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Last Updated July 27, 2023

We all know how nice it is to have a fresh, fluffy towel waiting when you jump out of the pool or the shower, but noticing a lingering mildew smell on that towel while you’re drying off can really put a damper on the experience.

A little while ago, our co-founder Liz Eichholz sat down with House Beautiful to discuss, among other things, how to get mildew smell out of towels. We've compiled our recommendations here, including tip on how to freshen towels and prevent them from mildewing in the future. Click on one of the sections below to jump to it or keep scrolling to read the full article.

  1. Why Do My Towels Smell Like Mildew?
  2. Why Do My Towels Still Smell Musty After Washing?
  3. How to Get the Smell Out of Towels
  4. Extra Washing Tips for Musty Smells
  5. How to Prevent Mildew Smell in Towels

Why Do My Towels Smell Like Mildew?

3 reasons towels smell like mildew list

Before you take the steps to address your mildew issue, it’s helpful to understand the underlying causes of that musty odor. Towels can develop a mildew odor due to several different factors:

    • Improper Drying: Have you ever forgotten a load of towels in the washer overnight? We’ve all done it! However, leaving your damp towels in a confined space, like the washing machine or a laundry hamper, create ideal conditions for mildew and bacteria to multiply.

    • Excessive Warmth and Humidity: Once your towels are dry, choosing the right spot to store them is key. Storing towels in poorly ventilated areas can contribute to a musty smell, especially if you live in a warm, humid area. Ideally, you should find a cool and dry spot to store your towels, but humid climates can contribute to mildew growth on towels even if they are properly and thoroughly dried.

    • Crowded Storage: Not everyone is blessed with a roomy, airy linen closet, so you might be tempted to try and fit as many towels as possible into a limited space. However, leaving room for air flow between items in the linen closet can make a big difference in keeping towels fresh over their time in storage.

Why Do My Towels Still Smell Musty After Washing?

3 reasons towels smell musty after washing

It’s frustrating to go through the effort of washing your towels, only to reach into your laundry basket and notice a musty smell lingering. If your towels still have a sour smell, it's likely caused by one of the following factors:

    • Relying Only on Detergent: There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to washing towels, but when it comes to keeping towels fresh, Liz swears by some good old-fashioned white vinegar.

    • Overloading the Washing Machine: Although it might be tempting to squeeze all the laundry in one load, an overcrowded washing machine can prevent your towels from being thoroughly cleaned and rinsed, leaving behind traces of mildew smell!

    • Hard Water Deposits: Depending on where you live, you might be dealing with a hard water buildup on your towels. Hard water can be a nuisance because it contains minerals that leave deposits even after washing. Thankfully, adding vinegar during the rinse cycle can help to reduce mineral buildup. Don’t underestimate the power of vinegar!

 

How to Get the Smell Out of Towels

liz's tips for getting the smell out of towels

If you’re dealing with a stubborn mildew smell for towels, it’s time to develop a strategy! Liz’s secret to keeping plush towels smelling fresh: a little white vinegar and baking soda. Start with 1 cup of white distilled vinegar and an optional ½ cup of baking soda, then follow the steps below:

    1. Wash One Cycle With Vinegar: Wash your towels in warm water with the vinegar added. Put the vinegar into the fabric softener compartment, if your washer has one, so it goes in during the final rinse cycle. If your washer doesn’t have a spot for detergent or fabric softener, pour the cup of vinegar in once your washer is full of water.
      • Why is vinegar effective for freshening mildewed towels? It's acidic, which kills mildew, mold, and other bacteria. It’s also effective at removing any build-up or residue left on towels from soaps and detergents.

 

    1. Wash a Second Cycle with Detergent or Baking Soda: After washing your towels once with warm water and vinegar only, you can do another cycle with either a small amount of your normal detergent or ½ cup of baking soda. This will help ensure that your towels don’t have any lingering vinegar smell, and it’ll add some extra softness to your towels.

    1. Tumble Dry on Low Heat: After the two wash cycles, move your towels to the dryer. Tumble dry on low heat until the towels are completely dry, and voilà! Your towels should smell as good as new and feel a bit softer, too!

    1. Add Essential Oils (Optional): Adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your detergent before washing towels can leave a pleasant scent on your towels. Some essential oils also have antimicrobial properties, which can be effective in combating mildew growth.

Extra Washing Tips for Musty Smells

You could safely say that soft, fluffy towels are one of our very favorite things, which is why it’s so disappointing when they develop that lingering mildew smell. Here are a few extra ways to get the musty smell out and keep your towels fresh:

    • Don’t Forget the Baking Soda: If you’re combating mildew smell by washing your towels with a cup of white vinegar, it might be helpful to wash them for one more cycle with ½ cup of baking soda in place of your normal detergent. This will help neutralize the smell of the vinegar and any other lingering smells.
      • Avoid using vinegar and baking soda together in the same cycle. Vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a basic substance, so they will cancel each other out and reduce their effectiveness.

    • Avoid Fabric Softener: We always recommend against using fabric softener with Weezie towels or any others, for that matter. While the name sounds appealing, fabric softener leaves a residue on clothing and towels that damages them over time. In the short-term, the residue that fabric softener leaves on towels can make them much less absorptive. Plus, it can trap moisture and contribute to mildew growth.
      • Try using dryer balls or dryer sheets instead, which can help keep your towels fluffy without damaging them or affecting their absorbency.

How to Prevent Mildew Smell in Towels

Rather than trying to treat a mildew smell after the fact, we recommend taking these proactive measures to prevent mildew from forming at all:

    • Dry Thoroughly: Ensure your towels are completely dry before you fold or store them. Any residual moisture in the towels will create humidity in your linen closet, making the environment a little more inviting for mildew and potentially making all your towels smell. After showering or using your towels by the pool, hang them on a towel rack or hook, or spread them out flat to dry. Leaving towels in a pile, even in the laundry basket, will lead to mildew growth.

    • Ensure Good Air Circulation: If possible, store your towels in a spot that allows air to circulate around them. Enclosed spaces like laundry hampers or closets often have poor air circulation, which can contribute to mildew growth. Consider open shelving or towel racks to enable good ventilation around your towels and help keep them fresh.

    • Wash Regularly: We recommend washing Weezie towels and other towels every 3-5 uses. You don’t have to wash Weezie robes quite as often, depending on your usage. When you do wash your towels, do your best to wash Weezie products together in cold water, and tumble dry them on a low setting. It’s also important to wash your Weezie alone, without other clothes or items, since terry snags easily. Keeping your Weezie products separate when washing will help them last longer.

A Fresh Start for Your Towels

That wraps up our top tips for how to get musty smells out of your towels. For more towel care advice, check out our article on how to wash your towels or simply reach out to us. We're available via email at holler@weezietowels.com or via text at 470-999-6551 and we’d be happy to help you with any questions you have about towel care or any of our products.

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About the Author

Liz Eichholz

Liz Eichholz

Co-Founder & Creative Director
University of Georgia, BFA, Graphic Design
11 years of experience