Posted by Bridget Reed

How To Get Musty Mildew Smell Out of Towels

5 min read

We’ve all struggled to get stains out of our sheets, but sometimes the hardest task is getting out the stains you can’t see; we’re talking about odors. Musty sheets and towels are all too familiar. The truth is that it may take a little more than a quick run through the washing machine to get your fabrics smelling fresh again.

If your towels are smelling particularly musty lately, don’t panic (or throw them away just yet). We’re here to help you rejuvenate your towels and get them smelling as fresh as when you first bought them. 

What Causes Musty Towels? 

Drying off with a musty towel is never a good way to start (or end) the day. If your towels have developed an unpleasant scent, here’s what may be causing it. 

1. They Were Left In The Washer 

We’re all guilty of forgetting to switch our laundry over, and while it may seem like leaving your towels in the wash overnight is a “no harm, no foul” type of mistake, it may be the cause of the stench that has engulfed your fabrics. 

If fabrics aren’t dried adequately, they can develop a mildew-like smell. Even though the towels in your washer will dry eventually, there’s a period in which all fabrics should be dried. If you wait too long, they develop an odor. Generally speaking, your towels shouldn’t sit in the wash for longer than 30 minutes. 

2. They Aren’t Drying Enough 

Whether your towels are dried with a drying machine or are hung up, ensure they’re plenty dry before putting them away. 

Like how a stench can develop from towels sitting in the washer, they may begin smelling if they aren’t dry enough. If partially dried towels sit in the warm dryer too long, prepare for a musty scent, no matter how many dryer sheets are in there. 

We’re referring to anytime the towel is wet. After a shower or bath, always hang up the towel to dry before putting it in the dirty laundry hamper. 

3. Too Much Detergent 

That’s right, too much detergent can make your towel dirtier; let us explain. 

When too much detergent is used, it can affect the rinse cycle, causing excess suds to stay on the materials—this is called detergent build-up. Over time, more and more build-up accumulates, which can cause your towels to not dry properly, grow mildew, and retain bacteria. 

Miracle Tip: Most people don’t realize they use too much laundry detergent. If you’re using around 1 ½ tablespoon of liquid detergent, you’re on the right track. Anything else is considered a heavy pour. 

The best way to counteract this detergent dilemma is to opt for detergent sheets. Miracle Made hates seeing good towels go to waste, so we’ve formulated Laundry Detergent Sheets that ensure all your fabrics get the perfect amount of detergent per load. Not only are they gentle on the skin, but they’re also zero-waste. They save your home goods while helping save the planet. 

4. What You’re Using Them For

What you dry towels with can affect their scent over time. For example, children are notorious for not washing well enough, which could cause a musty smell. This is especially true if you’re drying your pets off with the same towels you use. Yes, washing them should eliminate (most) of the bacteria, but your pup may leave a rank odor. 

How To Get The Musty Smell Out?

Whichever way your towels developed this smell, the main thing is that it will most likely come out! While there are some cases where no matter how many home remedies are tried, the stink lingers. Stay patient—-and remember, we’re here to help. 

On the rare occasion that your towels become old (and smelly) beyond repair, you can treat yourself to a new towel set.

Use High-Quality Detergent

While getting the musty scent out of your towels once it's developed is pretty tricky, using a high-quality detergent is a great way to prevent it from happening again. Always opt for powerful, natural cleaning agents

Switch Your Detergents 

Everyone has trustee products, but sometimes what you know and love isn’t always the best for you (or your towels). If your towels continuously develop that musty odor, your current detergent may be the issue. 

Try out a different detergent on your next load of towels, and see how it helps eliminate the smell. 

Find the Right Temperature 

You’ve likely been told your entire life to avoid hot water when washing anything. While sometimes, towels will require extra special treatment (courtesy of their tags), for the most part, you should wash towels in hot water. 

Dirty towels are thick, warm, and wet — a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. You want to ensure the water (and detergent) you’re using penetrate deep, ensuring they’re met with a deep cleanse. 

Wash Them Alone

While entirely more convenient, washing your towels with the rest of your laundry is a no-go. Wash them separately to ensure they get plenty of TLC from your washer and dryer. 

Watch Your Pour 

As we said, the amount of detergent you use can affect your towel's quality. Ensure to watch your pour; a good rule of thumb is one to two tablespoons per load. 

Remember, the correct amount of detergent varies from the washing machine and water type. For example, an HE (Highly Efficient) washing machine requires less detergent than a standard machine, and hard water requires more detergent than soft water. 

Hard water 

Hard water will achieve an optimal clean with around one cup of liquid detergent. If your water is very hard, you may need a bit more (this is a judgment call). 

Soft water

Soft water needs a maximum of ⅓ cup of water but usually washes well with a tablespoon or so. Again, use your best judgment. 

HE washing machine vs. a standard washing machine 

Also, use more detergent in a regular washing machine than an HE. While your machine may work just fine, HE machines are designed specially to minimize detergent and water use. 

Wash Often

Unlike your favorite pair of jeans, you should wash your towels as often as possible. While the wash does put wear and tear on the fabric, damp, dirty towels are the perfect home for bacteria and germs to repopulate. Towels should be washed every three to four days or once a week. 

Try not to procrastinate on laundry day, especially when your towels are the next up!

Dry Right Away 

It's fair to conclude towels should never sit damp, and if they do, expect a musty scent to follow. We know it's easy to forget; life is hectic! A tip that works for us is setting the alarm (and not hitting snooze). When it goes off, drop everything and switch your laundry over — if not, you’ll likely forget. 

Wash Your New Towels Right Aways 

Even if your towels are brand-new, you should wash them right away. Standard towels have a silicone coating that can affect their absorbency: A quick wash should remove all of that. 


What Are High Efficiency Washers? | The Spruce

Can you leave laundry in the washer overnight? Martha Stewart settles the matter | Today

What conditions encourage bacteria to grow? | Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services 

How to Prevent and Remove Mildew — Home Methods | MU Extension 

Understanding Water: What Makes Water Hard or Soft? | WebMD

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