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The Best Ways to Remove Musty Towel Odors

September 1, 2023

Towels are extremely absorbent, which makes them excellent for cleaning up spills and messes.

If wet towels aren’t dried properly, however, the moisture can attract contaminants which can lead to a musty smell.

If that happens, you’ll want to wash them thoroughly with laundry detergent. That’ll eliminate the musty smell and keep them smelling fresh.

How to Wash Stinky Towels

how to remove musty towel odorsFortunately, it’s easy to wash musty towels – all you need is a washing machine.

Start by separating your damp towels by color (i.e. lights with lights, darks with darks). Once you’ve got your pile of towels, load them into the washer.

Measure and add one scoop of ACTIVE Detergent powder to the tub or detergent drawer. Don’t use fabric softener – the chemicals can decrease the towels’ absorbency.

Once the detergent is in, run a hot wash cycle. The heat will help remove residues that are on the smelly towels.

Take out the towels as soon as the wash cycle is finished and transfer them to the dryer. Tumble dry on low heat.

Pro-tip: Towels tend to absorb the colors of other garments so it’s best to wash them by themselves.

Why Is There a Musty Towel Smell?

Several things can cause your towels to develop an odor, including:

Too Much Moisture in the Towel

Towels might be great for wiping liquids with, however, they’re not meant to stay wet. The moisture will only attract contaminants which can result in a noticeable odor.

To prevent this problem, hang up your damp towels and allow them to air dry. Do not leave them wet in your laundry basket.

A build-up of Fabric Softener on the Fabric

Fabric softener will not only decrease the absorbency of your towels but it can also make them smelly. This has to do with the fact that it prevents cotton fibers from rinsing out cleanly, which then attracts dirt and smells.

Given that, it’s best not to add anything to the fabric softener compartment.

Residue in the Washer

A dirty washing machine can deposit residues on your towels, which can lead to a musty smell. To prevent that, we recommend cleaning your washing machine once every few weeks with an appropriate cleaner.

How to Freshen Towels Easily

There are a few things that you can try if your towels smell musty even after washing.

Run a Vinegar Wash

vinegar for musty towel odorsPut your towels in the washing machine and add one cup of vinegar. Keep the detergent or fabric softener compartments empty.

The vinegar’s acidic nature will help neutralize the smells. For the best results, run a hot water cycle.

Alternatively, you can soak the towels in a vinegar-water mixture. Start by filling a tub or sink with warm or hot water.

Add one cup of vinegar and mix the solution with your hands.

Once it’s thoroughly combined, place your towels in and let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Launder as normal with ACTIVE Detergent afterward. Repeat with more vinegar if necessary.

Use White Vinegar with Baking Soda

Vinegar works great but sometimes you need a little extra deodorizing power and that’s where baking soda comes in.

First things first, place the towels in the washing machine and fill it with hot water. Measure one cup of vinegar, pour it into the tub, and start a wash cycle.

When the cycle is finished, refill the machine with more hot water. This time, add half a cup of baking soda. Run a second cycle.

Wash Towels with Bleach

You can also eliminate smells with bleach. Keep in mind, however, that this method is only suitable for white towels as it’ll strip colors and dyes.

To eliminate odors with bleach, add half a cup to your washing machine and run a hot water cycle. For the best results, soak the towels for 15 to 30 minutes before washing.

Soak Towels with Detergent and Hot Water

best laundry detergent for musty smelling towelsFill a large tub with hot water and add one scoop of ACTIVE Detergent powder. Mix the solution by swishing the water.

Place the towels in once the powder is completely dissolved and allow them to soak for a couple of hours, making sure they are fully immersed in the liquid.

After soaking, you can machine wash the towels as normal.

How to Keep Your Towels Fresh

Clean Your Washing Machine

You can prevent your towels from smelling by keeping the washer clean. An easy way to do this is by running a ‘Clean Cycle’ once every month with ACTIVE Washing Machine Cleaner.

musty towel odorsIf your machine doesn’t have that setting, you can pour a cup of white vinegar into the dispenser and let it run with hot water. Make sure to leave the door open for at least 20 minutes after the cycle finishes so that the moisture can escape.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget to clean the gasket as well. You can do this using an all-purpose cleaner and a clean cloth.

Make Sure the Towels Are Completely Dry

Make sure your towels are completely dry before putting them away. Don’t store them away even if they’re a little wet as it can lead to contaminants developing.

Similarly, you don’t want to leave wet, used towels in the hamper. Allow them to air dry instead.

Add the Appropriate Amount of Detergent

Using too much laundry detergent can do more harm than good to your towels. The residue will remain on the fabric, which will attract dirt and smells.

Given that, you only want to use the necessary amount as per the instructions on the packaging. Remember, less is more.

Skip the Fabric Softener

avoid fabric softener on towelsFabric softener is not good for towels. Not only will it make the material less absorbent by coating them with a wax-like substance but it will also keep unwanted residues and contaminants inside the fibers.

White vinegar is a great alternative if you want to soften up your towels. It’s also a great way to keep your towels smelling fresh.

Don’t Leave Your Towels Inside the Washing Machine

Take your towels out of the washer as soon as the wash cycle is finished. You don’t want to leave them in as the dark, wet environment will attract contaminants that can lead to musty smells.

Always Hang Your Towel Up

Make a habit of hanging up your towels. You want to let them dry completely between uses so that they won’t develop an odor.

Deep Clean Your Towels Every Once in a While

how to prevent towel odorsIt’s a good idea to wash your towels in hot water on the longest setting every once in a while – that will help keep them clean and fresh.

Make sure they are dried completely before folding and putting them away.

Do Not Use Your Towel For Too Long

As a general rule, you want to wash your towel after three to four uses. Any longer, and you may be exposing your skin to undesired contaminants.

However, that you’ll want to wash it earlier if you notice a musty smell.

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Picture of Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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