You step out of the shower, clean as a whistle and towel off. But wait, what’s that not-so-fresh smell? You press your nose to your towel and inhale. Aha! You have found the culprit: your towel has a musty funk. Here’s why it happens, some tips for avoiding it and what you can do to treat smelly towels.

Why do towels develop a musty funk, anyway?

The reason towels develop an odor is thanks to mildew. Mildew is a live organism which thrives in warm, moist environments. The longer mildew lingers, the stronger the odor and the more likely that a fungus will develop on fabrics, which may present as black or green spots.

Most commonly, you may have left a load of laundry lingering wet in the drum of the washing machine for too long. It can happen when you start a load before work and toss it in the dryer only once you get home. It also happens when you start a load later in the day, forget about the wash cycle, head to bed and the items sit wet overnight. If this is the case (and even though it’s a waste of water and product), you’ll want to run the load through a brand-new cycle and this time, dry immediately.

Mildew often develops in laundry hampers, too, so take care to ensure soiled and dirty items are completely dry before tossing in the bin. Otherwise, damp, bunched-up clothing will not only affect the wet garment, but those touching it.

Less common but also a reason towels develop a funk is due to body oil. Frequent washing and drying of towels, in addition to an effective laundry detergent, should do the trick.

 

Tips for preventing mildew build-up on towels

  • Air dry a towel every time you use it. Whether it’s a dishtowel in the kitchen, a hand towel in a powder room or body towel in your ensuite, always hang a towel to dry after use. Ensure it is draped flat over a towel bar to maximize the surface area exposed to air. (I.e.: avoid hooks where bunching occurs or draping over a door, where one side of the towel is not exposed.)
  • Never put a wet or damp piece of clothing in a laundry hamper. Always ensure soiled clothing or towels are completely dry before adding to a bin.
  • Dry towels immediately after laundering. The less time that wet towels or clothing lingers in the drum of a washing machine, the better.
  • Ensure your towels are completely dry before folding and storing. If needed, pick the “extra dry” dryer setting.
  • Store towels in a dry cupboard or linen closet. Promptly unload bags after visiting the beach or pool.
  • Double-check the hygiene of your washing machine. We often forget to clean the appliances that clean other household items – like dishwashers and washing machines. If your clothing, towels and linens all have a funk, it’s worth checking the seals and nooks of your appliance for mold growth.

 

How to clean and freshen a musty towel

 

For dry, washable items:

  1. Optional/where needed: use a soft, dry bristle brush to sweep spores from the towel or garment. (Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area like a patio or deck.)
  2. Place the affected items in a shallow basin or sink. Drop in one Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip and add only enough water to fully soak the items, using your hand to ensure the strip fully dissolves. Wait 15 minutes before wringing out and rinsing the towels/clothing.
  3. Wash on the items/towels’ typical wash setting, adding a Tru Earth strip.
  4. Machine dry or hang-dry immediately after the cycle ends.
  5. Perform a smell test.

 

For wet, washable items:

  1. Immediately place the affected items in a shallow basin or sink. Drop in one Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip and add only enough water to fully soak the items, using your hand to ensure the strip fully dissolves. Wait 15 minutes before wringing out and rinsing the towels/clothing.
  2. Wash on the items/towels’ typical wash setting, adding a Tru Earth strip.
  3. Machine dry or hang-dry immediately after the cycle ends.
  4. Perform a smell test.

 

For dry-clean only items

Bring to your local professional at your earliest convenience.

 

What if a stubborn odor persists?

If the mildew musk persists, the spores are still present on the fabric.

If your towel can handle it (in terms of colourfastness), you may choose to pre-treat or wash them in a non-toxic, chlorine-free oxygen bleach. However, this type of product is often packaged in hard plastic containers, meaning zero waste options in this product category are extremely limited. However, if it’s the difference between tossing the towel or saving it, you may want to first ask a friend or family member if they have any oxygen bleach they can spare.  

 

What about dryer sheets? Will they improve the smell of musty towels?

At Tru Earth, we’re all about lessening the use of synthetic chemicals in our daily routines. Dryer sheets contain a mysterious list of ingredients and artificial fragrances, so we prefer to skip them entirely. Instead, we like to add a few drops of our favourite essential oil to wool dryer balls before tossing them into the dryer with a load of towels.

      

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