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Cleaning Stinky Towels

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.

Laundry Basket Full of Dirty Towels
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September 13, 2016 Flag
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This is a guide about musty smell on clean towels. It is completely baffling and frustrating to find that your clean towels have a musty odor.

Musty Smell on Clean Towels

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November 16, 2011 Flag
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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


November 16, 2011 Flag
3 found this helpful

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

October 18, 2011 Flag
0 found this helpful

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

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March 6, 20120 found this helpful
Best Answer

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!

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October 19, 20110 found this helpful

I haven't had a bit of trouble with my laundry retaining a musty odor since I started using Boraxo with my detergent (I use a very small amount of detergent; the Boraxo softens the water and so very little is required. I use just enough for the water to feel somewhat slick (like soap does)). Then I fill the softener rinse cup with white vinegar, and voilà, it's all good. I've even forgotten my towels in the washer more than a day and no sign of musty. If I would need to get out a musty odor, I would just go through this cycle one more time. It's my understanding that the vinegar rinse assures that the detergent is all out. It's that residue of detergent that causes the smell.

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October 19, 20110 found this helpful

Hi Barbara

Somewhere along the line I learned to use minimal amounts of detergent when washing towels as they already have soap residue on them! I, like others have posted also add vinegar to the rinse water.

Nothing worse than ucky smelling towels.

Good Luck.

tormy from Ca.

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September 21, 2012 Flag
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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

August 18, 2009 Flag
2 found this helpful

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.

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November 9, 2007 Flag
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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

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November 19, 20080 found this helpful

I actually have this same problem so what I do is...... I dry my towels a second time. I read somewhere online that dryers are made more energy efficient these days and while your towels may feel dry, they are not. This is how mold and mildew can build up on them. I wash my towels in a seperate load on the hottest water and longest cycle then I dry them once and then I dry them once more. This usually fixes the smell! Do not leave your towels in your washer wet for to long try and get them out and dried immediately. I also make it a happy to try and clean my washer once a month or so with bleach, vinegar, and hot hot water with nothing in it. Seeems to help!

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June 9, 20090 found this helpful

First, the "mildewy" smell on the towels and t-shits is from human bacteria that detergent just doesn't kill or remove. Detergent and bleach only bring a temporary (if any) solution. You might even notice that the towels smell okay when they come out of the dryer, but when they get wet again...ugghh.

But here's how to get rid of the smell and get your clean-smelling towels and t-shirts back again:

- Add a cup and a half to two cups of white distilled vinegar into your wash along with the detergent. Then run an extra rinse cycle to remove any lingering vinegar.

Studies have confirmed that regular 5% acidity white vinegar (the kind you can buy in the supermarket by the gallon) kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses).

Give it a try. I guarantee you'll be amazed at how fresh-smelling your towels will be.

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September 17, 20090 found this helpful

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!

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August 19, 2009 Flag
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Why do my towels still smell after washing and drying immediately?

By Electra from Lebanon, OH

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February 3, 20110 found this helpful

I also have the 'stinky towel' syndrome here in Scotland. Have tried all the usual tips to no avail. Our water supply is excellent, so the problem lies within the machine (Zanussi front loader)

I don't know if it's a factor in the problem, but I never had the odor with any other machine in the past, but the difference now is this machine is cold fill only.

As every cycle automatically ends with a cold rinse, and the next load I put in always starts with a cold fill, I suspect bacteria is thriving in the 'innards' of the machine. I cannot afford to replace the machine at present, it's only just over a year old, but when I do purchase a new one I shall insist on hot fill. My towels actually smell ok when they are newly dried, but the second you start to dry yourself, the offending odor starts. I have also noticed same odor when I iron jeans etc. as soon as the steam contacts the fabric.

I am now at the stage where I dread visitors using the bathroom in case they think I'm just re-drying used towels instead of washing them !

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March 10, 20110 found this helpful

@BigChiefm1 you are a genius! I solved my stinky laundry problem by following your directions on how to clean the trap!! OMG, talk about some nasty stuff in there!! Mine had a bra underwire that had lodged in there and had a science project growing around it. Eeewww! I feel so much better knowing that all is clean as a whistle now in there and I didn't have to pay a repairman $200! Thank you, thank you, and God Bless you for posting such a wonderful tip!

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October 19, 20110 found this helpful

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.

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October 30, 2011 Flag
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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.

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October 19, 2011 Flag
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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?

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