Why Does My Shower Towel Smell?

Have you ever pulled out a towel after your shower, only to be greeted by a musty or sour odor?

Why Does My Shower Towel Smell

It’s a frustrating problem that many people face, and it can make your fresh-out-of-the-shower feeling far less enjoyable.

But don’t worry – we’ve got the solutions to help you banish bad towel smells for good!

The Root Causes of Smelly Towels

There are a few primary reasons why towels pick up unpleasant odors, even after they’ve been washed. Understanding these causes is the first step in solving the problem.

Damp Towels = Bacterial Breeding Grounds

The biggest culprit behind funky towel smells is bacteria. Towels easily become damp after use, and that moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply rapidly. Every time you use a towel, you transfer bacteria, viruses, and dead skin cells from your body onto the fabric. The next time you use that towel, you’re essentially reintroducing all those germs back onto your clean skin.

Key Takeaway: Damp towels provide the ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which is the root cause of towel odors.

Ineffective Laundry Practices

Even if you wash your towels regularly, improper laundry practices can allow odor-causing bacteria to linger on the fabric. Using too little detergent, washing in cold water, or neglecting to fully dry the towels before folding and storing them can all contribute to smelly towels.

Bathroom Ventilation Issues

The bathroom environment itself can also play a role in towel odors. Bathrooms with poor ventilation tend to stay damp and humid, preventing towels from fully drying even after they’re hung up. An old or inefficient exhaust fan may not do enough to remove excess moisture.

Banishing Bad Towel Smells: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now that we understand the main causes of smelly towels, let’s dive into the specific steps you can take to keep your towels fresh and clean-smelling.

Step 1: Wash Towels Properly

Proper laundering is crucial for preventing and eliminating towel odors. Follow these guidelines:

  • Wash towels frequently – Experts recommend washing bath towels every 3-4 uses, and washing face towels or any towel that gets completely soaked after every use.
  • Use hot water and strong detergent – Hot water (between 140-150°F) and a quality detergent will kill bacteria most effectively.
  • Avoid fabric softeners – Fabric softeners can coat towel fibers, reducing absorbency and trapping odors.
  • Consider adding white vinegar – A cup of white vinegar in the wash can help strip away odors while acting as a natural disinfectant.
  • Use bleach for white towels – Bleach is an excellent way to disinfect and whiten towels.

Key Takeaway: Washing towels in hot water with strong detergent (and bleach for white towels) is crucial for killing odor-causing bacteria.

Step 2: Fully Dry Towels After Use

Hanging towels immediately after use can go a long way in preventing bad smells from developing:

  • Hang towels up as soon as possible after using them, rather than leaving them in a heap on the floor or in the hamper.
  • Ensure your towel racks have enough space for towels to dry thoroughly, with good air circulation.
  • Consider using a heated towel rack to speed up the drying process.
  • If towels still seem damp after hanging for a day, put them in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to fully dry them out.
Drying MethodEffectiveness
Hanging on towel rackModerate – Depends on air circulation
Heated towel rackHigh – Speeds up drying process
Tumble dryer (10-15 mins)High – Ensures complete dryness

Step 3: Improve Bathroom Ventilation

A well-ventilated bathroom is key for allowing towels to dry properly:

  • Use the exhaust fan during and after showers to remove excess moisture.
  • Make sure your exhaust fan is clean and in good working condition so it operates at maximum efficiency.
  • If you don’t have an exhaust fan or it’s old and inefficient, consider installing a new model with higher CFM (cubic feet per minute) output.
  • In good weather, open a window in the bathroom to improve air circulation.
  • Use a small dehumidifier in the bathroom if excess moisture is an ongoing issue.

Step 4: Try Laundry Stripping

If you’re still struggling with stubborn towel odors despite your best laundering efforts, it may be time to try laundry stripping. This technique helps remove built-up residues, minerals, and bacteria that can cling to towel fibers:

  • Fill a bathtub or top-loading washing machine with hot water.
  • Add a specialized laundry stripping solution, such as a mixture of borax, washing soda, and powdered detergent.
  • Submerge the towels and let them soak for several hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Drain the water and wash the towels again in hot water with detergent.

Laundry stripping is particularly effective if you live in an area with hard water, as it helps remove mineral buildup that can trap odors.

Step 5: Replace Towels if Needed

In some cases, towels may simply be too old and worn out to recover their freshness, no matter what you try. If you’ve tried all the above tips and your towels still reek, it may be time to invest in some new ones. Look for towels made of fast-drying materials like bamboo or linen, which are less prone to retaining odors.

Lifestyle Factors That Can Influence Towel Odors

While improper laundering and moisture control are the primary drivers of towel odors, there are a few lifestyle factors that can also play a role:

  • Poor personal hygiene – If someone isn’t thoroughly washing their body and rinsing away all soap residue, they’ll transfer more bacteria and body oils onto their towel.
  • Certain medical conditions – Excessive sweating, foot fungus, or other skin conditions can sometimes contribute to stronger body odors that get deposited on towels.
  • Diet and stress levels – A diet high in pungent foods like meat, as well as high stress levels, can temporarily increase the intensity of someone’s body odor.

If you suspect any of these factors may be influencing your towel odors, it’s a good idea to have a frank discussion with the person using the smelly towels. In some cases, seeking medical advice may also be warranted.


Why do my towels smell even after I wash them?

If towels still smell unpleasant even after washing, it likely means that odor-causing bacteria and residues are still clinging to the fabric. Try washing the towels in very hot water with bleach or vinegar, doing an extra rinse cycle, and ensuring they fully dry before putting them away. If the problem persists, laundry stripping may be needed to remove deep-set buildup.

How often should I wash my bath towels?

It’s generally recommended to wash bath towels every 3-4 uses, and to wash face towels or any towel that gets completely soaked after every single use. Frequent washing, especially in hot water, helps prevent the buildup of bacteria that leads to bad odors.

Can using too much laundry detergent cause towel odors?

No, using too little detergent is more likely to contribute to towel odors than using too much. An insufficient amount of detergent may fail to fully remove oils, dirt, and bacteria from towels during the wash cycle. Always follow the recommended dosage on your detergent’s label.

Why do my towels smell worse after I’ve used fabric softener?

Fabric softeners can coat towel fibers with a thin layer of chemicals and oils, reducing their absorbency. This buildup can trap odors and prevent towels from getting fully clean during laundering. It’s best to avoid fabric softeners entirely when washing towels.


No one wants to wrap themselves in a funky, smelly towel after a refreshing shower. By understanding the root causes behind towel odors and following the steps outlined in this guide, you can help ensure your towels stay fresh, clean, and inviting.

Remember – fully drying towels, using proper laundry techniques, maintaining good bathroom ventilation, and considering laundry stripping or towel replacement when necessary are the keys to banishing bad towel smells for good. With some diligence, you’ll be enjoying that luxurious post-shower towel experience every single time.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.