Just like tough stains need a specific laundry stain remover, sometimes your stinky kitchen towels need some extra love too.
You’ve been there, right? You’re cooking dinner or washing dishes and you need to wipe your hands. You reach for the nearest dish towel, dry your hands, and start sniffing…
“What is that smell?!
It takes a few seconds for it to click – it’s the towel. But do you know how to get smell out of towels?
Friends, it might not be the most glamorous topic, but knowing how to get the smell out of towels is important!! Two cases in point…
You have company over and they’ve asked if they could help. They wash their hands, reach for a towel and get a good long whiff of that stinky towel. Pretty embarrassing, right?
Or you have toddlers who are good at being toddlers, which means you have breakfast on the highchair, cheerios under the sofa and lunch on the floor. Every.Single.Day. When you smell mildew or rotten milk, your first thought should be “Where did that kid hide that sippy cup?!” and not “I wonder if I should wash my kitchen towels.”
Even if it’s simply so YOU don’t have to get a whiff of the stink, I think we all deserve to know how to get the smell out of towels.
What I think is most frustrating about getting the smell out of towels, is that YOU’VE ALREADY WASHED THEM!!
You’ve used detergent. You’ve run the hot water. You may have even run the wash cycle TWICE to make the stinkiness go away.
But it hasn’t worked.
Short of throwing the darn towels away, you’ve washed your hands of the mess (and found a different towel to dry them on!).
Until now. Let me share the secret to getting the smell out of towels!
How to Get Smell Out of Towels
First, you need HOT water.
I’m not just talking about turning the faucet on hot and letting it run. I’m talking about HOT water.
- Go to the hot water heater and turn it up as high as it will go. **
- Get your biggest pot, fill it with water and bring it to a boil.
- Do what you have to do to get the hottest water possible.
Second, you need cleaning help.
Obviously your regular washing machine detergent didn’t do a good enough job otherwise you wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. It’s time to call in the big guns.
- Baking Soda
- Dish Soap
- Essential Oils
- Homemade Bleach Alternative
Third, you need more heat.
One wash and one dry isn’t enough. You need to tag team the stinky towel effort and do this a few times.
- Wash + dry in the sun + machine wash + machine dry
- Wash + wash + wash + machine dry high heat OR line dry in the sun (link)
- Boil + wash + machine dry
** Note: Hot water heaters are usually set a bit below the maximum temperature for safety reasons. If you choose to change the temperature, make sure you immediately wash the towels and supervise anyone else who is using water until the washer is done. Then go back and turn the temperature back down. If you won’t remember to turn the temperature back down, then it would probably be wise to not turn it up. There’s no shame here – just being real (and safe!).
Okay, you know what you need. Now how exactly do you pull this off? I have four methods for you:
This is perhaps the easiest method, if you have the cycles needed on the washing machine.
First, wash the towels in the washing machine using the sanitary cycle + 1 cup vinegar in the fabric softener cup. Then dry on the antibacterial cycle in the dryer.
If you don’t have a sanitary cycle or an antibacterial cycle, let’s try something else!
According to this article, you can get the smell out of towels with three washes and a dry.
First, wash the towels on the hottest water setting with 1 cup of vinegar. Then wash the towels again on the hottest water setting, this time with ½ cup of baking soda. Next, wash the towels a third time on the hottest setting with your regular detergent. Finally, dry on high heat or line dry in the sun.
According to this article, you can get the smell out of towels with boiling water and cleaning help.
First, bring a large pot of water to a boil (you might want to use a big stock pot like this one). Add 1 cup of vinegar 1-2 teaspoons of grease-cutting dish soap* OR laundry soap. Add the towels and boil for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, let the towels cool and dry them in the sun. Finally, machine wash the towels as usual on the hottest water setting.
*I use and recommend Thieves Dish Soap. I know there are a lot of “natural” products out there and I’ve tried quite a few. But after testing and a lot of research, I found Young Living to be best. You can read more about my decision to use their essential oils and household products HERE.
According to this article, you can get the smell out of towels with boiling water and baking soda.
First, bring a large pot of water to a boil (again, I suggest using a big stock pot like this one). Then add the towels and 2 tablespoons of baking and boil for 20 minutes. Carefully move the towels to the washing machine and launder as usual on the hottest water setting.
Quite possibly the best idea of the bunch and the method I personally use: prevent the smell from happening in the first place!
As I researched cleaning and laundry for my Essential Oils on a Budget: How to Detox Your Home in 6 Days Challenge, I found that some of the very things you use to get smells OUT of your clothes and towels are actually ATTRACTING stinky smells!
Fabric softeners are a huge culprit, and it’s because of how they work:
- They add a thin, water-resistant waxy coating to your towels and clothes.
- This coating sits on the surface of the fabric, prevents air flow and prevents your clothes from absorbing water and detergent in the washing process.
- In turn, your clothes (and towels!) more likely to lock in stinky odors.
Your best bet is to ditch fabric softeners completely. If you have hard water and need some help getting your clothes clean, you can add vinegar to the fabric softener cup OR add one tablespoon of Epsom salt to the soap dispenser.
In addition to ditching fabric softeners, I highly recommend switching to a natural laundry detergent. Here are a few brands that my colleagues and friends use and recommend:
- Thieves Laundry Soap (this is what I use, and I love it!)
- Biokleen (you can find it here)
- E-Cover Zero (there are a few buying options here)
Ever since I switched to Thieves Laundry Soap, the issue with stinky towels has DRASTICALLY gone down. I add three drops of Purification Essential Oil to every load of towels and now, very few of my towels get stinky in the first place. When I wash in hot water and add vinegar to the cycle, the smell is completely gone!
As you can see above, getting the smell out of towels is a PROCESS. I wish it was a one-time, boom-and-you’re done type of thing, but it’s not. But thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with stinky towels in over a year!
Have you ever realized your kitchen towels stink, at the most inopportune time? Or has someone ELSE told you that your towels smelled bad? I’d love to hear your stories! Please share them in the comments below!