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4 Reasons Your Towels Smell After Washing (And How to Fix It)

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A shower or a hot bath is a great way to relax at the end of a difficult day. And what can be better than taking a fresh, clean towel to wrap yourself in and dry off? 

But wait, what is this musty smell? Did you put a dirty towel in the drawer by accident?

But you clearly remember washing it last week. And now that you think about it, it’s not the first time your towels have smelled funny. But what should you do? You don’t want to use a towel that already smells.

Bathroom background with ceramic soap and towels at the table

Before you start thinking about buying a new set of bath towels, let us reassure you: 

There is a way out, and it’s easier (and cheaper) than you think. So here are some tips on why your towels may smell and how to make them fresh and clean again. 

So… Why Do They Even Smell?

There are several reasons why your towels smell musty even after being washed. You may guess some, but you probably won’t figure out all of them.

We don’t dispute your cognitive skills –it’s just that we may never really think about the “rules” of proper towel handling. That’s why we all get this smelly problem eventually.

Let’s face it: It’s easy to leave towels in the washing machine for too long.

We get it. The thought of hanging all that laundry makes us sigh in despair—no wonder this bad habit is the main reason why towels smell so nasty afterward. 

1. Leaving Towels in a Washing Machine

Colored towels in an open washing ma

A damp towel is a perfect playground for bacteria that can start breeding within 1-2 hours after washing.

And this is precisely the time we tend to forget about the existence of laundry in our washing machines.

The characteristic musty smell towels get means bacteria already live and breed there comfortably. 

So, the first tip is to stop leaving your damp towels in the washing machine for too long. Use this tip for all clothes, actually.

2. No Proper Drying

White Towels dry under sunlight

Bacteria are really flexible when it comes to living conditions. 

How often do we toss a wet towel on the floor in a hot, steamy bathroom without properly hanging it first? Yeah, you guessed it – another bad habit to stop.

A warm and damp environment is a haven for bacteria, so you do them an excellent service by throwing your damp towel on the floor or in the basket.

The less access to air the fibers have, the bigger the chance of bacteria developing on them.

In simpler terms, you have to hang a towel properly on a rack to let the air do its thing. Don’t drop towels elsewhere – this way, air won’t be able to go through fibers properly. 

3. Too Much Detergent or Softener

Scoop with powder, detergent , softener and towels on white wooden backgroun

Ironic but true – adding too much fabric detergent or softener to your laundry can easily make your towels smell like someone’s feet.

Just like they collect extra dampness from your body, towels can accumulate soap residue from detergent or softener, thus blocking the fibers from absorbing all the water and evaporating it as the towel dries.

And – you guessed it – the towel becomes an excellent breeding environment for bacteria

So the great tip of the day: don’t let detergent come near your towels ever again! OK, we’re kidding. But really, use less as opposed to more.

Don’t put too much cleaning liquid into the machine – add the exact amount written on the bottle. 

However, it would be best to stop using commercial fabric softeners on your towels. Softeners coat the fibers with a thin chemical layer, reducing their absorbing ability. 

4. Your Hygiene

Adorable little girls wrapped in towel at tropical beach

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not accusing you of being nonhygienic. In fact, if you’re here, that means you value it very much.

But we’re also not wrong – your body can make towels smell bad. But how?

Some people, especially children, don’t wash thoroughly when taking a shower or bath. As a result, bacteria from body oils or sweat left behind transfer to the towel and start breeding actively. 

To exclude this reason from the list of “why my towel smells so horrible,” pay specific attention to “hot spots” on your body, like your underarms, feet, and groin next time you shower.

These areas tend to collect the most sweat and body oil, which is then left on the towel. Gross; we know. But what is natural should not be shameful.

OK…How Do We Deal With It?

Now that it’s clear why and how our towels smell as bad as they do, let’s talk about how to get rid of that nasty fragrance. In fact, it’s really easy.  

1. Vinegar and Bicarbonate Combo

Natural ingredients are always the best for whatever we’re trying to fix. Have you noticed?

Baking soda in a bowl with vinegar and lemon slices

So, next time you go shopping, add white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to your list.

Vinegar is a great disinfectant due to its acidic nature. And acids can destroy not only bacteria but also viruses.

So before you turn on your washing machine, add a cup of white vinegar instead of your regular detergent, and turn on a hot cycle. 

Then, add half a cup of baking soda to your laundry when it’s in the rinse cycle. Bicarbonate of soda or baking soda significantly reduces the pH gradient across bacterial membranes, thus helping to wash them out of the fibers.  

In fact, it’s a great new habit you should acquire – wash your towels with vinegar and baking soda every third or fourth wash so they always stay clean and safe for your body.

2. Clean Your Washing Machine

woman listing music by headphone and cleaning washing machine in the laundry room

How often do we remember to clean our vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, or washing machine? And they need no less, if not more, frequent cleaning than the carpets, dishes, or clothes they clean. 

If you use chlorine bleach for some of your white clothes, you already know how to clean your washing machine so it will be a no-brainer for you.

If you’re eager to eliminate all possible causes of the nasty smell, you can even run the machine empty once with a bit of chlorine bleach added.

3. Make Your Dry Towels Soft  

Clean soft white towels on wooden table

The feeling of a fresh soft towel is indescribable. But we’ve just banned softener, so what shall we do with that guilty pleasure of ours?

After the vinegar and soda washing is done, hang the towels outside until they are dry. Then, throw them in the dryer, adding one or two felted wool dryer balls.

Some people even recommend using clean tennis balls – you can try them if you want.

Either way, wool or tennis balls will fluff up your towels, making them softer at the same time.

But I Like The Smell of Lavender On My Towels! 

Secretly, we all love nice smelling clothes.

And we cannot forbid it; we just do not have a moral right. That’s why we give you some tips on how to make your towels smell pleasantly after the wash.

1. Lavender Water

If you love the smell of lavender (who doesn’t!), pour some lavender water into a spray bottle and squirt it on your towels before washing.

After they’re dry, you’ll still smell the light lavender fragrance.

In fact, you can use any scented water or essential oil the same way – you only have to choose your favorite smell.

2. Organic Detergents

Woman pouring liquid detergent from bottle for laundry in front of washer

You can forget about the detergent ban for a second.

Some companies today, like Dr. Bronner's , Method , or The Good Home Co. , produce organic or vegan detergents with minimal harmful chemicals to clog the fibers in a towel.

3. Citrus Oils

If you still decide to use your detergent – but remember our tips, please – you can make your towels smell better by doing one little trick: Mix one cup of white vinegar, one cup of baking soda, one-half cup of borax, and 20 drops of citrus oil

Add this potion to your detergent and use it as usual. Your towels will smell fresh, and if you dry them the way we recommended, they will be fragrant AND fluffy. Isn’t that what you wanted at the very beginning?

Clean towels, bottle dispenser and flower in the bathroom


We hope these tips bring you the same joy and ease as when you smell a soft, fresh towel after a nice shower.

Take these tips with you and let your towels be smelly – er, we mean aromatic.