Sour smelling laundry....

Kim0210February 4, 2012

I can't stand it! We mainly notice it with towels after washing hands, dish towels and drying off after showers. I have changed detergents, used vinegar, bleach clean the machine before washing towels (I don't overload even though it's a large capacity machine) & I put the towels in the dryer immediately after washing. This problem has continued from our front loaders to the new machine LG Wave Force top loader model WT5101 with matching dryer (do not have model number with me). I have used liquid & powder detergents with and without softeners. Currently using Arm & Hammer (box advertisement boasts "odor eliminating"). This seems to be a problem that has followed us from Florida to Texas (we have a water softener) I certainly hope my family and I do not get caught out in the rain and we find our clothes smell as bad when wet! PLEASE help me out with suggestions!

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Sounds more like a "water" problem than anything else.

If it happens even with a TL, especially the one you have and doesn't matter if you bleach, vinegar or whatever then is almost has to be water related somehow.

Maybe has something to do with the water softener and the water itself. If you use fabric softener then stop for a month, on the LG put a load in on the Sanitary Cycle with nothing but detergent and do a double rinse, see if that helps.

I have been doing my own laundry for about 40 years now and have never had the "smelly clothes" syndrome ever. In fact my clothes always smell great.
But I have only used TL and have never had a water softener.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 4:03PM
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I have two questions.....

1) How hot is your typical laundry-load and...

2) If you run hot tap-water water into a large bowl and smell that, is there anything detectable in it?

If you're having the same issue at different, distant, locations I'd be suspicious of the product-mix.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 6:31PM
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I know only two people who have experienced the "smelly towel" syndrome. Both were caused by mold in the machine.

In their cases, mold spores got in the towel and the towels would smell fine when dry but as soon as they got wet they would smell. To me that's an indication of mold (fine when dry but stinky when wet).

My friend would say as soon as she dried her face at night she could smell the stink. She went crazy trying to figure it out. There were times she would call me almost crying ... they were fairly new machines and she couldn't understand what was happening.

For the record, one friend had an LG front loader and the other has an older top loader. When the top loader friend asked me one day why her towels would stink when they got wet - bells went off. I told her about LG FL friend and she used the same product and no more smell either.

Both used "Smelly Washer" and got rid of their problem.

The problem if it is mold, the spores are in the towels too not just the machine. You need to rid the towels of them to stop the smell. If in fact, this is your issue.

That's the only advice I have for smelly towels. I've linked you to Smelly Washer's website.

For the record (after LG friend had the problem, I bought Smelly Washer too and I use it once a month on a "clean machine" cycle in my machine to keep it nice). I've been using FL washers for 11 years and I've never had this issue (no mold, no smelly towels).

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Smelly Washer

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 11:30PM
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I agree on the mold/mildew posts above. My fix for that when using regular detergent is sanitary cycle with detergent and vinegar with 2nd rinse. Also make sure you are not letting the towels sit in the washer after washing--put them in the dryer the same day you washed them. I've always wondered too if fabric softener could have something to do with it too--it makes towels less absorbent, but maybe the water during the wash has difficulty penetrating completely for a thorough clean & could it also work in a manner to not allow the mold/mildew to wash out back out?

For usual washing, using Charlie's Soap laundry detergent has helped eliminate that happening for us. One scoop of Charlie's, wash on hot & no fabric softener (none needed with Charlie's--towels come out soft & fluffy). I just have to make sure I don't forget the towels in the washer after the cycle is complete.

Hope this helps & good luck!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 2:48AM
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I had the same problem with towels, washcloths, kitchen towels, etc. until I got a washer with a heater and started using very hot water to wash them. After a couple of sanitary cycles, the towels lost all the funky smells and now with regular washing in very hot water they are super fresh and have no smell issues whatsoever. So if your washer has a heater, wash your towels on Sanitary cycle or at least a HOT cycle that engages the heater (Whitest Whites or Heavy Duty in some machines). If your heater does not have a heater, wash them on the hottest and longest cycle you have. I would also recommend using a powder detergent and selecting Extra Rinse if your washer allows that option.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 5:54AM
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Does the rest of your laundry seem as clean as it should be? Are your wash cloths sudsy at all when they get wet? I think smelly washer is an excellent place to start but it may be a temporary fix. Something caused the problem in the first place.

Time, temperature, mechanical action, detergent. If one of these is lacking it has to be made up for. Have you tried different detergents? Do you mostly wash/ rinse in cold water?

A manual cleaning of the machine may be needed. I spent an afternoon cleaning out my sisters waveforce. It had some moldy weirdness above the water level. No amount of product during the wash would remove it as it wouldn't get saturated. I've seem the same thing on friend's FLs.

You'll figure it out.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 8:39AM
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You mention having lived in Florida, one of the humidity and mildew/mold capitals of our nation. I can even smell the mold in the air, when I am traveling down there. Finding a hotel room that doesn't reek of mold in its HVAC system is a nightmare. Where in Texas.... humid Houston? Therefore . . . . .

One thing worth considering is whether the problem is not your washing machine, but that perhaps your various towels themselves have developed the mold/mildew/soured problem themselves, from being used and not drying adequately or quickly enough. Treatment with a mold remediation product (my first choice) or else liquid chlorine bleach (second choice as it will fade colors) may be all that is needed.

If the towels are the only problem and the clothing, etc., are fine, I'm thinking the towels themselves are the problem.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 8:53AM
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"Finding a hotel room that doesn't reek of mold in its HVAC system is a nightmare"

Swell ... we are contemplating a Florida trip this spring :)

Why would she bleach her towels when she can use Smelly Washer and cure the mold without damage to the towel or its color?

I also don't recommend washing high quality cotton towels on very hot or sanitary. I've read several times that good quality cottons (like Egyption, Turkish, Supima) can be ruined by high temps. I've consistenly read no higher than warm ("Avoid washing your towels in hot water. Natural fabrics have a better turn out when washed in a cool to warm wash so try to keep hot washes to a minimum.")

As for the fabric softener question, you can read this link and he discusses some causes of towel stink (too much detergent, fabric softener, cold washes).

This jives with a UK site I've been reading. Written by appliance repair professionals, they blame cold washing, too much detergent and plastic outer tubs.

Here is a link that might be useful: What Causes Washing Machine Odor and Towel Mildew Smell?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 9:40AM
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Stinky sour-smelling towels are awful! I would be very vexed if that happened in my laundry.

Supima and Egyptian cotton towels can be washed in fiercely hot water - I know because my own Supima/ Egyptian cotton towels are washed every wash in 185F water. Hot water can fade some colors, which is why I only prefer white towels, though I have some dark green Egytian cotton Land's End towels that have been washed in hot water for nearly 15 years and are still soft, though slightly faded. (I also line dry, so that may be a factor in the fading.)

For the OP, start washing your towels in really hot water.

Dry them outside in the sun for several rounds.

Make sure the towels are bone dry before storage.

Never store your clean towels in the bathroom, where constant low levels of humidity can make them sour.

Move your towel storage to an airier place, and don't overcrowd it.

Use one of the clean washer products to remove any trace of bio-film from the innards of your machine.

Use a smaller amount of detergent, preferabaly a powder and little or no f/s. I recommend Cheer powder to people in real life who tell me their tale of woe regarding stinky/sour clothes. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but no one has ever reported a probem after switching.



    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 10:40AM
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What liriodendron said!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 10:44AM
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@ Kim0210

While it's a great suggestion to wash your towels at higher temperatures, make sure the fabric can handle this higher temperature without the edges puckering. Funky smells are difficult to get out of towels, thick elastic bands and "sweat" clothes due to the thickness of the fabric and the difficulty in eliminating the bacteria and spores that may be hiding within.

If your towels are white, sanitize them in the hottest water you can plus liquid chlorine bleach or other sanitizing agent. A more natural method would be to hang your clothes out in the sun to dry. The sun will naturally disinfect your clothes and kill any odor causing bacteria and mold/mildew spores. No "odor control" formula can help you because odor is only the symptom of a deeper problem. Killing the bacteria/mold will kill the odor permanently, otherwise you will find yourself in a never ending process of covering up an odor that never completely goes away.

Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant that I've seen recommended for laundry if you don't want to use LCB (liquid chlorine bleach). There is also a product that you can buy at Home Depot called Odoban, as well as products available online such as Microban that can be used to kill bacteria that lead to mold growth. I would be inclined to use one of these products, but not in your laundry. I would mix up a batch according to their recommendation, soak your affected items in the liquid for at least 10 minutes, then let dry in the sun. Once your articles are dry and odor free, wash and rinse as usual after ensuring that your machine is also free of mold and bacteria.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 11:50AM
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I know exactly what you're talking about!

Two times in my life:

My grandma's hand towels in the bathroom would do this after a couple of days in the summer & they would have to be changed. You dried your hands and that smell! YUK! She had NO Air conditioning in her house either. I don't see how she stood it. She was very good at doing laundry and used bleach. This was a TL back in the 1980s when I was a teen.

My cousin: She did NOT know how to do laundry properly. She would overload her TL washer all the time! When spending the night at her house and taking a shower and using their towels, I always could smell that smell. But I HAD NO CHOICE but to use it to dry off. YUK! A few times I helped her do laundry and I told her you're overloading that machine & those are not going to get clean. She rolled her eyes. There were times when a load she had put in the washer and asked me to go put them in the dryer and I opened the washer & packed full. No way were they clean. It was so hard for me to put that mess in the dryer, but I did. I mean, what else can you do? Some people just don't "think" when it comes to some things.

The ONLY time I can think of this happening to me is with the microfiber kitchen cloths I use. I'm always washing the kitchen sink out with HOT waster and dish liquid, then continue on to wipe the kitchen counters down with bleach water. But for *some* reason, that dish cloth will get that smell after about a week. I think the reason I don't change it as often as a should is that I'm constantly cleaning the dish rag itself in hot water and soap and even use bleach to clean with it. So I don't know. Perhaps because it's wet a lot long and hangs on the faucet to dry over and over? None of my other towels have that smell when wet. Only a fresh smell but I change them every couple of days. I only buy towels that I can use bleach on. I always feel like LCB really gets rid of that smell and makes it smell fresh even when the smallest amount is used. Can't imagine using LCB and STILL having that smell.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 12:00PM
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I found this forum while looking to see if anyone else has the issue I have with clothes smelling sour after washing. I recently moved here to Florida and started noticing an issue with the towels. Now that the days are getting warmer and more humid, I am starting to smell it in my shirts when I sweat a lot.
When my shirts started stinking, I thought it was me. I started using more deodorant, cologne and Downey crystals in the wash. Nothing worked.
I work out at the gym and started noticing that my gym towel would not pick up the smell as bad as the towel I use at home. This caused me to suspect something with the water softener that is connected to the house.
I washed a load of my shirts using the Downey crystals. I could not smell the Downey after they were dried. The next day at work and the gym, I could smell that sour smell as soon as I started sweating. The following day I put the water softener in the bypass mode and rewashed my shirts using the same amount of everything (soap, oxyclean and Downey crystals). It has only been two days since I washed those clothes, but what a change. The last two days have been very humid and both at work and they gym, I could smell Downey my shirts, from start to finish. I could not believe the difference; I just keep smelling my shirt, and never stopped smelling the Downey. It was such a relief to know it was not me, but the water softener system in the house.
Something in going on with the water softener, not sure what, but I have found the issue. When I bypassed the water softener, I did notice that the water in the shower is harder. So to the water softeners credit, it is softening the water. At the same time, it is doing something to the water that is causing the clothes to smell sour.
I am going to contact the MFG of the water softener and see what they say. I have little hope that they will admit to an issue with their system. I would encourage anyone who has this issue to run the same test. Bypass your water softener and see if the sour smell goes away as mine did.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 1:00PM
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@WADE67 - perhaps with the water softener engaged, your dose of detergent and fabric softener are too much. You said you kept the same dose when the water softener was bypassed, and the smell went away. Detergent and fab. softener residue on clothing can take on a life of its own. The minerals in the hard water give the detergent, dirt and fab. softener something to cling to.

Soft water requires a lot less. Our city water is on the softer end of the spectrum and I use no more than 1/3 of whatever the detergent package says.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 3:28PM
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My opinion is that front loaders do not use enough water to actually get towels clean and fresh, nor do some of the very restrictive top loaders. The towels soak up what little water is "allowed" and are not really getting as clean as they should. Been there, done that. It didn't matter whether bleach was used or not, or the sanitary cycle either.

I live in the humid south, and frankly that has no bearing on whether your towels come out fresh or not from a washer and dryer. It's interesting that I never heard anyone complain about their towels prior to the era of washing machines that don't use enough water to get the job done properly. I have also never found an on board heater that works as well as a machine that lets hot water go directly into the washer from the hot water tank, if that is so desired.

After many years of being fed up with front load machines I bought a Speed Queen top load washer and dryer, and I have had absolutely no problems with my towels not being fresh ever since. They are clean, well rinsed, and fresh.

I can pick the water level and temperature myself rather than some computer board deciding for me. There are many, many ways to conserve water in one's life, which I do. However, I want a washing machine that actually gets water in it and washes, and I am very happy to finally have been able to find one that does.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 12:11AM
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" It's interesting that I never heard anyone complain about their towels prior to the era of washing machines that don't use enough water to get the job done properly."

We live in the hot & humid south, and I agree with you. Our towels never ever smelled musty before the FL washer.

Nothing else smells musty from our FL, except the towels, so I know there is no mold growing in the washer. FL washer smells fine inside and I am verrrrry careful with it.

You have given me an idea, though. I think I will try using the Comforters cycle on our FL washer, for towels. It uses a lot more water.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 8:35AM
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In my experience, smelly towels are caused by only a few things. Lack of hot water, using liquid detergents (liquid Tide being the worst), and improper rinsing. I buy quality towels, and I never wash them cooler than 140, occasionally at 190. Towels must be washed hygienically. Just because you cannot see soil, does not mean it is not there. Body soil will not shift in cooler water. Towels, being looped, and absorbent, will hold onto body soil. Synthetic fabrics (work out clothes) are the opposite. They hold on to smells because they are NOT absorbent. Over time, all that soil starts to stink. Liquid detergents are harder to rinse out of all fabrics, so I suggest powders for the vast majority of laundry. And finally, towels are meant to be very absorbent. To keep them that way, and fresh, they should be rinsed until the water is clear. Hanging laundry in the sun is a free way to deodorize and refresh all fabrics. In my opinion, water temperature is the most important factor, followed by complete rinsing. If your towels are starting to smell, it is only a matter of time before the rest of your washing will start to smell. Clean out your machine, and adjust your washing habits a bit, and things should freshen up. Fabric softener and smelly scent things only mask the problem. If you solve the root of the troubles, then you will not need to cover up funky smells.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 9:33AM
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I had a LG wave force washer and I used to turn the cold water off when I needed to do a wash load in hot. Wash the smelly towel in hot water with detergent on the towel or bulky cycle. if they are white towels, use liquid chlorine bleach, if they are colored towels, then use a non chlorine bleach or oxyclean. Problem solved. It is not coming from your water with a water softener.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 11:56AM
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I had same problem. Started doing extra heat and extra rinse in washer and no fsbric softener sheets anymore. Now towels smell fine.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2014 at 7:20PM
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