Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What To Do About Smelly Towels

May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest,
may earth's weather turn kinder,
may there be enough food for all creatures,
may the diminishing light in our daytime skies
be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance
in our hearts. ~Kathleen Jenks

Today I have a question from a reader on towels that smell "wet", plus the comments I received from other readers.

I was wondering if any of your readers might have a suggestion on how to handle a laundry problem. When I wash my towels and face cloths, now using Tide, (has happened with other brands) after they are dried in the dryer, using no dryer sheets, they seem to have a "damp wet towel smell". I can't get ride of this smell! I've used vinegar in the wash, and also have put baking soda in. I've not used bleach because of the colored towels. I've even boiled the washcloths on the stove top to get out any soap...and believe it or not there is some still in. I have a front load washer and you use less than the normal amount of detergent. ~Carol

From what I've researched you probably have bacteria on the towels, which isn't going away, so they still smell. Try running your washer empty on hot with 1 cup of vinegar, then run again but with 1 cup bleach this time. You can do this on the smallest load setting, but use hot water. After doing this, try washing the towels with the addition of vinegar again and see if it improves. It's also important to not overload the washer and dryer, they really need enough room to circulate properly. I'm guilty of doing this, especially if I'm in a hurry!

If the vinegar and bleach method (don't mix them) doesn't do the trick, check with a plumbing store or hardware and they have products you can run through your washer to get rid of bacteria as well.

Readers' Tips
Carol, the lady with the smelly towels, should let her towels hang outside for a day in the sunshine. If she doesn't have a clothes line she can hang them over a rail of a porch or deck, or over the back of a chair. I had some bathroom rugs that had the worst smell
after I washed them. I tried everything I could think of, and then finally left them out on my deck (over the rail) for a day. They smell wonderful now! ~Linda C., in middle GA

We had the problem of smelly towels and we found the dryer vent line was "full" of lint. We cleaned it out and haven't had a problem since then. ~Gloria

We too have that same problem with our bath towels smelling musty and damp..What I have found is that kids (and adults) toss the towels into the clothes hamper (on the floor) while they are still damp. Thus the damp moldy smell which is just gross and we cant wash it out. The only way I have been able to fix this problem is to hang the towels out on the line and not dry in the dyer. Our other problem is our towels are just getting too old and used for so many years and should be for the rag bag. The rest of our regular laundry doesn't have this problem nor do the newer towels. ~Mary

I moved from Colorado. to Southern Mexico-2 hours from the Guatemalan border. I use an spin agitator washer and centrifuge to do laundry. I've found that when I use a little less soap. Even though I rinse by hand in a huge soapstone tub, I can get the soap out fine, that really helps. Then hang outside on the roof,or inside on the lines strung in the hallway. The open windows let the breeze dry things fairly quickly. If it's too cold for open windows, they air dry fine-usually overnight for my towels. There is no heat here. Even with high humidity, which keeps it cold when the fog insulates us from the sun, things dry. Note: I just did my laundry and realized the other important tip I would pass on is that we only use cold water to wash and rinse. It works for me and costs less than using heated water! ~Charlene, Missionary Gramma

Whenever my towels start to smell musty and every time I wash dish clothes, I pour white vinegar into the wash water with the soap. The vinegar kills the mildew and the vinegar smell rinses out with the rinse cycle. This way I can dry in the drier, especially in the cold winter when hanging on the line is useless. If the mildew is bad, I use hot water and add extra vinegar. ~Anna

I found and have been using a product called ODO-Ban. It's a multi-purpose cleaner, Air freshener and fabric freshener. I had some blankets and a car that had a mildew smell to them. This stuff works- I know that you don't normally tell readers about products and tell of natural ways to remove odors and such but believe me when I say this stuff works. I have bought it at WalMart and at Sam's Club. ~Karen

On OFL we also have tips that we collected on keeping towels soft AND absorbent:



  1. I am the owner of Nu Fresh,LLC. I have a website that explains everything that is going on with this type of mildew odor. The site provides various cleaning methods that have worked for people in the past.

    You may or may not need to use my product, but I hope the explanations will help.

  2. When washing towels, add 1 cup of ammonia to the load (no soap or fabric softener either, just ammonia). It takes the smell away and makes your towels fluffy and soft (like the really expensive ones)! My friend told me it was a tip on her grandmothers old washer lid. It works wonderful!!


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