Smelly Towels? This Is The One Easy Fix You Need To Try

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.

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


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.

Smelly Towels

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.

Related: How To Make A Scented Vinegar Fabric Softener Rinse

Have you ever experienced “smelly towel syndrome” before with your towels?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Homekeeping Tips

  • All of my towels have a “decor” stripe across the top and bottom. These stripes are woven tightly without any loops or nap. Won’t washing the towels in hot water shrink these stripes even more than they already have? Then they won’t lay flat or look nice on the towel bars.

  • I use body oils after my showers so I’m pretty sure that builds up on them too. Do you think this method would work to get that off too or should I do a “strip” first?

  • This is awesome. We live in central Minnesota and summers mean heading to the lake nearly every day. Nothing worse than a smelly towel! Thank you for this information. I will for sure be utilizing it this summer.

  • This works really well. I just did mine this morning. I lay my used dish clothes out to dry, put them in a basket and when I run out I do my laundry, I wash always them separate from my bath towels and clothes. I use Jillee’s method ever few months, even I let them completely dry before I put them in the pile, they still get a smell from the foods etc. She ran this probably couple years ago and I printed it, glad she’s put it back on for those that are maybe new to her blog and didn’t know about. Appreciate you Jillee…

  • I’ve done this about once with our towels. When they sit in the wash pile they can get very smelly. Also it’s very humid where we live , which can contribute to the smell in warmer weather.

  • Thank you! I do sometimes have smelly towels and I look forward to trying this out. One of my tips is that I use “Turkish towels” for the bath, which don’t have loops and so are much lighter weight and dry faster. They do the job of drying me off after a bath or shower just fine and save energy because they dry so much faster than “normal” American bath towels.

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