How Do I Get the Sour Smell Out of Towels Once They Have Dried?

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When your towels smell sour even after washing and drying, all is not lost. Soak the towels (and any other stinky stuff) for six hours or more to eliminate those lingering odors. This works for not only smelly towels but also work clothes and sports gear. Follow a few simple steps and your towels will be sweet-smelling again.



Soak the towels in a deodorizing solution and then wash them. Make sure they're completely dry before storing them in a clean, dry closet.

Why Do Towels Smell Sour?

Sour smells may be due to adding too much laundry soap in the washer or from wet towels being left to sit in the laundry basket or on the bathroom floor. Bacteria, mold, and mildew grow in the damp folds and creases.

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During hot summers, hard-working people and athletes may also cause funky smells to occur on towels, clothing, and sports gear. Body odors permeate fabric, and even after washing, they can leave a stench that a football, soccer, or hockey parent will swear is a green fog when the gear is donned for the next game.


Soak It Out

Begin the stench removal by soaking your towels, clothing, or sports gear in the laundry sink or washer. Add 1 scoop of oxygen bleach per gallon of the hottest water the fabric can tolerate according to the label. Mix well and add the offending items. Completely submerge the items and allow them to soak for three to six hours or overnight if it's work or sports gear. Then, rinse the items with fresh water.


Take a cautious sniff and if the fabric is still smelly, dissolve 1 to 2 cups of baking soda or white vinegar (but not both) in the water. Soak the items again before rinsing and washing. (Bonus: vinegar can help make your towels soft.)

Wash in the Washer — Twice

After soaking, rinse the towels and other items and then wash them with the recommended amount of laundry detergent. Fill the softener dispenser with white vinegar for the rinse. Again, sniff cautiously before putting the items in the dryer. If your towels smell sour despite soaking and washing them, soak again and/or rewash with 1/2 cup baking soda and laundry detergent.


Get Them Completely Dry

When the towels and clothing smell fresh — or, in the case of sports gear, as clean as possible — remove them from the washer. Don't allow wet clothing to sit in the washer, especially overnight, as that encourages mold growth. Put everything in the dryer with dryer balls rather than dryer sheets. Set the dryer at the appropriate temperature for the fabric and dry the items.



Alternatively, hang the towels, clothing, or sports gear on a clothesline in the sun and wind. The sun kills mold spores, and the air circulation helps reduce and remove any remaining smells. If the fabric is stiff after drying in the sun all day, put the item in the dryer for 20 to 30 minutes with dryer balls and set it on the air-dry setting.

If All Else Fails

If all else fails, take the offending items to the dry cleaners. Your local dry cleaner has experience with removing stains and stenches from clothing. Use caution with sports gear, as the foam padding inside shoulder pads and hockey girdles should not be exposed to chlorine bleach and dry-cleaning chemicals.


Eliminate Other Factors

Outside factors can also leave your towels, clothing, and sports gear smelling funky. If you have a front-loading washer, be sure to clean around the seals and scrub inside and around the dispensers regularly. Put 2 cups of chlorine bleach in a front loader or 4 cups of bleach in a top loader, fill it with hot water, and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes. Then, run a full cycle. If you can't tolerate chlorine bleach, use white household vinegar instead.


If your towels go into the linen closet smelling sweet and come out smelling sour, you may have humidity issues or even a plumbing or roof leak. Empty the closet and search for evidence of water stains, mildew, and mold. Resolve leaks, clean the interior, and paint with Kilz or another mold-resistant paint product. In addition, add a dehumidifier or moisture absorbers to reduce the humidity in the closet.




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