How To Eliminate and Prevent Stinky Towels

I absolutely cannot stand stinky (or even moderately bad smelling) towels, washcloths, or basically any other linen. It totally grosses me out and I actually feel less clean after using a foul-smelling towel or washcloth.
Can anyone relate?
Based on the number of email questions I get, I’m assuming stinky towels are a pet peeve (or at least mildly annoying) for many of you.

Thankfully, I’m a semi-obsessive towel washer with an acute sense of smell — so I have a BUNCH of ideas for those of you with not-so-nice smelling towels!
1. Wash them in hot bleach water multiple times.
We have all white towels in our house, so this is personally my go-to remedy for stinky towels and it has worked almost 100% of the time for me. Also, make sure you don’t over-fill the washing machine as the towels need LOTS of room to move around.

If the smell persists after one washing, just throw them in with more bleach and hot water again.
2. Soak and then wash in hot water and OxiClean.
I know many people don’t like using bleach — or can’t use bleach because they have a septic tank or use colored towels. In that case, use OxiClean and very hot water.

It’s best if you can let them soak for 15-20 minutes before washing.

Also, the hot water IS important… you will almost never be able to get the smell out if you use warm or cold water. Trust me!
3. Wash with baking soda and white vinegar.
If you prefer to go the all-natural route, try adding 1 cup of baking soda to your very hot water and then adding white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment (or to the rinse cycle).

This should work for mildly stinky towels but probably will not be 100% effective for the really stinky ones.
4. Dry in the sun.
Hot sunshine will help with the smell — but if it’s really bad, this alone probably won’t work.

Also, if you line dry your towels, they will not be soft and fluffy like they are out of the dryer. They will be very “crunchy” so you might want to use liquid fabric softener when washing them.
5. Throw them out.
No, I’m not being silly. I mean it!

If you’ve tried all the suggestions I’ve listed above and your towels are still stinky, it might be time to toss them and start over again. I once read that towels should last between 7-10 years — at which point you should look into replacing them.

So if you’ve been using your towels for more than 10 years and are having trouble getting that musty smell out, it might just be time to toss them. We’ve been using our current towels for about 6 years now and they are still going strong. I don’t anticipate needing to replace them in the next couple of years — but that’s probably because I’ve been pretty good about keeping them smelling nice (see below).


If you’ve had stinky towels in the past and want to make sure the smell doesn’t come back, here are a few tips for keeping your towels smelling fresh and clean.
1. Let them dry fully between uses and before you toss them in the wash.
We hang our towels on pegs in our bathroom and make sure to let them dry fully before we use them again. I take one shower a day so one towel is fine for me — however Dave often takes a shower at night and in the morning, so he has 2 towels in rotation at all times. This way, they will both fully dry before he needs to use them again.

If they never fully dry, they will start smelling musty VERY quickly.
2. Change your towels regularly.
I admit that I’m somewhat crazy when it comes to washing and changing towels… but that’s because I simply cannot stand that stinky towel smell!

In our kitchen, we have one hand towel, one dish towel, one rag for washing the counters, and one rag for washing children. I switch all 4 of these out every single morning after they have been allowed to dry out over night. (Read more about my kitchen linens in this post.)

As I mentioned in this post, I switch out our bathroom hand towels every day or so, and our bath towels every 2 or 3 days before tossing them in the wash. We also use cloth napkins that I toss in the wash after a couple days or so (or whenever they need it).

By changing them regularly, we don’t end up with the musty smell of towels and rags that have transitioned from wet to dry too many times without being washed.
3. Wash them with hot water.
All of my solutions above for “de-stinking” your towels require hot water — and that’s because I personally have not seen (smelled) much success with washing our towels in warm or cold water.

I do realize hot water is more expensive and uses more energy — but I figure the few extra pennies each month are worth it to extend the life of our towels (which, as I’m sure you know, can be quite expensive!)

So there you have it… a few tips and suggestions that have personally worked for me. I’d love to hear any other methods you might have tried too.
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