Fresh-smelling washcloths and dish rags

From Jessica:

Do you have any tips for keeping your bathroom towels and washcloths from getting stinky? It's so humid where I live that it seems they get stinky after just one or two uses, and when I pile them up in a laundry basket to get enough to do a load then they get really stinky and still seem to have a bit of an off smell even after I wash them.

I wish that after this plea for help, I no longer had to deal with stinky dish cloths!

Every night before bed, I wring out my dish rag and hang it on the stove to dry. It's usually almost dry by morning, and then can be put in the dirty laundry basket (a great chore for Eliyahu!). I get a clean dish cloth out every morning.

I even got out some new dish rags that had been a wedding gift, so I'd be starting with fresh, clean rags.

I think perhaps part of my problem is our climate and how much humidity we have...

So I have just been using a little bit of bleach (maybe a tablespoon or so) in every other load of whites, and that keeps things smelling nice. I wish I could find something other than using bleach, but I had gotten tired of trying so desperately, only to pull wet cloths out of my washer and smell mildew on them!

Our bath towels survive all right because we use thinner towels and I hang them single-layer (not folded over) to dry after using... and with a smaller family, our bathroom isn't in constant use so it does dry out well enough despite not having an exhaust fan (we live in a rental).

Those of you who live in damp environments -- what do you do about wash cloths, dish rags, and towels? Do you use bleach in your laundry, or do you have some other trick? :)


Humidity varies where we live, but sometimes it can be quite high. In those cases, I put our laundry racks in front of the window air conditioner while the towels are drying. That way, they dry more quickly. I also like to give them ample time in the sun after doing the wash.


I have been doing this for decades and it works GREAT!

Buy a gallon of white vinegar for your laundry room.

Add 1 cup per load
use this for any load you are not using bleach- ie: colr loads.

This is WONDERFUL for all of you busy folks forgetting to empty out the washing machine only to have to re-wash.....NOT ANY MORE WITH VINEGAR all the bacteria that makes things smelly doesn't grown because of the unpleasant environment vinegar provides in the washer!

THIS IS SPECTACULAR if the family has a cold bug and you want to wash germs away! GOOD LUCK! ----- DM Spaven

I live in an apt where I have little breeze even in the summer. During winter the windows are closed. I have to go to a laundromat so I have to hang my rags and dish rags to dry in the apt. It takes forever to dry even if I hang them on a hanger in the bathroom and they smell. Any suggestions? I was thinking of trying to spray some vinegar on them.

When I lived in Texas, I would put about a half cup of baking soda in my wash. It would destroy the worst odors, but also seemed to help later to keep them from comming back so quickly.

My younger brother has extremely sweaty feet, no matter the temperature. I washed his sneakers and then threw in a 1/2 cup of baking soda, and two weeks later, still no smell. Perhaps this could work for your towels and such as well.

My vote is for Baking Soda too! I buy a bag of the powder type of laundry detergent and then mix it close to 50/50 with Baking Soda right in a 5 gallon plastic bucket I recycled for the laundry soap container. This not only saves money (family of seven) it helps with all kinds of smells (kitty, puppy, mold, body odor, potty accidents, sickness, etc.) Helps remove stains too (blood, grass, mud, markers, pen ink) and the only "opps" is crayons--they still have to be caught before going through the wash.

For no more Smelly feet use right guard sport spray deodorant on his feet after every show. My son smelled horrible. No more feet problems.

You could try putting a towel bar on the back of bedroom doors for each person to hang their towel. This should help the towels dry out since bedrooms are generally less humid than bathrooms.

I use a blurb of bleach and borax in my wash, but what really works is to put at least a cup of vinegar in the rinse.

It also gets out all the nasty soap residue, which enables the towel to be more absorbent.

I don't live in a damp environment by any means (it's VERY dry where I live), but we have hard water, and so use vinegar in the rinse to help with that. :)

I avoid using bleach since it's toxic. Using baking soda in the wash water softens the water and helps the detergent work better. Vinegar in the rinse water softens clothes and helps sanitize (along with drying in the UV rays of the sun), deodorize and rinse out soap residue.

Change dish rags every single day and if they become soured, soak them in vinegar or boil them in 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water after preparing and cleaning up chicken.


I have this problem too Tammy. I also use a little bleach in every other load or so. Drying out your towels or cloths is the only way I know to prevent them from growing mildew. I have had towels thrown in the hamper and it made the other clothes smell too. Yuk!

On another note, do I see a picture of yard sale finds drying on the line? LOL I found a pile of clothes for the baby to grow into the other day and my 4 yr old girl too. The prices were great and the clothes were in great shape.

Love your blog,

Since we live near the Arkansas river, life is very humid! We actually had to purchase a dehumidifier to cope with the mold problem.

I only do laundry once a week, so to keep the bathroom towels and mat from getting musty-smelling, I hang them out on the porch every day (unless it is raining). A fresh, line-dried smell every day!

Like Tammy, I get a new kitchen washrag every morning, and if the old one hasn't dried hanging on the faucet overnight, I put it outside, too. Same with the kitchen towels.

Stinky towels and mildewy laundry were a big problem til I started using the porch!

Once they're stinky, I've found they need to be treated until they smell fresh again. I usually use a little bleach or a lot of vinegar in a soak and then wash as usual. If it's humid on wash day, I'll put the towels in the dryer to make sure they get all the way dry. Other than that, I just try to hang them spread out so they can dry between usings, if possible. I'd rather use a bit more electricity to get them dry - mildew is something I'd prefer not to wash and dry my hands, face, and dishes on!!

About a 1/4 cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle will completely remove the mildew. I often had this problem and read a tip in Women's Day and it really works! My towels came out smelling fresh and clean.

Tammy C.

I switched to bamboo towels and love them. They have some natural properties that make them ideal for humid areas.

I bleach my dish towels and dish rags. I'm a HUGE germa-phobe. What I love is that a couple years back I was at Linens-n-Things and found all white dish rags. What I disliked about bleaching my dish rags was the fact I would bleach away any color. Now that I have all white dish rags-problem solved. My dish towels do not lose color. Odd, I know!

I wish they would make clothing in the same I can bleach colors too! Altho, since I've found a product called Zout (better than spray n wash, or shout) Zout gets out pretty much anything!

because of the harsh chemicals in bleach, I do a double rinse. My family dr suggested this, since I have very sensitive skin. I tend bleach pretty much anything I can. (except colors of course, then I use Clorox 2)

I'd really like to get away from using bleach...but I'm nervous that it won't do the trick like bleach does. Line drying is not an option where we live. I do put drying racks on the deck off our bedroom tho. Fortunately it doesn't face the road. lol But I still use the dryer for most things.

All of my towels are white, and I bleach every single time I wash. I soak the towels in a lot of bleach first, then wash with detergent and a little more bleach, then run through another cycle to rinse again.

My towels never smell, and I live in the same humid region as you, Tammy. I think you need to deep clean all your towels to start fresh. I would recommend washing them 3 or 4 times with tons of vinegar or some bleach to kill all the germs.

If you don't start with very very clean, germ-free towels, it doesn't matter how quickly you dry them, they'll stink quickly.

You could try washing your towels through a hot wash cycle. This will kill the "smelly" bacteria... especially if you throw in a couple tablespoons of baking soda. I don't have the luxury of hot water in the laundry room right now, but this has worked in the past for me when I would hang towels out to dry. I use the dryer right now...but as soon as my hot water is working out there, I'll be hanging them again. Let us know if you find something that works for you! Good Luck!

I had issues with moldy smelling washcloths, too. (Our bathroom isn't well ventilated.) I invested in some hemp ones. A little pricey, but no more mildew problems. Hemp is naturally mold-resistant. I also try to dry all things out before I throw them in the dirty clothes pile.

borax works well if it's not a serious smell problem. If so, you could try soaking in the machine overnight with borax.

I had the same problem. I have found that you have to wash them in HOT water. Don't wash a huge load, even if you have to split it up and make a few loads. Also, I use fabric softener sheets in the dryer to make them smell nice, instead of liquid fabric like a charm! :0)

The only thing I'd have to caution about here is that if you use fabric softeners on your towels, they will become less absorbant. Fabric softeners (both liquid and sheets) make fabric water resistant and over time, if used every wash, your towels will not dry very well.
I do agree about the hot water though-I wash most of our loads in cold-only towels, sheets, and underclothes get washed in hot. Then, as many others have noted, to get rid of odors and aid in fabric softening, I add vinegar.
It really works well, it's cost effecient, and leaves no residue on your clothing. (no vinegar smell either)

Actually, the Consumer Reports folks just looked at this and found it not to be true.

It certainly isn't true for us--we use a dryer sheet in every dryer load--and our towels (3+ years old) are still absorbent.

Anyone who has used cloth diapers will tell you that this is in fact VERY true! If you use fabric softener sheets or liquid, it coats the fibers of the fabric and makes it repel the water. Towels are not effected as much, but a cloth diaper needs to absorb very quickly.

my laundry detergent has fabric softener in it and my towels are all stiff and stinky. I've been using epsom salt in the wash along with vinegar in the rinse to get the residue out.

I clean with vinegar--counter tops and stove tops.... the flat top stove with baking soda too. That helps keep some of the weird stuff from growing.

Tip 2:
Nuke them for about 2 minutes in the microwave; they'll dry and kill weird stuff.

For those who have a dishwasher, you can hang dish rags over the rack when you run it. Just make sure its not going to fall off during the cycle. We do this sometimes and it seems to help unless perhaps they have become super stinky. A friend showed us this a few years ago and she did it with all of her sponges, brushes, etc. every time she ran a load.


It can be pretty humid here. I've tried different things but what is working for me right now is when I'm through with a cloth for the day (or sometimes it is after washing something especially yucky so I just don't want to use it again) I rinse it out and pour some just boiled water onto it. (We have an electric kettle so it means I've probably just boiled it for tea or coffee.:-D) After it cools I wring it out I toss it in my mopping bucket where it is joined by others until I do a load of towels and rags. I wash on hot. They are hung out to dry and I haven't had any problems doing it this way for the past few months.


For white towels I DO bleach them but for colors (I have tons of colored towels from my grandma when she downsized I will not have to purchase towels for years!) I use a couple of glugs of vinegar in the rinse cycle and hang them to dry outside. We have lots of humidity her in NW Ohio and sometimes the towels will not dry outside for two days (on those days I will dry them in the dryer or avoid washing until the humidity goes away) the vinegar goes a long way to getting rid of the yucky smell!

I buy those packs of 20 at walmart, and change them every time I wash dishes.

Has anyone used non-chlorine bleach? It's made with hydrogen peroxide and citric acid. It's sold as a color-safe bleach. I'm wondering if it truly works before I buy it- it is more expensive. But I can't stand the fumes of bleach!


I dried my dish rag on the sink last nite! I use to just throw it in the washer. Now I have a dry rag in the washing machine, waiting to be washed!

I get a clean one out everyday. Otherwise, they really do start to smell. When done I found if I hang them to dry they don't get to stinky, but if left all "ball" they sure do get stinky fast. ~Tanya - mama to 5 :)

I thought of this yesterday - try not to leave loads in your washing machine for very long after washing. Take them out as soon as possible and either hang or put in the dryer, and don't wash if you aren't going to be able to do that (like put a load in the morning before you go to work and not be home for hours). I've had things mildew in the washer if I forgot them - major eew.

If you have mildew in your washer, you may need to run a cycle on hot (and I'd even add extra hot water to make sure it was as full as possible) with some bleach or a ton of vinegar and then another clean water cycle to rinse or wash a load of something you don't mind if it's bleached. I'm sure there are tons of internet tips on cleaning your washer - give it a sniff and make sure it isn't compounding the problem!

Hi Tammy,
I think it was mentioned above somewhere but white vinegar works very well. If I do laundry and forget about a load in the washer overnight it's mildew smelling. So I just add some vinegar in the soap dispenser and put in rinse and send it thru the cycle again. No more mildew!

Bobbie :)

Living in South Florida (very humid!) I've found that you have to make sure the towels are dry before tossing in the laundry. Also, I use about a 1/2 cup vinegar in the rinse water (I started using as a fabric softner but found out it also removes odors).

My Dad likes to stuff the washing machine when I visit. And his wash comes out stinky. I always do the laundry when I am there and close my ears to the complaints about using to much water and time. I like a nice clean and fresh smelling washcloth for me and my kids.

I second this! My parents stuff the washer, partly because they have hard water that clogs the fill hose, so the washer takes f o r e v e r to fill, and partly because they just toss clothes in until someone starts a load. And their clothes come out smelling like the worst thing that went in--usually a running shirt or a dish rag.

I love love love doing my own laundry now, because it smells clean!

I am lazy and mine end up in lumps in the sink and in the hamper. I wash most things in cold but, dishcloths and white towels get HOT water and bleach. I use only knit dishcloths and the colors do get lighter from the bleach but, they are just dishcloths anyway, right?

Maybe try alternating one time do bleach and one time do vinegar.

This link might make you feel better about using bleach:

It certainly made me feel better about it.

love the article. This is why I use bleach in my kitchen. Everything gets rinsed well after using it, cutting boards, knives etc, with plenty of clean water. But I know it got clean to begin with the bleach.


Bleach has its place, for sure! But not all germs/bacteria are "bad", either. It's an interesting topic. :)

Soak dishcloths and sponges in baking soda and borax to disinfect and help them stay smelling good.


For cloth diapers my mom used to keep a diaper pale (with a lid) full of water with vinegar and borax. Maybe if getting them dry is difficult, just leave them in their to soak until you do a load?

For many years I have just used boiling water to clear dish rags of that (to me, absolutely unbearable, and persistent) mildew smell.

I just grab a glass measuring cup, stuff a rag--or two, or my rag and sponge--down into it, make sure it's covered with water, and pop it all into the microwave. Bring it to the boiling point, and boil for a couple of minutes (but watch, so you don't boil it all dry and then damage your microwave oven), and then let it stand for another couple of minutes before draining--carefully--and letting cool and dry.

Of course, keeping the rags and sponges wrung out as hard as you can is key to preventing mildew.

It's important to me to be able do do the boiling treatment, as my kitchen is now decorated in red, and I love my red dishrags. Bleach or hydrogen peroxide, either one, would be the end of those.

I'm grateful for this discussion! Thanks to everyone!

Tammy, I know this is an older post, but I just ran across it. I DO NOT USE BLEACH, and I know some people just squirm at the thought. I make my own laundry soap and all my own cleaners, the best remedy I use in the wash for items such as those is peroxide. I hope you will at least try it. You can also just leave any dish rag soaking in a little peroxide/water 50/50 solution through the night and put in wash in the morning. This will keep the use of bleach down. I hope this helps. Also CLUB SODA IS A GREAT STAIN REMOVER as well as PEROXIDE for towels, dishrags and any laundry to look and smell fresh. I also make my own dryer sheets that really help with the freshness of such items. If anyone wanting the recipe just let me know. Blessings Deena

Thanks for posting (wow, this was in 2009). I wanted to know your recipes for soap for
all your cleaning needs if possible. I don't want to use toxic cleaners so I don't. But I was
wanting to get my washclothes and towels cleaner and not mildew smelling. Read a lot
of posts here and will try the baking soda and vinegar.

Cheryl (Isagenix Consultant for Health)

Arm and Hammer Laundry Detergent (powder)!!! No longer have the problems at all!!!!!!

I live in south Florida. My last house only had well water,(lots of iron in water). I use oxy-clean or its generic clone. I don't seperate cloths and wash in cold water. Just let tub fill and mix water before putting cloths in. Usually leave lid up to suspend cycle and allow to soak. Cup of vinegar in rinse. Filthy white socks-like new. Warm and hot water only fade cloths. Not hot enuf to kill most germs, why waste the money? Hope this helps,Brian.

I read thru all these posts amazed to see no one else uses what I have used for YEARS. I always pour about a cup of regular household ammonia into the washer with hot water to wash all towels and sheets.

AMMONIA!! I add a cup or about that much, sometimes less, of plain old ammonia to my sheets and towels. I even add it to some extra dirty loads of clothing if they just need a freshening up more than the laundry soap will do. It's cheap and it really freshens up the fabrics. I also use it with my carpet cleaning solution in my steam cleaner. It helps cut the dirt and not using as much of the cleanser is better for the carpet I think. Carpets come out clean, fresh and soft.

I always solve this and the problem of smelly sponges by leaving them slightly wet and pop them into the microwave for a minute or less (depending on your microwave), then remove them with a set of tongs and let them cool. they smell because of the bacteria build up in them, by heating them in the microwave it kills the bacteria and the odors.

Great tips, but eventually they need to be thrown away. I know my mom keeps hers way too long. Also read info on microwaving: sponges or dishrags have to be wet, zap on high for 2 minutes, and use tongs to remove...

Will homemade washing powder help with the dishrags? also I have no hot water for the washer so what can I do

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