Causes of Towel Odors:
Towels are supposed to get wet, right? Yes, they are. But they are not supposed to stay wet. If you throw your wet towel into the hamper or leave it wadded up in a ball on the floor, it's going to stay wet. And while it is wet, it is going to create the perfect environment for germs and mold to grow. This is the same phenomen that happens with unsanitary mop heads that aren't left to dry properly, or different types of cleaning sponges that fail to dry out between uses. A warm moist environment is the best for germs. They grow and their presence is noticed by the smell that suddenly takes over our previously clean towels. While occasionally towel odors are caused by a bigger mess that they needed to clean up, just the water they soak up when we dry off is enough to cause a stink if the towels aren't properly cared for.
Towel Odor Prevention:
No problem, you'll just hang your towel up each time and everything will be fine. If you have a family, this can still be a problem. Ever gone into the bathroom after the kids are tucked in bed and noticed that every kid left their towel in a pile on the floor. My kids got sick of me reminding them to hang their towels, so they started taking them back to their rooms and leaving them on their hardwood floor. One trick I tried was to assign each person in the house their own color of towels. I still had some sets that I kept for guests and show, but if I saw a dark blue towel on the bathroom or bedroom floor, everyone knew that my oldest son was the culprit. It didn't take long for them to develop the habit of hanging their towels after each use when they had to put money in a jar for each infraction.
It's also important to remember to switch towels quickly from the washing machine to the dryer. Be sure to clean your lint filter regularly to make sure that your dryer is running as efficiently as you can. If you notice that it takes a long time to dry towels, you may have a problem with your washing machine leaving too much water in them, or with your dryer.
Towel Odor Solutions:
Try running your towels through a regular cycle with very warm or hot water, your regluar detergent, and a cup of vinegar as a natural fabric softener for the rinse cycle.
Next, run the towels through the regular cycle again using only a half cup of baking soda and no detergent or fabric softener. Just the baking soda will do the trick.
Line Drying or Tennis Balls
A lot of people swear by the fact that line dried items smell fresher. But they often don't feel as soft. One way to have the best of both worlds is to do both. Hang the towels out to dry. When they are dry, toss them in the dryer with 1-2 new or very clean tennis balls. The sound of the tennis balls in the dryer may drive you crazy, but it will also fluff up the towels and make them softer. If line drying isn't an option, you can dry in your dryer with the tennis balls, but skip the dryer sheets.
A lot of people make it a regular habit once a month or every few months to do a similar routine with their towels. I've even put the baking soda in the detergent compartment and vinegar in the fabric softener compartment once when I was in a hurry. There wasn't any volcano of foam that spewed out of my washing machine, but be cautious if you try it. Depending on how your machine works, it may make a mess. Knowing the causes of stinky towels, preventing the problem, and these solutions should make this laundry nightmare a thing of the past.