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