Musty Towels: How To Remove Mildew Smell Forever
Why Do My Towels Smell?
A few weeks ago I was chatting with my neighbor at the bus stop about our laundry habits. She has one child. I have four. She said she runs at least one load a day for her three person family. When I told her I only run about three loads per week she admitted, "I have to wash my towels every couple of days or they start to smell musty."
That's when I gave her my secret.
First of all, that musty smell that makes towels reek like feet, even when they've been recently washed, is mildew. Have you ever left a wet load of laundry in the washer over night, and had to re-wash the entire thing the next day because of the smell? Same thing. You might not be able to see it, but it is there.
Many people add vinegar to the rinse cycle to combat this problem. And vinegar does help. (It also acts as a natural fabric softener.) But what most people do not know is that mildew is alive and it eats soap. In fact, it thrives in warm, moist, soapy environments. This is why you see it growing on your shower walls in splatters. The mildew grows wherever a soap residue has been left behind.
If your towels, like many, suffer from that musty smell within a day or two of washing, you might be surprised to hear that it is the washing that is causing the problem. Your towels are coming out of the laundry with a lot of detergent residue left in them and putting them back into the machine is only adding more. Sure, they smell fresh when they are dry, but the minute they get a little bit wet again, the stink is back.
In my experience, front load washers and stemless machines are the worst for leaving detergent residue behind. They simply do not agitate the laundry enough to get the detergent out. And let's face it, most of us are probably using way too much detergent in the first place. Combine this unseen detergent residue with moisture and warmth, and you have a perfect recipe for mildew to thrive.
It will become a never ending cycle.
How To Get Rid of Mildew in Laundry
Don't throw your towels away and start over. There is a way to get them clean, fresh, and soft again, if you can believe it.
First, ditch the liquid fabric softener forever. Liquid fabric softener is like leave in conditioner for your laundry. It makes laundry soft and fresh after the first couple washes, but then it builds up making laundry more susceptible to stains and stink.
Second, you have to get all the detergent out of your laundry.
What?! Wash my towels without any detergent?! How will they get clean?
The following is a product that does just this. And it works!
Super Wash Balls Review
Super wash balls are environmentally-friendly laundry balls. They were originally made by "Bio Cera" and sold only on QVC at a slightly higher price than they are now available for on Amazon.
You simply put them in the washing machine, add dirty laundry, and run the cycle. NO NEED TO ADD DETERGENT.
A few notes:
- These laundry balls work by changing the PH of the water. This is all I know and I don't even understand it.
- They are made out of bioceramics, which is a common material used in prosthetics and surgical implants. I think this means they are pretty dang safe, in addition to long lasting. You do not have to worry about the balls "exploding" in your machine and leaking out the little pieces inside. Not a single review on Amazon has talked about this ever happening.
- For the first couple washes you will notice your laundry suds up as if you had added laundry detergent. This is the leftover residue that has been building up in your clothes or towels. My towels went through two full wash cycles before the suds stopped showing up. In a front load washer, it could take up to five washes.
- The instructions recommend using the balls with warm water, but I always run all cycles cold and have noticed they still work.
- These are good for 1,000 washes. Once you reach this number you can put the balls in direct sunlight for half a day and they will be good for another 1,000 washes. If you use them all the time, you might just put them in the sunshine twice a year.
- The sheets on my daughters' beds are white. The Super Wash Balls did not even touch some light blood stains on one sheet, which have now faded but still show up. Also, after wearing red flannel Christmas PJ's the sheets of my sweatier daughter turned a bit pink. I never treated this stain and it never fully came out, it is significantly faded however, after about a year. (Again, no detergent on these sheets has been used ever.)
Do They Work?
I have been using Super Wash Balls exclusively for my loads of sheets and towels for about two years. I am speaking only from personal experience here to say, yes, undoubtedly, this product has rid my towels of that musty smell. In fact, my towels not only smell fresh but they have maintained that softness they came with.
Currently, I wash all my sheets and towels every two weeks. I have not used detergent on them in over two years. After washing them with the Super Wash Balls, I dry sheets and towels on medium heat and add a dryer sheet to prevent static.
The Super Wash Ball has saved me money on laundry detergent, but more than that, it has saved me money because I am not doing a load of laundry a day. I am not replacing my towels every year. And I'm saving tons of time by not doing so much laundry.
After Using Super Wash Balls, How Does Laundry Smell?
If you were to use the Super Wash Balls and absolutely nothing else, your laundry would smell fresh and clean, but essentially scentless. No, you will not have that fresh laundered aroma that you have become used to from your Snuggle fabric softener.
If you are looking for some scent, I highly recommend using scented dryer sheets. The residue left behind from these is significantly lower than residue from liquid laundry detergent and liquid fabric softener. You will be able to feel the difference. Your laundry will no longer have that somewhat slippery, soapy feel when it comes out of the dryer.
If you hang dry your clothes, then you know how sheets smell after an afternoon of basking in fresh sunlight. While it isn't quite as fresh as that actual fresh-air smell, my laundry comes out of the dryer smelling similarly clean. I do hang dry many of my clothes, and these Super Wash Balls have significantly reduced the usual amount of stiffness associated with hang-dried laundry.
How Do Super Wash Balls Work On Clothing?
Because several have asked, I'm including a final note about how these Super Wash Balls work on things other than sheets and towels.
First, it is important to note that I am moderately-high maintenance when it comes to MY laundry. I am slightly-lower maintenance when it comes to my children's laundry. And I'm virtually no-maintenance when it comes to my husband's laundry. (He does his own.)
Of course I separate lights and darks. I use bleach for whites very sparingly, if ever. I hang-dry about half of my own clothes so that things do not fade or shrink. I turn lots of things inside-out to prevent wear. Delicates get their own separate extra-gentle wash and my bras go in delicates bags so they don't all hook on each other and twist.
So, keeping all these things in mind, I have a few thoughts on using the Super Wash Balls for regular laundry. I still use detergent for about 4 out of every 5 loads of clothes. For my own laundry, I tend to use whatever I can find on sale. For the last year that has been Arm and Hammer with OxiClean and All Free and Clear. I also pour about a quarter of a cup of vinegar in the slot where liquid fabric softener goes on every load. I use homemade wool dryer balls in my dryer and a (usually unscented) store brand dryer sheet.
Forgive me, this is very disjointed, and listed in no particular order. Again, all of this is based on my experience.
- They do not seem to remove stains very well, if at all. Grass stains and food stains, particularly, as this is what I deal with most often. I will always and only use OxiClean powder for my children's clothes.
- When used in a load of my whites I've noticed mild ring around the collar (sweat and dirt, some make-up), dirty cuffs, and even armpit discoloration comes out just fine, maybe even better than laundry detergent alone (without pre-treatment). Super old white undershirts with permanent yellow pits or my husband's ring around the collar? Well, let's just say these things aren't that magical.
- They did completely remove the red clay mud out of my husband's yard-work khakis when I threw the pants in on top of a load of towels without pre-treating them. The mud was dry but had been in for less than a day. This same mud has stained at least one out of every three pairs of pants or skirts of each one of my kids, so go figure.
- The balls are too big and too heavy for me to trust with my delicates. I'm simply not sacrificing any $50 bras to the nubs, plus, they are pretty heavy. Woolite and extra-extra-gentle cycle it will be for my undies, forever.
- Regular old unstained but possibly stinky adult laundry: Super Wash Balls totally work. In fact, much like the towels, clothing seems to come out a little softer and smells fresher even if hang-dried, which many of my shirts require.
- Once I let a load of my children's clothes soak over night with OxiClean in the water. I didn't realize until I moved them to the dryer that I had left the Super Wash Balls in the machine. It was decidedly the cleanest I've seen my kids' clothes in a long time.
- I've read where some combine the laundry balls WITH detergent to get clothes extra clean. This would obviously null and void the idea of perfect mildew removal, but if your clothes are not musty like your towels it seems like the combo is fine.
- From time to time, wet laundry gets forgotten in the washing machine overnight. It used to be that the entire load needed to be rewashed, as the mildew smell was immediate and impossible to ignore. If I forget a wet load of towels over night, I don't even think twice before I throw them immediately into the dryer. And I can say that I haven't noticed my clothes stinking of mildew, even after a wet night, in a very long time
My husband has recently begun using the Super Wash Balls along with about a quarter of the detergent he used to use and claims his laundry is coming out just as clean.
Bottom line: these laundry balls could conceivably replace all laundry detergent in your house if you have mostly unstained clothing that isn't too delicate. I'd be curious to know how well they do for clothing that comes home from a day of work at Starbucks or IHOP. If anyone can leave notes in the comments about that kind of smell removal, it would be awesome.
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