Lately I’ve been receiving quite a few emails asking if I have a fix for “smelly towels.” I’ve also seen several pins about the same subject on Pinterest, which leads me to believe it’s a pretty common problem! So, I thought it was high time I addressed it. For heaven’s sake, we can’t have people suffering needlessly from “Smelly Towel Syndrome” when there is such an EASY FIX!
To be honest, I have never had much of a problem with smelly towels because my home state of Utah is so dry. Everything here tends to dry pretty quickly, which means that our towels don’t really have a chance to get moldy or mildewy. But in places that aren’t as arid, things dry more slowly, including towels. And wet towels lead to mildew, and mildew leads to weird smells! (That unpleasant odor you’re noticing is actually the smell of bacteria breeding. Eww!)
So while mildew hasn’t been a problem for me, I have noticed that sometimes my towels aren’t as absorbent as they used to be. And what I have discovered after looking into it is that both of these towel problems (smelly mildew and lack of absorbency) actually stem from the same source – detergent and fabric softener buildup!
Over time, bath towels can get bogged down with detergent and fabric softener residue. This residue not only attracts mildew, but it can essentially “waterproof” your towels. If water can’t properly saturate the fabric during the wash cycle, the towel won’t be or smell clean. But the good news is that there is a very simple solution for getting rid of the build-up, and thus eliminating the smell! Here’s how to do it.
A Simple Fix For Smelly Towels
What you’ll need:
- 1 cup of white vinegar
- 1/2 cup of baking soda
- HOT water
Step 1 – Vinegar Wash
Put the offending towels in your washing machine and fill with HOT water! You might want to turn up your hot water heater temporarily for this, or I usually just boil some water on the stove and add it to the load.
Add one cup of vinegar to the load and run through an entire wash cycle.
Step 2 – Baking Soda Wash
Leave the towels in the washer after the vinegar wash cycle is done. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the washer, and run through another wash cycle with HOT water.
Step 3 – Dry Thoroughly
Finally, make sure to dry your towels THOROUGHLY in the dryer or outside on the clothesline.
This one-two punch of vinegar and baking soda should take care of the problem 9 times out of 10. If you are still experiencing bad smells or poor absorbency afterwards, try repeating the same process above until it is gone. (I should also note that I am not recommending using this method every time you wash your towels. Just use it when you start to notice that “funky” smell, or that the towels don’t seem to be absorbing the way they should.)
How It Works
Let’s take a brief look at the science behind this method. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which helps to break up water mineral deposits and dissolve buildup. And baking soda contains an alkali (sodium bicarbonate), which neutralizes odors and dissolves dirt and grease. (Oh vinegar and baking soda, is there anything you two can’t do?)
Okay, so now that your towels are better smelling and more absorbent, let’s KEEP them that way! Here are a few tips for keeping your towels clean and smelling fresh.
- Be sure to check that your towels are completely dry before putting them away. Even a small amount of moisture can make towels smell sour.
- Mold and mildew love it when towels are left in a puddle on the floor, so make sure to hang them up to air-dry after each use. Bathmats should be hung to dry too.
- Make sure you’re not using too much detergent! Excess detergent leaves a residue, especially in high-efficiency washers that use less water.
- Don’t use commercial fabric softener on towels. Fabric softener coats fabric with a thin layer of chemicals, which actually makes them less absorbent. Instead, reach for your trusty bottle of white vingear. Vinegar is a great natural fabric softener! It prevents further build-up, eliminates static, and will make your towels softer.