Photo: How to get the stink out of towels

Follow these tips to care for bamboo and organic cotton towels to reduce musty odors. (Credit: Coyuchi)

Ever get out of the shower or bath squeaky clean (thanks to a brown sugar body scrub or apple cider vinegar shine rinse) and the minute the towel hits your skin you think "What's that stench? I just washed this!"

I've tweaked my laundry soap recipe, bought eco-friendlier store-bought options, used vinegar in the rinse cycle, soaked them in oxygen bleach but nothing seems to get the skunky mildew stink out.

So I begged Dihan Chandra of Organic Lifestyle to help me solve my bath towel woes.

Turns out the secret is in the drying, not the washing! AIR CIRCULATION!

Tip #1: Hang towels

Whether they're organic cotton, bamboo or a blend, it's crucial that towels "breathe" immediately after use, to allow air flow through fibers and speed drying time. A towel balled up on the floor encourages bacterial growth, which increases funky smells.

Solution: Hang towels to dry! (In the sun, weather permitting, also helps.)

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Tip #2: Bamboo is better

Dihan suggests bamboo towels over organic cotton for odor prevention.

Why? Bamboo is made of a stringy material, which breathes better. Bamboo towels tend to be lighter than cotton and so dry faster. Bamboo plants are also thought to be naturally resistant to bacteria, mildew and fungus. But purchase Oeko-tex certified bamboo!

(Note: organic cotton towels can perform just as well when you follow all four tips.)

Tip #3: Air dry immediately

Don't let freshly washed towels sit.

Bamboo can withstand high heat dryer cycles but dryers are energy hogs. Stick to air drying or the dryer's air cycle.

Use an air cycle for organic cotton (high heat will cause shrinkage). With proper care, organic cotton towels will last a long time!

Tip #4: Avoid bleach and softeners

Bleach destroys the luxurious softness of towels and fabric softener leaves a coat of chemicals behind.

Have towels that cannot be salvaged?

  • Donate them to an animal shelter or rehabilitation centre
  • Give them to a mechanic friend or local auto repair shop

Have you found the perfect towel that doesn't get stinky?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

October 6, 2014

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Apr 09, 2017
4:12 PM

White vinegar. My cotton towels were stinky even though we ALWAYS hang them after use and they dry out in between. Still, I’d wash them and take them out of the dryer and they didn’t smell fresh. What was also happening was that the soap was virtually impossible to rinse out, so I used less soap. It was better, but not perfect. Then I gave them a full wash with no soap, just white vinegar….voila! Problem solved. Now I typically wash with a TINY bit of soap and a 1/2 cup of vinegar and my towels have been fresh ever since.The vinegar also helps to make them softer, since I don’t use any kind of fabric softener on towels.

Aug 05, 2015
5:33 AM

In order to get rid of stink from towels use eucalyptus. Best way is to use organic cotton towels for bathing.

May 08, 2015
6:59 AM

A couple of drops of eucalyptus oil in the washer (with the soap) fixes the problem well. If a person has forgotten the washing in the machine for a couple of days (after the wash cycle), just rehash with the eucalyptus and voila! Fresh as.

Feb 15, 2015
1:21 PM

Thank you for this information,Lindsay. But, I have another problem concerning my dishtowels. I have been using your recipe for liquid and dry laundry detergents since 2008. One contains Borax ( for whites) , the other does not. The thing is that my dishtowels have lost much of their absorbancy. Dishes remain wet even after many attempts at drying. I have been forced to use paper towels to speed up the drying, something that I am not very proud to admit. How can these laundry detergent recipes be modified in order to increase absorbancy? Thank you so very much for your interest.

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