Learn how to clean stinky towels and eliminate the odors for good with these simple tips! No more musty smells coming from the hamper!
I absolutely cannot stand stinky towels, washcloths, or basically any other linen. I actually feel less clean after using a smelly towel or washcloth.
Whose with me?
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 to help you clean your stinky towels!
How to Clean Stinky Towels Once and For All!
1. Wash stinky towels in hot bleach water multiple times.
We use 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, then wash less-than-fresh towels 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 stink out if you use warm or cold water.
3. Wash stinky towels with baking soda and white vinegar.
If you’d rather not to use bleach or OxiClean, try washing with 1 cup of white vinegar and baking soda instead (get my all-natural recipe to clean smelly towels here).
I’ve had great success with this method, and I love that it’s all-natural (and super frugal to make myself at home)!
4. Dry towels immediately and completely in the sun or a very hot dryer.
Hot sunshine will help to kill bacteria that cause odor (read more about what causes smelly towels here) but a hot dryer will work too.
The most important things here are to dry the towels IMMEDIATELY (don’t let them sit in the damp washing machine) and dry them COMPLETELY before putting them away.
Also, don’t use any type of fabric softener as that will reduce the towel’s absorbency and could cause stinky odors to resurface if it doesn’t rinse out all the way.
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 these additional smelly towel suggestions) but your towels still stink, it might just be time to toss them and start over.
I once read that towels should last between 7-10 years… so if you’ve used your towels for more than 10 years and are struggling to remove the stinky smell, it might just be time to toss them.
Of course, there’s no need to throw out a non-stinky towel just because it’s old — this is only my recommendation for the times when you simply can not get the smell out of towels that are probably just too old.
Now that you’re all up-to-speed on the best ways to clean stinky towels, it’s also important to take it a step further 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 to clean stinky towels AND prevent the smell from coming back!
1. Let towels dry fully between uses and before you toss them in the wash.
We use simple shaker peg towel hooks in our bathroom and make sure to let the towels 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 actually has 2 towels in rotation at all times. This way, they will both fully dry before he needs to use them again.
If towels don’t have a chance to fully dry, that musty smell will never go away.
2. Change 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 overnight. (Read more about my kitchen linens in this post.)
I replace the hand towels in our bathroom every day in an effort to reduce excess germs, and I swap out our bath towels every 3 days (which is when I do laundry).
By changing the towels regularly, we don’t end up with stinky towels and rags that have transitioned from wet to dry too many times without being washed.
3. Wash towels in hot water.
All of my stinky towel solutions require hot water — and that’s because I personally have not seen (smelled) much success 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.
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.
How do you clean stinky towels??