smelly towels

Beachwood, OH

Along the same lines as clean smelling rooms and shower curtains, can somebody advise what they use to keep towels smelling nice?
No matter how few towels I wash together they always seem to get stinky after someone uses them and gets them damp. I've tried ammonia - it washed some color out of them, baking soda - didn't help, hydrogen peroxide - worked well but thats kind of expensive to put into every wash. I wash in hot water and dry them twice on hot in the dryer. We have well water if that matters.

Use one of the oxi products. Put about a full cup of the oxi powder (a measuring cup, not a scoop) into the machine and your detergent. Then start the machine with hot water until the powder dissolves. It won't work if you don't activate it with hot water. After a good amount of hot water is in the machine you can switch it over to warm. Or if it's a hot water wash just keep it on hot.

As an alternative, you could get white towels and bleach them in each wash. You could also try Borax as an additive in the wash. If the problem is not just with towels, you may need to clean your washer and dryer.

San Antonio, TX(Zone 8b)

I reset my washer to run an extra rinse - I'm convinced one rinse just does get out all the detergent/soil that was swirling around in the wash cycle. I also add a half cup of white vinegar to that rinse.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

If you can't solve the problem by changing how you're washing them, you could try spritzing them with Febreze every couple days or so, if you like the scent of Febreze that's a good way to keep them smelling nice. If the towels smell fine coming out of the wash and it's just after they're used and get damp that you have the problem, I don't think changing how you wash them is going to help too much. If you don't like the Febreze idea, then the trick is to make sure the towels dry out quickly after they've been used (it's when they stay damp for a long time that stuff starts to grow and make them smell nasty)--you could maybe try getting one of those heated towel racks.

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Are you talking about hand towels? Kitchen towels? I am sensitive to smells but not to this problem. Or maybe my sniffer isn't as sensitive as before.

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

I have the same problem. I buy cheap Walmart towels, not too thick. I don't over use the detergent. I use Tide mainly, and wash in cold water. It doesn't matter if they are line dried or in the dryer. They aren't damp when I put them away. We hang the towel so it dries inbetween uses. I just started using 20 Mule Team Borax, but I think I just need to change the towels twice a day. It's worse when it's humid in the summer.

I'm glad I'm not the only one!

I use Lysol in the wash for towels.

San Andreas, CA(Zone 9b)

Have you tried Borax in the hot wash water along with your detergent? That seems to work for me. During summer, I use borax in the first rinse to prevent mildewy smell. I also have the window open a crack at all times. I learned that ventillation is really important when I lived on a boat for a while.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)


Are you washing the towels and then immediately drying them?

Are they being used more than once? It sounds like they may be
getting the towels soaking wet, perhaps?


Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

I do. Mine have a chance to dry between use. DH is good about hanging it uneven so it dries better. I sometimes wonder if all the soap gets rinsed out, but I've never had a heavy hand with it and I use liquid.

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

white vinegar in the water.. Google uses for vinegar :)


Orofino, ID(Zone 6a)

I was very glad to see this thread...point of contention in our house 'cause I don't smell anything in the towels but my husband does. I use white Costco bath towels, use cold water, 1/2 cup bleach (on septic system) and dry immediately..during the summer I hang outside & then he complains 'cause "they're too scratchy"....I'm appreciative of all the suggestions....Deb

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

Hanging on a windy day will take some of the scratchy feeling out. My fresh towels don't smell. It's after using them a few times. I think maybe not drying well in between uses is the answer. I change towels that stay wet. Hate to dry my face with a smelly wet towel.

Columbus, OH(Zone 6a)

I used to dry towels outside, and then give them about 5 minutes in the dryer. The tumbling makes them soft again.

Ah, the smelly towel problem, been there.
You said that you do dry them thoroughly and right away, so it's not that.
I wonder, could the area where you store the towels afterward be humid? If you store them in a humid area, then they will pick up the moisture from the air and get a little mildewy. Don't store them in the bathroom, especially if you have several people showering each day, it will get too humid in there. If they are in a hall closet, you could try a couple boxes of baking soda on the floor or an upper shelf.

Good luck!

Orofino, ID(Zone 6a)

I have started using soda in all my loads which I have noticed is helping + determined that the antique bench we have in the bathroom with the towels stacked on it, may be part of the problem...our bathroom is very large so not alot of moisture collects + there's just two of us but I think the wood in the bench is absorbing the little bit of moisture we generate since it's closest to the shower & may be causing a smell.....I've also been changing the towels that sit against the wood to the top of the pile each day so none sit too long on the wood and that has also helped....Deb

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Place something like DAMPRID in the closet or where you store your towels. See if that makes a diff. I use DampRid and notice the diff in my basement.

Beachwood, OH

I found out that the product used in color safe bleaching detergents is H2O2 - hydrogen peroxide. I pour maybe 1/4 cup in a load of towels and it kills and gets rid of any mildew smell and gets them really clean

somerset, Australia

Hi to all in America, I from Oz,Tasmania a small state of Australia, I had trouble with smelly towels and some other linen's it was party my fault as I use front loader and for some reason if you don't get them out as soon as finished you get that musty smell, I found a product that uses Vodka I know expensive put it is used in Linen Spray, I make my own now though eg: Lavender, lime also tried different combo's I spray pillows, doona's and if I peg out washing that has a hint of musty smell I spray will wet on line or prior going into dryer. I spray it on pillowcases while ironing and other clothes as well. NO More musty smell. There is a site you might be interested in checking out just to see how our homes could smell like a fruit salad I am glad I found this wonderful forum and hope to be able to help or get get great advise if I need it.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

lilypily, I have a front loading washer and never have problems with musty smell. Do you close the door of the washer after you finish doing your load of laundry? If you do, then there's still moisture in there and it'll grow some mold and that leads to the musty smell, but if you leave the door open for a while to let the moisture dry out then you might not have as much problems.

Beachwood, OH

Forget the towels, I want to go to Tasmania. How cool is that?
I also found I have to launder the towels as soon as I get a load. If they lay in the laundry baskets or even hung up in the bathroom for days, I have trouble with odor.

somerset, Australia

Hi alyrics, You are more than welcome to come to Tassie, beautiful state of Aust: we are in the middle of summer and I have heater on at present, we are known for 4 seasons in one day, I pegged a pair of my hubbies underwear (black) 2 days ago and when I got them off the line a bleached strip were they had been on line So Scary the way the climates are going Sorry for gobbing on, better get bck to cleaning my stove had been putting off since after Christmas all the cooking has made it a mess I tried for the first time glazing ham with mustard and Maple Syrup splattered a bit But tasted Yum.
Thanks to ecrane3 for your reply I do tend to shut door straight away, will keep an eye on that.
Bye for now

Beachwood, OH

Thats it. Who wants to go to FL in January - we can all fly to Tasmania. Sounds like it would be hard to pack though!

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

I have a top loader, and my towels smell musty if I don't get them out right away too. I've also been using 1/2 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax in each load that sits in the dirty clothes basket too long. I haven't had any smelly towels yet. I always leave it open after a load is done.

LilyPily, that's interesting! I'd love to have a house smell like fruit salad! Yum!

Claremore, OK(Zone 6a)

I used to have prob. with towels not smelling so fresh after use too. I read an article about bacteria, and now we never use a towel twice. Once they are wet, and you've dried all your body............leaving at least some dead skin cells on it, it's a breeding ground for bacteria. Thus the unfresh smell.

I now always buy the smallest Wal-Mart bath towels because more of them will fit into a laundry load since I don't like to use them twice. Makes for a little more laundry, but it's just the two of us now since kids are grown. I hang them up to dry, so they never go in the hamper wet. But I get a fresh one each time. I really like the Gain Detergent, smells wonderful.

This probably isn't much help for those of you who still have children at home. I wasn't always able to do it this way when I did have teenagers and little ones. It was all I could do just to keep up with the laundry, much less be particular about the towels' smell. LOL

Toddville, IA(Zone 5a)

I had the washing machine repair guy here today because I'm getting an error code. Seems to be fixed, we'll see, as I understand these washers are having lots of problems with the main circuit boards. ANYWAY...

While he replaced the door lock and checked other things, he lectured me on detergent. He said that the powdery residue around the inside of the door of my front-load washer, the sticky "super lint" that it stuck to the insides of the dryer vent and around the edges of the lint trap, and the thick suds inside the washer when running a rinse cycle on "clean" towels with no detergent added proved that we were using too much detergent. He said the detergent was staying in our clothes and getting baked in by the dryer. Side effects are clothes that deteriorate faster and that feel sticky, stiff and "dirty," and that make you itchy.

He said we should use AT MOST 2 tablespoons of HE detergent in our front-load washer, 1/8 of the recommended amount. We measured out 2 tablespoons of detergent and it is not much at all. We washed a really dirty barn coat and it seemed to get nicely clean, though.

He recommended that I use the hottest water possible to wash the clothes, towels and other things we've been washing regularly, and check the water after the load had been in for 5 minutes -- and NOT put ANY detergent in until I found that the water was clear, without any soap suds or "skin." He said it might take up to 8 washes to get to the point where we needed to start using detergent again. However, he warned that I shouldn't just wash and re-wash things, but to wear and use them as usual, because dirt to act against will get the soap to break down faster. He said one retired woman who didn't play sports or garden or anything ended up using only 1 teaspoon of detergent on most of her loads -- any more would result in soap build-up per the "wash it without detergent and check for suds" test.

He said the hardness of my water didn't matter much. He said that the same advice goes for the dishwasher, recommending 1 teaspoon of dry dishwasher powder in each cup.

The repair guy ran the rinse only cycle 5 times on those two "clean" towels and there were still frothy suds being generated. When I think about my favorite fleece shirt, which has been feeling kind of "greasy," well, I think I'll just rinse it a bunch and see how it looks.

For what it's worth!

Marietta, GA(Zone 7b)

I've heard the same thing!!!!! I have a front loader and it always has sooo many suds.. I need the no soap test. Vinegar helps rinse the clothes clean though.. so you may want to try it for the rinse cycle. I've heard the dish washer is the same way too.. doesn't need as much as will fill it up.

Beachwood, OH

I started pouring a 1/8 cup of Hydrogen peroxide into the wash for things like towels and no more smell.
the peroxide breaks down proteins and also is an antiseptic. I don't want to put too much into our septic system but just a little seems to do it.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Alyrics, I've been doing the same thing, only I add a capful of Pine Sol.

:-) KM

Nichols, IA(Zone 5a)

I've been backing off the soap a little more and using almost 1/2 cup of 20 Mule Team. My towels seem to be doing ok now!

Santa Ana, CA(Zone 9b)


"Pegged out" is kinda self-explanatory (we call them clothes PINS not pegs, but I think I have seen old packages with your name) -- but --

What is a "doona"???

Curious minds (that love language!) wanna know...

Broomfield, CO(Zone 4a)

Mildew, bacteria from skin cells, and fabric softener build-up causes smelly bath towels, IMHO. We never use a bath towel twice because after toweling our body dry, we then quickly towel the shower doors and tile and/or bathtub dry with the same towel and then I hang it up to dry. Next family member knows not to use that towel and gets a fresh one. The used one when it is dry is put into the towel hamper (wicker). We wash the towels once per week. This cleaning method keeps the bathtub and shower superclean and mildew free. We also use cider or white vinegar in the rinse cycle when we wash the towels, instead of liquid fabric softener (bacteria dies in an acid solution). We only dry our towels half-way in the clothes drier, and then hang them outdoors to get that wonderful Colorado outdoors aroma on them. We don't use fabric softener sheets either because we don't care for that artificial perfumey smell on our clothes, sheets, and towels or the oily buildup. Be sure to use the exhaust fan when showering to pull out the steam from the bathroom, or mildew will grow. Fabric softeners cause a build-up on your towels, that interfers with water absorbsion.

Thumbnail by jaxinco
Orofino, ID(Zone 6a)

Those are excellent suggestions....that is something we have changed since this thread started: we only use our towels once, hang them to dry before putting in hamper & I wash & dry everyother day.....It has made all the difference in the world & now that it has pretty much quit snowing here I will be able to line dry in our Idaho air....thank you....Deb

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Check the air circulation in your bathroom. If your bath stays relatively humid, hanging damp bathtowels only compounds that problem. Open windows and let some fresh air blow through your bathroom. Or, hang the damp towels OUTSIDE in the breeze!

Canton, TX

Mysterypoodle and other front loading washer uses - Do you have the Magtag Neptune's doing this, or is someother brand?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Are you talking about the smelly towels or what mysterypoodle was saying about the amt of detergent? Mine is a different brand and I don't have the problems with smelly stuff. All the front loader washers are designed similar enough though, there are places in there that bacteria can build up especially if you close the door when you're not washing stuff. I always leave the door of mine hanging open between wash loads and things dry out in between times.

Mid, ID(Zone 3b)

I was happy to have found this thread a week or so ago. I thought it was just me with not being able to get my towels to smell fresh after just a few uses with even new towels. I have a top loader but several years ago it was the new Calypso put out buy Whirlpool with no agitator. It sloshes up and down and spins etc (basically it works like a front loader but it's upright) anyway my towels have never been the same since I got this washer. I was very interested in the note by mysterypoodle as I had started adding even more detergent to my loads thinking that's what they needed but no help there. Baking soda didn't do the trick or buying white towels and using a good amount of bleach. We hang our towels to dry but do not use them a second time. And I always leave the lid open on my washer between loads So I have been more than frustrated! So after reading all these posts this is what I've done....I did a couple of loads with no detergent at all and now I've gone to using just the couple of tablespoons of HD detergent like the repair man mentioned above suggested. Then I do the half cup of vinegar in an extra rinse load for the towels and ..... I am seeing improvement! So this is a great big thank you to all of you for your input. ~Brenda

Clyde, OH

Hi, I am wondering if anyone can tell me how to get the "sticky" feeling of towels. After I shower the towels always seem to feel sticky. Appreciate any help!

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Have you been using fabric softener? Either that or you're using too much laundry detergent and it's not all getting rinsed out.

Rocky Mount, VA(Zone 7a)

Depsi - hang your towels out to dry in the air, then put them in the dryer for just a couple of minutes, they will not be scratchy, and you will still save the cost of drying them in the dryer for a full cycle.

Lawrence, KS

This is how to get mold and mildew out of clothes and how to get the smell of mildew out of clothes. SmellyWasher Cleaner is a completely organic powder that is used to clear fungus from any clothes washer. The cleaner is used by adding a small amount (1 tablespoon normally suffices) to a hot setting in your washer and allowing it to complete the cycle. In order to remove fungus from towels and clothing use just one teaspoon of cleaner instead of detergent. Rinse and dry as normal. This product is super simple and works great! I found it at

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