Main » Home

How To Get Sour Smell Out Of Towels

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.

Everyone loves the feel of soft, fluffy towels after taking them out of the dryer. But after a while of using, you may notice your towels have a mildew smell like sour milk. Towels get stinky, soggy, and mildewy. The good news is there are many simple solutions on how to get sour smell out of towels so you’ll never have to put up with smelly towels again.

remove sour smell towels featured image.

When you are done with your shower, there is nothing worse than taking a towel from the rack and smelling a sour smell. You might think that maybe you should just buy new towels, but before doing that, try to get smell out of towels first. In most cases, the smell will be gone once you hang them up to dry.

If you notice a sour smell in your towels, you can put your worries to rest once and for all with these insights into how to get rid of towel smell.

Reasons for sour smell in towels

To effectively get smell out of towels, you need to understand what causes that sour smell. The most common reasons are discussed below.


This is the most common reason for smelly towels. Bacteria can grow on wet surfaces and produce an unpleasant odor. This problem is especially common in humid environments. If you leave a towel bunched up and damp in a warm room, bacteria may start to breed and grow.

Mold and mildew

Towels can be breeding grounds for mold and mildew because they are soft, absorbent, and moist. Mildew smells are strong in warm, wet environments. When you leave a wet towel piled up at the bottom of your laundry basket, you are creating ideal conditions for mildew to grow.

Long soaks

It’s easy to fall into this trap of throwing the bath towels in the washer and soaking them there for hours or even until the next day before taking them out. But, the heat and humidity in a washing machine are prime conditions for bacteria, mildew, and mold to thrive.

Improper drying

To get smell out of towels, allow them to dry fully before putting them away. Any hint of moisture can turn into a smelly problem.

Fabric softeners

Wait, what? Unfortunately, it’s true. Fabric softener contains oils that make the fibers of your towel feel soft, but the this oily coating can trap residues, dirt, mildew, mold, and bacteria. 

Dirty washing machine

The culprit may be your washing machine. If your machine isn’t cleaned regularly, the smell from bacteria and mildew growth can transfer to your laundry.

Too much detergents

Meanwhile, using too much detergent to wash your towel will make it hard to rinse out completely. The soap residue attracts dirt and bacteria. These things are what result in stinky towels!

towels with laundry detergent.

How to get rid of the sour smell

No matter what has caused your stinky towel issues, learn how to get sour smell out of towels with these quick and easy tricks.


Many of us already have white vinegar in our homes for cooking and cleaning. It’s a safe and effective means when learning how to get rid of towel smell. Vinegar has been known to dissolve build-up, soften fabrics, and kill bacteria. But never mix vinegar and bleach together in the same load of laundry — they will react to create toxic fumes.

To get smell out of towels, follow the following steps:

  • For mild smell: Pour one cup of white distilled vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser before starting a load of laundry (don’t forget your usual detergent too!). During the rinse cycle, the washing machine will use vinegar to neutralize the odor.
  • For strong smell or visibly mildewed: Try soaking towels in a solution of vinegar and water ahead of time. Let them sit for at least an hour or overnight before washing as usual.

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is an effective choice for whitening and disinfecting clothing, as well as towels. The lemon’s properties — and its strong, acidic smell — can also combat musty odors in fabrics.

  • As a laundry brightener: Add lemon juice to your laundry detergent to help brighten your towels and remove any lingering smells.
  • As a soak solution: Create a lemon juice solution by pouring it into a bucket of hot water. Soak the towels for 40 minutes before washing them.


You probably already have bleach in your home. It’s great for sanitizing, removing stains, and eliminating odors. How to get sour smell out of towels using bleach? Use it in your regular wash or monthly maintenance of your towels.

  • For regular wash: Add ¾ cup of color-safe bleach (or regular bleach for whites) to your bleach dispenser along with your regular detergent.
  • For monthly maintenance: Bleach your towels once a month to further kill any bacteria that may be causing the smell. 

Baking Soda

Baking soda is alkaline, making it a popular choice for odor removal. It neutralizes bad odors and can soften fabrics as well. To get smell out of towels, you can use baking soda in your regular laundry or in your deep cleaning of towels.

  • For regular laundry: Shake ½ cup of baking soda into your regular laundry routine.
  • For deep cleaning: Use it in combination with vinegar for powerful deep cleaning. Start the hottest water wash cycle, add a capful of white vinegar and a lid of baking soda. Don’t bother with detergent or fabric softener.


damp sour smell towels in dryer.

How to get rid of towel smell? After cleaning them thoroughly, you should dry your towels properly. Many people believe that line-drying items make them smell fresher than running them through a dryer.

  • Using clothesline: A clothesline under the sun is a great way to freshen smelly towels without spending a penny. If your towels are white, hang them out in the sun to dry. Unfortunately, if they’re colored, they’ll fade.
  • Using dryer: Run your towels through the dryer on the highest heat setting after each use. This will help to kill any bacteria that may be causing the smell.

Preventing towels from getting sour smell

The best way to get smell out of towels is to prevent them in the first place. Maintaining your towels in a good condition is easy with some simple steps.

Keep towels dry

Even if you don’t use your towel very often, make sure to hang it somewhere dry and well-ventilated so that it doesn’t get musty. Choose towel bars over hooks because they have more surface area that allows more air to circulate, making the towels dry faster and helping prevent smell.

hanging damp towels on hooks.

Wash towels weekly

The best way to keep towels smelling fresh is to wash and dry them on a regular basis. By washing towels often, they don’t have enough time to grow any bacteria that would cause a bad odor. 

Use the right type of detergent

Poor-performing detergents will lose their suds’ power and leave behind a sour, musty smell. Use hot water and a heavy-duty detergent like Tide or Persil that contain enough enzymes to remove body soil.

Clean your washing machine

Washing machines can collect mildew around the gaskets or door. To keep your washer in good condition, wipe it down with a microfiber cloth and white vinegar once every six months.

Make sure your closet is clean

If your towels develop a musty smell after being in the closet, you may have high humidity or a leak in your plumbing or roof. Empty your closet and search for signs of water damage, mildew, or mold. Fix leaks and clean the interior. 

FAQs on how to get sour smell out of towels

If you can’t find your question below, please let us know in the comments!

Why do towels get a sour smell?

Towels get a sour smell because of various reasons. The most common is because of bacteria, molds, and mildew that thrive on wet surfaces like a damp towel. Other reasons can be soaking the towels too long or not drying them properly. Using too much detergent and fabric softener can leave towels smelling sour. A dirty washing machine might also cause this odor in towels.

Why do my towels smell sour after I wash them?

If your towel smells sour after washing, it could be because of too much detergents, fabric softener, or dirty washing machine. If your machine is dirty, bacteria and mildew can grow in it, which will cause the towels to smell badly even if they are freshly washed!

Will vinegar take the smell out of towels?

Yes! Vinegar is an effective way to eliminate towel odors and soften fabrics. Vinegar is also a safe alternative for killing bacteria. You can use vinegar to get rid smell out of towels by adding it as fabric softener in the final rinse cycle or by creating vinegar and water soak solution.

How do you fix soured towels?

There are many solutions when searching for how to get rid of towel smell. You can use vinegar, lemon juice, bleach, and baking soda while washing the towel. These are all common household items, so you may be able to find them in your bathroom or kitchen. After cleaning the towels, dry them in high heat. 

colored towel stack.

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

Looking for more advice on cleaning and maintaining a tidy home? Check out these other articles.

Leave a Comment