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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Smelly Beach Towel

By Dr. Laundry April 4, 2012

Q:  I have a beach towel and no matter how many time I wash it, the first time I get it wet, it stinks like mildew.   How can I get rid of the smell?

A:  Smelly towels usually indicate that there is soil build-up inside the inner workings of your clothes washer that harbors odor-causing bacteria.  The odors transfer from the washer to your laundry, and it is particularly noticeable on towels once they get wet.  Here are some tips that should help with the problem:


  1. Clean out your washer.  Run an empty washer through a clean-out cycle with hot water and ¾ cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach (or fill dispenser to the “max fill” line).  Select the extra rinse option if your machine offers this; otherwise run an extra rinse cycle when the first cycle is complete.  Depending on how bad the build-up is, it might take running several clean-out cycles with bleach to fully clean the washer.  To keep the problem from coming back, run a clean out cycle with bleach once a month.  Washing at least one white load with bleach per week will also help.

  2. Check your towels for bleach colorfastness.  Some colored towels can be safely bleached.  To find out if yours can, perform a quick bleachability test:  add 2 teaspoons Clorox® Regular-Bleach to ¼ cup water; apply a small drop to a hidden part of the towel, such as under the care label; wait 1 minute then rinse and blot dry; no color change means you can safely bleach the towel.  If your towels pass, wash them with detergent and 3/4 cup bleach (or fill the dispenser to the max fill line), and that should eliminate the odor causing bacteria on the towels.  You can also just add them to your white load along with your other bleachables.  Doing this on a regular basis will help keep the odor under control.

  3. Always wash towels in hot water.  The hotter the water, the better the cleaning.  This is especially important for towels that can’t be bleached!

  4. Dry towels immediately.  Any item that sits around damp is providing the optimum environment for mildew growth.  Transfer your towels to the dryer immediately following the wash cycle.  Be sure to select enough drying time so that towels dry completely, too.


This makes me realize that summer is just around the corner!  What stains or problems plague your summer items after storing them throughout the winter?