A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me a question about smelly towels when I asked what topics you’d like to see covered in the new year.
Here’s what she had to say:
STINKY DISHCLOTHES…any suggestions on what I can substitute for those things? I use them to wipe countertops and cooktops and by the end of the day they stink horribly!
I wash them almost every day but the odor always returns…any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!
I gave her a few tips for getting rid of stinky towel smells and then realized that if she struggled with this, she definitely wasn’t alone.
Although she was asking specifically how to make dishcloths not smell, this affordable tip is perfect for any towels that have a musty odor or smell mildewy.
I also use it when I’m washing the dog blankets or beds.
Are you ready for the cheapest, easiest, laundry tip ever?
White distilled vinegar instead of fabric softener will work miracles on smells!
I learned this tip when I was desperate to get the lingering smell out of towels that were left in the washing machine too long.
No matter how many times I washed them, they kept smelling like mildew.
I HATE the smell of vinegar, so I was pretty skeptical that adding something so stinky to the washer would both get rid of the original smell and NOT come out of the dryer with a new smell.
But it works and is the best way to cure stinky towels! No dryer sheets are needed either.
I started buying jumbo bottles of vinegar at Target for $3 and stopped buying any fabric softener. In fact, fabric softener can also ruin the absorbency of towels, so it’s generally not recommended by towel manufacturers.
How to Use Vinegar in Washing Machine
When we had a top loader, I just poured about 1/2 cup of vinegar right on top of the towels in the washing machine. For extra smelly loads, I used a bit more.
Our front loader has a fabric softener dispenser, and I just fill it to the max line with the vinegar and so far everything has come out perfectly. It dispenses at the perfect time in the wash cycle.
To make it easier to store the vinegar in our laundry room, I recently picked up a cheap glass pitcher with a lid.
It’s more attractive, but the biggest thing for me is that it fits in the cabinet. The large vinegar bottles are too tall and I have to keep them in the cleaning closet. PS: Even though it’s cheap, the glass is thick and heavy, especially when full. If you have problems with wrist strength, this may not be the best option.
Some people also use a cup of baking soda, but I’ve never found this necessary.
Just the vinegar and your regular laundry soap will work wonders.
Do NOT use bleach and vinegar in the same load. This can cause a chemical reaction that could be harmful to yourself and your clothes!
I did share a couple of other simple tips with Fran that may help you as well.
First, make sure to swap wet towels out of the washing machine as soon as possible after the load ends to avoid mildew growth, especially if you have a front load washer. The faster you’re able to dry towels, the easier it is to avoid a sour smell. While it’s counterintuitive, we also make sure we don’t use too much detergent and skip softeners to avoid fabric softener residue that lingers in fabric. The vinegar does a great job of leaving us with fluffy towels, especially if you also use dryer balls. If you miss the fragrance from fabric softener, just add a couple of drops of essential oil on the dryer balls.
For the kitchen, we switched to using antibacterial wipes on the counters vs dishcloths. I’m not totally thrilled disposing of the plastic containers they come in all the time so I try to get the ones that come with the most wipes per container.
While doing a bit of research, I found some reusable no odor scrubbers that dry before bacteria can form, along with a Swedish mildew resistant dishcloth. They have really good reviews so I think I’m going to try them out. If you’ve used them, let me know if you love or hate them in the comments below!
The other tip is to make sure all bath towels and cloths are hung in way they can dry quickly vs leaving them bunched up.
My washcloths in the bathroom are hung over the faucet to dry BEFORE they go into the dirty clothes hamper.
Just making that change and washing towels with vinegar keeps our laundry smelling fresh. The mildew smell on your towels will be a thing of the past.
I was thrilled when Fran checked back in with me to let me know how the tip worked. Here’s what she had to say.
I wanted to report back to you on the vinegar in the laundry…absolutely NO odor in the towels or wash clothes…in fact…the scent is way more fresh than just laundry detergent! No vinegar scent either…thank you so much for your help!
I’d love to hear if you have any other tips and tricks for how to make towels smell fresh!
Next up, head over to see what our laundry room used to look like in our DIY Laundry Room Makeover post, or see another favorite cleaning hack – how to clean your oven glass!