How to Clean Stinky, Mildewy Towels

Sometimes bath towels begin to take on a strong, sour or musty smell no matter how long or how often you wash them. No need to buy new ones. Here’s how to clean stinky, mildewy towels so they smell fresh and feel fluffy again.

A simple solution to clean those stinky, mildewy towels so they smell fresh and feel fluffy again.


One morning when I took a shower, I went to dry myself and I about PUKED! Seriously. The sour smell on my towel repulsed me so much that I let myself air-dry. I really did because I discovered most of my towels smelled that way! Disgusting. Gross. Yuck. Why were they so stinky? I had to know! And I HAD to know how to remedy it.


  1. Leaving towels too long in the washer. Sometimes we forget to put towels in the washer right away. The result? Stinky, mildewy towels. When you let towels–or clothes for that matter–sit wet too long, a light bacteria grows and produces a sour smell. The smell is the bacteria breeding! Bacteria begins to grow within one to two hours, so don’t let them sit too long after washing them.
  2. Not allowing towels to dry completely. If you buy those big, thick towels (Egyptian towels are amazing!), they may not dry quick enough. Or, you may take the towels out of the dryer before they are thoroughly dry. This creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Let your towels dry completely out in the dryer and between uses.
  3. Putting towels in the hamper with other smelly or damp clothes. Wet towels absorb smells from clothes. Keep them separate, if possible.
  4. Leaving towels on the floor crumpled. You should always hang up and spread out your towels on a towel rack to completely dry between uses or they can’t dry out fast enough, which, again, allows bacteria to breed.
  5. Loading your washer too full. If you cram your washer too full, it leaves clothes no room to get clean and the dirt and stink can’t be thoroughly removed.
  6. A dirty washing machine. Sometimes odors get trapped over time in the crevices of the machine. Did you know that your body sheds about 1 billion dead skin cells every day?! Gross, right? These dead skin cells end up in your clothes, towels, AND washing machine. There’s an easy fix to clean and disinfect your washer: hot water, detergent, and 1/4 cup bleach. Put the washer through a HOT water cycle using these ingredients–without any clothes in the wash–and wa-la. Clean and disinfected.
  7. Wash your towels often. When I say often, it means you can use your towels up to three times before washing. (See #6 about dead skin cells. Just saying.)


So now you know WHY your towels stink, but HOW do you get the stink out of your towels? The solution is easy: White Vinegar and Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate). The nice thing about those two ingredients is they are cheap! I’m all about cheap, cheap, cheap.

Add one cup of vinegar to the load and run through an entire HOT wash cycle. Next, keeping the towels in the washer, add 1/2 cup baking soda and run through another HOT wash cycle. Promptly transfer to the dryer or clothesline to dry COMPLETELY. **NOTE: Do not add laundry detergent or fabric softener to either wash.

Your towels have now been stripped of residue and bacteria that will leave them feeling fluffy and smelling fresh again. It’s like magic!


My case was solved…the towels smelled sour because someone (I won’t throw anyone under the bus :>) washed them and forgot about them. They sat overnight–or for who knows how long–before they got put in the dryer. Bacteria galore! Blech.

About Jen

Jen is owner, author, and creative mind behind Bakerette. Jen eats a vegan diet and recently converted Bakerette to a plant-based website that offers a smattering of healthful recipes! Jen is author of the cookbook Festive Feasts: Meals and Memories from Halloween to Christmas, which can be purchased online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


  1. Great tips! For front load washing machines do you add the White Vinegar and Baking Soda where the detergent goes or in the base where the towels are?

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