Does My Washer Make My Towels Smell Soured?

I receive tons of email about towels dilemmas, including soured towels  Here’s the most recent question:

Help! My towels are smelling of mildew, even though I just purchased them a few months ago.  I’ve never had this happen before and I’ve been washing clothes a long time.

Do you think my washer is the problem?

Thanks for any help you can offer-


Does my washer make my towels smell soured?

Renee’s problem seems to be popular, as it was the third email I received around the same question:  Can your washer cause your towels to be smelly and soured?

The simple answer is: probably not.

It is very possible to have a smelly washing machine.  You smell the mold/mildew when you open the door or lift the lid.  If you inspect closely, you can see actual mold on the inside rubber seal or around the drainage holes.  Bleh.

While this is gross and you need to clean your washing machine today, it is highly unlikely the cause of soured towels.

If the culprit was in fact the washing machine, all loads of laundry would smell like mildew – not just towels.


So what did cause the soured smell?

Towels that have a perpetually soured smell have been left in a dark, damp place for a period of time and were probably wadded up to some degree.  The possible spot could have been the bottom of a laundry hamper, the inside of a plastic gym bag, or in the corner of the bathroom floor.

Regardless of the place the towels were left, you can rest assured that they weren’t hung up to dry.

Towels can also sour if you leave them wet in the machine.  I know none of you have ever done that, because I surely haven’t.  Ahem.

Lastly, a buildup of fabric softener can cause towels to be awfully smelly.  Fabric softener doesn’t allow the cotton fibers of the towel to rinse cleanly, so it hangs on to detergent and softener.  These left on particles attract dirt, grime and smells and all of those things surely lead to stink.


The Fix for Smelly, Soured Towels

Soured towels need to be stripped. I’ve written detailed instructions on how to strip your soured towels, so make sure to stop by and read that post.

Most importantly, try to get rid of the stink before you send them through the dryer.  Dryer heat sets in stains and smells in a fierce way, so try to catch them before that.

Better yet, dry them in the sun.  The sun is the ultimate in stain removal and eliminating smells, especially of a mildew/moldy nature.

But the best fix for soured towels is preventing them in the first place!



Do you have specific questions about moldy/smelly/stinky/soured towels?  Leave them in the comments and I’ll help you sort through your towel troubles.


  1. Great tips!

    I used to live in an older house that had very poor air circulation in the master bathroom. Some of my fluffier towels would get stinky pretty quickly in there because they never fully dried between showers. I washed them on the hottest setting available on my washer and dried them outside, but there was still a slight lingering smell to them. I was about to donate them to the animal shelter (they always need towels and who knows–maybe dogs would’ve found the mildewy smell intriguing?) but then bought some Tide Febreze Sport as a last-ditch effort. That did the trick. The mildew smell was no longer, even after the very overwhelming “sport scent” wore off.

    • mamalaundry says:

      That’s so interesting about the Tide Febreze Sport! I received a sample of the regular Frebreze booster and was not impressed at all when I used it on some old sheets. I’ll have to try again with the Sport version. I appreciate your suggestion.

      And what a wonderful idea to donate old towels to the animal shelter!

  2. I have yet to have smelly towels since I followed your towel washing instructions. But before your advice, every towel I ever washed always and I mean always had a mildew smell!

  3. What I find helps at times is to air dry my towels before washing them, that way they don’t get that sour smell, especially if I have used them for drying off or a day at the beach.

  4. I also have towles that had a very funky smell to them even after repeated washings & being hung out side to dry. I tried the Tide Fabreeze Sport(thanks Rebecca) & it seems to have done the trick. The detergent is very expensive & has a very strong scent,those 2 reasons alone are enough to suggest you only need a small amount for it to work.

  5. Do NOT buy the Tide Frebrese Sport HE…. after you use it, it smells like cat urine. I through away a few articles of clothing thinking a cat urinated on them, and it wasnt. After many washes, same result. So I googled it and im not the only one! A waste of $20. bucks!!!!

  6. For mildew and bacteria issues with towels you should look into a product called Monofoil. It can be found online and it makes things antimicrobial. It is used by college sports teams as well to eliminate the transfer of bacteria. I actually sell towels for a living and my customers tell me it is great!

  7. When my towels are stinky I find the only thing that will “destinkaffy ” them is to wash them with ammonia I put about a cup and a half into the bleach dispenser use extra soap and NO fabric softener .

  8. Try adding 2 cups of white vinegar instead of softener. Seems to do the trick in my case.

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