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Musty Smell on Clean Towels

Category Laundry
It is completely baffling and frustrating to find that your clean towels have a musty odor. This is a guide about musty smell on clean towels.


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By 0 found this helpful
April 3, 2011

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



April 4, 20110 found this helpful
Best Answer

I would try a thorough wash in hot water with some vinegar in the rinse. If that doesn't work, try another hot wash with about 1/2 cup of baking soda in the wash cycle (or even in a soak cycle).

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May 10, 20110 found this helpful
Best Answer

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.

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April 3, 20110 found this helpful

I have musty smelling towels after washing. How do I get rid of the smell? Our water smells like rotten eggs, too. It's a new house. Please help!

Jillann from Belleville, IL


Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

If your water smells like rotten eggs, you may have a sulfur problem. Call your county agent and see what kinds of tests you can have done, also, you want to check your water for bacteria. They can help with that also. (10/12/2008)

By nadkins

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Be sure your towels go into the dirty clothes hamper "dry". Mold and mildew can start multiply quickly and it is hard to get rid of it.


I use GAIN liquid detergent and that really seems to help get rid of odors. Plus, it has a great, clean scent.

You may also want to double rinse.


By BerryBaby

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

If your water smells like rotten eggs and you have a well, it could be a bad tank. That's what happened to us, as soon as the tank was replaced everything was fine.

By Kathy in CT

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

These are all good suggestions, and it seems that there can be several causes of musty or sour smelling towels. One thing that has worked for me is the ammonia, however, I found that it discolored the dark towels over time. I would not use it again. I would suggest baking soda instead as it is a base like ammonia, but not as strong, so less likely to cause fading.


Just a reminder to everyone not to combine these products. Vinegar works; baking soda works, but put them together and they neutralize each other and do nothing. And bleach with ammonia or baking soda releases chlorine gas, which is poisonous. Vinegar and bleach is a dangerous combo as well. (10/14/2008)

By louel53

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I use Borax, it's inexpensive and a little in the laundry really helps. It's a great additive to any cleaner and really boosts the cleaning power. (10/15/2008)

By falldowngobump

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I use one cup of ammonia. Sometimes I forget the clothes in dryer that has run one full cycle, but are still damp, and oops, then they get that sour/musty smell. I used to use vinegar and baking soda, but the ammonia works much better, and is cheaper. Good luck. (10/17/2008)


By meoowmom

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I cringe every time I see someone saying to replace this and replace that (hot water tanks, well tanks etc). All that work costs lots of money, and this site is about saving money! What I did, and it works very well, is get a whole house filter that goes on the water line coming in from the street.

I got mine at Lowe's for about $40.00 and the filter inserts are about $35 each. I installed it myself. I change the filter once a month. It removes lead, sulphur, iron, and other "nasties" in the water for a very low cost! Something to consider! (11/08/2008)

By Heather

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Boil the towels in a pot with a spoon of washing soda for thirty minutes or longer, be sure your hands are clean when you dry them. I think the soap with acid ingredient is easy to smell. (11/21/2008)

By marry

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I finally got my towels to lose the musty smell! The only thing that worked for me was a hot wash using 20 Mule Borax in the detergent dispenser (filled to the max allowable). Note: towels had been washed and dried, but still smelled so I didn't use additional detergent when I washed solely with the borax.

Things I had tried in previous attempts prior to borax only: 1) cleaning the FL HE machine first with an empty hot wash cycle with bleach followed by another empty hot wash cycle with vinegar + wiping down rubber part of washer; 2) adding vinegar to the wash; 3) adding baking soda to the wash; 4) using Clorox 2 added to liquid detergent; 5) using different detergents; 6) using vinegar + baking soda together; 7) using bleach.

None of it helped. I've had the smell issue for a while and haven't had any luck at all. I can't tell you how thrilled I am that the borax worked!

As a side note, our towels get stinky from staying on the bathroom floor wet. We remodeled and don't have anywhere to hang our towels to dry properly yet. The musty smell has not been in/on our clothes, towels only. (11/22/2008)

By L.A. Songster

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

We moved into a new house a few years ago and I was not happy when I found the water smelled of rotten eggs as well. We had an iron filter installed and it solved the problem. We had our filter installed by Ecowater and it has been great ever since. We used another company first and it didn't work so be careful who you use. (12/11/2008)

By Kylamareta

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

The problems is not your washer, your detergent, fabric softener, etc. It is the towels. So many of the towels now must be made of low quality material that is imported from who knows where. Even the expensive towels aren't immune to this problem. I have noticed that my old towels are fine, the newer ones are the problem. Dish towels and dish clothes are the worst! In addition I've bought several new bathmats and my cat uses them for a litter box because their smell is so bad! FYI - I have the same front loader washer I've had for over 10 years. (03/24/2009)

By jeffsmom

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

To avoid that musty smell on my towels I put about 1/2 cup of pine cleaner (the cheaper the better; I use the off brand at Target) in each load of towels I wash. This usually keeps the musty smell away and they don't smell like pine after the dryer. It's also great for urine and perspiration smells. Summer is the worst time for this, so wash towels more frequently then. If you do get some really resistant mildew smells, place the wet towels in the sun for several hours. The sun kills the mildew. (08/05/2010)

By katturn

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I am so happy I finally solved the issue! Whether it was my cheap towels from Target or my expensive towels from Restoration Hardware, it didn't matter, they all smelled gross! I finally solved the problem. In a "sanitize" load (extra hot wash with steam on my washer), I put all the towels, my regular detergent and 1/2 cup of Arm and Hammer Laundry Booster. It worked! The smell is finally gone after two years of trying everything else (bleach, vinegar, etc.). The laundry booster is only about $5 per box, a cheap and effective solution! (01/16/2011)


Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I switched to Tide. Problem solved. I use hot water. (02/19/2011)

By easyeva

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October 12, 20080 found this helpful

I have wash cloths and towels that are not very old, but whenever they get wet they have a musty smell to them. I have tried soaking them and adding everything I can think of to the wash, but especially the wash cloths still have that smell. Can anyone give me a hint or tip to get rid of that smell?

Aleysha from Brownsville, PA


Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Have you tried soaking them overnight in white vinegar? I would then wash them and add about 1/2 to 1 cup baking soda to the wash, using vinegar (again) in the rinse cycle, in place of fabric softener. I would also suggest hanging them outside to dry if you can. The sun and fresh air might help also.
Hope this helps. (07/01/2006)

By buffalogal95

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Yeh, Buff is right. The sun will help so much!
Do what she suggested and let us know if it helps or not.
I know I had to 'clean' my washer because it kept leaving a funky smell on clothes. I used a strong chlorine bleach in an empty wash and it cleaned the backside of the drum as it washed. Somehow lint, etc. builds up and it sours.

I had used vinegar, etc. hoping it would help, but the heat and humidity would just make it have that smell again. And you wouldn't smell it but after the clothes or towels got damp. You can also clean your washer with a bottle of peroxide with the vinegar and baking soda. It will fizz up but its okay. Let it wash. Let us know how it goes~ (07/02/2006)

By kattankerous

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I leave my washer door open to dry out after doing the laundry. This may help prevent the musty odor. (07/02/2006)

By Angelina

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Just add some white vinegar to your rinse cycle. It will take care of it. And no, your towels will not smell like vinegar. 1 cup the first time. Any time there after you can use 1/2 cup to remove these odors from all of your laundry. (07/06/2006)

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

All you need to do is wash them with a little bleach and they will smell great! (07/06/2006)

By Dianne

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I add baking soda to my washer for towels in the summer. Also, I wash towels more often in the summer to prevent them from getting that musty smell to begin with. (07/06/2006)

By Carol in PA

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Use bleach in your towel load, also fabric softener in the rinse load, I also double rinse my wash, (just reset to the rinse cycle), sometimes still get musty smell in the older ones but not often. I change my face cloth every day, hang it up to dry after use seems to help as well. (07/06/2006)

By cailifouhnofthemist

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I just read an article on sour smelling towels. It said that the culprit was overloading the washer and/or dryer. The towels didn't have room to circulate freely, and thus were left with a slight odor.

While I don't really do this when I wash other loads, for some reason, I always feel that I can toss in one more towel or a couple of washcloths. The article made me stop and reassess the way I wash my towels. (07/07/2006)

By susanmajp

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Could it be that they are not put into the dryer immediately when they have finished washing? If they set awhile before drying they can pick up a slight odor. Adding some PineSol in wash water could help but drying them immediately and not letting them set is a good idea. Just a thought. Good luck. (07/07/2006)

By NellieMary

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I had this problem and couldnt clear it from the towels with anything till I tried boiling water on the stove and adding it to hot water in the washer. I have a very large pot I fill and bring to a boil, then add to washer with the soap and some borax added. This is all that worked for me. (07/07/2006)

By Jan

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I add 1/2 cup of baking soda to my towels and just about everything else I wash. You can get a five pound tub of baking soda of less than $6.00 at Sams Club. (07/07/2006)

By Catherine

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I gave up fabric softeners years ago because of allergies. I throw 1/2 cup of vinegar into every rinse load, I've never had any residual smell from it, and the clothes come out very soft. I also use a ball of foil in the dryer to help with static, along with 1/2 of a softener sheet if I feel like it. This has saved me a fortune over the years.

Vinegar will kill almost any "off" odor in the home. (07/21/2006)

By Carolyn

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Our towels and clothes started to smell because our washing machine had gotten clogged where water and softener flow through. Make sure all parts of your washer are clean and not clogged. Running the machine with steaming hot water and some bleach can also wash out your machine and may help. (08/18/2006)

By ad

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

What you need to do, is run your washer with 1 cup of vinegar on hot water, then after its done run it with 1 cup bleach, this should clean out the hoses and the pipes. I have the same problem and so does a lot of families. the hoses and pipes need to be cleaned out.
No matter how much softner I use it still smells musty! I hate that. (10/19/2006)

By sam west

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I have a friend who repairs washers and dryers for a living, so I asked him why my washer smells bad sometimes. His answer surprised me. He said that liquid washing detergent causes that smell, that it "builds up" in the washer or whatever. He told me to switch to granulated detergent, and it would go away. I didn't believe him, but I did it anyway, and I was shocked when it did take the smell away. Using granulated detergent has its own issues, like getting all the soap to desolve, but as advertised the smell is gone. (04/11/2007)

By Stevew114

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I had this problem off and on for years and never realized it was because I was putting wet towels into my hamper. All you need to do is wash the towels a good 4 times in a row. I omitted the detergent 2 of the times and only used a small amount the other times. This should rid the towels of the musty smell and in the future, let them air dry better. My towels now smell fresh and I wash them as I normally would and don't let them sit too long between washes. (09/19/2007)

By c

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I have the same problem with a mildew odor from waiting too long to wash wet towels (or clothes). I found that when I dry clothes and they are still slightly damp (unknown to me) and I wait a day or two to fold them (leaving them in the dryer) that can cause the sour smell also.

Hot summer days are worse, but cold days can do it too.
I did read some great solutions for those times when one of those smelly towels surface.
Also, I found that if I leave the door to the washer open, allowing it to dry between uses, helps. (09/24/2007)

By cyntracer

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I am a 60 year old farm wife, mother of 4 and grandmother to 10. Have done TONS of laundry over the years and have made all the mistakes mentioned, however, it's only in the last few years that I've had the problem of stinky washcloths that I can't remedy. Even purchasing white ones that I can bleach doesn't help--can't even get the smells or stains out soaking them in scalding hot bleach water. I wonder if they are using different materials or chemicals when they manufacture the towels and washcloths today. (01/09/2008)

By Lois Hunziker

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I live in Florida, and the problem is huge. I wash in vinegar, and they still come from the washer smelling musty. (03/05/2008)

By cyd

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

One easy ingredient--20 MULE TEAM BORAX. It's a natural laundry booster. Can be used instead of bleach for whitening also. Just add 1/2 to your water. It deodorizes very well. It also softens hard water. Will also check urine odor in laundry.

Have used this daily for years in
all my laundry. Vinegar is also a mighty good cleaner as well! Fabric softener decreases absorption in your towels. Try washing your towels several times without the fabric softener (which I believe is made from animal fat?) It may be holding in those odors. (04/07/2008)

By grammie

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I have this problem and it only started as recently as this spring. Never had it happen before. My machines are front loaders and can see where they could get a buildup in the washers black rubber. Have washed this out before. Also have used Borax added to my detergent. Used tide with bleach alternative and my usual purex.

Always take extra time to dry the towels cause thought maybe that was the reason to? Also thought maybe my detergent reservoir needed to be cleaned must find the book on my Kenmore elite and find out how to take the thing out to clean it. Never have and I remember when we bought it the guy saying something about taking it out and cleaning it. Anyone know how?

Thought perhaps because we live on an acreage that it was the well water? But we usually shock our well every sunday so shouldn't be that?? Am so tired of everybody smelling like an old stinky sock after a nice tub or shower am tempted to buy all new towels. But think I might try the purewash from Does anyone know if it does work? I sure hope so.

I have been buying new towels and finally have enough new big ones in the house for my family of 5 and company when we get some. And now when we shower we all smell nasty. Do not want to have to replace all towels and facecloths they are to darned much money. Worth trying the purewash. Will let you all know if it works. (06/16/2008)

By Lisa

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I've tried bleach, oxy clean, extra hot water, etc and nothing gets the smells out. I will try the vinegar though. I have a brand new machine that does extra hot (sanatize). I even tried my mom's natural shaklee washing liquid and it didn't help at all. I don't think its anything we put in with the towels that causes the odor its just the dampness that causes it. I think the only way to prevent odor is to wash immediately after using (yeah like that's convenient). (07/24/2008)

By SusieFoo

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Switching to granulated detergent is the key. You don't have to buy special cleaners for your washer, just stop using liquid detergent. The musty stink is gone! (08/03/2008)


Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

It's the liquid detergent. You must use POWDER HE detergent. We use only powder on towels and liquid on the rest. I have started to notice that the regular clothing is smelling, so I switched it all over to POWDER and the smell faded after one wash and is gone after the second. I figured this out on a diapering forum. The liquid detergent sticks to the fibers of the vlothing and is oily and never really washes out all the way. Try setting the washer for an extra rinse as well and use 20 mule team for a while with the powder detergent until the smell is gone. (08/10/2008)

By Jellybean

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Had this problem with certain items, not always towels though. I find a good "boil wash" does the trick, providing the item in question can handle the heat! (08/21/2008)

By Anne C

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I noticed the same problem with laundry smelling sour. I narrowed it down to Tide laundry detergent. It only does that when I use Tide. (08/21/2008)

By Charlie

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

No one says anything about whether or not your washing your clothes in well water? If it is well water, it contains a lot of iron. It's not your detergent, it's not your machine, it doesn't matter what you try, it probably isn't going to go away.

If it's not well water, you're leaving your clothes in the washing machine too long before you're drying them.

By Imshopaholic

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

If you have a top load washing machine with a fabric softner dispenser that could be part of the problem, if your clothes have an odor also. If you can take the dispenser off look down inside the shaft. Fabric softner will build up inside it to a gooey moldy mess. Cleaning it out with hot water and a baby bootle brush will do the trick. Clothes will be back to smelling clean again. Check occasionally so gunk doesn't build up again. (09/07/2008)

By midnitestich

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Lots of good suggestions here and I've found several of them to work. I only have the problem with washcloths and dishcloths. Here's what I've learned.

1. The smell comes from bacteria. So, you either have to prevent it in the first place or kill it.
2. To prevent it, do the things recommended by other posters such as cleaning the washing machine or preventing buildup by not using fabric softeners and soap that leave wet residue in which the bacteria can grow. Also:

-always hang things where there is ventilation so they dry more quickly (the longer they stay wet, the more the bacteria can grow)
-change the towels and cloths more frequently - since I only wash my face with my washcloth, I thought changing it weekly was fine. Oops. I now have a bunch of them and change them out every other day.
-never put wet things in the hamper or laundry basket - let them air dry someplace else first

-if possible, dehumidify. The more humidity, the more likely this is to happen.
3. Getting rid of it requires killing the bacteria. I've found two ways.
-use heat. I don't know the temp at which it dies, but it seems to be quite hot is necessary. I can't just use the hot water cycle in my machine - it's not hot enough. So, I take the offending cloths and, like another person wrote, put them in a large pot, add water, then simmer them gently for about 15 minutes (I may not need that long, but It can't hurt! Tonight I am actually trying just pouring on boiling water in a bucket and letting them soak overnight in borax).
-another heat method, as also noted by another poster, is the microwave. This works GREAT on sponges too and is recommended to kill any germs (2 minutes for sponges)

-use borax. It seems to help limit the buildup of the mildew in between boilings. I used to need to boil every week, but by using borax every time I wash, I can boil only once a month or even every 6 weeks. As soon as I notice a smell when I wash my face, I know it's time to boil!

By Squeaky Clean

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I just started having this musty problem a few months ago. It's only with wash cloths for some reason. All of my other things smell fine, so I figure it has something to do with the material the wash cloths are made of. I've read all the suggestions above and I never use liquid fabric softner, never leave laundry in the wash, always leave the lid up after using, never put wet things in the hamper, use city water, yada yada. I do believe now that it's the liquid detergent building up. (I tend to pour in too much).

What I did today was run the empty washer on FULL and HOT. I added a couple of cups of bleach to blast out whatever was in there. When I went downstairs later to check the machine, it was just about to spin, and it was full of suds, meaning I had been using too much liquid Tide detergent and it had built up. Now I'm going to switch to powder and also 20 Mule Team. I will also take the baking soda advice, which I think might be already sold as a washing machine deodorizer.

It works for deodorizing everything else, so why not a washing machine? I'm going to go run it right now on HOT and FULL LOAD with no clothes, and dump in baking soda, just to see what happens. It certainly can't hurt! (09/18/2008)

By ssmarilyn

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

Believe it or not, it was my husband that solved the problem for me. He gave me some of the stuff he used in his street rod for odor and mold control. I read the instructions on the bottle, used it, and wah-la, no more problem. You can get it on line at: It's a green product, and it works great. Oh ya, its called Vital Oxide (10/10/2008)

By Lori

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

The musty smell is from the Tide HE. I had always used All Free and Clear in my old front loader. When I got a new front loader, it came with recommendations to use the Tide HE detergent, so I switched. That's when my towels began to smell. Nothing else changed in my washing routine. (10/11/2008)

By Guest

Musty Smell on Laundered Towels and Wash Cloths

I've used baking soda, vinegar, boiling washcloths and putting them out in the sun. The only thing I haven't used is bleach, because they are colored. As suggested in another forum, I am using powered detergent, instead of liquid (Tide). That seems to be doing the trick.

I'm wondering if something in bath soap has changed to cause the nasty smell? It's always my washcloths, not my towels, and the only thing that washcloths encounters that towels don't is bath soap.
Anyway, try powdered detergent. (Gee, nowadays you have to be a chemist to do laundry!) BTW, I use an old-fashioned top loader. (10/11/2008)

By Southlander

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