how to keep towels from smelling

person smelling towels

Out of all of your laundry items, towels may be used the most frequently. Have you ever wondered how clean water can make a towel smell so bad? Could it be that they are not really clean?

Towels are supposed to get wet, but they are not supposed to stay wet. If you throw your wet towel into the hamper or leave it wadded up in a ball on the floor, it is going to stay wet. And while it is wet, that creates the perfect environment for germs and mold to grow.

Learn what you can do to remedy this problem and how to prevent it from recurring.

Whether your bath towels smell a bit weird or if they aren’t as absorbent as they used to be, this 3-step process is the solution you’ve been searching for!Jill Nystul  ·  April 26, 2019

Smelly Towels
Smelly Towels

So you’ve noticed that your bath towels are smelling a bit… off. Or maybe you’ve notice that your towels aren’t quite as absorbent as they were in the past. Or maybe you’ve noticed both of these things! While these may seem like bad omens for your towels, don’t give up hope just yet! Because there’s actually a very simple fix for both problems, because both problems have the same root cause: detergent and fabric softener buildup.


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Because bath towels are so absorbent, sometimes washing machines have a hard time rinsing out all the detergent and fabric softener residue. The residue that gets left behind builds over time, and can eventually attract mildew and even “waterproof” your towels! And that’s how you end up with smelly, non-absorbent bath towels. But like I said before, there’s a simple way to fix these issues, and you can do it in three simple steps!

But before we get to the nuts and bolts of the process, let’s explore a bit about how it actually works.

Smelly Towels

How Does This Method Work?

This method uses white vinegar and baking soda to dissolve all of the problem-causing buildup lurking in your towels. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which helps to break up mineral deposits and dissolve all sorts of grime. And baking soda is alkaline in nature, which helps to neutralize odors while dissolving dirt and grease!

Using them back-to-back as outlined below is an easy way to eliminate several potential sources of odor and buildup as efficiently as possible! And here’s how you can do it at home.

Smelly Towels

How To Fix Smelly Towels In 3 Steps

You’ll need:

1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup baking soda

Smelly Towels



THE ONE LAUNDRY HACK YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE AN HE WASHERI was tired of ending up with clothes that were either still dirty or sopping wet after washing a small load in my HE washer. But this one simple hack solved both problems in an instant! 

Step 1 – Vinegar Wash

Place the towels in your washing machine along with 1 cup of white vinegar. Start a wash cycle on the hottest water setting your machine offers.

Smelly Towels

Step 2 – Baking Soda Wash

Once the the wash cycle is done, leave the towels in the washing machine. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of baking soda over the towels, and start a second hot water wash cycle.

Step 3 – Dry Completely

After the second wash is finished, make sure to dry your towels THOROUGHLY. You can put them in the dryer, hang them on a clothesline, or whatever you prefer.

This one-two punch of vinegar and baking soda should take care of most mildew and odor problems. If the towels still smell a bit funky after doing all three steps, repeating the three steps again should take care of it. (I also want to note that this method is a cleaning treatment, and shouldn’t be used as an everyday wash method.)

Now that you know how to restore freshness to your towels, let’s discuss how to keep them that way! 🙂 Here are a few tips for keeping your towels clean and smelling fresh.

Smelly Towels

My Top Towel Tips!

  • Make sure that your towels are completely dry before folding them and putting them away. Even a small amount of moisture can make towels smell sour!
  • After drying off after a bath or shower, make sure to hang your towel up to dry. (And your hang up your bathmat to dry too, while you’re at it!)
  • Be sure you’re using the correct amount of detergent. Excess detergent leaves behind a residue on towels, especially in high-efficiency washers that use less water.
  • Never use fabric softener on towels. Fabric softener residue will quickly make your towels less absorbent. Instead, add white vinegar to the rinse cycle as a natural fabric softener! It will leave your towels soft while preventing buildup and eliminating static.

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