Here’s How To Remove Mildew Smell From Towels

Wet and used towels lying around can give off a nauseating smell. Often, the smell is caused by mildew that sets in after use, and is tough to get rid of. Washing your towels twice on normal settings may get rid of the nasty odors, but if normal washes aren’t enough to combat the mildew smell, there are a few other easy washing options you could try using household cleaners.


Cleaning Mildew From the Wash Machine

1. Wash the gasket. If your towels smell like mildew, sometimes the wash machine could be a part of the problem. Since the gasket is the rubber seal inside the washer that prevents water from leaking out when a load is washing, cleaning the gasket is very important to eliminating mildew smells coming from the washer. Wipe down the gasket with a rag dunked in soapy water, or sprayed with a mild mildew cleanser. You could also use a cleaning solution of 50% water 50% bleach.

  • Consider using an old toothbrush to get hard to reach places of the gasket.
  • Make sure to get all areas of the gasket. You may need to pull back sections of the gasket to get into small rubber folds.

2. Clean the detergent dispensers. Take out the detergent dispensers from the machine and scrub them with a soapy water mixture consisting of a small amount of dishwashing soap, and water. Leftover soap residue or stagnant water on the detergent dispensers can make this area of your wash machine smell bad too.

If the dispensers cannot be removed from the machine, do your best to clean inside the dispensers with a rag or pipe cleaners.

3. Run a cleaning cycle. Run a wash cycle using the longest, and hottest temperature setting. Consider adding one of the following straight into the washing basin of the machine:

  • 1 cup of bleach.
  • 1 cup of baking soda.
  • 1/2 cup of powdered enzymatic dishwasher detergent
  • 1/2 cup of a commercial washer cleaner
  • If the mildew smell remains, try another cleansing cycle, or replacing one of the additives with vinegar.

You might have repeat this step many times in order to fully remove the mildew smell.

4. Seek professional care. If none of these methods help with getting rid of the mildew smell, you may need to call a professional to come look at your wash machine. There may be mold growth behind the drum of the machine, or perhaps a blocked drain or filter.

  • A certified repair professional can assist you with diagnosing what is wrong with your machine, and may be able to dismantle the machine to find the source of the smell if need be.

5. Take preventative measures. Once you figure out if where the mildew smell is coming from, take some preventative measures to ensure that mold doesn’t accumulate again. You might want to consider:

  • Airing out the washing machine. Leave the washing machine door open between washing uses. However, be aware that pets and young children could become trapped in the machine.
  • Using detergent wisely. Use detergents that create a small amount of suds, and are specifically made for highly efficient machines. Powder detergents usually tend to be less sudsy than liquid detergents. Also, don’t exceed the recommended amount of detergent. Sometimes, even less detergent works better for cleaning your clothes.
  • Avoiding fabric softener. Fabric softeners that come in liquid form tend to leave a residue that supports mold growth. Instead of using liquid fabric softener, consider using dryer sheets or dryer balls to give your clothes a softer feel.
  • Drying the gasket. Use a rag to wipe everywhere surround the gasket, and inside the groves of the rubber gasket. Ideally, you should try to wipe the gasket after every washing cycle. If you’re not going to wipe and clean the gasket after every wash, you should try to regularly wipe the gasket every week or so to remove trapped mold.
  • Doing a bleach cycle. Run a hot water and bleach cycle once a month. This is a good opportunity to disinfect your washer, but also to wash heavily soiled items like work cloths and grimy towels.


Washing Towels With Vinegar

1. Wash the towels. Place your smelly towels in the washing machine, and start the wash cycle using the hottest water setting available. Add in about 1 cup of white vinegar.

  • For now, leave out detergent or fabric softener.
  • Run the washer like you would do a regular load.

2. Wash the laundry load a second time. Leave the towels in the washer and wash the same load again, but now, add in your laundry detergent. Again, use the hottest water setting available to wash the towels.

3. Dry the towels. Dry the load in the dryer using a high heat setting. Make sure the towels are completely dry before removing them from the drying machine.


Washing Towels With Disinfectant Concentrate

1. Load the wash machine. Place your smelly towels in the washing machine, and start the wash cycle using warm or hot water.

2. Add in disinfectant concentrate. Add ¾ of a cup of disinfectant concentrate as the wash machine fills with water.

  • The concentrated cleaning solution will help kill the fungi causing the bad odor on the towels.

3. Soak the towels. Let the washing machine start the washing cycle, swishing the towels briefly for about 5-10 minutes, and then stop the washing cycle. Let the towels soak for several hours, or overnight.

  • This will ensure that the disinfectant solution will penetrate the towels, and kill the fungi causing the mildew.

4. Continue the wash cycle. Add in the normal amount of detergent you would use for a load of laundry, after you have let the towels soak for several hours, or overnight. Continue the wash cycle for the towels.

5. Dry the towels. Move the towels out of the washing machine and into the dryer. Fully dry the load using normal dryer settings, or hang the towels on a clothesline in the sun.


Washing Towels With Ammonia

1. Wash the towels. Put your towels in the washing machine, and start the wash cycle using the hottest water setting available. Add in the normal amount of detergent you would use for a load of laundry.

  • Don’t add fabric softener or any other cleaning products right now.

2. Add in ammonia. Pay attention for when the rinse cycle starts during the wash. At this time, add in ½ – 1 cup of sudsy or clear ammonia. Then, let the washing machine finish washing the laundry load.

3. Dry the towels. Move the towels out of the washer immediately once the load is finished. Fully dry the towels right away using high to normal dryer settings, or hang the towels on a clothesline outside in the sun.

  • Before you try any of these, check your washer to see if any the odor is in the washer itself. If so, run the washer with hot water and 2 cups of bleach without laundry. This will clean out any smells in the water that collects at the bottom of the washer in between cycles.
  • Avoid getting towels moldy in the first place by hanging your towels to dry right after you have used them. Consider adding additional racks if you don’t have plenty of room for the towels of each family member.
  • If you live in a place with sunshine, dry your towels on a clothesline in the sun.
  • Alternatively, wash your towels immediately after use. It is especially good to throw your kitchen towels in the wash on a daily basis. Just add one or two towels to any load. This helps prevent mildew from getting started.
  • Use a laundry detergent with an antifungal or bleach additive. This helps fight the mildew smell and can help prevent mildew from forming.
  • Once they have finished the wash cycle, immediately remove your towels from the machine so that any microorganisms still clinging to the fibers of the towels will not grow in the humid environment of your closed washer — a perfect place for mold to grow.
  • Overuse of bleach, ammonia, vinegar and other harsh cleaning products can cause seals and/or gaskets in washing machines to leak. Also, use of harsh chemicals can void the washer warranty.
  • Do not use bleach and ammonia in the same load, as these combine to form chlorine gas which is poisonous and can be fatal.
  • When using the ammonia method, do not leave the load in the washing machine after the cycle is finished. Move to the dryer immediately.


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