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How to get the mildew smell out of towels

Do your clothes have a moldy, mildew or sour smell? Learn this quick trick on how to get the smell out of towels.

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I know you’ve all done it, You’ve gone into the laundry room and realized you left the clothes sitting in the washing machine too long.  When you go to pull them out, they have a horrible mildew smell.  


you’ve gone into your kid’s rooms and noticed a pile of wet towels and bathing suits on the floor.

I just went to do laundry and our beach towels were stuffed in a tall laundry basket.  Man, those smelly towels had been in there a long time! The mildew odor is overpowering!

If you’ve ever tried to wash musty smells out of clothes the regular way, you know that doesn’t really take the smell out.  I’ve washed clothes two and three times before and the stinky smell just doesn’t come out.  Keep reading to learn how to get the stinky smells out of towels.

ou've all left clothes in the washer way to long and they've gotten that horrible smell. Read here to learn about how to get the smell out of moldy towels.

How to get the smell out of moldy towels

Getting the musty towel smell out is so easy and in a couple of hours you’ll have a pile of fresh towels again.  I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day and she had no idea how to do it, but I’ve been doing it for years.

You load your smelly clothes or bath towels in the washing machine for a load of laundry.  Don’t stuff your machine or do a large load because you want the towels to have room to slosh around and get nice and clean. Small loads definitely work better for this. You can use either a front load washer or a top loader.

Using vinegar is one of the easiest things to do to remove the musty smell. Pour one to two cups of distilled vinegar and run the wash cycle like you normally would without adding detergent.  A cup of vinegar is fine with a smaller load. Usually, I don’t measure it out, I just give a good pour!  Many times I use the speed wash cycle for this step. Use warm or hot water.

Vinegar fights mineral deposits and bacterial growth that can lead to unpleasant odors.

Now you’ll want to wash the towels a second time using your regular detergent. I’ve never used liquid fabric softener because I don’t like all the strong smells, but if do use it, go ahead and add it to your softener dispenser now.

Male hand holding wooden laundry basket with white towel inside near washing machine in laundry room.

How to get mildew smell out of towels using baking soda.

Yes, there is another way to get the smell out of your towels and clothes. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer.

After your vinegar wash, instead of going straight to the regular wash, you can sprinkle 1/2 cup of baking soda on your clothes or towels. Run your machine on another wash cycle.

You can stop here and dry your towels or wash them another time using your normal laundry detergent. The underlying moldy smell should be gone. It’s time to remove your towels from the washer and move them to the dryer.

Drying your towels

Did you know some people dry their towels wrong?

Many people stuff their dryers full of clothes. Think about doing smaller loads.

  1. It takes longer to dry.
  2. Clothes may not dry completely.

I normally need to dry towels longer than the normal load, because they can still be a little wet. Even if they are a little damp, a new moldy smell will start. Make sure to dry on the hottest setting

Wool dryer balls are great to use too because they create more space between your clothes. They are also reusable. Many people choose to use these instead of dryer sheets. They also make fluffy towels even fluffier!

Another great thing about using dryer balls is that you can add your favorite essential oils to them when you dry your clothes!

Can I use fabric softener on towels?

Everyone wants their towels to smell good and feel soft, however, you shouldn’t use fabric softener on towels. The liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets make towels less absorbent.

stack of white towels with lady places her hands on top

How to prevent those unpleasant odors in your clothes and towels?

The last thing I’m going to tell you is how to stop that musty odor in the first place. Here’s how you can keep your towels smelling clean and pleasant:

  • Hang Towels to Dry: After each use, make sure to hang your towels in a well-ventilated area, preferably where air can circulate freely. Avoid leaving damp towels crumpled up or in a heap, as this can create a breeding ground for mildew and musty odors.

I have a couple of hooks in the bathroom and bedroom doors to help encourage my kids to hand up their towels.

Multiple hooks– This is perfect for the bathroom to hang more than one towel.

Single Hook– This is great for a bedroom or closet door.

  • Wash Regularly: Wash your towels regularly, ideally every three to four uses. Over time, towels accumulate oils, dirt, and moisture that can contribute to the musty smell. Washing them helps to remove these particles and keeps the towels fresh.
  • Use the Right Amount of Detergent: Use an appropriate amount of laundry detergent when washing towels. Using too much detergent can leave a residue that traps odors and affects the absorbency of the towels.
  • Choose the Right Water Temperature: Wash your towels in warm water rather than hot water. Hot water can break down the fibers in towels and reduce their lifespan. Warm water is effective in removing dirt and bacteria without causing damage.
  • Avoid Fabric Softeners: While fabric softeners can make towels feel softer, they can also reduce the towels’ absorbency and trap odors. Instead, use vinegar as a natural fabric softener alternative.
  • Add Vinegar: Every few washes, add some white vinegar to the rinse cycle to eliminate odors and restore the towels’ freshness.
  • Dry Thoroughly: Make sure your towels are completely dry before folding and storing them. If you’re using a dryer, avoid overloading it to ensure proper airflow and drying efficiency.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: When washing towels, avoid overcrowding the washing machine. This allows the towels to move freely and ensures that they are thoroughly cleaned and rinsed.
  • Sunlight and Fresh Air: Whenever possible, hang your towels outside in the sunlight. Sunlight has natural antibacterial properties and can help eliminate odors.
  • Storage: Store your towels in a dry, well-ventilated space. Avoid keeping towels in humid or damp areas, as this can lead to musty smells.

By following these tips, you can enjoy the luxury of fresh, clean-smelling towels every time you use them.

More cleaning tips

Try this great natural way how to get that smell out of moldy towels the next time you get that awful whiff.

After washing and drying your stinky towels or clothes, they come out feeling fresh and clean, ready to take on the day. The washing machine does its magic with vinegar or baking soda, removing the musty smell.

Regular cleaning, high heat drying, and following these best tips will make sure you’re greeted with clean, odor-free towels every time you step out of the shower.


Wednesday 6th of March 2019

I put vinegar in every load of wash I do. Cuts back on detergent and makes my laundry soft and towels very absorbant. There’s no vinegar smell either!


Friday 26th of June 2015

Does the vinegar work for front loaders too?


Friday 26th of June 2015

Yes! I have a front loader and I just pour the vinegar in where I would pour my liquid detergent.


Thursday 25th of June 2015

omg! I just bought all new towels because I couldn't get stink out of my gym towels! I'll definitely try this!!!!