Keep Your Dish Rags From Smelling

How to keep dish rags from smelling from In this week’s Reader Questions, Lynne wants to know how to keep your dish rags from smelling so… funky. Although she’s fastidious about rinsing them after use, and hanging them over the divider in the middle of her sink, they still reek by the end of the day. So do her cleaning cloths. As far as laundering them, well, she’s got a bit of an added problem there.

Dear Katie,
Since finding your blog, I have become a better housekeeper in the sense that I have gone from doing nothing to at least doing something each day. Laundry isn’t one of those things, though. We don’t own our own washer and dryer, so things pile up all week (sometimes up to two weeks) before one of us has time to get to the laundromat.

That’s the basis of my problem: how do you keep your dish rags from smelling NASTY by laundry day? Sometimes no amount of washing gets rid of that horrible smell and I never feel like they’re actually getting anything clean. How do I fix this?

Love your tips!

I think we’ve all been there with smelly cleaning rags, dish cloths, and even towels we’ve left sitting in a wet pile. Unfortunately, as you’ve discovered, once that stink gets in there it’s hard to get out. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your dish rags from smelling (and your cleaning cloths, too), along with two methods to freshen them again.

How To Keep Your Dish Rags From Smelling

  • Change dish rags at least once a day.
  • Opt for thinner, lightweight dish rags — ideally microfiber cloths with a waffle weave like these (Amazon) — so they air-dry faster.
  • Rinse them in hot, soapy water immediately after use. Wring dry, and hang so air can circulate on both sides. The edge of the sink isn’t good for this, but the door of the oven might be.

How To Launder Dish Rags

I don’t recommend washing microfiber cloths used solely for dusting in vinegar, but if you’re getting your cloths wet, they need extra care. This method works fine on both microfiber and standard cotton dish rags and cleaning cloths, but if your washer/dryer doesn’t have adjustable times for washing cycles (and the laundromat’s probably doesn’t) you’ll want to use the boiling method instead.

  1. Do a load with only your cleaning or dish cloths.
  2. Set both the wash and rinse cycle for the hottest possible water temperature.
  3. Set the cycle for the longest possible washing time. On my machine, that’s “Heavy Duty”, but check your washer’s instructions.
  4. Use your regular laundry detergent, and add 1 cup of white vinegar.
  5. IMMEDIATELY transfer them to the dryer when the wash cycle ends!
  6. Skip using the moisture sensor, and dry them on HIGH heat for 45 minutes to knock out the smell.

How To Boil The Smell Out Of Dish Rags

  1. Fill a large pot halfway with water and set it over HIGH heat on the stove. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the water.
  3. Add your dirty dish rags and/or cleaning cloths to the water.
  4. Boil for 15 minutes to kill odors and bacteria, mold and mildew.
  5. Allow to cool completely, then wring each rag well and hang on a clothes line or coat hanger to dry.

If your schedule is too busy to do these methods regularly, there’s still one more trick that can help keep your rags from getting smelly between washing days: stash them in a plastic bag in the freezer where they can’t develop that mildewed smell. Just be sure to label the bag clearly so no one goes poking around hoping to find something good to eat!

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  • Teresa

    Borax. Remember 20 Mule Team Borax? It’s still out there and it works wonders on getting smells out of towels of all kinds. Get a box and add a scoop to your towels, rags, or whatever else smells.

    I have a washer/dryer at home so it’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about dragging everything to the laundromat. I have not tried soaking my dishrags with it. I would bet if you put it in the soak water (way less than a scoop – think small with smaller amounts of water) make sure you use warm enough water to dissolve it along with whatever detergent – woolite or whatever – that would work too. Let it sit for a while, rinse and hang to dry.

    If you can’t find it in the stores, check Amazon, they carry it.

    • Katie B.

      Borax is a wonderful cleaner, isn’t it?

      • Teresa

        The problem with kitchen dishcloths is that everything gets wiped with them including grease. But washing them doesn’t fully remove said grease unless the water temp is very high and even then it’s a toss up. Very hot water for the hot cycle is something you won’t get on a commerical washing machine I would think.

        That means finding a product that can be used to remove the grease and smell is the only thing short of discarding and buying new every so often. Otherwise you just end up washing them, but having towels that smell as soon as they get damp.

      • Katie B.

        Yes, Teresa, I know. That’s why I recommended vinegar since it’s an excellent de-greaser.

      • Teresa

        And I’m so tired today I’m repeating you ;) I even went to bed early last night… LOL.

      • Katie B.

        It’s the weather. Winter just keeps going on and on. We need sunshine, I tell ya!

      • Teresa

        Truer words were never written. We still have 5 inches of snow on the ground and it’s flurrying as I type. I want to scream. Good thing I work at home… LOL.

    • irene winstanley


  • Mariette’s Back to Basics

    Dearest Katie,
    Great subject! This is exactly the reason why I LOVE my Miele washing machine as I can set the temperature to 170°F for killing all germs and avoiding nasty odors. Sure, they are more expensive to start out with but they do save on water, energy and will keep bacteria better in check for a healthier lifestyle.
    Under point 4 of How To Launder Dish Rags you mention add 1…?
    Thanks for always sharing great and frugal tips. This is even very important for general hygiene purposes.
    Hugs to you and wishing you and yours the very best.

    • Katie B.

      Oh, I’d love a Miele. We bought a Fisher & Paykel, which also has a soak function, but not a precise temperature setting. With two males in the house, that ‘soak’ button still gets quite a workout. LOL

  • Marty Walden

    Hi, Katie! These are great tips! Have you ever cconnected with Hometalk? You could get some publicity for your great household tips!

    Thank you for leaving an encouraging comment on my “Blogging Spouse” post (or rather my husband’s). I hope your husband enjoyed it as well :)

    • Katie B.

      Hi Marty! I hadn’t even heard of Hometalk before you mentioned it. Will go check it out. Thanks!

  • Kristina

    Thank you! This was excellent! I’m going to try airing mine out on the oven door, rather than the sink. makes sense!

    • Katie B.

      You’re welcome, Kristina! Airing on the oven door really has helped with my stinky dish rag situation. They get to dry out, and that seems to help immensely. Nice to “meet” you!

  • emily

    great post! I do the soap rinse all the time and still find myself changing towels a few times a day. I’ve been at others homes though where the whole kitchen smelled! They didn’t seem to notice, but I did! Thanks for linking up to Tasteful Tuesdays! love it! Really appreciate you stopping by my blog! I’m trying to keep in better touch with my linkers/readers… If you already follow me, please let me know I will find your blog on Bloglovin (I’m transferring my follows there)if you don’t follow in any way, would you consider following via GFC or other method?

    • Katie B.

      Oh, I know what you mean about visiting homes that reek of mildewed dish rags! Ew, right?

      I’m not on Bloglovin, GFC or any of those other things. I am following you on Facebook, though. :)

  • Pamela Anderson

    How about keeping a soaking bucket nearby? Sort of like a diaper pail….fill it with water and vinegar and drop your funky dishclothes in it at the end of every day. When it is laundry day just dump the water out and bring the entire bucket to the laundromat. I admit I haven’t tried this method, but I’ve thought about it! Just be sure that the bucket has a tight lid if you have small children or curious pets!

    • Katie Berry

      That should work, too. It would need to be a plastic bucket, since vinegar will corrode metal, though. Great idea!

  • Christymomof3

    You never answered Mariette’s question: add one WHAT of vinegar? Teaspoon, gallon, or something in between? Otherwise, thanks. I will try it tomorrow.

    • Katie Berry

      Cup. Sorry, that’s been fixed. Thought I’d done that before now.

  • kar4en shoemaker

    Hello this is my first time on your website, all the information is amazing, I am going to put a small pail on my counter top next to the mulch scraps container, and see if putting the stinky cloths in vinegar water helps. I do believe i will boil them before i wash them, just to make sure. thank you so much.

    • Katie Berry

      Boiling them is an unnecessary step, but if you feel more comfortable, have at it.

  • AT

    Don’t know if anyone’s still interested in this topic, but for what it’s worth I hang my dish rag in the dishwasher in between uses. This way, it’s out of sight, it gets to air dry, and it’s right next to the sink so it’s handy every time I need to use it. I also put my dish ‘scrubbers’ (the kind that have handles you fill with dish soap & then have either a sponge or brush tip) in the silverware compartment of my dishwasher in between uses for the same reasons. Sometimes I leave the dishwasher door ajar to let air circulate. In my mind, that’s easier to look at than my yuckie dish rag & scrubbers! :) I would be lost without my dishwasher, & most of the time it’s my large, built-in drying rack!
    One more tip on dishwashers, & I’m out of here – years ago, we hit on a method that solved the ‘Are these clean or dirty?’ mystery that has worked well for us. When the washer has been emptied, we fill the detergent dispenser with soap. As more & more dishes accumulate, & you’re tempted to ask ‘are these clean or dirty?’ one quick glance at the soap dispenser answers the question before it’s even asked! If the dispenser is closed (full) they’re dirty & have not been washed. So whoever empties the machine, fills the dispenser.
    Thanks for your website! If I can get even a Little bit more organized in 2014 it will be a great year! :)

    • Katie Berry

      Thanks for the great tips, AT! With the “clean or dirty” question, we use a flat magnet on the front of the dishwasher. I’d tried filling the detergent dispenser, but our home has a heating vent that runs right under the machine and sink – it prevents frozen pipes in the winter, but hardens the detergent into a rock if it’s in there too long.

      So I took one of those flat ones our bank sends every year and covered it with Washi tape, then wrote clean on one end and dirty on the other. We flip it based on the status of the dishwasher’s contents. Works so far!

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