How to Get Rid of That Mildew Smell When You Can’t Wash on Hot

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have special, red guest towels. I really love their bright color, but they sat in the washer too long one day and now have that mildew smell. How can I get rid of the musty odor without losing the bright color of these towels that can’t be washed on hot?

Thanks,
Musty in Muskogee
Heather says:

You really don’t want a faceful of mildew odor or to have mildew stink clinging to your hands. If your guest towels have any detergent residue, this will cause the mildew odor to hang around a lot longer. Detergent residue is sticky and makes rinsing away the microorganisms responsible for the smell a bit more difficult.

How to freshen your towels and get rid of that mildew smell

When we have talked about mildewed and musty odors in towels in the past, we discussed the types of energy to use to get those towels clean.

Types of Energy Used in the Laundering Process

  • thermal – the heat of the water
  • physical – the agitation of the machine
  • chemical – the detergent

Even warm water has some thermal energy and while your tap water in your area may be chilly, it will still help. It just won’t be hot enough to fade the towels.

In this case of the smelly guest towels, it’s likely that some detergent residue is contributing to the issue.

First, unless you have a lot of guests, your towels should only comprise a small load. If you do have a lot of guest towels, divide them into two small loads of laundry. Wash them on the largest load setting, on the longest cycle your washer provides. This will give the towels plenty of room and time to agitate and plenty of water to rinse away the funk.

Removing that mildew smell:

You may have to wash the towels twice, with only borax in the wash cycle and a cup full of vinegar in the rinse. Yes, you will have to pay attention to the washer. Both of these chemicals alter the pH of the water helping the extra detergent work its way out of the towel fibers. If you see any sudsing in the rinse cycle of the wash, repeat the process. 

Once the spin cycle is through, give the towels a good sniff. No odor? Happy day! All of the sticky detergent molecules have been washed away. Your next step is to thoroughly dry the towels according to their label directions.

Do not even think about folding them if they are even slightly damp and placing them in a linen closet. You’ll just invite your mildew buddies back over for a party in the guest towels. 

If the towels still have a bit of odor to them, wash them one final time with a scant (tiny) amount of detergent. The mildew may have worked its way deep into the fibers and not just be hanging on to the detergent residue. Again for this load, you want to use the amount of detergent you’d use for the smallest load your washer runs and run the clothes washer on its largest load and longest cycle settings.This will let the detergent do its job without sticking around after the rinse cycle starting the process over.

Dry your towels thoroughly.

If you really want to up your fresh smelling towel game store them in the linen closet with a sachet.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

How to Wash Clothes in Cold Water how to deal with mildew in the laundryMore tips on washing with cold water and dealing with mildew.



1 Comment

  1. Ceci on October 2, 2017 at 10:24 am

    would this work on cotton and cotton blend clothing as well? I’m not sure what I’m smelling is mildew, but there is definately a musty odor there and only on a few specific pieces of clothing.

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