5 tips to freshen up your towels and make them smell like new

A stack of three blue towels
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There’s nothing like the warm hug from a towel when you step out of a bath or shower. It encases you in a soft caress of plushness. Well, that’s the dream, but it might not be your reality unless you’re using our tips to freshen up your towels.

Towels have a tough job. They are wet, then dry, and used daily. If they are not dried out properly between uses and washed regularly, they can soon become a harbor of nasty odors, making them unpleasant to use. So, that relaxing spa experience you were looking forward to ends with a dry down with a stinky towel.

Thankfully, we have some tips to ensure you’ll never have to endure a smelly towel again.

1. Wash your towels regularly

Loading white towels into washing machine

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Your towels should be washed regularly to ensure they keep smelling fresh. But how often does ‘regularly’ mean? The American Cleaning Institute says they should be dried properly between uses and then washed after 3 to 5 normal uses. Waiting any longer allows dirt and bacteria to accumulate. And instead of piling wet towels on the floor after use, hang them up to dry. Although, we can’t promise any miracles if you have teenagers in the house!

Putting wet, dirty towels in a laundry basket will also make them musty, so dry them out before washing, unless you’re putting them on a wash cycle immediately. Apart from keeping your towels fresh, it's one way of keeping your bathroom smelling fresh, too as it will reduce moisture in the bathroom which leads to condensation and mold. Check out our article on bathroom cleaning hacks for more tips.

2. Banish the musty smell   

Someone wearing gloves spraying a bottle of white vinegar next to a jar of baking soda

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If you haven’t put your towels in the wash in good time, as mentioned above, they will start to smell musty and will need a little extra care before putting them through your normal wash cycle. Vinegar and baking powder are two inexpensive products that can be used to eliminate odors — just don’t use them at the same time.

  • Place your towels in your washing machine on a warm or hot wash cycle with your normal detergent. Add one cup of vinegar during the final rinse. If your towels are particularly musty, add the vinegar earlier in the wash cycle to allow it to soak. The vinegar should help to eliminate the musty odor.
  • Your towels will need to go through a second wash cycle to remove any remaining smell of vinegar. Add half a cup of baking soda to the wash. At this stage, your towels should be clean, so you shouldn’t need to add any detergent.
  • Dry your towels as normal. If the smell still lingers, you may need to repeat the above steps.

3. Dry your towels properly after laundering 

Two towels drying outside on a clothesline

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Before you’ve even started to use your freshly washed towels, ensure they are dried correctly to avoid any build-up of nasty smells. Leaving wet towels to fester in the washing machine, rather than taking them out to dry straight away, will encourage the towels to become musty again.

My favorite method of drying towels is to air dry them completely. Preferably, this is outside on a clothesline where they can bellow in the breeze. For maximum drying time and freshness, hang them out early in the morning and bring them in just before the sun goes down. In the colder, wetter months, I rely on an indoor airer. But avoid placing your indoor airer in damp areas or within the kitchen, where cooking smells will transfer onto the towels. 

Although air drying saves on using an energy-hungry tumble dryer, it does leave your towels feeling scratchy. To regain softness, I always place my towels in the tumble dryer for 5-10 minutes — it makes them more pleasant to use as the dryer fluffs up the fibers.

Keep your towels fresh for longer
Towels will smell less than fresh if not aired and dried properly between uses. There are a few things to avoid to keep them at their best between washes. A humid bathroom is not the ideal place to dry towels as there won’t be anywhere for the moisture to escape. Ensure you open a window or use an extractor fan to remove the steam. This method will also help to prevent mold in your home

4. Cut back on detergent 

Someone measuring out laundry detergent in front of a washing machine

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It seems logical that using more detergent will make our towels cleaner and fresher. But this isn’t the case. So, don’t make the mistake of using too much detergent. Excess detergent creates more suds which are harder to remove in the wash, creating extra residue on your towels. Too much detergent also compromises the softness and absorbency of your towels and it could damage your washing machine. Repeated overuse of detergent can result in residue building up in your machine, eventually causing blockages.

When washing towels, the golden rule with detergent is less is more, and always check the instructions on your detergent bottle.

5. Invest in quick-drying towels

A group of pink-toned microfibre towels

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Quick drying towels will dry faster than standard towels, and for this reason, are less likely to gain a musty smell. They are also ideal to use at the gym or if you shower more than once a day. 

I have a quick-drying microfiber towel for when I go swimming. It’s thin and compact and fits into my gym bag. However, it’s not the kind of towel I’d like to wrap myself up in after having a relaxing bath. I’d be looking for something softer and thicker that offers more of a hug.

The quick-drying speed is to do with the weave, whether it's shorter cotton loops, a flat waffle weave or a microfiber pile. The cheaper quick-dry towels tend to be made from wicking microfiber polyester or a nylon material, whereas higher quality quick-dry towels are made of pure cotton.

Parachute Home has a range of Waffle Towels with an open waffle weave that makes them light and quick drying ($49, Parachute). 

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Camilla Sharman
Staff Writer, Homes

Camilla Sharman has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.