Getting out the Musty, Mildew Smell of Towels

How Do You Treat Musty Towels and Clothing at Home?

1. White Vinegar

White vinegar is one of the most effective household ingredients used for stain and odor removal. It can also help clean detergent and hard water build-up on fabrics.

Be sure to use the right type and amount of detergent when you wash your clothes and towels. Any residue will trap moisture, making your clothes and towels smell like mildew.

A common method to teach yourself as you learn how to get musty smell out of towels is to replace your fabric softener with white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Add one cup per load for top load washers and ¼ to ½ cup for front loaders.

Others wash their musty towels in hot water with a full cup of white vinegar and no detergent to remove the odor.

2. Baking Soda

Another classic odor remover is baking soda. This can be sprinkled directly into a washing machine filled with clothes and towels. Use ¼ or ½ cup of baking soda per load and then rinse using white vinegar.

3. Borax

Experts recommend pre-treating heavily soiled, musty towels and clothing with borax.

To do this, soak the garments in a tub of hot water and ½ cup of borax for one hour before washing them as normal.

4. Enzyme Odor Removers

Since sweat and body odor are also responsible for musty smelling clothes and towels, you can try using enzyme cleaners.

Most local farm store products have heavy, perfume-like scents. If this troubles you, BioKleen is a good alternative because it is odor-free.

5. Laundry Enhancers

Have you tried using a laundry enhancer before? If not, give it a try because the results are nothing short of amazing. Your garments will smell clean, with no perfume added.

You may have to do at least 2 washes to remove the odor completely. One good brand for this is EnviroKlenz.

6. Direct Sunlight Exposure

If the weather will allow you to do so, always dry your clothes and towels under direct sunlight. Sunrays will kill microbes causing mold smell, and a breeze will help improve airflow to all the nooks and crannies of your clothing.

However, the downside of using the sun is its bleaching effect. Over time, your clothes may lighten, making them look old. Sunlight may also damage some fabrics with repeated exposure. It can tear synthetic fibers in the same way it makes plastic brittle.

The odor removal power of the sun works best on natural fibers like cotton.


How to get musty smells out of clothes

Your house smells oh so fresh and clean, but your shirts have you wrinkling your nose. What’s going on?

  1. Clean your washing machine. Like your dishwasher, your washing machine needs to be cleaned. This should be done once a month to help prevent mildew growth or bacteria. Wipe the washer drum with a household cleaner, toss in a couple of tablespoons of baking soda (is there anything baking soda can’t do?), and run on a hot wash cycle (run it empty, without a load of laundry).
  2. Remove the existing mustiness from your clothes. A good wash in a clean machine might very well do the trick. If not, try adding one of the following to your laundry detergent:
  • A pinch of apple cider vinegar
  • One cup of white vinegar
  • One cup of baking soda (use the hottest setting)
  1. If you’re able to air dry your clothes outside, that should also leave them smelling fantastic.
  2. Keep your clothes free of mustiness moving forward by drying your clothes thoroughly. We know, the dry cycle takes waaaayyyy too long, but it beats that musty smell following you around all day.
  3. Along the same lines, don’t leave your clothes in the washing machine long after a wash cycle has completed. You know what we’re talking about.

How to get rid of the musty smell from bath towels with vinegar

Washing towels with vinegar to remove the musty smell is a great alternative to harsh chemicals. This product has the power to neutralize bad aromas and fight bacteria. If you want to wash the towels with vinegar and baking soda in a washing machine, follow these steps:

  1. Put the towels affected by the musty smell in the washing machine.
  2. Add a mixture of hot water, baking soda and white vinegar to your washing machine in the section for fabric softener.
  3. You can also wash the clothes first and add the white vinegar mixture first, depending on the type of washing machine you use
  4. Pre-soak the towels in the white vinegar mixture as an alternative.

If you have apple cider vinegar, you can also use it together with your favorite fabric softener to get the best smelling towels. The vinegar will enhance and improve the smell of the fabric softener. If you were wondering how to perfume your towels, this is an easy and effective way.

We also advise you to read this other article on how to clean your washing machine with vinegar. If you use our tips to get rid of musty smells in towels with vinegar, but your washing machine smells bad, it can be counterproductive.

How do you get the mildew smell out of towels with baking soda?

Ah, baking soda — the one ingredient we can always rely on to banish pesky odors in just moments. As it turns out, baking soda can be used to make that musty towel smell a thing of the past, too! 

This hack is super simple, and you don’t need any ingredients other than baking soda to finally get rid of towel odor. To use baking soda for sour towel smell, all you have to do is throw your towels into the washer along with one cup of baking soda and run your washer through a cycle. For this hack, you don’t even need to use laundry detergent — in fact, you shouldn’t! By using just the baking soda and hot or warm water, your stinky towels will come out smelling like new. 

How Often We Need to Wash Towels

Stop thinking about the frequency of washing and wash your towel every time you feel that it’s necessary. On a standard note, it is advised to wash towels every three to four days.

Now, once your towel is smelling good and fresh, let’s look at some points that you should avoid to keep it smelling fresh for the longest time.

  • Every time you wash a towel, dry it thoroughly. Even a slightly damp towel can attract mildew.
  • When there is way too much moisture in the surrounding area, there is a high chance that fungus will grow inside the towel. This also prevents the towel from drying completely.
  • After using, ask children (or adults) to spread the damp towel in an airy space. Leaving them on the floor, rolling them and tossing them around like a football is never going to keep the towel fresh, you know!
  • Avoid using fabric softener or any chemicals that make the towel smell “fresh.” Remember, this clogs the pores of towels, which attract dust and debris. It also blocks the towel’s ability to absorb liquid. It basically hampers all of the purposes of using a towel.

Are musty smells dangerous?

Musty smells are often the result of mold or mildew. We hear you, that doesn’t sound particularly great. But oftentimes, the source of the problem is relatively contained and all you need is to open up some windows, do a deep clean, and/or give the laundry another 15 minutes in the dryer.

That being said, you definitely shouldn’t ignore it. If your mustiness is, in fact, the result of household allergens like mold and mildew, then depending on the specific type of allergen and the person being exposed, these allergens can cause irritation (think congestion, fatigue, coughing, headache, or itchy eyes). And while less common than other types of mold, black mold can be downright dangerous. (Seriously, if you suspect you have black mold, consider calling in an expert–you do not want to mess around with that stuff.) Another thing to keep in mind: mold and mildew, if left unchecked for long periods of time, can also wreak havoc on your home’s structure.

Basically, if you have a persistent, musty smell, it’s time to figure it out.

How to get mildew smell out of towels

Most people incorrectly assume they can just toss smelly bath towels in the washer on high and fix the problem–not so. 

To truly remove the stink out of towels, you’ll need to follow a fairly easy formula:

Step 1: Wash smelly towels with 1 cup of vinegar 

Make sure you wash towels with vinegar on the high

Make sure you wash towels with vinegar on the highest water setting possible. 

Note: if you haven’t cleaned your front load washer in quite some time, STOP! Don’t attempt to get rid of mildew smelling towels in a dirty washer. Take time to fully clean mold or mildew from your front load washer gasket, first.

Step 2: Select the highest temperature setting on your washer 

Note: You may need to temporarily bump up the settings on your hot water heater. You need this water to be hot for this process to work!

Step 3: Wash towels again, with baking soda

This time you’ll toss ½ cup of baking soda in the drum of the washing machine or where you put powder detergent. Make sure to use the highest heat setting.

Step 4: Dry towels on highest heat setting 

You want to dry your towels using the highest heat

You want to dry your towels using the highest heat until they are fully dry. If you were dealing with towels that were truly stinky, it’s a good idea to put towels out in the sun. The sun is amazing at getting that moldy, mildew smell out of items.

Step 5: Remove towels promptly

If you live in an area with high humidity; especially in the warmer months, your towels could be stinky because you’re leaving them in the dryer too long.

You want to quickly remove towels once they are done drying so you don’t allow warm, humid air to come in through the dryer vent and moisten your towels.

Remember, a towel that isn’t fully dry is a wonderful breeding ground for mold and mildew.

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How to Get Rid of Damp Smell From Towels

The obvious first solution would be to not let towels stay wet after they are used. Drying them properly immediately after use can help to avoid some of these odors. This can be done either by hanging them up to dry in a place with plenty of ventilation, such as outdoors on a clothes line or by washing and drying them properly with the next load of laundry.

As mentioned before, hanging towels up to dry can still pose a problem if you are hanging them back up in the bathroom where there is not enough ventilation. The condensation from the shower running, combined with the fan being turned off and windows closed, can make for a warm and humid environment — perfect for those towels to start smelling of mildew within hours. Also, in homes where there are little ones or those of us who are a little forgetful, we may intend to start the good habit of hanging our towels up right away, but may quickly fall back to the bad habit of leaving it on the bathroom floor or on the floors of our room.

Just like leaving towels wet too long after a shower can pose problems, so can leaving them in the washing machine too long after a wash cycle. In fact, that could be an even worse situation — the enclosed washing machine makes it even warmer, like an incubator for mold to start growing. It is important to put laundry loads in the dryer as soon as possible once the wash cycle ends. That way, there is no time for unwanted mildew to make its way onto towels and linens.

How to keep towels from smelling in the future

Now that you’ve deep cleaned your towels and removed the mold and mildew, you’ll want to keep them that way! Here’s how to prevent your bath towels from stinking again:

Routinely clean your washing machine

It doesn’t matter how vigilant you are about making sure your towels don’t smell like mildew again, if you never clean your washer, eventually, your towels will just start to smell.

Good news, vinegar works great at cleaning your washing machine, too!

Don’t use too much detergent

Many people use way too much detergent; especially those that have a front load washer.

You really don’t want to be filling up your detergent past the 1 mark if you have a HE washer, as this detergent is so concentrated and has a hard time washing out of towels if you put too much in. 

Don’t put wet or damp towels in your hamper

I’m totally guilty of putting damp towels in my hamper and then forgetting to wash them for a couple days.

This practice simply invites mold and bacteria to grow, giving way to those nasty mildew smells. Leave your towels hanging up so that they can dry completely before tossing them in the hamper.

Don’t use fabric softener

Fabric softener is typically one of the biggest culprits for causing stinky bath towels. Fabric softener is actually an oil and used every wash, this creates quite a build up on your towels, which is where the stench comes from.

Skip the fabric softener altogether and instead opt for ½ cup to a full cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle. 

Routinely add vinegar to your wash

About once a month, I’ll go ahead and add a full cup of vinegar to my load of towels. It keeps the smells at bay and keeps me from having to deep clean my towels all of the time.

Sometimes I throw some baking soda in the drum of the washer to give it that cleaning boost, too.

Related: homemade shower cleaner with vinegar and baking soda

Why does baking soda work in laundry and is it okay to put it in the washing machine?

Baking soda is not just okay in the washing machine, it’s great. Because of its ingredients, baking soda naturally balances pH levels, neutralizes odors and leaves clothes fresh, and even soft!

Baking soda is great for getting the stink out of towels, workout clothes, kids clothes and anything else with a mildew smell. Some people even add ½ cup of baking soda to each heavy load, just to give laundry detergent that extra boost! 

How to prevent musty smells in towels

After helping you discover how to remove the musty smell from towels with these products, oneHOWTO helps you to stop them smelling bad in the first place. Consider these tips:

  • Do not leave towels in the laundry basket. Try to wash them as soon as possible, since if you mix them with dirty clothes, you will probably worsen the bad odor.
  • Store towels neatly folded and dry. Make sure that the closet is not a source of humidity by placing small bags of coffee, salt or rice as natural dehumidifiers.
  • Change towels frequently. Do not prolong their use too long between washings.
  • Ventilate the bathroom to prevent too much moisture from collecting and damaging the fabric.
  • Dry the towels lying in the sun for as long as possible and if there is not enough sun in your area use a dryer. Avoid storing them anywhere where the humidity is high.

While the tips here are very effective, we should not use the towels again if they have become too moldy. If you see mold stains on the towel, it might be time to recycle them and get some new ones. There’s nothing like the smell and feeling of clean fresh towels.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Get Rid of Musty Smell From Towels, we recommend you visit our Home cleaning category.