How to Get Mildew Smell out of Towels in 3 Easy Steps

Getting mildew smell out of towels is as easy as water, vinegar, and baking soda

Mizuki Hisaka
Written by Mizuki Hisaka
Updated October 28, 2022
A mother in a bathroom wrapping her daughter with a towel
Photo: Peter Muller / Image Source / Getty Images
Difficulty

Easy

Simple project; big impact.

Time to complete

2 hours, 55 minutes

You'll spend most of the time waiting for the washer and dryer to run.

Cost

$3–$5

You might need a thing or two.

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What you'll need:

SUPPLIES

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda

If you’ve been washing your towels over and over again but can’t seem to get rid of the musty, mildewy smell, there’s no need to worry. You can try some simple tricks to learn how to get mildew smell out of towels and make your linens smell fresh and as good as new again. Best of all, it only takes a couple of staple pantry items and a little bit of time.

Prepping to Get Mildew Smell out of Towels

If you’re wondering how to get the musty smell out of your towels, you might rush to start washing your towels. But first, ask yourself: When was the last time you deep-cleaned your washer?

If it’s been longer than one to three months, it’s a good idea to do this first. After many cycles, your machine can suffer from mildew, mold, and bacteria buildup and transfer that smell to your towels.

To do a deep clean, first run your washer on the hottest, longest cycle with 4 cups of white vinegar in the drum. Then, add 1 cup of baking soda to the drum and run another cycle. After, wipe the inside down well with a clean cloth.

You should follow up by wiping down any removable parts with a cloth and cleaning the filter. Soak the filter in a 1:1 mixture of hot water and vinegar, then rinse it clean. Finally, wipe down the gasket on front-loading washers with a 1:1 water and vinegar mixture.

This process will add a few hours to your total project time, but will be well worth it. Once your washer is nice and clean, you can get started on cleaning your towels.

  1. Run a Cycle With Vinegar

    Throw your mildew-smelling towels into the washer and run a cycle with 1 cup of white vinegar. You can put the vinegar in the fabric softener compartment or pour it into the washer when it’s full of water. If none of those options are available, you can simply pour the vinegar straight onto the towels before running the load.

    And as much as you might want to, don’t use any detergent during this step. Detergent can build up on fabric over time, contributing to unpleasant smells. White vinegar strips away build-up from detergent and other cleaning products. The vinegar can also kill mildew, mold, and bacteria, so it’s no wonder there are so many clever ways to clean with vinegar.

  2. Run a Cycle With Baking Soda

    After washing the towels with white vinegar, run a second cycle with a 1/2 cup of baking soda. You can sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the towels and use the hottest water setting.

    Again, don’t add detergent to the wash. The baking soda will do the job by softening the fabric, whitening it, and removing any lingering vinegar smells.

  3. Dry the Towels

    A man folding towel in a sunny room
    Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial / Moment / Getty Images

    Skip the fabric softener this time. Just like with detergent, it can cause build-up on your towels. A good alternative is using felted wool dryer balls. They’ll help your towels come out nice and fluffy.

Getting Musty Smell out of Towels Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro

Getting the mildew smell out of your towels is a fairly straightforward DIY job. But if you don’t have the time to dedicate to running multiple washer cycles—especially if you have tons of towels to take care of—you can hire a local house cleaning service.

You can expect the cost of a house cleaner to run around $30 to $50 per hour. While they typically won’t do laundry unless you ask, you can usually add this on for about $5 to $20 per load. The good thing about hiring a pro is that they’ll know exactly how to get the moldy smell out of your towels, and you won’t have to lift a finger. Plus, for the total price, they’ll clean a lot more than just your towels.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.