Easily De-Funk Your Bath Towels

How to Clean Your Stinky Mildew Towels

Last week, I wrote about how to wash your washing machine, I then received some fabulous feedback on how to fix those funky towels and their smell. Sometimes your towels can smell even if your washing machine is pristine.

Smelling that sour scent in towels is truly one of my biggest pet peeves. It drives me crazy and really grosses me out. So this was a fabulous trick to know. Vinegar and baking soda can fix that mess.

After time, with many washes and use, the towels will start to build up detergent, fabric softener residue and because of this won’t allow your towel to absorb as much water, and start to smell.

Instead of buying new towels when you start to smell that stench, just do this simple trick:

Wash your towels in hot water with a cup of vinegar, and then run again in hot water with a half-cup of baking soda. That will strip your towels from all of that residue and mildew smell and will actually leave them feeling fluffy and smelling fresh.

***Do not add laundry detergent to either wash. Just once with vinegar and once with baking soda.
*** This trick also works well with wet bathing suits that were left to dry.

It could also be possible that your smelly towels are coming from a smelly washing machine. You don’t want to miss How To Wash Your Washing Machine. But, if you have a front loading washer, the instructions to clean your washer AND your towels is different, so be sure to check out How To Clean Your Front Loading Washing Machine. 


    • Anonymous says

      I had a house fire with minimal damage to bedrooms…i did this for my family’s clothes to get the smoke smell out. Once in white distilled vinegar then once in baking soda…worked awesome! I did do a laundry soap and softner just to make them smell like home while living in a hotel. All was done at a laundromat to be a little easier on me….

  1. says

    @Anonymous 1 – I have a friend who does this every six months and she is the one who told me about it and says it works like a charm.

    @Anonymous 2 – Yes, white distilled vinegar.It is really cheap and can be found at any grocery store.

  2. Anonymous says

    I add one cup or more of CLEAR ammonia to each towel washing and always for those towels smelling mildewy. It works wonderfully every time.

  3. Anonymous says

    I have a front load washer. I use 1 cup of white vinegar in the pre-wash area with my towels. I also use detergent. The vinegar removes the smell and I was told its a natural fabric softener…my towels are soft.

  4. Anonymous says

    There is no exact measurement.I fill up all the spaces for detergent,softener,bleach dispenser with white vinegar .Then I put a bunch inside the washer.Turn on clean and it works Like a charm .I have done it for over 3 years

    • Anonymous says

      ooohhh kay! why didn’t I ever think of this – I would set a timer, run down to the basement & hope to catch the rinse cycle to be able to add vinegar (which, by the way, really does soften towels) – sometimes I’d make it, sometimes not :( I’m getting too old for all those stairs now! thanks for suggesting adding vinegar to the dispenser – it will sure save me steps!

  5. says

    Hi @Mallory, you do not need to dry between the vinegar and baking soda. Just wash back to back.
    @anonymous – You do not have to wash with detergent after.
    Thanks for commenting!

  6. says

    I just threw out a bunch of dishcloths and hand towels last month. I was ready to do it again, found your blog on pinterest and decided to try it. It worked! No more funk! Thank you! You saved me the cost of towel replacement again!

  7. says

    @happinessinMD Yay! That makes me so happy to hear! I’m so happy that it worked and saved you from having to throw those towel out and waste money on buying more! You should take the money and do something nice for yourself, like a pedi or a massage. That would be awesome!

    • Anonymous says

      Thank u so much for ur post! i was about to throw out all my towels and start over! i will try this tomorrow!! :)

    • Anonymous says

      I hope this works I had house fire had to buy all new kitchen towels I washed them first, but got busy and left them in the washer wet for 3 days, I reashed and dried but when I used one to do dishes that night it smelt awful like mildew when it was wet so I was thinking I got to throw out all 17 dish towels I just baught last week I looked up how to get help found this I sure hope it works it akes me just sick to think I was stupid anough to leave in washer 3 whole days grrr.

    • Anonymous says

      my sheets and towels never smelled sour when I washed them n my washing machine.
      however when I wash them at a launder mat
      The sour smell hit me like s ton of bricks after just one day after I had taken a shower!

      Why? I used the same detergent and softner.


  8. Anonymous says

    I also wash them on hot with a cup of peroxide and it will get the smell out. But I would love to try this and see if they get “fluffy” again.

  9. says

    I have front load washer I put towels in washer put one cup vinegar in were the liquid detergent goes then ran hot wash when it finshed I put half cup backing soda in were powder goes run hot wash OMG towels came out amazing. ♡♡♡♡♡

  10. Anonymous says

    I was doing just a load with ammonia and that helped a little but I could still smell the funk a little. Just tried a load with ammonia first and then washed in white vinegar. Excited to test the results

  11. Anonymous says

    Can you do this with high efficiency washers? Also does it matter what type of vinegar I already have apple cider vinegar could I use that or does it have to be the regular vinegar?

  12. says

    Hi @anonymous. Yes, this will work with high efficiency washers, but I would not use apple-cider. It can leave a sour scent that is not easily washed out as white vinegar is.

  13. Stephanie says

    I am so happy to find this post !!!

    My towels are so gross, I’ve been on the verge of throwing them all out.

    Going to stock up on vinegar & baking soda tomorrow! Thank you :)

    • Anonymous says

      I do this as needed, like around every 4 months. I run my washer on sanitize and put in one cup of white vinegar. I never needed to use the soda. It got the smell right out!

  14. FrugalSheila says

    Another trick I learned a few years ago, I think from Martha Stewart, was to boil my funky towels. That has worked well for me, but I now also use a vinegar (I LOVE vinegar, for its many, many uses!) especially after leaving a washload too long in the washer. I just re-run with a generous splash of vinegar.

  15. says

    I did this and it worked beautifully! I actually did it backwards though but it still worked. I have a front loader hE washer and I just dumped the backing soda right in the tub with the towels just like my oxyclean powder. Then I ran the vinegar in the actual detergent drawer and it worked like a charm. I am still in awe of how fresh and light my towels are. They were so mildewy smelling before. Thank so much!!

  16. Anonymous says

    This works great for stinky socks too! I don’t use laundry detergent anymore, I only use vinegar and baking soda.

  17. Anonymous says

    Wonder if this would work on my husband stinky tee shirts that he runs/works out in. Much cheaper than Oxyclean.

  18. says

    I love this! And how timely…my teen boys are going on a 5-day camp-out tomorrow…and I KNOW how their towels and wash cloths come back smelling. I will be using this on Sunday upon their return!

    I also have linked your post on my blog. You’ll have a few extra visitors, hopefully. :)

  19. Anonymous says

    this is a major need to know. i just thought that my water where i live was the culprit the the stinky smell. your a life saver and im putting this on facebook for all my friends to see thank you so much

  20. Anonymous says

    just to confirm, do you run two wash cycles first with the vinegar and then with the baking soda followed by a rinse cycle or does the baking soda go into the rinse cycle?

  21. says

    Hi @Anonymous – I think this would absolutely work for your husband workout t-shirts. I would love it if you tried and and left another comment with your results!

    @Cheerfully Vegan! I think this is perfect timing to use this on your kids camp out towels. Thanks so much for sharing on your blog! I really appreciate the shout out!

  22. says

    @Anonymous – Wash your towels in a complete cycle with the vinegar, then run a complete cycle again with the baking soda. Both the vinegar and the baking soda go in at the beginning of the wash.


  23. Anonymous says

    I’m just relieved I’m not the only one who’s towels smell funky after a while…Thanks for the tip! I’m doing this tonight!!

  24. Anonymous says

    My towels are yucky smelling too I almost threw them out until I read this post!!! I am about to try this out!

  25. Anonymous says

    I tried this today and it worked great. I added a cap full of peppermint essential oil in with the baking soda load. The towels smell great and are soft. Thank you!

  26. says

    I am so happy to read the comments that you all had some great success. I love this tip and it makes such a difference. The essential oil is a great tip I will have to try next time!

  27. Anonymous says

    This worked great to get the smell out, however, some of the decorative towels became discolored. Ex. The gray lines turned brown. Hoping for feedback on what may have caused this. Man do they smell good and feel great!

  28. says

    Hi Anonymous,

    I haven’t had an issue with that and I haven’t heard of that happening to anyone else as far as I know of. You didn’t add detergent to either of the washes right? As long as you just used the vinegar in one wash and baking soda in the second, it shouldn’t have caused any reaction. So sorry to hear though. I wish I had a better answer for you.


  29. LisaGG says

    Just had power turned back on after a week without due to Hurricane Isaac. Our towels were never able to dry out due to the humidity and so have been hanging damp for this past week and all smelled. I just finished trying the method suggested in this post and it worked great. I washed my towels twice, once in vinegar (1 cup) and once in baking soda (1/2 cup). I used no detergent and dried them with a dryer sheet. They smell fresh! Thanks for the suggestion! I plan to repost this on facebook for all my other friends that are still moping up after Isaac!

  30. Ciera says

    I moved about 3 weeks ago and when I packed them I decided to use this method to give them a good wash and it works! I was wondering if this vinegar and baking soda method would work on bath mats?

  31. says

    Hi Ciera,

    I am so happy to hear that this worked for you after a big move. I would absolutely try this out on your bath mats. I know that it will refresh them and make them seem just like new!

  32. says

    Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for commenting. I know this could help save your sponges. You can also disinfect them by putting them in your dishwasher and washing them with the rest of your dishes. Or, wet your sponge and place it on a plate and heat the sponge for 30 seconds. You could also add some fresh lemon juice.
    That will disinfect them to use fresh!

  33. Anonymous says

    Gonna try this today. My machine has seperate compartments for detergent, oxi/bleach, and softener. Which space should I put the vinegar and baking soda in?

  34. Anonymous says

    My boyfriend is a marine mechanic and usually comes home smelling like he bathed in diesel fuel. I’ve tried everything I can think of to prevent him from throwing all his work clothes away!… Would this trick work on them?

  35. says

    Hi Anonymous,

    I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on your boyfriend’s clothes. I think it would work great. You could even wash them a third time in detergent. I would think that you would only have to do this trick every other time. But you should let me know!

  36. Anonymous says

    I have done this to my sheets that I was ready to replace and they are now soft and smell fresh! Works like a charm…..I’m now cleaning all of my clean towels to rid them of smells and make them soft again. not only will they be softer but also will absorb water better since the fabric siftner build-up is being removed. I can’t wait to use them!!!

  37. Anonymous says

    anything that comes in close contact with my body-towels/washcloths, bed linens, panties, socks, sleepwear-I have been washing with a detergent (Method mostly, but any I have used is ok), with vinegar filling the cup where fabric softener is supposed to go. It took a couple treatments but they are all soft and fluffy now, the colors remain bright, and after the dryer all you smell is the fragrance from the detergent, so pick one you like. Once in a while when I feel like it I may use a few of those Purex crystals as well, but just for the smell. Everything is absorbent and the garments are much cooler and absorbent in the summer and more insulating in the winter without that oily softener coating on them.

  38. Anonymous says

    I noticed one said they used red wine vinegar. That may be the reason the towels got discolored. I also will try this on several of my things. Thanks for posting this.

  39. Anonymous says

    vinegar and baking soda is also a great drain cleaner. put 1/2 cup baking soda in drain let sit for 2 minutes then pour vinegar (white or apple cider) in the drain until you can not see anymore baking soda and it will fizzz like crazy let sit for 5 minutes then rinse with hot hot water. it clears the drain, disinfects and makes the drain smell better.

  40. Anonymous says

    It works! I wanted to scream because of the way my wash clothes smelled, So I tried it, and they smell fresh again. Thanks for a great tip!

  41. Anonymous says

    A friend of mine works in wardrobe on movie sets and she told me a few years ago to stop using fabric softener with my towels because it’s an oil product (with dyes) which means it will make your towels less absorbent. She also said fabric softener builds up in the fibers and can actually be the cause of that bad smell. She never uses fabric softener at all. For anything. Only white vinegar and baking soda. So I stopped using fabric softener on my towels and now use vinegar and baking soda as well as a small amount of detergent (she also said most people use way too much detergent, use half the amount it tells you to use on the box) and my towels have never been fluffier, fresher, softer, and more absorbent. She’s a genius with fabric/textile care.

  42. says

    I’m on a mission to the laundrymat to do this right now. I had given up on my super-thick towels I love so much, and am glad to be able to give them a second chance with this method.
    Thank you for posting!

  43. says

    Hi all Anonymous’ and Monique,

    Thanks for your comments and support. I appreciate you all taking the time to leave a comment. I love this trick and my towels are all like new and I’m so glad that all of you appreciate it too!


  44. Anonymous says

    just a note for pet owners….if you have something that your pet has had an accident on…..this helps to take that odor out also. My cat loves my bathmat for some reason and I have used the vinegar to neutralize that odor.

  45. Anonymous says

    can you continue to wash the towels in vinegar and baking soday or would you just do it once in awhile. , instead of detergent I mean. Thanks. Did it today and it was great. could not figure out why new towels had that mildew smell. Now I just want to keep washing them that way. Saundra

  46. says

    Hi Saundra,

    I am sure that you could do that for every wash, but it would take the two loads each time since you can’t put the vinegar and baking soda together. But I don’t see why you couldn’t do it if you wanted to.


  47. says

    This worked for me! I did the distilled vinegar first wash, baking soda second wash, then used my regular detergent for a third wash just so it would smell good! ;) It totally worked! I am beyond ecstatic!

  48. says

    Usually by the time you need to de-funk your towels, they have been washed quite a few times and the colors shouldn’t run. You want to try to not mix anything other than the vinegar and baking soda to not compromise. But, if you are really concerned, you can try the color catcher and see if it still works.
    Thanks for commenting!

  49. says

    I used laundry detergent in the wash cycle and 1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. when the towels are dry, they have no smell. but when they are WET, OMG!!! the smell is really bad! Help, what can I do? I want to continue to use natural products but I don’t know where to turn.

  50. says

    Hi Heaven,

    Try washing with exactly how the instructions say and see if that makes a difference. Don’t use detergent and use the baking soda and vinegar to wash. That might make a difference for you.

    Thanks for commenting. Good luck!

  51. Anonymous says

    I’ll tell you how I solved this problem once and for all; I picked up a bamboo towel (yes, bamboo). Bamboo is, of course, a very hard wood. Once shredded into a fiber however, it can be woven into any of several very soft textile items including a bath towel with a lofty, terrycloth weave. Bamboo is essentially antimicrobial, and some species grow so fast–up to 4′ per day (yes, that’s four feet per day!) making it the most renewable natural resource on the planet. “So, will this really solve my stinky towel problem?”, you ask. Here are the specifics of my situation: I wouldn’t even THINK about using a cotton towel more than once. 1) It would smell utterly disgusting the second time around, and 2) After the first use, when it dried, any cotton towel I used dried like plywood. With the bamboo towel, on the other hand, I’m able to use the same towel every day for several weeks! (That may sound a little disgusting to some of you but I look at it this way, when I step out of that shower, every inch of my body is CLEAN, therefore, by my reasoning, the towel should stay clean and should really be good to use for even months between washings.) In my experience, there is NO ODOR AT ALL with a bamboo towel no matter how many times I’ve used it. You can buy these towels (and many other products of a bamboo derivative) at cariloha.com for a whopping $69 or, get what looks to be the same thing on amazon.com for as low as $19.99. The only thing you may not like about the bamboo towel is that it isn’t as absorbent as 100% cotton (chemically, bamboo is about the same as Rayon). I’d say the bamboo is maybe 70-80% as absorbent as 100% cotton. I can certainly live with that to get rid of that rancid smell!

  52. says

    Was just commenting to my daughter tonight about how I can’t stand the odor left in our cloth napkins and our towels, etc. that all get washed together. So, I typed in a search request for a natural way to clean towels, and found this blog with this information. Did it immediately, and couldn’t stop sniffing the napkins as I was folding them tonight. There is no more odor, and I am so thankful. Who wants to wipe their mouth off with an odorous napkin? Can’t stand paper napkins, so this was a great way to save my cloth napkins. And, of course, my towels smell fresh and are much softer too. YES! and thank you for posting!

  53. says

    Hi Michelle,

    I’m so happy to hear! Thanks so much for posting your experience. I’m glad you found my blog and was able to try this out!

    Thanks for your comment! Enjoy your napkins and towels!


  54. Anonymous says

    My dealer said NEVER to use powder detergents, borax or baking soda in my new High Efficiency washer….so what do I do?

  55. says

    I used this to strip my cloth diaper inserts and they worked great after that. I LOVE Eco nuts for detergent and wool dryer balls for my diapers. I was just given some cloth diapers last night by a friend and they were literally CRUSTY with detergent. As soon as I got home from work they went straight in the washer with vinegar. Almost time for Baking soda now :) can’t wIt to see the difference

  56. Anonymous says

    HELP!!! I just did this with my sheets and it left a film of baking soda all over the metal drum and funky balls of stuff on the sheets. What should I do now?

  57. Anonymous says

    I don’t have a washing machine, and I am trying to figure out a way to get that awful smell out of my towels. So essentially, I would need to hand-wash them. Would this method with vinegar and baking soda work in this case?

    • says


      I think before you apply the vinegar, you will need to soak the towels and then apply some bleach and scrub them (don’t forget to wear gloves). Only after that should you apply the vinegar. I think this will yield better results, at least it has for me, though your mileage may vary of course :)

  58. Sue says

    just tried this and happy to say it worked!! I have a front load HE machine, so I ran 1 cup of white vinegar for a hot cycle first, then I dumped 1/2 cup baking soda in with some detergent and ran for another hot cycle. Not a bit of scent on any of the towels – I think there were 3 large bath sheets and 4 regular bath towels in all. Thanks so much for sharing this tip – I couldn’t stand the scent, even though no one else in the household seemed to notice! :P

  59. Anonymous says

    I just tried this out yesterday, and like most people have already said, it works like a magic! And to think I had been agonizing for several months over how to tactfully tell the owner of the towels it was time for new ones. I plan to do this every few months.

    Instead of using the washing machine, I boiled the bath towels (two of them), first with one cup vinegar and then with one cup baking soda. I then rinsed them with cold water after rubbing them together a couple of times and dried them in the sun. I thought I should add my 2 cents for those who may not have access to a washing machine and may feel lazy to go to a laundromat just to wash a couple of items.

    Thanks, My Thirty Spot, for sharing!

  60. Lauren says

    How important is a hot water wash? I’m in the process of figuring out why my washer won’t fill with hot or warm water, only cold. But I really want to de-funk these towels! Has anyone done it on cold and does it affect the results much? Thanks for any tips!

  61. says

    Thanks for the much needed tip! I read through the other comments and couldn’t figure out: for he front loading washers, where do you put the baking soda? In the detergent spot or directly in the machine with clothes?

  62. minxcomix says

    Or one can hang their towels outside to dry (or inside during the winter…which adds moisture to indoor’s winter dry air), and this won’t be a problem ;-)

  63. says

    I have a question – this might not make any difference, but I have Baking Soda, and a box of “Super Washing Soda”. The first is listed as “Sodium Bicarbonate”, and the second as “Sodium Carbonate”
    . Any ideas if there would be a difference using one or the other? I’m trying this now – I guess that I’ll use the “Super Washing Soda” and see how it turns out?

    Thanks – I love the blog and articles that I’ve read!

    • Anonymous says

      Washing soda is stronger and more caustic than baking soda. It would probably still work, though it might be hard on the fabric.

    • says

      Thank you for the reply – I was in the process of doing this as I entered that previous question, so I just went ahead and used the washing soda. Interesting to know that it might be a stronger product and probably worth being more cautious about it? I would be interested to know if anyone else had experience with it. For what it’s worth, so far the towels that I did clean this way *seem* to be less smelly. The ones that my wife made mention of being “stinky” were bath towels, and they would smell rather foul just after using them a couple times post-washing. This was even with trying to hang them in the bathroom, not leaving them bunched up where they wouldn’t have a chance to air dry. I’ll have to keep monitoring it, but thus far it seems to be a successful operation! Thanks!

  64. says

    Just a note – I do this with my towels but in cold water instead of hot and it still works really well. (My washing machine isn’t hooked up to hot water, so I do everything in cold.)

  65. Anonymous says

    Clorox works for me, but you can’t use it on colors; so I bought a dozen smallish fluffy white towels just for myself. The problem went away just like that. Turns out the problem was me. I dry my bath towels outside after each use and put them in ‘my bath towel’ wash basket when they have any oror at all. I’ve used clorine bleach on my towels twice in 18 months… and the washing machine doesn’t smell funky any more either.

    My wife has no trouble at all with her bright colored towels. She hangs them on a rack in the bathroom and washes them with ordinary wash after many uses.

    I started using nothing but 100% merino wool socks two years ago too; no more foot odor or peeling skin on the bottoms of my feet. Like I said – the problem is me.

  66. says

    I use baking soda and borax with laundry soap…just a few tbsps in every wash and I also use vinegar for fabric softener…daily…on every load…never have had to clean my washing machine..save money on fabric softener and clothes are fluffy and less wrinkled. Fabric softeners are nothing but chemicals on your clothing that smell good. Vinegar is the bomb. And try cleaning your showers with it. Sparkling! No soap scum..and no elbow grease!

  67. Nicole says

    I just came across your blog and I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for your suggestions!!! I was ready to throw my towels away because they smelled so bad and grossed me out! I washed them last night the way you recommended and it worked great! :)

  68. Amy L says

    Thanks for the great tip! Up until now I’ve been weird about separating my cloth napkins and hand towels from the body towels (since I don’t use bleach) ….does this mean I can wash them all together now?

  69. Flo says

    So — does this mean that this combination sanitizes? I generally run my kitchen stuff with bleach and have sacrificed some colors in the interest of cleanliness. I would be SO happy not to have to either ruin my colors or question how clean they were. The same happens with bath towels. I’ve gone with bleach just to get rid of the odor.

    My two biggies are cleanness in the kitchen and bath as well as saving my colors. Thanks! ‘REALLY appreciate this!

  70. Rex says

    Hello! I tried this and it didn’t work for me. Washed whites with bleach, then washed towels in vinegar first than with baking soda just as directed. The towels seem ok until you get any water on them, then FUNK city! Any thoughts?

    • Erin Kennedy says

      The bleach is not in the directions. The bleach interacts with the baking soda and vinegar. Try again without the bleach and let me know.

  71. Rex says

    Oh, I meant that I had used bleach previously in the washer, so it should have been sanitized before trying this. I only used vinegar the first time through, then washed again with the baking soda. The towels weren’t soft and they still smelled awful the first use.

    • Erin Kennedy says

      Maybe try it one more time. It could be that your towels are just too old. You are the first to state that it didn’t work. Usually the results are wonderful and gets rid of that smell. There is no other reason I can think of, of why it is not working. Sorry I don’t have more info.

  72. says

    My towels had that smell once and I just threw them. I am glad to know that there is a way to get rid of that disgusting smell. Thanks a lot! I will try the trick with the baking soda and the vinegar!

  73. Angela says

    I tried this out the other night and just used one of the towels this morning. So far so good. The towels I tried this on were already used/dirty. I didn’t think to wash them with detergent before or after the vinegar/baking soda steps, my question is does the vinegar/baking soda “clean” the towels as well as “de-stink” them or should I have done a cycle with detergent either before or after?


    • Erin Kennedy says

      Well, the solution of vinegar and baking soda is just to remove the smell. Next time try washing them in detergent if they are dirty, then the solution to remove that stink.


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