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Natural Treatment for Stinky Towels

You see that smile on the face of the woman doing laundry? Not me. Not me at all. The stinky laundry problem had gotten so bad that one of my little ones thought that bringing an item up to your nose to smell prior to folding it was part of the folding laundry process.

You see, when we moved in to our home nine years ago, we purchased a front load washer, thinking this was so great. Well, it hasn’t been so great. A problem we quickly noticed (and found to be a problem for others who own front loaders as well) was that our laundry (our towels in particular) had the tendency to get smelly.

I’ve tried many desperate solutions to this problem, with varying degrees of success. Here’s just a couple:

  • Put all the towels and facecloths in a huge Rubbermaid bin in the tub and fill with hot water and peroxide. This produced some really cool bubbling and seemed to temporarily take care of the odor, but it was back before too long.
  • Throw out the towels and buy some new ones. This is, obviously, too costly an option.

Early on in the process a friend recommended a helpful tip. She said it was important to use powdered detergent in the front loaders instead of liquid. Apparently the liquid detergent doesn’t rinse out as thoroughly and can contribute to odor problems.

So I changed over to a natural powered detergent at that time. In the meantime I’ve developed a natural laundry powder we use. This seemed to help (somewhat).

She also recommended cleaning the gasket on a regular basis (yuck!). That is a nasty undertaking (we have a shedding dog, a teenage son and two young ones in the home that adds up to some yucky foreign objects hanging out in that rubbery accordion). It seems like a poor design to have a space that traps stuff so easily. But I’ve collected holey socks over the years to use for a one-time cleaning of the gasket. (It’s still a really gross job!)


So, what works?


Here’s my natural strategy for dealing with smelly towels and laundry


Each Load

  • Arrange wet towels to air dry as much as possible before laundering
  • Keep washer door and drawer open when not in use (let everything dry out between loads)
  • Use powdered detergent (explained above)
  • Add hydrogen peroxide* (about 2 Tbsp.) in bleach cup to wash load
  • Add white vinegar in fabric softener spot. You can also add some essential oils here. I really like tea tree and will put several drops in with the vinegar. This seems to make a big difference.
  • Use a hot water setting
  • Dry on high, at a very dry setting

* the peroxide step was a huge step towards stink-free towels. It acts as a very mild bleach. Our laundry problem had gotten so bad that my husband’s polos seemed to have picked up the same odor. YUCK! Since adding peroxide to the laundry he’s really noticed the odor has dissipated. Yay!



Wipe out gasket (yuck! It just makes me feel so much better to exclaim “Yuck!” while doing so)

 For a special, occasional treatment for towels:

  • Wash first with hot water and 1 cup of vinegar
  • Wash a second time with with hot water and ½ cup baking soda

And, of course,  a really great natural option is to air dry your laundry. Fresh air and sunshine are great at killing microbial problems.


A NEW Suggestion from a reader (and friend, coincidentally :) )

Use the product GLISTEN (designed for dishwasher and primarily citric acid) in your washer to clean out the greasy, grimy residue. I found this worked great. She suggested to use one packet (I got a plastic container or it and dug out the wax plug that dissolves in the dishwasher) and to add it with hot water to an EMPTY washer. Run it on hot and then marvel at the difference. My gaskets and ridges looked SO much better. Thanks, Anne, for the suggestion!


I’d love to hear if any of you have had similar problems and what you’ve done to address the problem of stinky laundry.


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3 Responses to “Natural Treatment for Stinky Towels”

  1. carissa says:

    Love these ideas! I always put vinegar and 4 drops of Purification Essential Oil as my “fabric softener”, and it removes all the bad odors out of my laundry. :)

  2. Paula says:

    I read your whole article because I have a front loader… Be careful with the vinegar… I used it in one machine and it ended up rusting out a lot. I suppose if the vinegar is diluted first it would help.

    I will try the hydrogen peroxide. I also agree that air drying in the sun is superb.

    I will switch back to a powder soap and see if that helps. I think the 20 mule team borax or washing soda would help freshen the laundry. Sometimes I just have to wash things twice.

    We have also been consistently using the extra rinse option. Yes, drying the towels between laundering definitely helps.

    Good Luck!

  3. Kim Wilson says:

    Isn’t sad that it requires all these extra steps? I think I’d probably go back to a top loader when I have the chance.

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