Nothing ruins the enjoyment of a hot shower quite like wrapping up in a musty, stinky towel. But never fear – it is possible to get even the stinkiest towels fresh and fluffy again. Musty towel odor is caused by mildew and bacteria that thrive in the damp fabrics. Read on to learn how to tackle every level of towel stink.

What Causes Musty Smells in Towels?

First, let’s examine the origin of the stubborn musty stench:

Bacteria and Mildew

When damp towels are wadded up, bacteria and mildew rapidly multiply in the moist, enclosed environment. This creates a stinky bio-film on the fabric.

Slow Drying Time

Leaving wet towels balled up hampers air circulation, preventing towels from fully drying before mildew sets in.

Warm, Humid Conditions

Bacteria thrive in warm, humid environments. Storing damp towels in steamy bathrooms or basements heightens smells.

Accumulated Body Oils and Soils

Embedded body oils, dirt, and dead skin cells also contribute to sour towel smells over time with continuous use.

Lack of Sanitizing Detergent

Not washing towels in hot water with bleach or other sanitizers allows microbes to persist between uses.

Moisture, dirt, and lack of sanitization all breed nasty towel odors.

Easy First Steps to Reduce Towel Smells

Before you attempt heavy-duty de-stinking, first make some simple habit changes:

  • Hang towels to fully dry between uses – do not wad up while damp
  • Wash towels at least once per week in hot water with laundry sanitizer
  • Consider washing towels separately from other laundry
  • Avoid overloading washer and dryer to enable thorough cleaning and drying
  • Clean washing machine monthly to prevent mold and mildew residue buildup
  • Store towels in a dry, well-ventilated space

Basic best practices nip musty smells in the bud.

How to Remove Mild Musty Towel Smells

For mild stink limited to just a faint mustiness, try these simple fixes:

Baking Soda Scrub

Make a paste of baking soda and water. Gently scrub into damp towels. Rinse thoroughly. The baking soda inhibits bacteria growth.

White Vinegar Soak

Soak towels in a bath of 1 cup vinegar diluted in a few gallons of water for 1-2 hours before washing. Vinegar kills odor causing bacteria.

Lemon Juice Spritz

Lightly spritz full juice of 2 lemons onto clean damp towels and let sit 1 hour before drying. The citric acid eliminates mild odors.

Activated Charcoal

Add 2-3 activated charcoal air purifying bags to the wash cycle to absorb smells as towels launder. Remove before drying.

Borax Boost

Add 1⁄2 cup borax laundry booster to kill bacteria when washing towels. The alkalinity destroys microbes.

For light mustiness, a little scrubbing or soaking does the trick.

Tackling Severe Musty Towel Smells

But for heavy duty sour stench that keeps returning, take stronger action:

Oxygen Bleach Soak

Soak heavily soiled towels overnight in an OxiClean and water bath before washing. This effervescent soak deeply penetrates fibers to eliminate severe odors.

Boiling Vinegar Water

Boil 1 cup white vinegar in a large pot of water. Turn off heat and submerge reeking towels for 1 hour before washing. This highest level acidity destroys stubborn mildew and bacteria.

Baking Soda Scrub + Vinegar Soak Combo

Apply baking soda paste to towels, let sit 1 hour, and rinse. Then soak in boiling hot vinegar solution. Finally wash as normal. The two-step cleaning knocks out the toughest odors.

Disinfectant Laundry Sanitizer

Use a commercial grade sanitizer like Lysol Laundry Disinfectant in each wash cycle to kill microbes. This prevents future bacterial growth.

Replace Old Towels

For towels with intractable, years-old smell baked into fibers, it may be time to simply replace them if cleaning attempts fail.

Perseverance pays off to freshen severely soiled towels.

Preventing Musty Towel Smells From Returning

Once deodorized, use these prevention tips to maintain freshness:

  • Dry thoroughly – never leave wet balled up before stored
  • Disinfect with bleach or sanitizer when washing
  • Air dry in sunlight – UV light kills bacteria
  • Change out old, tattered towels which harbor smells in torn fibers
  • Wash towels separately from clothes
  • Consider towel service that provides fresh sets weekly
  • Store in well-ventilated spaces – avoid humid bathrooms
  • Use cedar blocks in closets to repel moths who like to eat natural fibers

With diligence, musty towels don’t stand a chance.

Other Smelly Laundry Cure Ideas

The power of these de-stinking methods works on other laundry too:

  • Gym clothes and activewear
  • Play sports uniforms
  • Sweaty socks
  • Wet bathing suits and pool towels
  • Basement stored clothing and linens
  • Any wadded laundry left wet

Mustiness afflicts many items exposed to moisture. Banish smelly clothing stench for good using these towel cleaning tricks.

Musty Towel FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about fixing stinky towel odor:

Will bleach remove musty smells from towels?

Yes, chlorine bleach is an effective disinfectant against mildew and bacteria. Add 1/2 cup to towel wash cycles.

Does vinegar get rid of musty smells?

Yes, white vinegar kills odor causing mold and bacteria. Use it full strength or diluted. The acid cuts through soap scum.

Why do my clean towels still smell bad?

Residual mildew and bacteria may still be lingering in the washer or dryer. Disinfect all machines. Be sure to fully dry towels before use.

How do you dry towels without a dryer?

Hang on a clothesline in direct sunlight. The UV light kills bacteria. For indoor air drying, drape over multiple towel racks and rods to maximize air circulation.

Can musty smell towels make you sick?

In rare cases, severe mildew and fungi exposure can potentially impact sinus health and allergies. Safest to discard extremely smelly towels.

How often should you replace bath towels?

Every 3-5 years to reduce bacteria and odor buildup in older towels. Higher usage means replacing more frequently.

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