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.
Use HOT water and don't wash too many towels together, they need room to "dance" in the washer. I have used vinegar or bleach and it works fine if you do not overload the washer.
I have a typo. I DON'T use 1/3 cup of bleach, I use 1/4 cup! Sheesh...learn to type! *LOL*
I have always used only about 1/3 cup of Clorox bleach and hot water to wash my colored towels. It doesn't take a whole cup or more to sanitize towels like it says on the label. That's just nuts! Not only is it bad for your towels, it's also bad for the environment. The germs are killed just fine by using a small amount of bleach and I have nice fresh towels. However, I do rinse twice using a few glugs of white vinegar in the first rinse. My towels stay nice and colorful for years, and they are never smelly.
If they are white, you can use chlorine bleach. It will take the smell out. If you are not concerned about the color of your towels, you can bleach them. They will fade, but they will smell fine. Ammonia also works, although I didn't find that it worked as well, and it also faded my dark green towels.
Hanging the towels outside in the sun and wind should also help, after using one of the less drastic products. Towels and washcloths get this smell when they don't dry thoroughly after you use them. It is a tough smell to eradicate. I am battling the same problem at the moment, and have not yet solved it, as I am not ready to "fade" out my towels! And, I haven't tried the sunlight, as I have no clothes line.
I would just use one of the new popular laundry detergents with the all the cool colors on the bottle and fancy named sent. They all smell wonderful. It's amazing how presentation and colors of something lures in consumers. Are you sure you are not letting your towels sit in the washer for a while when they are done? That could cause them to spoil and smell bad. I know. I'm guilty of doing it myself.
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