Smelly Towels?! How To Get Mildew Smell Out Of Towels! [EASY]

Musty Clothes in the Closet

What should you do when clothes smell musty in the closet ? Sure, you can take out everything and wash it, but if you don’t address the underlying problem, they’ll just get musty again.

First, examine the layout of the closet, and look for mold and mildew. Our homes are being built tighter. Less airflow = increased mold and mildew risk.

Closet corners are notorious for harboring mildew and mold growth, and it can easily go unnoticed. If you find mold or mildew, you can use the all purpose spray cleaner and carpet deodorizer recipes from the DIY natural cleaners post to help clean up.

Note: If the problem is severe, please contact a trained mold remediation team. Mold spores can cause serious health problems. If you have a room or basement that smells musty, check out “Musty Smells in the House – Finding Them and Getting Rid of Them“.

Three DIY steps for when clothes in the closet smell musty:

  1. 1. Open up your closet doors! If possible, keep closet doors open to increase airflow. Louvered doors are better than solid doors, because they allow some airflow even when closed.
  2. 2. Clean your closet! Get rid of unused or rarely used items, and organize what’s left to improve airflow.
  3. When you clean, you may want to consider the old trick of reversing the hangers as you put the clothes back in. When an item is worn, the hanger gets returned to normal. After a given amount of time, anything not worn is removed from the closet and donated.
  4. 3. Consider a small fan at floor level. My in-laws had a basement closet with a chronic musty odor. The finally purchased a couple of tiny fans and put them in the bottom of the closet, directing air in and out. This got rid of the mildew and odor.
  5. You could set these up on a timer if you didn’t want them running 24/7. Get a Holmes mini fan here.

These tips should help you get rid of musty clothes and towels so your laundry smells fresh and clean. For laundry stain removal tips, check out “Do It Yourself Laundry and Household Cleaners“.


Published by

Joe Fresh

 			Joe is an odor combatant, chemistry

Joe Fresh

Joe is an odor combatant, chemistry extraordinaire and all around good guy. He has an over-productive olfactory system with absolutely zero tolerance for unpleasant aromas. View all posts by Joe Fresh

When to Hire a Professional

Mold smells can be more challenging to remove than we may think. When done improperly, one can spread the colonies instead of eradicating them. Here are a few situations when it’s best to call a professional to help:

  • No visual: If you can smell the mold but can’t find the source.
  • Medium molded area: If mold has expanded over 10 to 30 square feet, a professional should assess the situation and make recommendations.
  • Large molded area: If mold covers over 30 square feet, a qualified person should tackle the task. You may also want to address the insulation issue (21).
  • Mold keeps growing back: There may be hidden spores that keep reviving the colony.

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.

Is Mold Smell Harmful?

Mold spores are the ones guilty of causing us harm. These tiny particles range between 3 to 40 microns — a human hair isn’t thicker than 150 microns. They travel through the air and can be easily inhaled into our lungs, potentially causing allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions (4).

The strength of the smell is often unrelated to how dangerous the colony can be for our health. For instance, during its reproductive cycle, mold creates an incredible amount of spores, but very few MVOCs. This means that the odor will be mild, but spores will be present and very active.

How to Get The Mildew Smell Out Of Smelly Towels

2 cups of Borax 2 cups vinegar

I soak the towels overnight in the washing machine in warm water with vinegar and borax. In the morning, run them through the wash cycle. Wash the towels again with borax and detergent and dry as usual.

Using this process, the towels come out great and fresh!! When I first tried this in Kansas, after battling smelling towels for months, a week later I still had no mildew smell.

Prior to using this process, my towels would start stinking after a day or two and I was constantly washing smelly towels!! After discovering this method, we were able to go back to washing towels every week instead of every couple of days.

I’m glad I got that irritating problem solved! I hope you find this super helpful! 🙂

This post contains affiliate links. We do get a small commission if you purchase using this link. Thank you for supporting our site so we can bring you more great free money saving recipes and tips!

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

Another common hack for cleaning towels is using vinegar. While this option may not seem as appealing as using baking soda, it can be rather useful if you’ve got really stubborn, smelly towels. 

To use this towel cleaning hack, simply do the same as you would with the baking soda. Just add one cup of white vinegar to a load and wash your towels with no detergent or bleach in warm or hot water. If you notice that your towels still have a smell after using this hack, you can combine both hacks by first washing your stinky towels with vinegar, then running another load with the baking soda. 

Extra Tip: If you’ve found that even after you’ve tried these tricks that you’re still noticing a bit of an odor, you can also add a few drops of your favorite freshening essential oil to either of these hacks. To do this, just add three to five drops of essential oil into your load, and your towels should come out smelling fresher than ever. Some of our favorites to use are lemon and tea tree essential oil, which both have an uplifting and refreshing scent. The compounds in both of these oils also help in removing odor — for good! 

Tips for Combating Towel Smells

Even if we try our very best to take measures to prevent our towels from smelling, it still may happen from time to time. If that happens, don’t worry — you don’t have to go out and buy new towels. There are some simple measures you can take to remove the odors from your linens.

Some people have had success adding a cup of vinegar to their wash cycle with their regular detergent. After that, you can run the towels through the cycle with only a half cup of baking soda. Another solution is to line dry your linens outside or in a ventilated spot, and then run them through the dryer with a tennis ball (without dryer sheets). If done on a regular basis, this can help combat some odors.

How Can You Prevent Towels From Getting Moldy?

After bathing, hang your wet towel to dry outside or wash it immediately. Yep – it is as simple as that. There is no other magic trick when it comes to preventing towels from getting mildew or mold.

There are a LOT of ways to prevent bathroom mold however. You will want to check those out. Also, be sure to learn how to get rid of mold in the toilet as well as mold in the shower.

What if the wet towel smell is still lingering after the initial cleaning process?

If you tried steps 1-5 and still smell mildew on y

If you tried steps 1-5 and still smell mildew on your towels, it might be time to bring out the big guns.  Here are some great tips to help your towels smell fresh and clean:

Get rid of that lingering sour towel smell using borax

If you thought baking soda was good at getting the sour smell out of towels, you’ll be blown away by what borax can do.

If you’ve completed the process above with vinegar and baking soda and your towels still stink or smell like mildew, try using borax.

To complete this process, turn your water settings on high or sanitize, put ½ cup of borax in where you’d typically place the detergent and fill fabric softener spot with 1 cup of vinegar. 

Additionally, you can try laundry stripping-which is the process of soaking clothes/towels in a mixture of detergent, borax and washing soda.


Why do my towels smell even after washing?Cold water, detergents, and fabric softeners can all make it difficult to remove mildew and mold smells from towels, and actually cause it to grow. In contrast, using cleaning agents that break down bacteria, like vinegar and baking soda, and washing with very hot water, can remove bacteria effectively.

Is there a way to get the smell out of towels with vinegar?Yes! Vinegar, in combination with hot water and, in several cases, other ingredients like baking soda, is used in several of the methods above. Vinegar is very effective in neutralizing odor and breaking down bacteria.

How do you get the smell out of towels without a washing machine?If you don’t have access to a washing machine, boiling water and baking soda can be used to break down odor-causing bacteria, followed by your normal washing method. The sun also effectively kills mildew, so hang-drying can be a great option for eliminating odors!

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.

Final thoughts on smelly bath towels

Removing mildew smell from towels isn’t impossible, but it does take some work; with a little effort towels will come out clean, fresh and soft!

Why Do You Suggest Dryer Balls and Not Fabric Softener?

Read my post about mold in washing machines. In short, mold LOVES fabric softener build up which all washing machines inevitably get. Fabric softener coats your clothes and comes off in the wash. Don’t believe me? Look it up. I assure you this is a thing that happens.

Final Words

We hope that in this article, you got all the solutions you wanted about smelly towels. Now you can have those neat and clean towels with fresh smells.

Do stay tuned to us for more household remedies!

Also Read: Grab The Easiest Process On How To Remove Vinyl From A Shirt


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go up