Have you ever grabbed a clean towel from the dryer or the closet and noticed it doesn’t smell clean at all? You are not alone! Musty-smelling towels used to plague me until I discovered some great hacks to keep my bath towels smelling and feeling fresh and clean. 

So if you’re wondering how to clean towels, what are the best bath towels, or how to wash towels, you’ve come to the right place. Clean your towels correctly the first time, and you don’t have to think about them again. At least until your next laundry day. 

Why Do My Towels Smell Musty

The traditional towel that you pick up at your local department store is a cotton terry weave. If you want to get technical with it, this towel is called terry weave because of the weaving technique used for the terry cloth material. 

If you’re not interested in the riveting history of cotton towels, just remember that cotton terry towels are thick and absorbent. This is the key to why they become smelly and sometimes scratchy over time. 

Thick, absorbent towels help you dry off, but they also hold onto that moisture long after your shower is done. And we all know that moisture leads to bacteria. So the bacteria that develops on your towels is what gives them a funky smell over time. Gross, huh? 

If you want to ditch that bacteria and get rid of smelly towels for good follow these four easy hacks for towels.

WATCH: 3 Ways to Get Your Towels Looking, Feeling & Smelling Great!

towels and washcloths

1. Keep Your Bath Towels Dry

When you hop out of the shower, you might not need your overhead exhaust fan anymore, but your towel still does! So keep that air circulating to help your towel dry off and prevent gross bacteria from growing. 

But don’t stop there! Are you the kind of person who drops your towel on the floor and forgets about it? Well, don’t! Towels need to be hung properly to dry. And by properly, I don’t mean a hook.

A hook isn’t good enough for drying towels because that heavy towel needs air circulation throughout its entire surface. The absolute best way to dry your towels is a towel bar. That way, you can stretch out your towels fully, which will help air get to every part of the towel before bacteria does. 

Machine Drying

Did you know there’s a right way to machine dry towels too? Sometimes when you take a towel out of the dryer, it feels dry, but it’s not. That’s because (I said it once, and I’ll say it again!) towels are really thick and absorbent. Use dryer balls to give your dryer a bit of help and get your towels bone dry.

None of us like doing laundry, not even me! So make sure you don’t have to redo your laundry and leave those towels in the dryer longer than the rest of your laundry, ensuring they are 100% dry before you take them out.

Towels on a Counter

Line Drying

If you line-dry your towels, whether outdoors or indoors, you might notice that they come out looking a little flat. They might feel scratchy or itchy instead of soft and fluffy. But don’t worry, I’ve got a solution for that too. 

Simply rub your towel against itself or another towel to fluff up the fibers. Or, if you want to go that extra mile, get yourself a soft bristle brush and give your towels a quick sweep. Alternatively, if you have a steamer, do a couple quick passes over your towel, and just like that, you’ll have fluffy towels again.

2. How to Wash Bath Towels the Right Way

A towel is unlike any other fabric you put in the washing machine; it’s thick, heavy, and designed to absorb water. So when it goes into your washing machine, it’s going to absorb all of the water and all of the detergent, and all of the fabric softener. 

Some of us towel-owners get caught in the dreaded towel cycle: you think your towels smell musty, so you add more detergent, but it makes them smell worse, and repeat! If this sounds like you, your towels are probably holding onto detergent and not being rinsed or dried properly. 

Use slightly less detergent than an average load, and be sure not to overfill your washing machine (I mean, you should never overfill your washing machine, but with towels, think less is more). Using less detergent and not overloading your machine will help the water evenly distribute and properly rinse those towels. 

Finally, don’t throw in the towel… with your regular laundry. Towels will rub against your clothes, shortening their lifespan. Plus, because towels need some extra laundry love, be sure to give them their own cycle. 

3. Should You Use Fabric Softener on Towels?

No, no, no! Fabric softener is doing you no favors. Fabric softener is a waxy coating that conditions fabrics, loosen their fibers, and make them feel softer. But when you use fabric softener on a load of towels, some of that waxy coating gets absorbed into their super absorbent fabric.

Have you ever heard of laundry stripping? It’s when people use deep cleaning solutions like Borax to strip the dirt and grime that’s been absorbed into their laundry over the years. Well, some of that grime actually comes from detergent and fabric softener, especially when we’re talking towels. 

If you really want soft, fluffy towels, replace your fabric softener with a bit of white vinegar.

4. Get Rid of Detergent Build-Up

To get rid of the detergent and softener build-up you might already have, run your towels in a hot water cycle in the washing machine with two cups of white vinegar. Then run them in a second hot water cycle with one cup of baking soda. 

The vinegar will break down the detergent and soap that’s stuck in the towels, and the baking soda will help freshen and deodorize your terrys. Finally, put your towels into the dryer on the regular setting (with dryer balls) until they are hot and dry.  

Voila! You’ve hit the reset button on your towels.

The Best Bath Towels For Your Home: Cotton Vs. Microfiber Towels

Cotton towels vs microfiber towels
Cotton Towel Vs Microfiber Towel

For the same reason you wouldn’t go to the gym wearing a heavy cotton t-shirt and sweatpants, consider switching up your towels for a different material. Microfiber towels wick moisture away, saving you a ton of laundry hassle. 

Microfiber is not a natural fiber like cotton, so it doesn’t harbor bacteria. That’s why microfiber towels never get that funky cotton towel smell: because they have a waffle-style weave, not a terry weave. Waffle weaves are designed to efficiently absorb moisture and release it, so a microfiber towel dries you quickly and then dries itself quickly. 

Are you thinking microfiber might feel uncomfortable as a bath towel? Think again. The right microfiber makes a smooth, soft, and bacteria-resistant bath towel, which is heavy enough to feel luxurious without over-retaining moisture!

And psst, did you know we offer a selection of microfiber towels at Makers Clean? This is your sign to change up your towel game!

Beyond the Towel

Getting tired of reading about towels? Well, we have something new to share with you. Makers Clean has developed the Maker’s Luxury Face Cloth, a microfiber face cloth (OK, it’s pretty close to a towel) that’s perfect for removing makeup and daily environmental build-up. It’s an ultra-soft and gentle treat for your face and a great way to keep your skin feeling fresh and clean each and every day.

Many face cloths are made from cotton or 100% polyester. Cotton is rough on the face and is prone to developing odors over time. While softer, a 100% polyester fabric is not particularly absorbent. With a unique blend of polyamide and polyester, the Maker’s face cloth is ultra-soft on the face, super-absorbent, and does not hold on to odors.

The new Makers Premium Face Cloth

A Bath Towel’s Lifespan

OK, just one more thing about towels. Keep in mind a towel has a lifespan of about seven to ten years. So if you really can’t get that funky smell out, or your towels aren’t as soft and fluffy as they once were, it might be time to move on. 

But don’t throw your towels away. Instead, pass it forward and consider taking your old towels to a pet shelter when you treat yourself to a new set. 

And that’s it! Now you know everything you need to know about having clean, fresh-smelling towels for life. May you never encounter a smelly towel again. 

Also check out this great article on getting rid of bad laundry smells: Smelly Washing? Here’s How to Easily Fix Stinky Laundry!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases on amazon.com.

Looking for a BETTER & EASIER Way to Clean Your Home?

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. Melissa, I really like your channel, your website, and your philosophy. I use your recipes with great results. But the microfiber cloth you love so much is plastic. Old rags are better and cheaper. Don’t you agree?


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