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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



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By Sally Pifer (Guest Post) 11/12/2007

Add some Borax to your wash and your towels should start smelling fresh once more.

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By anna 1 2 11/12/2007

the worst product for any kind of towels is any version of fabric softeners ie; dryer sheets, liquids. the fabric softeners keep the towels from being thoroughly rinsed.i always use one cycle first without any detergent to rid of some of the soap,then i go thru the next cycle with detergent you will be surprised how little deterhgent you need. in the rinse i use i cup of white vinegar, then use the second rinse cycle at the end. you will notice not only the towels smelling better but they will be more absorbent.fabric softeners are the enemy of towels no matter how wonderful they smell!!

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By Louise B. 6 2,532 11/12/2007

If the towels are bleachable, that will get rid of the smell, I think. Vinegar is a good alternative if you have dark colors. Ammonia works, but will bleach out dark colors just as bleach will. Baking soda should be less destructive to the color than ammonia because it is not as strong. Don't use any of these products together. Some may make dangerous combinations, and vinegar and baking soda or ammonia cancel each other out and will do nothing if used together.

I have found that the towels smell if they do not dry out enough hanging on the rack, if they are not washed often enough, if you do not use hot water to wash them.

Another thing to try is just to wash them in hot water and hang outside in the sun. If they are not too smelly, this might just do the trick.

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By Nancy (Guest Post) 12/01/2007

If you don't have any luck with vinegar or bleach there is a washer cleaner sold at that we used to remove a bad fungus smell from our frontload washer. This cleaner also cleans mildew odor from towels and clothing. It's $16.00 for one order but an order has lasted us more than a year!

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By zinagail (Guest Post) 12/02/2007

I tried borax; I did 3 complete cycles and then tried a load of towels and the odor was not there any more.

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By Kris (Guest Post) 02/16/2008

An appliance repairman told me that the mold problem with the front loading machines is caused by too much detergent being used and not using the high efficiency detergent. He says the machines are great but you have to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

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By Just saw this on the news! (Guest Post) 02/28/2008

I just saw this on the news last night--didn't know that so many others had this problem and wanted to spread the word.... The washer repairmen are making a mint off of this one!

I've had the smelly towel problem for a while--and with towels that were practically brand new, too! I had given up on figuring out what was going on--until...

On our local news last night, they did a story on the smelly towel mystery. Turns out that in front-loading washers, mold and fungus builds up in the "boot," which is that rubbery thing you see around the edge of the washer opening when you open the door. If you pull back the rubber and look underneath it, you'll see mold. (I just wiped mine out with bleach; it was gross.) That's where the smell is coming from. Towels are more dense than other clothing, etc., so they absorb the fungus and odor.

There are a couple of different solutions: For one, start leaving your washer door open so that it can dry out between washes.

Next, you need to get rid of the mold and keep it from building back up. The woman on the news story swears by a product called "Smelly Washer." It's some sort of antifungal cleaner; she said that since she started using it, the mold is gone and her towels smell great. You can find it at

I just ordered some--hopefully it works! If you don't want to try that, then probably wiping down the area under the boot with a white vinegar/water or bleach solution and then remembering to leave the washer door open will work fine.

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By shernelle p (Guest Post) 07/16/2008

I had this problem with smelly towels for a while, decide one day to put in some baking soda in the wash cycle and eliminate the fabric softener and believe it or not the smell is no longer there.

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By brandie (Guest Post) 08/09/2008

We had smelly towels as did half of our family does. We switched to sun and my mom switched to purex and well no more smelly towels! My mother in law has really smelly ones and well I told her about the liquid tide causing the smell and she said I will not buy that anymore and will now buy something else that is cheaper and won't make my towels smell. has a segment on this subject. Check it out

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By DW (Guest Post) 09/08/2008

I have read several accounts of what to do.
I own a front loading machine and for 3.5 years, no problem. The only thing that changed is I quit using bleach and started using oxy clean (with Tide).
First I tried the vinegar trick. Still didn't take care of the smell so....
I used a variety of them. I First used the AFresh tablets. 3 at a time.
Then washed the towels with vinegar only in hot water. After that, I washed with new detergent and bleach in hot water. Dried them with high heat and low a behold, they smell so good. I sent through this sequence for every towel in the house.
I hope this helps.

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By (Guest Post) 10/20/2008

Sounds like many things to try. I truly believe it is the front loader machines. I just started using one two months ago and have that mildew smell. Never had it with my 20 year old Kenmore top loader. They just don't make them like they use to and they just don't care that the consumers are paying the price and are very discontented with the new technology.

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By Tiffany (Guest Post) 11/19/2008

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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By Bob Young 1 06/09/2009

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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By valerie johnson 1 09/17/2009

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!

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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 comments that were provided then.

Archive: Mildew Smell on Beach Towels

How do you get the mildew odor out of beach towels?

Susan from Wrightstown NJ

RE: Mildew Smell on Beach Towels

Use regular white vinegar in your rinse water, it really does work. (09/09/2006)

By Persnickety Paula

RE: Mildew Smell on Beach Towels

Yes, I agree that vinegar should work and besides putting in the rinse water, you could also just add some to the regular wash cycle. Also just hang them up and let them have a good airing out.

We forgot about wet towels and bathing suits in a plastic bag for a few days and they smelled bad with mildew. I hung up to air for a while before washing and the smell was gone just from letting them air out. (09/11/2006)

By Debbie52

RE: Mildew Smell on Beach Towels

If not GROWING mildew, wash in larger load size with soap, and a rinse of 1/3 cup of Bleach, even if not white towels. It's about the only real way to kill the mildew causing the odors deep in the fibers .None of us is perfect, God knows, and you will learn from your mistakes. God bless you. (09/11/2006)

By Lynda

Archive: Mildew Smell on Towels

My friend's towels smell like mildew. She washed them many times and can't get the smell out. Any ideas?

Katie from Hickory Hollow, PA

RE: Mildew Smell on Towels

She could try adding vinegar and baking soda to the final rinse -- it's worth a try. I've had trouble with large towels getting a musty smell too. Now I use thinner, smaller towels, which are cheaper to buy, easier to clean and take less time in the dryer, which will also save money in energy usage! (10/20/2006)

By ShellR

Archive: Mildew Smell on Towels

How do I remove mildew smell from towels?

Diane from Encino


The number one best way to get rid of the smell is to pour a cup of ammonia in with your wash right at the beginning when the water is running. I just pour it in with the water. I have had the same problem with my towels, and this has cured it - thank goodness!!! (10/29/2006)

By Ann

Line Dry

Wash and put extra liquid downey in the wash. Then dry outside on a line. Re-wash one more time if needed. It will take the smell out. (10/30/2006)

By maggie3956


I always add borax in with my detergent with towels and it works great! (10/30/2006)

By mef1957


I had an appliance repairman out that explained that musty towel odor is caused by a fungus inside your washer that is caused by detergents. He took it apart and it was disgusting! He cleaned it with a product called "purewash". They buy it off the internet. I don't remember the site but it got my washer AND my towels smelling fresh again! (11/11/2006)

By tara9

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