How to freshen your towels and get rid of that mildew stink

Admit it. Your towels have smelled mildewy, moldy, like they sat wet for ever and ever because you left them in the washer too long. Well, I do it all too often. It happens. You think you’re being productive because you threw a load of laundry in, then you forgot to toss them into the dryer and your clothes or towels developed this nasty smelling odor that just lingers and is just plain gross.
Well, evidently it is because dirt, grime and detergent build up gets buried into the fibers of towels and clothing and when they are left wet, it can create that awful smell. Gross huh? I mean, we’ve all dried off with one of those towels before and then it’s like “why did I even shower?” You smell worse than before! Am I right? S.I.C.K.
Well, don’t fret because it is super duper easy to freshen those towels and get rid of the yuck!
Wash your load of towels on the hot cycle and add 1 cup of vinegar to the load. Do not use detergent or anything (especially bleach – that can be super dangerous!)… just hot water and the vinegar. Let the washer do it’s job. Then, if you still smell a little bit, rewash with just hot water and 1/2 cup of baking soda. I did not need to do this step but if your towels are bad, you might want to. Again, no detergent, just baking soda and hot water. Got it?
When your towels are done, throw them in the dryer. Done and done! They always come out smelling great and fresh!
This also works well on clothing, like stinky wet swimsuits that were left sopping wet out of the pool! Just be sure to be careful with the hot water and mixing colors. You don’t want the colors to bleed so do them separately or with very like colors.
You can thank me later,
Check out Spring Cleaning Day 1 – Printable Cleaning and Laundry Schedules here

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  1. says

    I never used to have that problem but over the last couple years it has started with my towels. Not because they have been left wet but after the wash & dry cycles they smell again right away when used in the bathroom. I will give this a try and worst case scenario I will be craving french fries and vinegar.

  2. says

    Ahhh but you should NEVER use fabric softener with towels- it makes them less absorbent according to Martha Stewart. Great tip with vinegar. I finally started buying all white towels because I use bleach. I shall try the vinegar trick next time.

    • Stephanie Brenner says

      I thought the same thing about the fabric softener. I stopped using it and my towels are much more absorbent. I will be trying the vinegar and the regular wash cycle for the stuff that sits all day partially wet from constant swimming all summer. Thanks for the tip!

    • Kirstin says

      Not everyone can afford “Quality Luxury towels”! A simple towel will suffice for me because it only gets used for 2 mins then tossed in the hamper.

    • meg says

      we live in a coastal climate, no matter how much money I spend on my towels they’re going to smell like mildew the second someone uses them, it makes no difference how expensive they were, mold can’t read price tags

      • CRAFTY BY NATURE says

        YOU GO, GIRL! Daisy up there was either just using her condescending comment to sound Nouveau Riche or as an excuse to “plug” a link! But you voiced quite cleverly the very same thought I had reading her post… it matters not if the threads are the finest Egyptian Cotton or the coarsest, institutional grade fiber…. microbial processes are equal opportunity phenomena. In layperson terminology: M*ld Happens!
        Here’s to you for pointing out the inanity of that statement!

    • Greg says

      Well, I have a couple of those “luxury towels”. They still smell mildewed. So, $$$ is not the answer here. Appreciate your comment though.

    • Melissa says

      Yes you can use it with an HE washer. For the HE washer you use the vinegar in the liquid soap area. If you are going to need to use the baking soda after the first vinegar wash, then you put the baking soda in where powder detergent would go. Hope this helps.

      • Dani says

        If you have a front load HE washer, I’ve found it better to put the baking soda directly on the towels in the tub, instead of the soap dispenser. The baking soda doesn’t always wash out of the dispenser, at least on my Kenmore Elite.

  3. blakely golden says

    I am trying it now because all my dish cloths and towels smell like this and i appreciate this as i could find nothing useful out to help. thanks so much!

  4. Lorna says

    I put vinegar in the towels every time I wash them. I use cold water and detergent with it and it works just as good.

  5. Tracie says

    Used cloth diapers for both my daughters (oh those many years ago!) and always rinsed them twice with a cup of vinegar in second rinse. This did double duty, removed the excess soap to keep them soft on baby’s bottom and they always smelled fresh! Use it on my towels still! Gotta love vinegar!

  6. says

    what if you have hard water and cant use hot water…I have a softener but cant use hot water to wash in…will the vinegar still work and not leave rust stains…hate to ruin my towels or clothes…

  7. Tera says

    Front loaders are notorious for this and typy don’t even have to leave them very long lol. I can wah early am and if they aren’t transferred by afternoon then it already starts by dinner. Vinegar to the rescue lol again! To the dryer girl with the smell, try drying a damp vinegar towel maybe! Double bonus, vinegar softens your clothes and doesn’t lead to fabric softener buildup that affects towel absorbency. Smell goes away!

  8. Tera says

    Love that I’ve just found your site! Will try and visit often. Sorry for typos, dang phones give you a weird comment screen to work with lol!

  9. Caroline Beaudette says

    I was wondering, do you think this trick would work using a large plastic tub and soaking life jackets that have gotten that mildewy smell from storage and usage?

    • says

      That’s SUCH a great idea!!! It works well on swimsuits so I imagine it reduces or removes odors from most fabrics. I have had such good luck with it! It wouldn’t hurt to try, that’s for sure!!! Good luck and let us know!!

  10. christa sherman says

    Very interesting! I have horrible issues with my towels no matter if I get them straight out of the washer and into the dryer…it Still happens! I Hate that smell…eeek! Thanks so much for the tip as I will Definitely be trying this.

  11. Denise says

    Found you through pinterest, love the way you wrote this and like to see I’m not the only one being “productive” New follower here!

  12. Sara says

    This popped up on Pinterest right after I left towels in the washer overnight. Perfect solution, thank you!

    • says

      Hi there! You will still want to wash your towels normally but this can be done before or after (preferably after a wash) if the towels smell when removing them from the washer. Thanks!

  13. Mary says

    Great tip! I stopped using fabric softener on my towels a couple of years ago and use vinegar instead. I just pour it into the softener dispenser when I start a load. I also do the same if I have a load of stinky clothes.

  14. Stephanie says

    I’m housesitting for a friend, and the first thing I noticed was a dreadful mildew stink in her front-loading washing machine. I’m an avid white vinegar user, so the first thing I did was run a full load of hot water with some vinegar. This helped somewhat, but the real cause of the stink is the awful black mold that builds up on the rubber gasket at the front of the machine! I ran a vinegar-dampened towel around the inside of that gasket, and was appalled at the black goo that came out. I recommend leaving the washer door open at night to air out the machine, and try to never leave wet laundry sitting there for too long.

    • The Sisko says

      The front loading HE washers are notorious for this. I think it’s a design flaw. We kept getting a mildew smell from ours and couldn’t figure out the source until my wife pulled back the gasket one day. *GACK* Black mold everywhere.

      White vinegar is OK for mildew smell sometimes. However for stubborn cases I use Oxyclean. It works every time.

      • Vickie Turner says

        Do you put the Oxyclean directly into the front of the HE washing machine or into the detergent or softener dispenser? I have the black mold problem and the stinky clothes if you don’t take the clothes out right away, and I want to get rid of that smell asap. Thanks!

    • Elisabeth says

      I put baking soda and lemon juice in my washer at least once a month to get rid of the smell and clean my front load washing machine.

  15. Lydia says

    I just tried this trick last night and it worked. Didn’t use any detergent, and only used vinegar and water. Does this mean the towels are clean now or do I need to wash them again but this time with detergent?

  16. Shirley says

    I use vinegar for fabric softener in my front loader……then later I noticed there is no longer any smell in my front loader. The vinegar takes care of it I guess. I have several items that started saying “no fabric softener.” I didn’t want to wash them separately. So I started using vinegar for the softener. It does a good job controlling the static. Occasionally there is an item or 2 that has static….and I just give it a shake and don’t worry about it. Certainly saves me money too.

  17. says

    Bleach Super Dangerous? Cmon…what are we 12 years old? Pour Bleach right into a filled washer w/ water inside and youll be fine.

    • NANNIE says

      LC, it’s what you mix with bleach that can result in noxious fumes. Notoriously, bleach and ammonia together do so.

  18. Adam says

    We hang our towels after every use……and typically get 2 uses out of them, and never had a problem with the mildew smell…..but I’ve always added a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle too……I’m sure that helps keep them good….It’s funny cause when I first met my GF she didn’t want me doing laundry, she’s like ewww vinegar, it’s gonna make me smell……but after the drying cycle, you don’t even SMELL the vinegar………

  19. Lainie says

    I am absolutely going to try this NOW. Where does the vinegar go? In the drum or through the detergent dispenser? I have a front loader.

    • Shirley says

      I put about 1/3 cup vinegar in the softener dispenser. Sometimes I pour about 1/3 cup into the detergent dispenser also if I want to boost the power of my laundry soap. Right now I’m using the ‘pods’ that you put in with your clothes. If I had regular laundry soap, I would put the vinegar in the bleach dispenser .

      If I’m putting bleach in a load of whites, I only use vinegar as the softener.

      I’m glad I have changed to vinegar for softening. It is cheaper and the surprise bonus is that there is NO more smell from my front loader. It works plenty well enough. Sometimes I have 1 or 2 items that I need to shake because of static cling. That doesn’t bother me, though. I do have a synthetic blanket that I will try to remember to use a dryer sheet when I dry it.

  20. Barbara says

    Love the healthy idea for using vinegar and, if needed, adding baking soda.

    Dryer sheets, however, are unhealthy. Perhaps, if not fragranced they are O.K., but I’m not sure. I heard that using tin foil instead of dryer sheets works well. I also heard that vinegar is a natural substitute for dryer sheets.

    Have you ever heard this about dryer sheets?

    • Shirley says

      I think apple cider vinegar would work, but plain white vinegar is so much cheaper. I use some ACV for eating/cooking, but buy the white vinegar by the gallons for laundry and cleaning. (2 gallon box at Sam’s Club for about $3.50.)

  21. orfan says

    I’ve been looking for a solution to that musty smell – I will have to try this!

    On a potentially unrelated note, does anyone have any advice on getting rid of dog fur in/on towels and clothes? (Laundry advice that is; we’re all over brushes, vaccumes, etc.) I have a front-loader and have tried different settings. Instead of being removed in the wash, my items are covered in felted balls of dog fur. Suggestions?

    • ALS says

      What works for us is to throw the blankets/clothes that the fur kids lay on into the dryer for a short cycle, and then wash them. The majority of it is collected in the lint screen, and I don’t notice an exorbitant amount of fur on the clothes once they have been laundered.


  1. […] 1.  Clean the washing machine – Run an empty cycle with 1 cup vinegar on hot and follow immediately with another empty cycle on hot with 1/2 cup baking soda.  This trick works with front and top loaders and will remove any gunk and stink that can be associated with washers.  (side note – it also removes that mildewy smell from your towels!  Click here for full instructions.) […]

  2. […] It’s the worst! It’s even worse when you go over to someone else’s house, and reluctantly dry off with one of their stinky mildew towels. In fact, there is a particular hair salon that I’ve been to that is famous for their mildew towels. I don’t know how this happens unless they’re leaving their towels in the washing machine for days before switching them, but I think they should read this tip! It’s so easy and just requires one ingredient.Get The Instruction Here: Classy Clutter […]

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