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Cleaning Stinky Towels

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Laundry Basket Full of Dirty 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.


Solutions: Cleaning Stinky Towels

Read and rate the best solutions below by giving them a "thumbs up".

Tip: Odoban for Musty Odors

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

Tip: Vinegar in the Rinse Cycle

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

Tip: Cleaning Stinky Facecloths and Towels

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

Tip: Use Tomato Juice to Remove Mildew Smells

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

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Here are questions related to Cleaning Stinky Towels.

Question: Towels Smell After Washing

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


Best Answer

By TheThreadLady [1]03/06/2012

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!

Question: Mildew Smell on Towels

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


Most Recent Answer

By valerie johnson09/17/2009

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!

Question: Stinky Towels

Why do my towels still smell after washing and drying immediately?

By Electra from Lebanon, OH

Most Recent Answer

By Paulette Gulakowski [7]10/19/2011

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.

Question: Cleaning Smelly Towels

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.

By Sharon

Most Recent Answer

By Leti [1]03/03/2012

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.

Question: Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

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

Most Recent Answer

By Frances Adams [11]05/10/2011

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.

Question: Clothes Smell Spoiled After Washing and Drying

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?

By Stephanie

Most Recent Answer

By BonnieAlice [12]11/16/2011

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.

Question: Garlic Smell in Towels

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?

By nastassja

Most Recent Answer

By Debbie [4]02/07/2012

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:)


Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.

Archive: Stinky Towels?

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.


Archive: Stinky Towels?

My towels always smell stale even after they have been washed. I tried baking soda in the washing machine but that didn't work.


Archive: Stinky Towels?

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.


Archive: Stinky Towels

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.


Archive: Stinky Towels

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. They are Ralph Lauren, 100% cotton, bath sheets that are 4 years old. Any suggestions?

Pam from Choctaw, OK

RE: Stinky Towels

Try washing them in white vinegar with the washing cycle. I have had to do mine at few times to get the "stink" out from when "forgot" them in trunk after going for a swim. It worked and also this works on washing dog bedding too Just thought would throw that in too for anyone reading this. Good luck. (05/17/2007)

By grammaoftwo

RE: Stinky Towels

In your washer, soak over night in hot water, detergent (very small amount) & 2 cups of baking soda. The next day, complete the full laundry cycle for heavily soiled clothing. Then, repeat the rinse cycle adding a cup of lemon juice OR vinegar to the load. Hang outside on the washing line to dry. If it is a mildew problem the only real mildew killer is bleach. (05/17/2007)

By hedera

RE: Stinky Towels

I had the same problem. I found that I was using too much detergent. All of the detergent wasn't rinsing out in the rinse cycle. You can probably wash your towels next time without any detergent. I did this a few times, and now my towels and everything else looks cleaner and has no awful smell. Also, use less fabric softener too. (05/19/2007)

By Eva Berling

Tried Ammonia?

Phew! There are too many entries to read if anyone already suggested this one. But, I always wash my blankets and curtains in ammonia, when I change them, to eliminate any odors. It also worked well on my husband's work clothes that smelled like motor oil. Good luck! (05/20/2007)

By catchdmc

RE: Stinky Towels

Make sure your towels are really dry. I put a few unused dryer fabric sheets between every two or three towels hope it helps as I fold them. (05/26/2007)

By Lisa


It's been 6 weeks and my towels still do not stink; try my suggestion 1.) Soap build up is causing the smell 2.) Use at least a cup of vineger in 1st load, then wash with HE detergent, then do it three more time WITHOUT SOAP, just plain water. IF, you don't notice anymore suds during the rinse cycle, you are safe to put in the dryer. 3.) NEVER use any detergent which is not HE, HE is specially formulated to rinse easier. 4) I'm only going to use half of the regular amount of detergent when I wash towels and I am going to use the extra rinse cycle too. 5.) After every 10 loads of laundry or a big day of doing laundry, run a cycle with clorox to make sure the lines don't get a gunky build up and clog up your washer. Good luck guys! (06/08/2007)

By Ranessa

RE: Stinky Towels

I am really glad to hear all this! My towels are so stinky, we were going to buy new ones. We just bought a new water heater thinking that was the culprit to our dismay it was not. I had the city come test our water, that was not the problem either. I heard about this site from my sister and ran a cup of clorox trough the washer with out any towels and then washed my towels after the cycle was complete. They smell a whole lot better. Also my husband cleaned inside the rubber seal and it was pretty disgusting. So before you go spend money on a water heater, try this steps first it may save you some money.. (06/20/2007)

By Amy Espinoza

Archive: Stinky Towels

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.