How to Get Rid of Smelly Bath Towels – Step-by-step guide

A bathroom is a place where odors quickly build up. It is easy to get rid of most of them with regular and thorough cleaning and placing air fresheners around, but if the bad smell is still there, you should check out your towels! When using too much detergent or not drying them properly, towels can get really stinky. But before you throw them away, you should understand what causes the smells to avoid them next time, and learn some tips on how to get rid of smelly bath towels.

Why do my towels smell bad?

Probably there is nothing more annoying than realizing that your towels smell bad no matter if they are freshly washed. Since towels play a key role in making a bathroom smell good, to understand how to solve the smelly towel problem and how to prevent them from smelling next time, we should understand what causes the odors.

Main reasons why bath towels get smelly:

  • Cheap laundry detergent (that either doesn’t clean well or doesn’t rinse out well) causes residue build-up in the towel and causes a musty smell
  • Leaving them wet on the floor instead of hanging them
  • Improper drying, towels were put in the wardrobe when not fully dry
  • Forgetting to transfer the towels to the dryer after the wash cycle is complete. It only takes a few hours of being trapped inside the washing machine to start creating that funky odor you want to avoid
  • Hard water, which can deposit rust and lime onto your towels and accumulate until the towels stink
  • Wiping up an overflowing toilet bowl or food mess is also a common reason why a towel can get smelly
  • They were left in a gym bag for too long
  • Throwing a very dirty and very foul towel into the running washing machine after the wash cycle has moved on to “rinse”. This towel is not only not going to be cleaned properly, but the rest of the load is also contaminated with the dirty towel thrown in late
fresh towels in the bathroom

And besides all these, sometimes the culprit is actually your washing machine! When towels smell bad after washing, the machine might have trapped dirt (and like this, bacteria too) in the tumbler that is transferred to the towels during the wash cycle. If this is the issue, get washing machine cleaner tablets and run a heavy cycle with hot water without clothes!

How to get rid of smelly bath towels?

You could throw your towels out and buy new ones. However, that can become quite costly over time. Since towels are meant to be reused (actually a towel can be used for up to 10 years!), throwing them out every time they get stinky isn’t really the best solution.

wet bath towel on the bed

If the smell is not too strong, maybe adding one cup of vinegar instead of detergent to the load the next time when you wash them will fix the problem. If this is not enough, you should try one of the oldest yet still most effective smelly towel solutions which is washing towels with vinegar and baking soda! It is super easy to do, just follow this guide below!

Steps to deodorizing towels with vinegar and baking soda

  1. Fill your bathtub with hot water. The best if the water is softened or distilled so you can avoid the continued accumulation of hard water deposits on these towels, but if you don’t have a water softener, then water from the tap is perfectly fine.
  2. Sprinkle 1/2 box of baking soda into the tub of water. Stir until the baking soda dissolves.
  3. Soak each towel in a bucket with diluted vinegar. The vinegar will sanitize the towels and kill bacteria, mold spores, mildew, germs, and viruses that can make the towels stink.
  4. Throw the vinegar-soaked towels into the baking soda water. Be prepared for a chemical reaction! The vinegar mixes with the baking soda to produce an oxygenating effect. This cleans the towels completely and destroys any remaining odors the vinegar couldn’t.
  5. Stir the towels around in the tub until the chemical reaction stops and there are no more bubbles or fizzing. Leave the towels to soak for a little bit longer.
  6. Squeeze each towel out as much as you can. Put the load of towels in your washing machine. The vinegar and baking soda will also help cleanse the washer tub!
  7. Either wash as usual with a minimum amount of quality laundry detergent or special towelwash, or just run the load on rinse and spin cycle. Immediately transfer them to the dryer, or if the weather is sunny, hang them in the sun and fully dry them!

Following this smelly towel cleaning guide, you should notice almost immediately a change in the appearance and smell of your towels.

How to prevent towels from smelling

Now that you restored the freshness of your towels, it is time to learn some preventive measures on how to keep them smelling clean and fresh all the time!

  • Whenever a towel has been used, hang it somewhere to air out and dry
  • Don’t leave wet towels on the floor, in a gym bag, in the car for a long time
  • Wash wet towels soon after they are used to mop up toilet water, milk, and other drinks, or clean up food messes
  • Use the right detergent and the correct amount of it
  • Don’t mix your bath towels, beach towels, and towels used for other purposes like cleaning. Always wash, dry, and store them separately
  • Skip fabric softener in the washer. Use fabric softener dryer sheets instead
  • Finally, make sure your towels are fully dry before placing them in the wardrobe or bathroom. Even a small amount of moisture can make the towels smell musty again.

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