How to Get the Mildew Smell out of Clothes and Towels

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Towels (Photo: @christinacorso via Twenty20)
If you’ve ever had mold or mildew in your home, then you know how strong the odor can be. Even worse is when the mold or mildew gets on your clothing and towels, leaving behind that yucky mildew smell.
The bottom line is, stinky towels don’t make anyone feel cleaner.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to remove the smell of mildew from your clothes and towels. And, while mold is a little more pervasive, with a little scrubbing and bleach, you can also remove it from clothes and towels and have them smelling fresh in no time.
Check out these simple solutions to eliminating the smell of mold and mildew from your towels and clothes.

1. White vinegar and baking soda

This method is a two-step process, requiring two separate washes, one using white vinegar and the other using baking soda. The two washes combine to give your clothes a fresh, clean smell. For this method, you’ll need the following items.
  • 1 cup of white vinegar (for a top-load washer), or ½ cup of vinegar (for a front-load washing machine)
  • 1 cup of baking soda
Start by setting your washer on hot. Next, pour in the white vinegar. The acidic nature of the vinegar should work to break up any mold or mildew on your clothing. This should help get rid of the musty smell mold and mildew produce.
Once the vinegar wash is done, put your fabrics in for another wash cycle, this time sprinkling in the cup of baking soda. As before, set your washer for the hottest setting. The baking soda acts as an alkaline, which can help neutralize any odors left over from the first wash.

2. Sunlight and fresh air

Another great way to eliminate the odor of mold or mildew is to use the power of the sun and a little fresh air. This method can be used after a normal wash or following a wash using method one above. The sun is an important part of this method since the ultraviolet rays can help kill bacteria.
Using fresh, outdoor air is a great way to air out your clothes and towels and give them a fresh, clean smell. In addition, air-drying your clothes is better for the environment and can prevent the static cling that comes from drying them in the dryer.

3. Borax

Some people recommend using 20 Mule Team Borax to clean musty towels. For the best effect, soak the items in a tub of hot water, mixed with ½ cup of Borax, for an hour before washing. Then, when it comes time to wash your items, use your normal wash method — or the white vinegar and baking soda method outlined above.

Removing mold from clothing and towels

Unlike simple mildew, mold can be a little harder to remove from your towels or clothes. Mildew is more powdery and has a lighter texture than mold. Mold on the other hand looks fuzzy and is black or brown, which can leave behind stains that can be hard to get out. For this method, you’ll need the following items.
  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Solution of 1-part bleach and 3-parts hot water (for white cotton material)
  • Lemon juice or white vinegar (for non-bleachable clothing)
  • Cotton pad (for non-bleachable clothing)
  • Salt (for non-bleachable clothing)
For white cotton material: Start by scrubbing the mold away with the stiff-bristled brush. Next, allow the item to soak in the bleach and hot water solution for 30 minutes. Next, rinse the item before washing as normal or by using the white vinegar and baking soda method above. Air dry in direct sunlight.
For non-bleachable clothing: Start by scrubbing the mold away with the stiff-bristled brush. Next, soak a cotton pad in lemon juice or white vinegar. Place the saturated pad on the stain and allow it to soak for several minutes. After removing the pad, sprinkle the area with salt. This further boosts the effects of the acid present in the lemon juice or vinegar. Place the item in the sun to dry.