Decor Hint is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small commission - at no extra cost to you. Learn more here.

This post will show you how to bring those old, musty towels back to life. Learn how to fix smelly towels with this simple, inexpensive method.


Are your towels smelling less than fresh these days?

I hear ya. We’ve all been there.

Here’s the good news. You can save your smelly towels with an easy fix that I’m about to share.

how to fix smelly towels

And it doesn’t require a bunch of expensive products or a trip to the dry cleaners either.

Get it!

The greenUP box; your bi-monthly subscription of eco-friendly and non-toxic home products. Reduce your plastic footprint while discovering the latest in green products for your home.

This fix is perfect for you if …

  • There’s a musty, moldy odor on your towels
  • You live in a humid climate and your towels feel damp
  • It’s summer and your towels are taking a beating with all the pool/beach/lake swimming
  • You accidentally left your wet towels in the washer too long (been there)
  • Your towels seem less than absorbent these days
  • You have guests coming to stay
  • You just want fresher towels – there’s nothing wrong with that! 🙂

Whatever the reason, you’ll have fresher towels in no time. They’ll be brighter and bouncier too. Yay!

You only need two inexpensive products.

White Vinegar.

Borax or Baking Soda.

Borax and vinegar for smelly towels

You can use either baking soda or borax to clean up those musty towels. I’ve used both personally and they each work like a charm. And after this, you NEED to try my insanely effective method for cleaning your oven racks.

You guys will have clean, fluffy, cloud like towels in no time.

How to Fix Smelly Towels

how to fix smelly towels

The simple way to fix smelly towels and get rid of that mildew, musty odor.

1. Wash Towels with Vinegar and Hot Water

vinegar dispenser for smelly towels

Throw your smelly towels in the washer.

Pour 1-2 cups of vinegar directly on your towels. You can also add the vinegar to the detergent and softener dispensers on your front load washing machine.

Run a normal wash on the HOTTEST water setting available. That’s it for this step – just vinegar and hot water.

2. Wash Towels with Baking Soda/Borax and Hot Water

Borax for smelly towels

Now you are going to do another HOT water wash with 1 cup of baking soda or borax. I throw it directly on top of my towels in the basin. This works for all types of machines.

3. Dry your Towels Completely

how to fix smelly towels

Here’s the last step. It’s important!

Remove your towels from the wash, give em’ each a good shake, and then dry them completely in the dryer.
No dryer sheets! I recommend using the dryer as opposed to line drying. Line drying can cause the fibers on your towels to dry very stiff and scratchy.

You have to make sure your towels are 100% dry before folding and putting away.

And that’s it! Two hot water washes and a complete dry cycle.

Please note we did not use any detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheets with this method. After your hot water washes, your towels should feel springy, look bright, and smell fresher than ever.

If they still smell a bit, just repeat the steps above and that should do it.

Related Post: The Best and Easiest Way to Clean Hardwood Floors

Keep in mind that this will not clean your towels, but it will remove the buildup and bacteria (ew) that caused that smelly odor in the first place. I tend to do this every couple of months or so and then use my regular detergent in between.

borax and vinegar for laundry

How Often Should I Wash My Towels

The American Cleaning Institute recommends that you wash your towels every 3-5 uses. (And yes, there IS an institute for cleaning.)

You should also hang your towels to dry completely after a shower or bath. I’m a fan of hooks over towel bars for this very reason. When you fold a wet towel over a bar, it can trap the moisture longer and that’s where all your problems begin.

How to Keep your Towels Smelling Fresh

Here are some quick tips to keep your towels smelling their best.

  • Dry towels immediately after washing. Don’t let them linger in the machine wet.
  • Ensure your towels are SUPER DRY before folding and putting away. Even a little bit of moisture can cause odors.
  • Don’t use fabric softener. You don’t really need it. Replace it with Vinegar. Trust me, your towels will not smell like vinegar.
  • Don’t use dryer sheets. They can affect the absorbency of your towels over time.
  • Don’t use too much detergent when washing your towels, it can be hard for your machine to rinse out the excess.
  • Hang your towels to dry after each use. Try to use hooks over towel bars and wash them after 3-5 uses.
  • Keep your washer clean. A stinky washer will lead to stinky clothes and towels. Periodically run a hot water and vinegar wash and keep the door and gasket frequently wiped down and clean. You can also use an Affresh tablet.
  • Use Turkish Towels. Turkish Towels are thinner and dry quicker, so there is less chance for stinky odors. Here are some of my favorite turkish towels:
How to Fix Smelly Towels:  The Ridiculously Easy Way to Save your Towels - This post will show you how to bring those old, musty towels back to life.  Learn how to fix smelly towels with this simple, inexpensive method.

xo Karen