Remove Mildew Smell From Towels

My husband is very good at remembering lyrics, especially theme songs from television shows and commercial jingles from his youth.  One of his personal favorites to sing is the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.  “Let me tell y’all a story ’bout a man named Jed.  A poor moutaineer, barely kept his family fed…”  I prefer the few times I can get him to sing the theme song from the Love Boat.  “Love, exciting and new.  Come aboard, we’re expecting you…”  It is my own fault that he won’t sing it more often, because I laugh hysterically every time and he feigns indignation.  He tells me he can’t sing under those conditions.  A family favorite is the commercial jingle from an old Downy Fabric Softener commercial where a little boy is at camp and sings the letter he is writing to his parents and his mother sings her reply. The boy sings,”Hello mother, Hello Father.  Greetings from camp Hiawatha. Swimming’s cool here, but this place is not like home, I miss your nice soft pillowcases.”  The mom sings back,”You miss Downy, it’s so pleasin’, April freshness, that’s the reason. Here’s a gift from home, we love you, love your Mother.” (You can see the commercial here on YouTube if you like) What did she send him to help him feel better about camp?  A freshly laundered towel with that Downy smell to remind him of home! Because everybody loves the smell of Downy in their towels, right?

Wrong. Followers of our blog may remember from my post on DIY/Homemade Air Freshener that I have issues with weird smells, but I don’t like to combat them with commercial ones.  I won’t even use certain laundry detergents because of the perfume smell it leaves on my clothes.  As for towels, I like them to smell like, well, like clean towels and not detergent.  What could be worse than “perfumey” smelling towels?  Is there anything worse than “perfumey” smelling towels?  YES!  YES, THERE IS!  Mildewy smelling towels are WORSE!  And worse than that are mildew smelling washcloths in the kitchen.  Because then you wipe that smell all over your counter when you are cleaning and then it is on your hands.  EWWW!  I live in an area that is known for high humidity, so keeping that smell out of towels and washcloths is a challenge.  Recently the problem became so big in our household I was about to throw out all my towels and get new ones.  Now I don’t have to!  This WikiHow tells you several methods you can use to solve the problem.  The first one is the one I used and it worked perfectly!

Step1: Wash towels in hottest water possible  in 1- 2 cups vinegar. Do not add anything else!

Step 2: Wash again as you normally would in detergent or baking soda.

Step 3: Dry in the dryer on high heat setting.  Make sure they get completely dry.

After doing this with my smelly towels and washcloths, they smell wonderful!  No perfume odors, just clean fresh scent.  And the mildew smell has not returned. Many kind wishes for happy towels to you,

This Pin Rocks!


  1. This is a great tip and truly works! Thanks for sharing.

    • It sure is nice when a solution to a problem turns out to be simple and inexpensive, right. Thanks for coming by Kelly!

  2. Nice! I HATE the smell of mildewy clothes. Grosses me out! Sounds like a good tip. I use vinegar in my dishwasher. It really gives the rinse an added boost. I’ll have to try this concoction when we forget to put the towels in the dryer! :)

    • Thanks Jeni. Hope it can be of use to you. So many of these home “recipes” involve vinegar. I think I will purchase a bigger bottle at the store next time!

  3. Just the opposite to my ‘druthers’!
    I grew up in a pharmacy, with all the scented soaps and perfume testers, which my mother used copiously. If a piece of soap fell on the floor and got ‘bruised’, it was taken upstairs to our flat, where it was put into the airing cupboard between towels, wash cloths and sheets, or in mother’s underwear and sweater drawers (keeps out the moths!) I do the same, except I have to buy my soap, but get it when I spy French or Italian, Spanish or Indian soaps at outlet stores, for half normal price. They are always French milled, so, hard and lasting and when I keep them a year or so, even harder, so they last a long time. My world is awash with aromatherapy and I wouldn’t have it any other way (especially when I bury my nose into my down pillow, scented with Shalimar soap!

    • I think if my soaps were European I might feel different! It sounds heavenly!

      • They are not so rare. Depending on where you live, there are stores like Ross, TJ Max, Marshalls, that have such things (and perfume colognes at 1/2 price) They seem expensive when you look at first, but most come in beautiful boxes, which of course, smell good too, and are good for drawer separators, to hold socks, small undies, etc. They are often huge too. I have two blocks that weigh a pound each, whereas my partner’s Coast is getting smaller every year, to ‘keep costs down’……………. Yeah, right! Often, there are more available after Christmas too.

  4. Can’t wait to try this when my roomie forgets to transfer our bathroom and kitchen towels from washer to dryer!

  5. P J Kielberg-McClenahan says:

    Should your laundry smell of mildew, on colors try Clorox for colors, or plain Clorox for whites. To keep clothes from smelling, use borax with your detergent. AND keep an eye on when your clothes are done washing! Transfer to dryers as soon as possible! This is probably the very best advice that you can get, on avoiding mildew smell.

    • Great tips, P J! For those of us living in a humid area, this can be a real problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure right? But if you towels do get smelly, the vinegar trick is a real winner.

  6. Vinegar doesn’t always work on some of the nastiest mildewy smells. When you need the big guns, use ammonia. It doesn’t leave any smell on the clothes/towels…just fresh and clean :)

  7. Gloricela says:

    Vinegar does work well to eliminate that musty towel smell but I think Tea Tree Oil work a whole lot better. Along with your regular laundry detergent add 1/2-1tbs of tea tree oil into the hot wash water once the tub is full or close to full. Then let it wash on a normally cycle but in hot water. No need to rewash but the towels should be thoroughly dried.

  8. Hi – a quick way to keep your dishcloth free of that smell is to throw it (damp) into the microwave for 2 minutes. That kills the odor-causing bacteria and keeps it fresh. You can use a few drops of lemon on it to make it smell nice too. I also throw dish sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher.

    • I love this tip! Thanks so much for sharing. I hate when I wipe down the counter and can smell “that” smell.

  9. Saw the article about your website in my Costco magazine this past summer and am finally sitting down to peruse – love it!

    Just had to comment on this tip for getting the mold/mildew smell out of towels. This tip works for sure! I may have done mine in the opposite order, but it worked great nonetheless. I read somewhere that when you wash towels on a regular basis, don’t use dryer sheets, and don’t overload the washer. I’m guilty of both! Oh well, now I have the solution!

    • Thanks Dani B. I am so glad you got around to visiting us. I am so glad to hear it worked for you. Hope we will see you around here more often.


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