How to Clean Smelly Kitchen Towels


Sherry asked: What is the best way to clean kitchen towels? No matter what, they retain a smell specific to the kitchen. I tried an extra rinse and not drying them in the dryer, but the kitchen smell is always there.

Kitchen towels are exposed to all kinds of food, liquids and other things we wipe off our hands as we pass through one of the busiest rooms in our homes. All of these different items combined on one towel will no doubt also lead to mildew growth. There are several ways to remove this “kitchen odor” from your towels and dishcloths. Find one below that works for you.

Vinegar Method

You Will Need:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Laundry detergent

Steps to Remove the Smell:

  1. Fill the washing machine as usual with the smelly towels and laundry detergent.
  2. Add a cup of white vinegar or baking soda to the water.
  3. Allow the machine to start washing and agitate until all of the detergent, vinegar and baking soda have been thoroughly incorporated. Pause the cycle and allow the laundry to soak for at least an hour. Overnight is even better for really stinky towels.
  4. Once the towels have soaked, restart the cycle and allow it to finish.
  5. Repeat if necessary.
  6. Once the odor is removed, dry as normal.
  7. This vinegar method will need to be repeated monthly to keep the towels odor free.
  8. Some use a small amount (1/4 cup) of vinegar in every wash cycle to keep all kinds of odors away.

Borax Method

You Will Need:

Steps to Remove the Smell:

  1. Fill the washing machine as usual with the clothing.
  2. Instead of adding laundry detergent, add equal parts of borax and baking soda.
  3. Run the wash and rinse cycles as normal.

Bleach Method

Though many would not dare to place bleach in their load of colored laundry, it can be safe in small amounts. This method uses a small amount of bleach mixed in with a large amount of water. Do not allow the clothes to soak, simply run them through the wash cycle. If you are unsure, test it with a load of towels that are almost past their prime anyways.

You Will Need:

  • Bleach

Steps to Remove the Smell:

  1. We all know that germs and bacteria cause smells, and the number one killer of germs is bleach.
  2. Fill the washing machine with water and detergent.
  3. Add a couple of tablespoons of bleach.
  4. Allow the washer to agitate for a few minutes to thoroughly mix the bleach in with the water.
  5. Add the smelly towels to the mix.
  6. Complete the wash cycle as normal.

Using Commercial Products

There are many commercial products available that are designed to remove unwanted odors from clothing and laundry. Here are two products that can be added to the wash cycle or used on their own.

You Will Need:

Steps to Remove the Smell:

  1. If the smell is lingering, fill a tub or large bucket with water.
  2. Add the chosen product. To determine the amount needed, follow the package guidelines.
  3. Place the affected towels into the tub or bucket.
  4. Allow them to soak several hours to overnight.
  5. Remove and wash in the washing machine.
  6. Vinegar can be added to the wash cycle as detailed in the first cleaning method above for an additional cleaning boost.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Use antibacterial dish soap instead of laundry detergent. This will help to fight the germs with a soap that is designed to remove food residue and germs.
  • Sometimes after months of mildew and germs, towels just need to be replaced. Toss out the old and introduce some new fresh towels into your kitchen.
  • Replace towels and dishcloths daily to keep mildew and odors from building up.
  • Never allow towels and dishcloths to stay crumpled up. Always hang them to give them a chance to dry and keep the air circulating between uses.
  • For specific detergents designed to remove odors, check the hunting department at your local store. There are special detergents designed to remove all odors from the laundry so that animals are not aware of the hunter’s presence. These same soaps can be used to remove unwanted smells from laundry.
  • Smelly Washer is available online and can be used to remove odors from both your clothing as well as the machine.
  • When you’re done, make yourself a towel crab to patrol your counters!



  1. Millie says:

    When mixing vinegar and baking soda, it creates a very aggressive chemical reaction that cleans drains, eats hair and fats. Perhaps diluting it in the washer slows it down, but be very careful if you put these two ingredients together.

  2. Dana says:

    Dilute it or it will smell like the night before Easter in your kitchen! If your coffee pot/carafe is clear, you’ll probably see some gunk in the water on the first passing of the vinegar. It’s amazing what lives in the coffee maker. Be sure and run three or four more pots of water through the cycle to get all of the vinegar out. However, if you don’t – it’s a sure-fire way to wake up the next morning! :)

  3. Olivia says:

    Just a note, I believe OxiClean does have a baking soda-type ingredient in it as I used it in the same wash load as vinegar one time and it bubbled like crazy. So if you’re using OxiClean, do not use it in the same wash load as vinegar. Use one, rinse, then use the other if the smell is still there.

  4. Joanne says:

    Great advice generally, but you should NEVER USE ANTIBACTERIAL ANYTHING – meaning PRODUCTS CONTAINING THE COMMON ANTIBACTERIAL CHEMICAL TRICLOSAN!!! It is carcinogenic and used to be used only in hospitals, but companies began adding it to all sorts of products, and by now it can be found in nearly every water source as well as in our bloodstreams. In the concentrations allowed in consumer products, it doesn’t kill a high percentage of germs anyway, and actually encourages bacteria to become resistant and stronger – making your sink full of super-germs! IT IS FINALLY BEING REMOVED FROM ALMOST EVERY CONSUMER PRODUCT.

  5. Otilia says:

    I also try to avoid using paper towels in the kitchen, so I have many cloth towels, and I use two at a time; one for drying my hands and one for dirtier jobs like wiping the table, the sink, etc. I usually wash them as soon as they get dirty, generally every three days. I let them sit for half an hour in hot water + laundry detergent, then I wash them thoroughly with laundry soap and they are very clean, all the smell comes out. While they are drying out, I use new towels, I always have about ten of them at hand. The secret is to wash them quickly; don’t let them sit dirty for days.

  6. Ryan says:

    For a stinky wash cloth in the kitchen, saturate it with water and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Then, let it cool before you remove it from the microwave. It will have killed the bacteria and smell good as new.

  7. Wanda says:

    Loved your tips, but any tips for when you HAVE to use laundromats?

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