No matter what caused those funky odors emanating from your bath towels, after one sniff, you may want to keep them as far away from your body as possible. If the towels smell foul even after washing, you may need to adjust how you wash them or what you use on them during the wash and dry cycles. Natural odor removers such as vinegar and baking soda help return towels to their once-fresh states and keep them that way.
Special Laundry Treatment
Whether the towels smell musty from staying wet too long or funky from a day at the gym, vinegar and baking soda -- used separately -- help freshen those foul fabrics. Place towels of similar hues in the washing machine and fill the machine with the hottest water recommended on their care tags. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle without detergent. After the rinse cycle, fill the machine again and add 1/2-cup baking soda to the water along with your usual laundry detergent. If the towels still smell a little foul, run them through another wash cycle with vinegar. Dry the towels completely on a clothesline on a sunny, non-humid day or in the dryer without dryer sheets. Do not fold or put the towels away until they are completely dry, or they may develop a musty or stale odor.
If you use the towels numerous times before washing them, that may be part of the lingering odor issue. As you dry off after a shower or bath, the towel absorbs body oils, skin cells and soap or shampoo residue along with the water, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to feed and breed. Wash and rinse yourself thoroughly before drying off to help ensure you are clean before using the towel. Rinse the washcloth out thoroughly as well; otherwise, it may house all kinds of odors, soaps and bacteria. Replace the bath towel with a fresh one after every use or two to help keep yourself healthy and to keep the towels from getting smelly.
If the smell of dirty towels on laundry day makes you want to run far, far away, a few simple towel-management tweaks make future odors less intense. Always hang up towels on a towel rack or hook after use, rather than leaving them on the floor or in a gym bag. If the towels don't have a chance to air out when wet, they'll stay damp and become musty or even ridden with mold or mildew. For the same reason, don't place a dirty towel in a laundry hamper or basket until it is completely dry. Sprinkle a bit of baking soda atop towels and other laundry in the hamper to keep odors at bay if it may be a few days before they're washed.
Skip the Softeners
Fabric softener and dryer sheets may seem like a good idea to keep towels fluffy and soft, but in reality, they leave behind waxy coatings that stick to the towel fibers, trapping in dirt and making the towels less absorbent. Eventually, towels treated frequently with either product may end up smelling a bit stale even when they are fresh out of the closet because laundry soap, skin cells and body oils are still trapped in the towels.