How To Make Towels Smell Good Without Fabric Softener

Do you love that fresh, clean scent that comes right out of the dryer but hate when your towels start to smell musty and dank after a few uses? Who doesn’t! While most people think fabric softener is the only way to make towels smell amazing, the truth is there are plenty of other options that can leave your towels fresh and fabulous without the chemicals and cost of fabric softener.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: soak towels in a vinegar solution before washing, use baking soda or oxygen bleach in the wash cycle, and be sure to fully dry towels between uses.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know to keep your towels fresh and fragrant load after load with simple homemade solutions and laundry best practices. Read on to learn towel material tips, pre-wash treatments, laundry detergent and additive options, proper washing and drying methods, and more tricks to make towels smell their absolute best!

Understand What Causes Towel Odor

Unpleasant odors in towels can be quite bothersome, but understanding the root causes can help you effectively combat this issue. Here are some common factors that contribute to towel odor:

Bacteria and Mildew Growth

Towels provide an ideal environment for bacteria and mildew to thrive. When towels are damp and left in a pile, these microorganisms can multiply rapidly, leading to unpleasant smells. Additionally, using towels to wipe off sweat or other bodily fluids can introduce bacteria, further exacerbating the issue.

Laundry Detergent Residue

Residual laundry detergent can accumulate in towels over time, especially if they are not rinsed thoroughly. This residue can trap dirt, oils, and bacteria, causing the towels to develop a musty smell.

It’s important to ensure that you are using the correct amount of detergent and properly rinsing your towels to avoid this issue.

Using Too Much Fabric Softener

While fabric softeners are often used to make towels feel soft and smell fresh, using too much can actually have the opposite effect. Excessive fabric softener can leave a waxy residue on the towels, which can trap odors and make them smell worse.

It’s best to follow the recommended dosage on the fabric softener bottle to avoid this problem.

Not Drying Thoroughly

If towels are not dried completely, either by hanging them up or using a dryer, they can develop a damp, musty smell. This is especially common in humid environments where towels may take longer to dry.

It’s important to ensure that your towels are completely dry before storing them to prevent odor-causing bacteria and mildew from growing.

By understanding these common causes of towel odor, you can take the necessary steps to keep your towels smelling fresh and clean. Implementing proper towel care practices will not only eliminate unpleasant odors but also extend the lifespan of your towels.

Wash Towels on a Hot Cycle

When it comes to making towels smell good without fabric softener, washing them on a hot cycle is a great place to start. Heat not only helps to remove dirt and grime but also kills bacteria that can cause unpleasant odors.

By using hot water, you can ensure that your towels are thoroughly cleaned and refreshed.

Heat Kills Bacteria

One of the main reasons towels develop a musty smell is due to the buildup of bacteria. Washing your towels on a hot cycle can effectively eliminate these bacteria and prevent the growth of odor-causing microbes.

The high temperature of the water helps to break down oils and residues that may have accumulated on the towels, resulting in a fresher and cleaner scent.

Use Bleach or Oxygen Bleach

In addition to washing towels on a hot cycle, you can also use bleach or oxygen bleach to further enhance their freshness. Bleach is known for its powerful disinfecting properties, which can help eliminate stubborn odors and kill any remaining bacteria.

Oxygen bleach is a more gentle alternative that is effective at brightening and deodorizing towels without the harshness of traditional bleach. Adding a small amount of bleach or oxygen bleach to your wash cycle can make a significant difference in the scent of your towels.

Vinegar as a Rinse Aid

Vinegar is a natural and cost-effective alternative to fabric softener. As a rinse aid, vinegar can help remove soap residue and leave your towels smelling fresh. Simply add half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine.

The vinegar will not only help to soften the towels but also act as a natural deodorizer, eliminating any lingering odors. Don’t worry, the smell of vinegar will dissipate during the rinse cycle, leaving your towels smelling clean and pleasant.

Skip the Fabric Softener

When it comes to making towels smell good, you might think that using fabric softener is the way to go. However, there are actually better alternatives that can leave your towels smelling amazing without the use of fabric softener. Here are some reasons why you might want to skip the fabric softener.

Fabric Softener Leaves Residue

One of the main reasons to skip fabric softener is that it can leave a residue on your towels. This residue can make your towels feel less absorbent and can also build up over time, causing them to become less soft.

Instead of using fabric softener, there are other options that can leave your towels smelling great without any unwanted residue.

Try Dryer Balls or Dryer Sheets

A great alternative to fabric softener is to use dryer balls or dryer sheets. Dryer balls are typically made of wool or plastic and work by bouncing around in the dryer, helping to separate and fluff the towels. This can result in softer towels and a fresher scent.

Dryer sheets, on the other hand, can be added to the dryer to provide a pleasant fragrance without leaving any residue on your towels.

Use Essential Oils Instead

Another option to make your towels smell good without fabric softener is to use essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that can add a natural and long-lasting fragrance to your towels.

Simply add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a damp washcloth and toss it in the dryer with your towels. Not only will your towels smell amazing, but you can also experiment with different scents to suit your preferences.

Consider the Towel Material

When it comes to making towels smell good without using fabric softener, one important factor to consider is the material of the towel. Different materials have different properties that can affect how well they absorb moisture and retain odors.

Let’s take a look at some common towel materials and their characteristics:

Cotton is More Absorbent

Cotton towels are a popular choice for many people due to their softness and absorbency. Cotton fibers have a natural ability to absorb moisture, making them great for drying off after a shower or bath. Additionally, cotton towels tend to be more durable and long-lasting compared to other materials.

To keep your cotton towels smelling fresh, it’s important to wash them regularly with a mild detergent and avoid using fabric softeners that can leave behind a residue and trap odors.

Microfiber Dries Quickly

Microfiber towels are known for their ability to quickly absorb water and dry faster than other towel materials. This makes them ideal for travel or sports activities where you need a towel that can dry in a short amount of time.

Microfiber towels also have the added benefit of being lightweight and compact, making them easy to carry around. To keep your microfiber towels smelling good, it’s recommended to wash them in cold water with a mild detergent and avoid using bleach or fabric softeners.

Bamboo is Naturally Antibacterial

Bamboo towels are gaining popularity due to their eco-friendly properties and natural antibacterial qualities. Bamboo fibers have a natural resistance to bacteria, making them a great choice for those who are concerned about hygiene.

Bamboo towels are also highly absorbent and soft, providing a luxurious feel. To keep your bamboo towels smelling fresh, it’s important to wash them in cold water with a gentle detergent and avoid using fabric softeners or bleach.

Remember, regardless of the towel material you choose, regular washing and proper care are essential to keep your towels smelling good. Hang them to dry properly after each use and avoid leaving them damp or folded for extended periods of time.

By following these tips, you can enjoy fresh-smelling towels without the need for fabric softeners.

Pre-Treat Musty Smelling Towels

Dealing with musty smelling towels can be frustrating, but there are several effective methods to pre-treat them and make them smell fresh again. Here are three simple techniques that don’t involve the use of fabric softener.

Soak in Vinegar Water

Vinegar is known for its natural cleaning and deodorizing properties. To eliminate musty odors from towels, you can create a vinegar water solution. Start by filling a bucket or sink with warm water and add one cup of white vinegar. Stir the mixture well and then place the towels in the vinegar water.

Allow them to soak for at least 30 minutes, but for best results, leave them overnight. The vinegar will help remove any built-up residue or bacteria that may be causing the unpleasant smell. After soaking, rinse the towels thoroughly and wash them as usual.

Use Baking Soda Scrub

Baking soda is another natural ingredient that can help eliminate odors from towels. Make a paste by mixing equal parts baking soda and water. Apply the paste to the musty-smelling areas of the towels and gently scrub them using a soft brush or sponge.

The baking soda will help absorb and neutralize the odors. After scrubbing, rinse the towels thoroughly and wash them as usual. You’ll be amazed at how fresh they smell!

Lemons Disinfect and Deodorize

Lemons not only add a refreshing scent to your towels but also have disinfecting properties. Cut a lemon in half and rub the cut side onto the musty-smelling areas of the towels. The acidity of the lemon helps kill bacteria and remove odors.

After rubbing, let the towels sit for a few minutes, and then rinse them thoroughly before washing. Your towels will come out smelling great and feeling fresh.

Remember, these pre-treatment methods are meant to be used in addition to regular washing. It’s essential to follow the care instructions provided by the towel manufacturer to ensure their longevity and effectiveness.

Dry Towels Thoroughly

One of the key factors in keeping your towels smelling fresh is to make sure they are thoroughly dried. When towels are left damp or moist, it creates an ideal environment for bacteria and mildew to grow, resulting in unpleasant odors. Here are some tips to ensure your towels are dried properly:

Use High Heat

Using high heat in the dryer is essential for effectively drying towels. The heat helps to evaporate any remaining moisture and kill bacteria. Set your dryer to the highest heat setting recommended for your towels, and make sure the towels are completely dry before removing them.

Dry Towels Separately

It’s best to dry your towels separately from other laundry items. Mixing towels with clothing or other fabrics can cause them to take longer to dry and can trap odors from other items. By drying towels separately, you can ensure they receive the proper airflow and heat needed to dry thoroughly.

Don’t Overload the Dryer

Overloading the dryer can prevent towels from drying properly. When there are too many towels in the dryer, they are unable to move and circulate freely, resulting in longer drying times. It’s important to leave enough space for the towels to fluff up and dry evenly.

If you have a large load of towels, consider splitting them into smaller loads to ensure they dry more efficiently.

By following these tips and ensuring your towels are dried thoroughly, you can help eliminate any musty smells and keep your towels smelling fresh and clean. Remember, it’s not just about how your towels smell, but also about maintaining their quality and ensuring they are hygienic for everyday use.

Store Towels Properly

Properly storing towels is key to keeping them smelling fresh and clean, even without the use of fabric softeners. Here are some tips to help you store your towels in a way that keeps them smelling great:

Hang Towels to Air Out

After using your towels, it’s important to hang them up to air out. This allows any moisture to evaporate and prevents the growth of unpleasant odors. Find a well-ventilated area, such as a bathroom hook or a towel rack, and hang your towels up to dry.

This will not only keep them smelling fresh, but it will also help them to last longer.

Fold Towels Loosely

When it comes to storing towels in a linen closet or cupboard, it’s important to fold them loosely. Folding them too tightly can prevent air circulation and lead to musty smells. Instead, fold the towels loosely, allowing air to flow through the folds.

This will help to keep them fresh and smelling great.

Use Cedar Blocks

Cedar blocks are a natural and effective way to keep your towels smelling fresh. Cedar has a pleasant, earthy scent that can help to neutralize any unwanted odors. Simply place a few cedar blocks in your linen closet or drawer where you store your towels.

The cedar blocks will not only keep your towels smelling great, but they will also repel moths and other pests.

By following these tips and properly storing your towels, you can keep them smelling fresh and clean without the need for fabric softeners. Try implementing these storage techniques and enjoy the benefits of freshly scented towels every time you use them!


Now that you know all the tricks to keeping towels fresh between washes, you can say goodbye to stinky, musty towels for good! By washing on a hot cycle, skipping the fabric softener, properly drying, and storing your towels, they will smell as fresh as the day you bought them.

Vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and essential oils are inexpensive yet powerfully effective for naturally disinfecting and scouring away odors. While it may take a bit more diligence on laundry day, you’ll be rewarded with soft, fluffy towels that smell amazingly clean at a fraction of the cost of fabric softener.

Give these tips a try – your nose will thank you!

What are your best tips for keeping towels fresh? Share your laundry secrets in the comments!

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