How to Get Mildew and Body Odor Smell Out of Towels

How To Prevent Mildew Smell In Laundry

Do you ever go to grab a towel after a shower and notice it’s smelling musty like mildew even after being freshly washed? Mildew smell in your clean laundry could be happening for a few reasons: 

  • LEFT IN WASHER: You left wet towels (or other clothing) in the washing machine for too long before moving the load to the dryer.
  • NOT DRY ENOUGH:  You put items away before they were fully dry. This is especially common if you do laundry at a laundromat. You unload your laundry from the dryer, toss or fold them in a basket or bag and then don’t unpack right away (leaving them in the laundry basket or bags).  If the garments were not 100% dry, the moisture is trapped and mildew and musty odors appear.
  • MUSTY WASHER:  Sometimes the problem is with the washing machine, especially front-loading washers. Clean your washer monthly to prevent mildew: Run an empty washer with hot water and 2 cups of bleach, wipe down inside of tub and door including the rubber seal, looking for build up that may need a little extra elbow grease. I usually use a washing machine cleaner to clean my machine when I’m in a hurry. With my front loader, I always leave the door open after doing a load allowing air flow to dry thoroughly. *note I don’t leave the door wide open, I just don’t latch it shut.
  • LEFT WET IN HAMPER: Wet items, like bath and kitchen towels, are being tossed in the hamper and left to sit too long before being washed. If you are not going to run a load right away, find a place where you can hang items to air dry before they go in the hamper.  Towels are thicker and hold more moisture than other items do, but this also applies to sweaty workout and athletic wear, if it’s damp, either wash right away or hang to dry.

Now that you know how to help prevent mildew smell in your laundry. Find out what I do to about clothes that smell like mildew AFTER washing. 


How do you get the mildew smell out of towels with baking soda?

Ah, baking soda — the one ingredient we can always rely on to banish pesky odors in just moments. As it turns out, baking soda can be used to make that musty towel smell a thing of the past, too! 

This hack is super simple, and you don’t need any ingredients other than baking soda to finally get rid of towel odor. To use baking soda for sour towel smell, all you have to do is throw your towels into the washer along with one cup of baking soda and run your washer through a cycle. For this hack, you don’t even need to use laundry detergent — in fact, you shouldn’t! By using just the baking soda and hot or warm water, your stinky towels will come out smelling like new. 

Washing Odor Solutions

Once a mildew odor finds it’s way within a towel, it can be very challenging the remove.  It is important to add some additional functions within the washing process to ensure that all remaining mildew residue is removed.

1 Hot Water

  Setting the washing machine to the hottest setting will help in removing odors from clothing.  The hot water helps in opening the fibers and allowing detergent to penetrate the fabric and remove the mildew odor.


2 Wash Again

  If the first wash is not successful at removing all of the mildew residue, simply wash it again.  As simplistic as it sound, washing the clothing a second time is often effective at removing any residue odors.


3 White Vinegar

  This household substance works wonders in cutting through mildew odors, and returning towels to normal.  Measure a full cup of white vinegar and pour within a normal detergent wash.


4 Baking Soda

5  BleachThis powder works fantastic at absorbing unwanted smell and rendering it odorless. Pour a half cup of baking soda within a normal detergent wash.  In addition to working to remove the mildew odor, the baking soda will also make the whites whiter.

5 Bleach

 If towels are white, bleach can be utilized to help remove mildew odor.  Measure a half cup of bleach and pour within a normal detergent wash.  The bleach will help in neutralizing the smell, and render the white towels odorless.


How to keep towels from smelling in the future

Now that you’ve deep cleaned your towels and removed the mold and mildew, you’ll want to keep them that way! Here’s how to prevent your bath towels from stinking again:

Routinely clean your washing machine

It doesn’t matter how vigilant you are about making sure your towels don’t smell like mildew again, if you never clean your washer, eventually, your towels will just start to smell.

Good news, vinegar works great at cleaning your washing machine, too!

Don’t use too much detergent

Many people use way too much detergent; especially those that have a front load washer.

You really don’t want to be filling up your detergent past the 1 mark if you have a HE washer, as this detergent is so concentrated and has a hard time washing out of towels if you put too much in. 

Don’t put wet or damp towels in your hamper

I’m totally guilty of putting damp towels in my hamper and then forgetting to wash them for a couple days.

This practice simply invites mold and bacteria to grow, giving way to those nasty mildew smells. Leave your towels hanging up so that they can dry completely before tossing them in the hamper.

Don’t use fabric softener

Fabric softener is typically one of the biggest culprits for causing stinky bath towels. Fabric softener is actually an oil and used every wash, this creates quite a build up on your towels, which is where the stench comes from.

Skip the fabric softener altogether and instead opt for ½ cup to a full cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle. 

Routinely add vinegar to your wash

About once a month, I’ll go ahead and add a full cup of vinegar to my load of towels. It keeps the smells at bay and keeps me from having to deep clean my towels all of the time.

Sometimes I throw some baking soda in the drum of the washer to give it that cleaning boost, too.

Related: homemade shower cleaner with vinegar and baking soda

Why does baking soda work in laundry and is it okay to put it in the washing machine?

Baking soda is not just okay in the washing machine, it’s great. Because of its ingredients, baking soda naturally balances pH levels, neutralizes odors and leaves clothes fresh, and even soft!

Baking soda is great for getting the stink out of towels, workout clothes, kids clothes and anything else with a mildew smell. Some people even add ½ cup of baking soda to each heavy load, just to give laundry detergent that extra boost! 

Getting Started

You will need a few things to get started.

  • vinegar (just the plain white vinegar)
  • washing machine
  • smelly clothes

You will also need an hour or two for the clothes to soak.

Start by filling up the washing machine with the hottest water on your machine that you can use with the fabric. Hot water helps to kill off mildew and mold so using it will help kill off the mildew faster.

Next, you will want to add one cup of vinegar to the machine. Vinegar has antifungal properties that will kill mildew.

Once the machine is filled and the vinegar is added you can put in the clothing or towels that smell.

Let the machine run for a minute or two until the items are completely wet. Then turn off the washing machine and let them soak for about 30 minutes.

After thirty minutes start back up the machine and let it run through the entire cycle. Do not add any detergent to the washing machine. At this point you are just trying to remove the mildew smell from the clothes not clean them.

If you have an extra rinse cycle I recommend using it, it will just help to remove more of the mildew smell out of the clothes or towel.

When the washing machine is done with the cycles you can remove the clothes and towels and lay them out flat to air dry. If you have a clothesline hanging them up is great!

Once the clothes or towels are completely dry check them for a mildew smell. If they are free from a mildew smell then you can rewash them with laundry detergent as you normally would.

You may need to repeat the process if they are really smelly. One time usually does the trick for most of the clothes that I wash. My son’s smelly pool towels sometimes need the second wash cycle.

It’s just that easy of how to remove the mildew smell from clothes.

Don’t throw out those towels and clothes just because they smell of mildew. With this easy tip, you can have fresh-smelling clothes again.

Need more laundry tips and tricks? Check out how to clean smelly baseball caps easily at home.

The Reason Why Towels Can Smell Bad

We’re sure you’ll agree that drying off with a smelly towel is an unpleasant experience. Mildew smells tend to intensify in warm, moist environments, so a bunched-up, wet towel left in the washing machine drum or at the bottom of your laundry basket provides just the right circumstances for that mildew smell to develop.

Additionally, body soils left on your towels either from the use or from poor-performing detergents will break down over time to release a sour, musty smell. In the end, you’re left with towels full of a stink that’s difficult to get rid of. But all hope isn’t lost if you know these smart, deep-cleaning techniques.

Does mildew smell go away by itself?

This unpleasant aroma doesn’t go away easily, and spraying an air freshener will only help temporarily. Once you detect the odor, the key is to look for the mold colony. Although spores aren’t causing the awful scent, they generally come as a package. Spores travel through the air and potentially into your lungs.

How to get mildew smell out of towels

Most people incorrectly assume they can just toss smelly bath towels in the washer on high and fix the problem–not so. 

To truly remove the stink out of towels, you’ll need to follow a fairly easy formula:

Step 1: Wash smelly towels with 1 cup of vinegar 

Make sure you wash towels with vinegar on the high

Make sure you wash towels with vinegar on the highest water setting possible. 

Note: if you haven’t cleaned your front load washer in quite some time, STOP! Don’t attempt to get rid of mildew smelling towels in a dirty washer. Take time to fully clean mold or mildew from your front load washer gasket, first.

Step 2: Select the highest temperature setting on your washer 

Note: You may need to temporarily bump up the settings on your hot water heater. You need this water to be hot for this process to work!

Step 3: Wash towels again, with baking soda

This time you’ll toss ½ cup of baking soda in the drum of the washing machine or where you put powder detergent. Make sure to use the highest heat setting.

Step 4: Dry towels on highest heat setting 

You want to dry your towels using the highest heat

You want to dry your towels using the highest heat until they are fully dry. If you were dealing with towels that were truly stinky, it’s a good idea to put towels out in the sun. The sun is amazing at getting that moldy, mildew smell out of items.

Step 5: Remove towels promptly

If you live in an area with high humidity; especially in the warmer months, your towels could be stinky because you’re leaving them in the dryer too long.

You want to quickly remove towels once they are done drying so you don’t allow warm, humid air to come in through the dryer vent and moisten your towels.

Remember, a towel that isn’t fully dry is a wonderful breeding ground for mold and mildew.

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