Posted by Nicholas Crusie

Did you know?

Maintaining good air circulation and a healthy humidity level will also help avoid giving mildew a place to grow. 


How to get mildew smell out of towels

7 min read

Mildew growths remain on the surface of whatever it’s on as well as growing in areas with poor circulation, mildew thrives in places that are damp or have moisture. Here are some home remedies to help you get rid of that mildew smell. 

Here are some home remedies to help you get rid of that mildew smell.

  • Hot water and vinegar 
  • Hot water and baking soda
  • Borax
  • Table salt and a lemon

First things first, let’s break this down. What even is mildew?

That wet-sock, dirty-shoe, musky smell that our bath towels sometimes decide to adopt, what even is it? That is the despised mildew smell.

This unpleasant and unwelcome aroma sneaks up on us and can develop in wash towels and other household fabrics. It’s fairly common and a problem that most households deal with at some point or another. But perhaps the worst part is that mildew is quite the stubborn little guy - once it begins to build up and the smell attaches onto fabrics, it can be challenging to get rid of.

Mildew is a form of fungus, closely related to mold, to be exact.

What Is The Difference Between Mildew and Mold

Yes, mildew is the cousin of mold, but it isn’t nearly as bad. It’s important to understand the difference between the two before deciding to take on the mission of getting rid of it.

Mold is a species of microscopic fungi that can breed and survive on any organic matter. Mold will grow in black or green patches that actually penetrate the surface it’s on. 

In households, mold would most likely be found growing on food or in areas that have poor air circulation, i.e. basements, attics, on the floor behind your fridge, etc. 

In contrast, mildew growths remain on the surface of whatever it’s on - this makes it much easier to remove than mold. As well as growing in areas with poor circulation, mildew thrives in places that are damp or have moisture, i.e. shower walls, windowsills, and wet towels. 

Am I Seeing Mildew or Mold?


  • Looks “fluffy” or “powdery.”
  • Usually white, gray, or yellow (will turn black or brown the longer it festers).
  • Tends to look like a flat growth along the surface, rather than having any bumps or clumps.


  • Looks “fuzzy” or “slimy.”
  • Usually black, green, blue, yellow, and sometimes white.
  • Tends to grow in different shapes and clumps, resulting in more of a 3D look.

Anywhere there is moisture, a lack of air circulation, and darkness is a perfect breeding ground for our not so dear friend, mildew. Mildew likes to grow in these little swamp-like conditions throughout our homes, and actually releases a gas into the air that then gets absorbed by the fabrics around it. You know, furniture, carpets, hand towels--and then, it sticks. Mildew is notorious for being difficult to get rid of.

Mildew can be a real hassle to get rid of.

The wrench of lingering mildew is rather imposing. It’s pretty common that you can wash your smelly towels time over time and that darn smell will just stay put. How annoying. Especially when you’re fresh out of the shower and go to reach for your dry towel, except, it smells. Not only is this extremely unpleasant, it’s just plain gross. What a shame to shower with a lovely “Lavender,” “Sea Breeze,” or whatever your favorite soap is, only then to be greeted by a mildew smell all over your towel.

But there’s still hope! You’ve taken the first step - hoping on your computer or phone to start investigating how to solve this problem. And here you are. Good job deciding to take matters into your own hands and get to the bottom of tackling this rude scent. You’re not alone and we’re here to help.

How is mildew harmful to our health?

A mildew problem isn’t a problem we want to keep pushing off until “next weekend” or “maybe tomorrow night.” 

When left untreated, not only will it worsen and grow in your home, developing a stronger and stronger scent, it’s also bad for our health. 

Mildew can lead to… 

  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing 
  • Wheezing
  • Red and itchy eyes
  • Skin irritation

People who have asthma or compromised immune systems are more at risk for experiencing these symptoms. Young children, pregnant women, and seniors are also more likely to be sensitive to the effects of mildew.

How to Prevent Mildew?

With lifeguarding, one of the first lessons taught is always emphasizing prevention. This can be applied to dealing with mildew as well. The most efficient way to protect against mildew is to prevent it before it can even get started.

Keeping mildew-prone areas in your home dry is the best thing you can do to deter any growths. Maintaining good air circulation and a healthy humidity level will also help avoid giving mildew a place to grow.

How to remove the smell of mildew?

You may not be sure how it happened, but it happened. That mildew smell has found itself a new home in your towels. It’s not too late! 

Here are some DIY home remedies to help you get rid of that mildew smell. 

Hot water and vinegar

  • Combine a cup of hot water and a cup of white vinegar.
  • Soak the affected garment in this mixture.
  • With bigger garments like smelly towels, we suggest adding 1 cup of vinegar to your regular laundry load with your laundry detergent. Run the cycle with hot water for best results.
  • Vinegar has a low pH balance, which helps break down bacteria and odors in fabric.

Hot water and baking soda

  • Mix ½ cup of baking soda into a wash cycle with hot water.
  • Unlike vinegar, baking soda has a higher pH, which will work differently by causing cotton fibers to expand, thus loosening trapped bacteria.
  • This method can be done on its own as well as following the hot water and vinegar technique.


  • Borax is a sodium tetraborate commonly found in cleaning products and can also be used as a cleaning product on its own.
  • Mix 1 cup of Borax with 1 liter of hot water and apply to the affected area.
  • If possible, allow the affected area to soak in the solution for a few hours before then throwing the garment into the wash on a rinse cycle.
  • Create a mixture of lemon juice and salt.
  • We want the mixture to be thick - aim for a paste-like consistency - so don’t be shy with adding in the salt.
  • Rub the mixture into any affected area.
  • Leave the garment in direct sunlight allowing it to completely dry before throwing it into the next laundry load.
  • This method works best to remove mildew when there is a clear growth that can be somewhat “spot treated.”

Some people also believe that using products like fabric softener, dryer sheets, dryer balls, and bleach for white towels when washing towels can help remove the stubborn mildew. You might also consider washing your towels on the hottest setting.

Freshening up afterward

Sometimes even after removing the mildew, the scent on your stinky towels may still be lingering. Good air circulation and natural sunlight will help with this, so consider putting your towels on a clothesline, but here are some extra tips to really kill that smell. 

Activated charcoal

  • Activated charcoal is a great natural option to absorb unwanted odors.
  • You can find activated charcoal as loose granules in most home hardware and pet stores
  • Use a cheesecloth or any other breathable material to create a little bundle of the charcoal granules.
  • Simply place the bundle in the area affected by the odor. Leave it there for up to a week.


  • Zeolite is a mineral that is mainly used as a drying agent in detergents and air purifiers.
  • Zeolite can be found in liquid or powder form.
  • Simply apply Zeolite to the affected area and it will begin to absorb surrounding odors right away.
  • Let it sit on the garment for a few hours before throwing it into the washing machine with your laundry soap.

No more musty towels!

With these tips for tackling mildew, that stubborn towel smell can be a thing of the past. Let’s keep our lavender or sea breeze smell after our showers by making sure we’re drying off with a fresh, clean towel.

If you can’t stop smelling towels, even with all these tricks, you may want to consider new towels. Miracle towels are made with an all-natural silver that kills 99.9% of bacterial growth, preventing odors before they even have a chance to get started. The silver ions woven into the high quality fabric contain a positive charge that connects to bacteria like a magnet, trapping it before it can reproduce. With these silver ions doing the hard work, it means you can use fewer cleaning products and harsh chemicals, and your towels can retain their absorbency. Cleanliness really can come from within!

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