How to make towels smell fresh…

01/17/2010 2:05 pm · 2 comments

by Sarah A Thrifty Mom

laundry

I got this Question from one of my readers,

I am looking for suggestions on washing my towels. I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but it seems that no matter what I use, they don’t smell good. I have tried many soaps, vinegar, baking soda, rinsing twice, and many different rinses to no avail. Does anyone have a suggestion for me? We do not have a water softener. Could that make the difference?

Answer,

The funny thing is I have thought of doing a post of this before…but always put it off.  A few years ago I was helping my friend clean her house when she grabbed a clean dish towel out of the kitchen drawer…when she got it wet she smelled it and and then tossed the whole towel in the trash….. My jaw must have hit the floor.  She then explained to me that she only kept  towels or dish clothes for about 6 months before they got ” that sour wet smell” and she had tried everything to get them smelling clean….but gave up and now just tossed them in the trash.

Now I agree one of my biggest “pet peeves” in life is a smelly towel….yuck!  But I would never toss out my towels every 6 months and buy new ones.  I asked her if she had ever tried a little bleach when she washed her towels…she said no because that would make them fade.  I personally would rather have a towel that was a little faded ….then one that smells bad.   PLUS she was tossing them out anyway so if they were a little faded does it really matter?

So to answer your question I have found that about 1/2 cup  of clorox or bleach added to a full load ….makes them smell super fresh and clean!  I always start the washer, and as it is filling up with water then add the bleach….then your towels so you do not get bleach spots.  Use color safe bleach and it should prevent fading….but I always use the normal stuff.  Hope that helps!

Does anyone else have other tips for clean smelling towels?

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34 comments
Jessica F.
Jessica F.

A few tablespoons of vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser also works like magic. :)

Nicole
Nicole

I cn never get my kitchen "rags" to smell good but this has helped some...rinse rags well..Boil hot water pour directly on to rags in sink or small pan..it will bubble "crud" right out and then wash with good detergent and baking soda, borax or bleach! =)

Cherie
Cherie

I always use hot water and Clorox 2 in every load. It doesn't fade the towels but still kills the bacteria. My towels never stink! ;)

sarah
sarah

I use Frebreez for use in the laundry. It works great! I only use it every other load with the towels because it's a little on the expensive side and hard to find. I have only found it at Wal-Mart.

Tiffany
Tiffany

I always have this problem! When I started line-drying my laundry, though, my towels smelled SO fresh! We rarely even use name-brand detergent (we typically buy the stuff that's buy one, get two free at Meijer stores) or fabric softner, but line-drying them in the fresh air makes such a difference! I cannot wait until spring and summer so I can start again :-D

pam
pam

I do the wash my kitchen rags with my whites with bleech and they still smell, so I don't have it figure out yet!

Becky
Becky

I love Arm and Hammer powdered detergent with the activated baking soda. I wash my towels on the longest hottest setting and my wet washcloths stay clean smelling for at least three days and my towels stay fresh even longer. Its's wonderful!

Sheri
Sheri

I also use vinegar. I put 1/2 cup in the water and let the towels soak for about 15 mins with only vinegar and water. Then I rinse and re-wash with soap. You can just add the soap with vinegar, but the vingar smell will rinse out no matter what, but if you add the soap, after rinsing the vinegar out, you will retain the good soapy smell.

Claudia
Claudia

We only buy white towels. I use bleach in every towel load. The white towels give the bathroom a spa look and I don't have to worry about fading.

HeatherF
HeatherF

So how about to get them fluffy? I swear we just bought new towels this a few months back and we do wash them a lot but they just seem to hard even with a dryer sheet? Should I use the liquid stuff?

Sarah
Sarah

I absolutely agree with Holly and Arin. Leaving wet towels sitting around gives them that sour smell, whether its before washing or after washing. Once that smell gets in there, it's very difficult to get out. So, the best thing to do is be vigilant about wet laundry. And, bleach certainly helps like the others have said.

Lori Dunivon
Lori Dunivon

I use borax regularly for towels that don't smell fresh. It takes the smell right out.

Jennifer
Jennifer

What works for me is to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS let wet or damp towels dry COMPLETELY before putting them in the hamper. If you don't let them dry out first, you are guarenteed smelly towels.

Corinne
Corinne

I wash my towels with Tide in HOT water. I also use the Tide that has Downey in it which freshens PLUS it keeps them soft even in the hottest water. Then I dry them with a Downy dryer sheet. Works like a charm and the colors don't fade at all.

jenn
jenn

borax and hot water works like a charm. Also make sure your towels go straight into the dryer and dont sit.

Arin
Arin

I turn my wash on large load-add a few cups of bleach and let it go through the entire cylce without any clothes in it. I am not sure if anyone else does this but I find cleaning my washing machine at least twice a year helps keep the mildewy smell away as well. Oh and you totally have to dry your towels right after the cycle is done-leaving them in your washing machine for 1/2 the day doesn't help. There are some brand of dryer sheets that have made my laundry smell kind of mildewy-I really love Bounce-always smells good and fresh.

Sarah
Sarah

I try to avoid bleach. We use the sanitary cycle on our washer for towels. It works wonderful. I also love the new Tide Stain release duo packs. We have difficult water to work with and cloth diaper. I tried to find something for the longest time that got them completely clean (no ammonia smell). I use a scoop of homemade detergent and one of those in a diaper load. Works like a charm. If it works on diapers, I'm sure it would work on towels too. The sun does wonders too!

Belinda
Belinda

My friend started using Tide, which took care of the problem for her. I hang my towels outside to dry in the sun during the summer, and I rarely have to deal with sour smells! If they do, I do what my friend does and use Tide.

Holly
Holly

ALWAYS wash your towels on hot water (I do towels separately), and NEVER put wet/damp towels in the hamper - either put them directly in the wash when wet/damp, or let them air dry. (If you ball them up or throw them in the hamper when wet and put other clothes on top, they will mildew.) You can also add borax, oxi-clean or washing soda as a pre-wash agent. If you add just a little bleach, it shouldn't fade them - it's when you add too much bleach it will bleach them. Since switching to hot water and adding a pre-wash agent and a touch of bleach (when needed) my towels smell FABULOUS!! :o)

Donna
Donna

Bleach-At my house I dont care what color they are. If they are colored they just get lighter and lighter. They never seem really fresh and clean if I dont. That is what I always use and end it with a dryer sheet. They smell nice and fresh, But the best smelling towels are after you wash them in the summer and add the bleach then dry them in the hot summer sun. Now that is fresh!!

Barbara Bertsch
Barbara Bertsch

If towels smell I suggest washing them in Warm water with a cup of Baking Soda, them rewashing them again with a cup of white vinegar. Bleach may work, but it is not eco-friendly and it is not good for Bamboo Towels. Bamboo towels are mold and mildew resistant and are great in the kitchen. I have not had any get that "sour smell". Best wishes. Barb www.goodfibers.com

heather
heather

thank you thank you thank you.. i will try this.. i hope it also works.. I thought it was just my towels..

Alli
Alli

I've used vinegar before and it works pretty good. (1/2 cup)

Anna
Anna

Thanks for this tip. My husband is blessed with a very good sense of smell :) So we buy a lot of towels. I'll have to try this tip. He didn't throw the old ones out. I made him a punching bag and he used all the towels for stuffing!

Jenny
Jenny

Make sure they get good and dry in the dryer also and they don't get as nasty smelling. A lot of us tend to over dry stuff so this may not be a problem. I don't set my dryer on dryest as I feel it is a waste of power so I have to watch the towels and make sure they are dry.

Tonya Wall
Tonya Wall

I regularly use bleach in any load that has soured from being left too long, however, I do not use nearly that much and it works wonderfully. I use only about 3 Tb. of plain bleach for an entire load. Again add it when the washer is filling. Hope this helps.

Monica
Monica

To keep my towels clean smelling, I will either wash them in hot often or once a month run them through the sanitizing cycle my washer has. Both seem to either eliminate the odor or keep it from forming.

Mo
Mo

my brother in law brings home about a bucket of full of white hand towels from the restaurant every other month. I would just use bleach and wash them like that. My mother in law was visiting from mexico, and would take each towel and scrub it with a bar soap called zote and then put it to wash with bleach. They came out looking like new, and no smell!

K
K

One thing to investigate is whether or not you might have mold (yes, MOLD) in your washing machine. The presence of this is exacerbated by the use of fabric softener, and using cooler settings on your washing machine (to save $) among other things....google this for more info... We had to take our washing machine apart and throughly clean the machine....I now do NOT use fabric softener - EVER - and wash on hotter settings. I previously used cold settings whenever possible. Additionally, I run the machine 1x/month on the hottest settings, w/ powder detergent w/out any laundry to keep it clean. So, in short, it might not be the towels that are the problem, but the cleanliness of the machine :(

Angie
Angie

Use a little simple green. My husband went deep sea fishing last summer and when he came home used my good towels to clean up. they stunk of tuna I washed them 4 times and couldn't get the smell out. Finally added a little simple green (straight not diluted) to the wash with my normal detergent. Worked no more tuna fish smell.

Tammy
Tammy

Borax :) That stuff is amazing. also and extra rinse can help.

Jennifer
Jennifer

A 1/4 cup of Borax works well for me. I have a front loader and put the Borax in when I have loaded it with towels. I then add my laundry detergent and instead of using softener I use vinigar. I do run the cycle on hot/cold. Hope this helps.

Kim
Kim

I have been having this problem as well and was going to do a blog post too. LOL I asked friends for advice and searched the internet compiling a list of suggestions. I gathered every towel from my house and spent the day washing. Here is a run-down of everything I did: 1) Made sure the washer was clean. Clean the fabric softener dispenser. Run a load with nothing in it but hot water and bleach first. 2) Don't fill the washer with as many towels as usual. Many people try to stuff in too many at a time just to get it done and the towels cannot freely move and get clean. 3) Wash in hot water. I also bought Arm & Hammer wash booster and used the full recommended amount along with my detergent (I used a little less detergent than usual). 4) Do not use fabric softener. I know, I know, you aren't supposed to use this with towels anyway but I always did. I read this can leave a coating on towels and they don't get properly washed and rinsed. 5) Finally, put towels in the dryer as soon as they are done washing and dry on high heat. Make sure they are COMPLETELY dry before folding and putting away. I don't know if one of these in particular made the difference or all of them together. Whatever it was it worked. I haven't noticed a musty smell any more. Every time I wash towels now I follow all steps except number one. Hope this helps!

Claire
Claire

Do you have a front loading, HE washer? They sometimes build up bacteria in them and leave a mildew / sour smell, which is particularly evident in towels. I did a bunch of research about how to kill the bacteria/rid the smell. I found: -use powder detergent (the less the better), the liquid encourages more bacteria to grow -leave the door open to the washer -take the washer apart and clean out the drum area, some washers have a drain you can clean -dont leave wet stuff in the washer -buy a product like affresh (expensive at 12$ ish) which also kills the bacteria -run an empty load with bleach (See your washer manual, they usually have a clean cycle) Personally, I ran two loads of bleach in an empty clean cycle, we only use HE powder detergent and just leave the door open. Wash all the smelly stuff in the hottest water to help rid the smell, and then maintain it with the steps above. Google how to clean HE washers --it's a big problem. -

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