How To Get Rid Of Stinky Mildew Smells: Just 2 Ingredients


My husband asked for bath towels for Christmas. 


What man in his right mind ever asks for bath towels as a Christmas gift? 


Ummmmm . . . the one who has a house full of stinky-slightly-mildew-smelling towels. 




Because I'm a recovering leave-it-in-the-washer-way-too-long-before-swapping-to-the-dryer-user, a few of our towels (ahem, all of our towels?) had gotten taken over by a slightly stinky mildew smell. Add in a new HE washer (which I love, but doesn't use as much water so those things get stinky faster), and it was just bad.


But, many of our towels were in decent shape, and the thought of just throwing them out nearly killed me, so I did some research and found this way to get rid of stinky mildew smells, and it worked. 


Here's what I did:

  • Added towels to washing machine along with 1 cup of vinegar in my detergent dispenser. (I actually used 1 1/2 cups because my washer's huge ~ if you have a large capacity machine I'd recommend using 1 1/2 cups as well.)
  • Did NOT use any laundry detergent, just washed on hot for one cycle.
  • Then added 1/2 cup baking soda to the load and washed again on hot cycle.
  • Dried as usual
  • Voila!


Even the stinky dish towels we have (which are the worst) came out smelling fresh and clean ~ I was shocked. 


I've heard before that certain dish soaps tend to make dish towels smell stinkier faster (I've even read that my favorite Dawn could be the culprit?) and am trying to find a better alternative, but in the mean time this helps.


I'd love to hear your tips on getting rid of stinky mildew smells if you've struggled with this one too ~ I definitely think moving things over from the washer quickly to the dryer helps, but I'm up for any extra suggestions too (so my poor husband can get better gifts for Christmas!) 🙂 


Looking for more penny pinched cleaning ideas? Here are my favorites:


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  1. Jennifer B. says

    I used to add vinegar in my washer’s dispenser instead of fabric softener, which helped some, but I have to tell you I am using a product now that totally eliminates the smells (even in the teen son’s armpit area of shirts), so you might want to try it too. I have a new HD washer and just sprinkle some in on top of the clothing, use regular detergent as usual, and have no more bad smells!! I now buy powdered Oxi Clean with Odor Blaster (Versatile Stain & Odor Remover) brand. It is definitely worth a try!

  2. I plan to try this today with my dish towels. They are all towels that after they have lived their lives as bath towels, they get cut up into dish towels. I have one on my shoulder every night as I cook and they can get very dirty. Plus, dh uses one every night to wipe down the counters and stove, so they get saturated with cleansing spray. I can’t get up enough to do a load more than once a week and like yours, Laurie – they reek. I can’t wait to try this!!

  3. I started using dish soap Palmolive because of the mildew after smell dawn left on my sponges. my sponges or dish towels haven’t been smelly since the switch.

  4. It also helps to leave the washer door open after use so it can air out and dry. This helps prevent mold and mildew in your machine.

  5. Do you do this every time you wash towels or just when they start smelling?

  6. For stinky dish towels (I use microfiber) I boil them with borax, vinegar, used lemons or limes (which I keep in the freezer for this kind of stuff) and a couple of drops of dish soap. I rinse them well after and the smell is gone.

  7. In my washer book it says to do a sanitize cycle once a week with bleach and the hot setting. If I remember to do this it works. Going out to buy the Oxi I hope this works with the towels. Dish water I keep a small bleach bottle under the sink I add a quick splash to dishes (yes I wash them before I put into the dish washer) and wipe off counters and table keeps germs at bay.

  8. I try to use as many natural items I can. Especially when it’s cheap like vinegar and baking soda. I already use these for washing laundry while trying to recover from leave it I the washer to long syndrome. I don’t have the mildew smell unless I totally forget for a week. That rarely happens, because we usually need laundry before that.

  9. Cynthia Mathis says

    I simply add lemon scented ammonia to the towels Works like a charm

  10. Chanda Garmon says

    I fill my bleach dispenser with vinegar every time I wash towels or any of the “sweat wicking” type material. Works like a charm. Now my towels and my son’s athletic shorts and shirts smell fresh and clean.

  11. Barbara Osborne says

    I just saw this post on the mildew towels, which I have, and am going to give it a try!
    Thank you for sharing the great ideas!

  12. What about t-shirts that have the faint but definitely noticable mildew stinky smell? Anyone have recommendations? They are black under shirts my hubby wears all the time …. if they were white I would bleach….

  13. I hang my towels outside on the clothes line to dry. Sometimes leaving them out overnight. This always helps get rid of the bad mildew smell. If you don’t like hard towels simply throw them in the dryer for a few minutes when you bring them in to soften them.

    • If u add vinegar to the rinse cycle, Line dried towels and jeans are soft. It’s better then fabric softeners.

  14. What if you don’t have hot water hooked up to your washer? Will it still

  15. I add white vinegar to every load, hot for towels/underwear/socks, and cold only for “wearing” clothes. Not only does it eliminate the mildewy smell (which I HATE!), it also keeps colors from fading!

  16. I usually add a couple tablespoons of baking soda directly to thebload, fill the dispenser with a little detergent and the fabric softener dispenser with vinegar. No more smells 🙂

  17. No vinegar smell left after washing with it?

  18. I put a few drops of dish soap( you would probably leave this out if you have an HE), a little hydrogen peroxide, sprinkle a little baking soda, white vinegar, then add laundry soap, wash on hot( im sure you could use cold if you had too). I only use this for towels and sheets. This worked so well to get rid of orders for me but I might leave out the dish soap next time after reading the comments.

  19. The only thing that works and guarantees that the smell NEVER comes back is Colorox Ultimate Care Bleach. I add a small amount to the detergent in the dispenser. Smell is gone for good. You can use with any color towels.

  20. Never use liquid fabric softener with towels. I use vinegar as my softener along with normal laundry detergent. Don’t fill the machine totally full of towels. Wool dryer balls are helpful. As for dish soap, the Mrs Meyers dish soap smells wonderful and does not leave the stinky smell like Dawn does. Also I started buying Clorox handi wipe disposable cloths. You get 20 in a package and I tear them in half or sometimes 4ths. I use these to wash dishes, rinse and air dry. Then throw away after a few uses. It may not be the most frugal way but with a husband and teens that don’t rinse the sponge after they use it, I was tired of a smelly sponge and having to constantly run it through my dish washer to get the smell out.

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