45 answers

Help Getting That Weird Smell Out of Washcloths

Does anyone know what causes and how to remove that weird metallic/mildewy smell that washcloths get after a while? We wash our washcloths often, but after a while they start getting a funky smell. I tried baking soda with the laundry detergent, but that only seemed to help until the next time we used them. I'd rather not throw them out- we haven't had them that long! Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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I got this from a magazine a few months ago.........it seems to help.
Use hot water in the washer with normal amount of detergent. Add 1/2cup "washing" soda (sodium carbonate). You can find it by the detergents in the store.
Then add 1/2cup baking soda to the rinse cycle. You may have to retreat initially.

1 mom found this helpful

That happens with bath towels to! I threw a bunch out, bought new ones and the smell is back. I'd love to hear the solution.

Hi L.-
Try some amonia or pine sol. I've had the same problem, and this seem to weok for me. Also try to twice, this should help also. Good Luck!

More Answers

Check out this site for alternative cleaning methods by SWANCC. This topic is under "Removal - Odors". I've tried it on towels and it really works!


Add Borax to the wash cycle and vinegar to the rinse cycle. Let the washcloths/towels soak for a couple of hours and then wash as usual but DON’T use fabric softener, use white vinegar in rinse dispenser. I can find a box of Borax at Jewel, in the laundry detergent section - it's very inexpensive.

2 moms found this helpful

If you haven't yet tried it, try BioKleen Bac-Out added to the wash (or soak them in it first before washing). Tea tree oil also helps with its antibacterial & antifungal properties. Definitely use vinegar in the rinse cycle. And if you can hang them outside to dry in the sun, that will also help, too. Do NOT use fabric softener dryer sheets, as they will cause build up in the fibers that will trap future odors.

1 mom found this helpful

We have customers with this problem with their reusable diapers. We wash diapers and in this case washcloths so much, that in hard water areas like IL the cloths end up with a mineral buildup from the water. Washing in hot water just intensifies the problem.

The solution though is to strip the cloths or diapers using a product called Calgon found in your laundry aid aisle near the bleaches, borax, etc. Just follow the instructions on the bottle.

1 mom found this helpful

The only thing that's worked for me is a cup of Oxyclean powder added to hot water as it's filling up, regular detergent.

I do this with all my dishrags and don't have a problem with smell break-through anymore. Our dishrags get very mildewy!

1 mom found this helpful

I got this from a magazine a few months ago.........it seems to help.
Use hot water in the washer with normal amount of detergent. Add 1/2cup "washing" soda (sodium carbonate). You can find it by the detergents in the store.
Then add 1/2cup baking soda to the rinse cycle. You may have to retreat initially.

1 mom found this helpful

If they are white, you can add bleach and than a pleasant smelling liquid softener. Liquid is much better for the life of your dryer too. If they are colored, add oxyclean dry powder to your laundry detergent and than again with the fabric softener.

I have the same problem...bleach works for awhile, but it always comes back. I have had success with Borax, especially if you have hard water. You can use it in any load and it won't hurt the clothes. Smells good too.

Also check out the Queen of Clean Does Dirty Laundry book...she has great solutions. (Her solution for grease/oil in clothes...spray on WD40 and use undiluted dish soap on the stain before washing...I tried it on linen pants with door grease on them...TOTALLY WORKED!! I'm impressed!) She may have a good easy solution for odor in her updated books...my old one says soak in baking soda and water before washing.

Hi L.,
Try some vinegar in the washer with your washcloths and towels. Vinegar is a natural bacteria killer and will kill the smell, but not leave its own smell. When I do our towels and washcloths, I put half a cup about once every four to six washing depending on your frequency of washing them. Hope this helps.

I have this problem with the kitchen wash rags. At the end of the day, I rinse it in very warm water (that I can stand to touch) and then place it in the microwave for about 25 seconds. This gets the temperature REALLY high and, I hope, kills the mildrew germs. Be careful taking it out of the microwave...it will be extremely hot...and hang dry. When dry, you can choose to use again or place in your laundry pile!

You've probably got detergent build-up that results from your home's particular combination of water and the amount/type of detergent you use. This happens in all fabrics, and some salesmen would tell you that you need fancy water systems to prevent build-up.

Try washing them on HOT, with no detergent, for 2-3 wash cycles to get out all of the detergent. See if that helps with the funky smell.

Hi L.,
I have the same problem and found this solution on the internet...

The Vinegar Method
Put your towels in the washing machine, using the hottest water available. Add one or two cups of white vinegar. Do not add detergent, fabric softener, or any other products at this time. Run the washer.
Leave the towels in the washer and wash the same load again just as you would normally with laundry soap. Again, use the hottest water available. Don't use fabric softener or any other products.
Dry the load in the dryer using a high heat setting. Towels should be thoroughly dry when you pull them out. If they're not dry, put them back in, or move them immediately outside and hang them in the sunlight.

I tried it yesterday and it seems to have worked. Let me know if it works for you too!
Good luck!

I have this problem too. They smell fine when they are dry, but as soon as they get wet, there is that musty smell again.

I've tried vinegar in the rinse cycle - doesn't work. I've even tried Odoban which also doesn't work. If you put a splash of bleach in the wash after it has completely filled up, it will get rid of the smell. In the future, hang your towels/wash clothes/rags up immediately to dry. I think the problem is that they are drying too slow. My kitchen towel is the big problem since I wash my hands a million times a day (2 kids in diapers). It never gets a chance to dry really well.

Um, I don't have a suggestion for you but I would like to know what works so please keep me posted!! Thank you T.;0)

I have tried bleach, various detergents, etc but the only thing that consistently works is white vinegar. Put it in when the water is filling up and it'll get the smell right out!

Vinegar is what I use! Works well, smells great without the vinegar smell!

I've got to say that in all my life, I have never heard of this happening. Does each person use a seperate cloth? We always did and when we finished or bath or shower we wrung it out GOOD and hung it to dry before putting it in the wash or hamper.

When my towels and wash clothes start smelling funky I add a little bleach in the wash. Works every time!!

Vinegar in the rinse cycle. You can put it in a downy ball and it will come out at the right time!

Hi L.-
Try some amonia or pine sol. I've had the same problem, and this seem to weok for me. Also try to twice, this should help also. Good Luck!

Try washing with vinegar first then a second time with detergent if you don't like the smell of vinegar.


a few drops of tea tree oil in the wash cycle goes a long way. and is not harsh or toxic.

I had this exact problem. I bought Febreeze for the laundry and I use that with the washcloths and towels now, and I put the load on a second rinse. I think our problem is the washcloths are not drying out after use and they sit in wet lumps until the laundry gets done. The Febreeze works, but every once in a while I get a stubborn one that still stinks. good luck!

Gosh this is so hilarious. Your problem is exactly the same problem I have and have been looking for solutions to. I even looked up at the top of the post to see if I had written this post and forgot about it. LOL. I am writing all these suggestions down to try, as I do not want to throw out my towels either.

I agree with some of the other responses...Bleach. I bought all new kitchen towels in white so I don't have to worry about the color. I also switched all my bath towels to white too so I can bleach those too to get out any mildew smell. It seems like when you don't get your towels out of the washer quickly and into the dryer they will start to smell.

I second using vinegar. Try washing them until the water runs clear/doesn't suds up. Detergent build up can sometimes cause smell. FYI if you dry your towels WITHOUT dryer sheets, they will be more absorbent! Dryer sheets coat the towels/washcloths and make water bead up on them before soaking it up!

I use vinegar in my wash to help with all sorts of smells. You can pour it in with the detergent in the beginning, or use it as a "fabric softener" during the rinse cycle. Vinegar really is wonderful for so many things around the house!!

In any type of laundry situation where clothes pick up a funky smell I always soak them in white vinager & water & then wash, & it always seems to work--I heard about this for workout clothes, but it works for any trapped in odor situation.

Try white a few cups of vinegar in the rinse cycle...Vinegar is used in so many helpful ways it is worth a try...Good luck!

vinegar is the best.... it helps with all ordors and doesn't make your clothes smell of vinegar eithre. It's great... I put a full cup along with all my regular soap, softener adn stain removers to the wash load.
I buy the commercial size at costco for less than $3!!

i throw a cupful of bleach in the wash before i add any towels or washcloths. sometimes i stop the wash and just let them sit in the bleach for 1/2 hour to an hour and then wash normally with the detergent. i also remove them promptly from the washing machine and dry completely in the dryer. after they are dry i put them away right away to be sure that they did indeed get clean. if i do get that moldy smell its because i didn't put them away and just left them in the laundry baskets and they didn't dry completely.

I have the solution to everyone's problem. CLEAR AMONONIA. You can use it in EVERY load of laundry and it removes ALL smells. And does NOT leave a smell on clothes. Great for towels and sweaty clothes. It tells you right on the bottle how to use it. I buy mine at Jewel. It is their brand. ENJOY!!!!!

hi, if they are not colored, have you tried bleaching them? good luck!

Bleach Bleach Bleach! I even bleach my colors when they need it. Just mix a few tablespoons of bleach with your full load of water first and then add your washcloths :)

WEIRD! I was talking to my brother about that same thing. I have that same sour/funky smell but only in my towels. I am not sure how to get it out. I did see this new product by Febreze that was supposed to take the odor out of clothes. I think I may splurge and purchase it. My mother said to put white vinegar in my wash water and to wash them in HOT water. If you find a solution, please pass it on.

Hang them outside to dry and the sun works wonders.

I use bleach for colors. It works for everything and is real mild on the clothing. I use it all summer when everyone is sweating a lot. It always works for me.

try using vinegar in the rinse water instead of softner...good luck...it should work...let me know what happens.

do you throw them in the laundry wet and do they sit for a couple of days...if you lay them out so they dry completely you probably will not have the problem.

make it a superfantastic day!!!



Hi. Have you tried washing them in hot water? And after they are done washing put them in the dryer asap. Might be a little better.......it helped some for me!! Good Luck...

Detergent and Clorox colorsafe bleach in every load will eliminate it. We had the same problem and ever since I include this in every load of towels, I've noticed the bath and hand towels absorb a little better and the washclothes don't smell. (We don't use fabric softener on our towels either.)

Funny, I just researched this on the internet last week and nothing definitive came up there. Vinegar did seem to pop up as a solution frequently and depending on your washing machine use the "clean tub" cycle with some vinegar and if a front loader keep the door open between cycles. I've been using the sanitary cycle without fabric softener and it seems to be helping. Seems like once the smell is in there it's almost always impossible to get out completely and it comes back quickly in those same washcloths, so I have had to throw some away. Good luck!

We get that too. Try putting a small (1/4 cup?) of bleach in with your washclothes and towels when you wash them. It won't fade them or cause spots (just be sure to use your bleach dispenser), but it will kill the whatever it is that causes the odor. You might put an extra bit of fabric softner or drier sheet in too to cover the light bleach odor that sometimes remains, but I have always preferred the bleach odor to mildew smell. Good Luck!

That happens with bath towels to! I threw a bunch out, bought new ones and the smell is back. I'd love to hear the solution.

I use a little bit of bleach during the rinse cycle and that helps them smell nice and fresh.

I have no clue but have the same issue. What about vinegar in the wash cycle?

Bleach, bleach, bleach. Also, maybe use hotter water or longer wash and dry cycles. Got an extra-hot anti-germ cycle on your dryer? (Some newer ones have that)

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