, large, dark colored ones that can't be bleached. Soak the towels in 50% diluted tomato juice for two or three hours, run the wash cycle to be sure the towels are completely saturated, then rinse two or three times in cold water. Dry thoroughly. No more smell, even when wet.
Source: My father and grandfather used tomato juice to rid the dogs of smell from skunks, I figured it would work with mildew and towels. And it does
By Laurayne from Pahrump, NV
I have a problem with my water, I think. I wash a load of towels or dishrags, and they don't smell very good coming out of the dryer. Then when they get wet, they stink. I have tried everything I can think of bleach, hot water, etc. My clothes don't smell, it's only the towels, washcloths, and dishrags. I was raised on really fresh smelling towels, and I can't stand this. Our house is in the country and we have a septic tank, but we have city water, not well.
Robin M from Cincinnati, OH
X-O ODOR NEUTRALIZER
California Veterinary Supply
I have to take my comforters to the laundromat. All of the machines have a distinct odor to them, I put a couple ounces of XO in the washer and I bring my spray bottle to spray a few sprays in the big dryer and they come out just fine. I don't see why this would not eliminate the odor in your towels. And to freshen my bed between changes I will pull back the covers give a light mist then make the bed, then it smells so nice when I climb in. (06/27/2007)
How many of you ladies use powder detergent? I haven't used it in years. Stick with the liquid. I also use the kind with no perfume or powder (ALL detergent). (06/29/2007)
Thanks for all the feedback. I wanted to let you all know that because of all the great suggestions, I hopefully have solved the problem. It was, in part, because of my front loader. I have used the HE liquid detergent since we bought them. The washer is water efficient, and my towel loads were too heavy, thus they weren't getting rinsed enough. I never did have any trouble with my clothes, only towels.
What I have done is cut my liquid down even more than is called for (instead of 1/4 Cup, I use around 1/8 Cup), 1/4 Cup Vinegar, 1/4 Cup Bleach, no softener, and double rinse. I washed every towel, washcloth, and dishrag in my house this weekend, and everything is maintaining the fresh smell. (07/03/2007)
By Robin M
I have a Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer and was having issues with all my clean laundry smelling moldy. I called the local hardware store (not a mega store) and spoke with the gentleman that sold them to us. He said he had had one other person call with this issue.
A Whirlpool tech support told him to run 1 - 1 1/2 cups of Lime Away in the hottest, longest cycle I had on my machine. He also said to quit using liquid fabric softener because it just gums things up and to leave the door open when the machine's not in use. I did that and had to run it through an extra rinse cycle because the Lime Away created so many suds. Then we left the washer door open over night. The salesman/repairman also said to do this about once every six months. We have naturally very hard water here in the Midwest. Even with a water softener, things get gunked up with lime deposits.
After reading everything here I re-washed a clean load of moldy smelling towels, with detergent, borax and then Odoban in the fabric softener dispenser. They smell nice and clean now. I even dampened one to see if I could bring out the moldy smell. But it still smelled great.
I never did see any mold around the rubber boot/seal or anywhere I could look without having to tear the machine apart.
I tried the post that explained how to clean out the trap for the pump. I found that the trap was almost completely clogged with a sock and several other smaller items. It is definitely worth checking and only took abut ten minutes. I suggest using a wet / dry vac to suck the water out while removing the trap cover. (07/23/2007)
I know! I know! Finally! The problem is that there's still bacteria in the towels after washing. This is what's causing the smell. The solution is to dry the towels two complete cycles in the dryer. Even if they feel dry after the first time, they aren't. Today's dryers are energy efficient, they don't use really hot temps anymore. Heat kills bacteria. Drying them twice will eliminate the odor. (07/26/2007)
I don't think its the front loaders. I've had the problem too with my top loader. Maybe be the liquid detergent. Could it be you are using too much? I ran the machine through a cycle with bleach. Allowed the drum to dry with the lid open.
Then I started using Tide with Febreze. I used less detergent than the manufacturer suggested and I have well water by the way. Towels smell great and its been a month or so. Seems the problem is resolved. (07/28/2007)
The vinegar definitely works. One cup of vinegar in hot water took care of the smell. I didn't even presoak. I was afraid to try the bleach on my colored towels, so I thought I'd give the vinegar a shot. Worked wonders. (08/12/2007)
Problem solved in our house. Ran the machine on hot with bleach without laundry and let dry with the door open overnight. Next day did a towel load on hot with baking soda and vinegar along with the HE detergent. Mold smell gone, but slight hint of the vinegar. My wife was amazed. Decided to try 1/2 cup 20 Mule Borax with the HE detergent to see if I could get the same results without the vinegar smell. Towels came out perfect no smell at all just clean. We now wash everything with the Borax added and now everything is fresh. Wash cloths that are used for a few days in a row do not even develop the moldy smell.
I am so glad to have found this page. Saved us from throwing all of our towels out. (09/02/2007)
I haven't noticed anyone mention it, but most fabric softeners say "Concentrated". You are always supposed to add water after putting it in the dispenser in the machine to thin it. I've gotten to where now when I buy a new bottle, I pour half of it in the old bottle and fill them both to the top with water so they will be ready to pour in the machine. Not as much gunk. I guess it pays to read the labels after all sometimes. (09/19/2007)
After trying different combinations of products to remove the smell from my towels, I finally found what works. I have a front loading washer and this is what I now do: 1/3 capful Arm and Hammer HE laundry detergent and 1/3 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda on the Heavy Cycle on the Warm/Warm setting. Then dry the towels on the highest heat setting for 75 minutes with no fabric softener.
I also run the washer through a cycle of just bleach every 2 weeks, this cleans the drum and the door gasket and gets the gunk of built up laundry detergent out. After trying all the suggestions people have given me and combinations of the products out there, this is what finally took that disgusting smell out. Hope it works for you. (10/22/2007)
I have the exact same problem, wash them with a cup or more of powder Cascade and the smell will come out of them, it worked for me at least. I also run a cycle with Lime Away and bleach and Cascade in the washer on hot with no clothes and the smell comes out of the washer, I do this every week to keep the stink out. (10/23/2007)
By Kay Dings
Towels if left wet, like after showers will mildew. Isn't your washer. It's simply cotton and moisture. That's why they sell white towels, you know the only kind your grandma used to buy. And white t-shirts for her husband to wear.
She also had a bottle of Clorox bleach around. And separated her laundry. All my towels are fresh and clean. Another option is to put them out in the sun to dry or freshen. The sun will kill the mildew as well.
So to wrap it up, buy white towels whenever possible. And put 1/4-1/2 cup of bleach in white loads, or every 2nd load or so. You towels will stay fresh smelling at all times. (10/25/2007)
By Jim in the woods
I notice fabric softener is mentioned a lot in these posts. This is an item you do not need, it actually "greases" the fibers of the fabric so they feel softer. I makes your linens less absorbent, and way more important, can actually cause mechanical breakdown in your appliances, and fires in your dryer (my repairman told me this). Ignore Madison Ave. that has made you think you need to spend $ on such items. If you want your clothing and linens to smell good, make sure they are clean and you also have the options of storing them with sachets, bars of soap, incense, etc. Fabric softener is just not needed and causes too many problems. (02/17/2008)
By Robn E
I have dealt with stinky towels for months. I finally found a solution. Wash your towels in Wisk then your towels will be 99 percent better. Dry as soon as the cycle stops. Good luck (04/07/2008)
By MICHELLE DIXON
Solution. Run, don't walk to a Lowe's or some store that sells washers. Mine is a front loader. They sell a product called "a fresh". It is tablets that kill the mold and mildew that build up in the tub. I used 3 the first cleaning. Then you use them once each month. Also, leave the door open after each wash to let it air. Happy washing again. It's so nice to not wipe after a bath and smell like. Well you know. (07/30/2008)
I too have recently run into this problem, but just with dishrags. I tried all of the remedies mentioned, but none helped me. Then I tried using Biz and that seemed to solve the problem. Good luck. (09/02/2008)
I posted back in July about this problem. The solution, I thought, was in the use of the cleaning tablets that Sears told me I needed to use. They worked for a while, but I got tired of buying them and running my washer with nothing in it. After all, that defeats the purpose of having a water saving washing machine. I have since switched from Tide to Purex, and have not had any smells whatsoever. None. And, Purex is 1/3rd the cost of Tide. (01/14/2009)
Has anyone brought up the brand of towels that stink? I just wet several towels from our stack, with several different mfg's the ones that are the newest are the ones that stink, they are both the same brand. Maybe it is the dye or the material?
We noticed the stink with both our old and new washers and we had it right away with the new washer so I really don't believe it to be a soap, mold, or build-up issue. We have always left the door open and Hey, our clothes don't stink when they get wet.
We had issues with towels not smelling fresh right out of the dryer. After the first use (as soon as they got wet) they smelled very musty. Some clothing smelled a little musty, but not as bad as the towels. I contemplated installing a whole-house water filter because I thought it was a water problem. We have a LG high-efficiency washer, and our water really doesn't smell too bad. So we were stumped.
Then I realized the smell started when we switched to liquid fabric softener from dryer sheets. We switched back to sheets and the problem went away, completely. We made no other changes, so I suggest you try this. I have no idea why this would be, but the liquid softener may affect how the load rinses, especially with the high efficiency washers.
Hope this helps.
I'm sure it's too late for Robert Mastrion, I saw his post from 2007, Robert was moving his machine to the curb and starting over. Sorry Robert that this information comes too late to help solve your problem and save your investment, but hopefully it will help others. One thing that I've noticed reading all of the posts on stinky towels is that the chemical manufactures are loving this they must be having record sales, because of energy efficient front loading washers. Almost every post suggests adding some type of cleaning chemical to mask the problem. Over the last year I have seen a few others that have discovered the true problem with the washers, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.
Even as we were having problems with stinky towels we were also having a problem caused by soap remaining in the cloths causing us to itch. When we finally admitted there was a problem with our new machine we started to try and find out what was causing it. We couldn't leave the door open to the washer because of mildew, at this point we realized that other things beside mildew could be growing in the washer; my wife even thinks this might be the cause of staph out breaks at times with schools using these washers to clean clothes in the athletic departments. Whatever problems stem from this other than stinky towels I'm sure cannot be good. Within a short period of time after we confronted the problem we realized the root cause was too little water used in the process of cleaning and rinsing the cloths. By adding water manually to the washer we were able to solve the problem in a short time.
We determined that soap remaining in the washer and in the cloths was causing all of our problems. The gunk left behind in the washer drain system and in our cloths was providing the medium for growing who knows what in both the cloths and the washer. Once we realized this we knew we had to get more water add to the process, and at $4.00/1000gals, a little extra water cost a lot less than all of those chemicals required to mask the problem. You know a lot of that stuff your adding is being left in your cloths and getting cooked in by the dryer, just to be rehydrated by your body when you perspire.
I spent a lot of time watching our machine wash cloths and began to think back to the days that we had a top loader. When a top loader rinses cloths there is a lot of water in the machine allowing things to be released from the cloths and be flushed down the drain, when it would spin the cloths would be held to the side of the washer drum and water would enter from the top of the washer and cascade over the cloths and then be extracted through the sides of the spinning drum and pumped out of the washer. This doesn't happen in a front loader, at least not mine, the water enters from the front of the machine to fill, well to wet the cloths and when it spins, water is not being cascaded over the cloths so that it can flush the soap and chemicals from the washer. We use every available rinse the machine will allow and then do a rinse and spin cycle after the wash which gets most of the soap out of the cloths.
This was all well and good, we were proud of ourselves for determining the problem, but adding water manually during the wash and rinse took a lot of time. This is when I got back on the computer and started looking for help and help came while doing a Google search where I found a blog by some guy that had built a new control for his machine. The blog is called "whirlpool-dueling-with-duet.blogspot.com". While reading through this blog and shaking my head, knowing that I could never do this for my machine I ran across a reply from a guy that had read the blog and decided to try a different approach. This guy's solution was to make an adjustment to the device that controlled the water level in the machine and it only required a small screwdriver and two turns of an adjusting screw at which point our machine would fill with water on its own not requiring one of us to monitor the wash cycle and constantly add water. What a glorious day that was. Our machine could now wash a load of cloths without us and we could have our lives back on wash day.
We still add extra rinse cycles to the wash and we run the machine through a rinse and spin cycle with the maximum number of rinses, but the small amount of water that we use extra is worth the price to have clean cloths again. Clean cloths without all of those extra chemicals. And hey we can leave the washer door open if we want to, because there is no bad smell anymore.
I would like to thank Joe for his hard work in solving the problem and thanks to his blog we were able to save our machine and enjoy our investment. I hope this will help others solve the problem with their machines.
By Tim T28
My bath towels have developed a very bad odor! I've allowed them to dry before placing them in the hamper and they still have an awful odor in them.
I don't have a problem with my washer making my towels and dishrags smell. It is the men in my house. If you use a towel, it is wet or damp and then leave it in a lump on the floor or bed, it will start smelling.
I have a top load washing machine, nothing new and fancy. my towels come out of the wash with this smell and when they get wet again, it's worse.
My towels always smell stale even after they have been washed. I tried baking soda in the washing machine but that didn't work.
I need help getting that Funky smell out of towels. No detergent seems to do it.It seems like as soon as they get wet they smell dirty.