Cleaning Stinky Towels

Category Laundry
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 page about cleaning stinky towels.
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November 16, 2011

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

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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.

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Source: I don't remember where I got this idea, but it has been many, many years.

By Donna S. from Beatrice, NE

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September 21, 2012

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.

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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

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August 18, 2009

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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Questions

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March 21, 2008

How do I remove foul smell from towel ? I want to add fresh smell to the towel.

Sukhwinder

Answers

March 21, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

I use my towels only two times (drying thoroughly between uses) before washing them again. Prevention is key when it comes to smelly towels. To remove the stale odor, I would recommend you wash them with a cup of white vinegar (use no detergent) and have them go through the entire wash cycle.

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After they've gone through the final spin cycle, wash as you normally would with detergent. If you have a clothes line, let them line dry every so often and fluff them in the dryer when they are completely dry. Hope this helps!

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By Mandalyn (Guest Post)
March 21, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

After you wash them in vinegar, hang them out on the line to dry in the sun. If you know it's going to rain you could leave them out to get rained on and then let them dry again. I found that the rain and sun helped to freshen mine!

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March 21, 20080 found this helpful
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Wash towels with 2 tablespoons of Pinesol added to the water.

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March 24, 20080 found this helpful
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Use baking soda in the wash with the towels. Do not use it with the vinegar, as they will cancel each other out. About a cup per large load of laundry should do it.

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Ammonia also works, but tends to change the colors of the towels. If the towels are white, you can just bleach them, but if they are colored you have to use other methods.

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March 25, 20080 found this helpful
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When working in the kennels at the vet hospital I learned from a professional cleaner that if you wash anything that has feces or urine on them you need to put 1/4 c. clorine bleach in the washer. I add it to the water and swish it a bit before adding the clothes to be sure it's mixed well. It will disinfect the clothes without bleaching the colors and get rid of any smells. I use this at home also and it does work, even on other smells.

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September 26, 20140 found this helpful
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I have struggled with this issue for a while and just recently came up with a solution that works for us. We do not have a dryer, so I line dry everything inside. I have tried the vinegar, baking soda, bleach and non of it worked for very long. The towels would come out smelling fine, but when they were dried and then used the smell came back.

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So, I add some Arm & Hammer all natural super washing soda, it's a detergent booster and is not very expensive.
I have been putting my towels in the washing machine as normal, only a couple at a time (because of the limited drying space), adding my normal detergent and softener and then adding the Soda. I probably add a little less than 1/2 cup.
This has worked for me, I hope this was helpful.

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October 18, 2011

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, 20121 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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August 19, 2009

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

By Electra from Lebanon, OH

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August 23, 20090 found this helpful

Mine did too. Now I wash as usual but in the rinse cycle I put a splash of vinegar (1/4-1/2 cup) and the smell is gone. It removes all smells from the fabric and any leftover detergent. It softens too. The vinegar scent will disappear in the dryer cycle. Sometimes I do a second rinse with my liquid fabric softener.

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August 23, 20090 found this helpful

You can also use baking soda to remove this odor. I suspect it is caused by damp towels not drying out properly in the bathroom. That is what is the problem when my towels get stinky. If they are white towels you could bleach them. But do one or the other. Don't use multiple treatments at the same time. Ammonia will also take out this sour smell, but it will also dull the color of brightly colored towels, so I would not use it on nice bath towels, unless they were already white. Works just fine on kitchen tea towels, too.

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August 23, 20090 found this helpful

The city water dept. Told me that august is the time for algae bloom in all public water supplies from lakes especially; that we can expect that swampy odor even when drinking it. Perhaps vinegar kills the odors because the algae are alkaline and the vinegar is slightly acidic? I have noticed, too, that detergents are getting less powerful, not cleansing properly, but that vinegar and twenty mule team borax seems to improve it all? It may be that mfgrs are encouraged to weaken the detergents because of the big global environmental movement? Powders do a lot of harm to the water table, fish, and elements i hear. Liquids are more compatible and break down more naturally and completely in the sewage/water treatment plants.

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September 18, 20090 found this helpful

I just ran across an article about this you might want to check out about smells on towels from using too much detergent and also fabric softeners on towels:

lifehacker.com/.../use-vinegar-and-baking-soda-to-recharge...

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October 13, 20090 found this helpful

I have an HE machine and my towels kept smelling like mildew after I just washed them. I noticed my washing machine started smelling and so I went back to where I bought it and asked the salesman if he had heard of this problem before. He said that sometimes HE machines get some mildew buildup because the seal around the opening is water tight. He recommended I use a washing machine cleaning product. I found Tide Washing Machine cleaner at Home Depot. I used it and now my towels and machine don't smell anymore!

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October 30, 2011

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

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February 6, 2012

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

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September 12, 2019

Tracking down the cause of a stinky metallic smell in bath towels fresh from the wash can be a bit of a mystery. Possible causes can be your plumbing, water supply, or even the water heater. Persistence and a process of elimination my be required.

A woman looking at a towel disapprovingly.

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Archives

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March 21, 2008

How can I get my bath and kitchen towels to smell fresh? These items get used VERY frequently in my house (we have 3 boys) and never have a chance to sit around and get musty. Bath towels are always air dried before being put into the hamper so they are not getting sour. I use the same detergent and fabric softener on our clothes and bed linens as well as the towels. Our clothes and sheets smell great but the towels have a metallic, sour and musty odor. Please help, it's driving me crazy.

jleigh37 from Alleyton, Texas

Answers:

Fresh Smelling Towels

I have had this problem in the past. We have very humid weather in the summer, so I think that doesn't help! I use plain old vinegar in the load, I put the vinegar in the fabric softener cup that is in the washer. Fill it to the top. It has helped for me. Plus when the load is done, get them out right away so the towels aren't sitting there wet. So, try that, it doesn't smell like vinegar when done! Trust me, if it did I wouldn't use it!! ;) (06/22/2006)

By melinda

Fresh Smelling Towels

I had this annoying problem, too. I even soaked my towels in dry bleach/detergent & it didn't help much. Then I started using Clorox, but I feel only about 1/4 cup is needed, not the 1 cup they call for. ONLY use on white/light towels! (06/22/2006)

By Mary

Fresh Smelling Towels

I have always been told to not use fabric softener with the towels (any towel) it takes away from the absorbency. I have always rinsed my towels in vinegar it removes any left over soap residue in the towel and it does not leave your towels smelling like vinegar. I learned this trick when my daughter was a baby and allergic to soap. The doctor told me to do this to get all of the soap out. This trick also works on your hair and leaves hair sparkling. (06/22/2006)

By Carol

Fresh Smelling Towels

I've found that it doesn't matter what you use - the problem will remain. Try sticking a dryer sheet in between the towels. (06/23/2006)

By Mary

Fresh Smelling Towels

Soak overnight in washer with 1 c vinegar added to water, spin out and then wash as usual. Works for me. (06/23/2006)

By Linda

Fresh Smelling Towels

I don't use detergent on my towels. I use Borateem in a hot water wash and vinegar in the rinse. If possible I hang out to dry in the sun. My towels smell like summer sun and cotton. (06/23/2006)

By carla bledsoe

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August 19, 2009

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.

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June 26, 2007

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.

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May 16, 2007

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.

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January 27, 2007

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.

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