Get fresh-smelling towels, sheets, and linens without bleachPin

10 Natural Tips to Fresh-Smelling Towels and Sheets

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There’s nothing like the feeling of fluffy, fresh-smelling towels after a hot shower, or sliding into clean sheets at the end of a long day. But if you’re not properly caring for your linens, they can quickly lose that fresh scent and develop musty or stale odors.

So, settle in while I share ten tips to get those towels and sheets fresh-smelling and keep them that way even when they’re in your linen closet.

1. It Starts in the Wash.

Fresh-smelling linens start in a clean washing machine. To keep yours from developing funky odors that transfer to your sheets and towels, give your washer some regular TLC. Once a week, wipe the interior with equal parts water and vinegar to prevent mold and mildew growth. And don’t forget to leave the door or lid open between washes to let it air out and dry completely.

2. Don’t Let Grime Build up.

The longer you use dirty sheets or towels, the harder it is to get all the grime out of them. So, to help keep your linens smelling fresh, you need to wash them on schedule. How often depends on several factors, like your bathing routine and whether you share your bed with a furry friend or fellow human.

Here are some general guidelines about how often you should wash towels, sheets, and other bedding:

  • Washcloths: Wash after every use.
  • Hand towels: Wash daily.
  • Bath towels: Wash every three to four uses.
  • Pillowcases: Wash every week.
  • Sheets: Wash every one to two weeks.
  • Blankets: Wash every three to four months.
  • Mattress protectors: Wash every one to three months.
  • Duvet covers: Wash every one to two months.
  • Comforters: Wash every three to four months.
  • Duvet inserts: Wash every six months to a year.

3. Choose the Right Wash Temperature.

Repeated studies show that odor-causing germs and the bacteria in fecal material survive cold water washing no matter what the detergent makers claim. So, wash those cotton sheets in hot and everything else in warm. And if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, then use a longer cycle to get the most grime out.

Pro Tip

Cramming too many items in a washing machine keeps any of them from getting properly clean. Add linens one at a time to the washer and stop when the top of the pile is one hand’s width away from the top of the drum.

4. Get them Dry as a Desert.

Your dryer or clothesline are convenient helpers in your quest for fresh-smelling towels and sheets. You can eliminate mildew smells and sanitize fabrics using your dryer’s high heat setting.

Or, if you prefer to line dry clothes, hang them in direct sunlight so the sun’s UV ray’s can kill odor-causing germs. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly until there are no traces of moisture.

5. Strip Wash Sparingly.

Strip-washing is a method to deep clean towels and bedding that helps keep them smelling fresh by eliminating product buildup and soap scum that traps odors. Strip-washing can be harsh on fabric, so it’s something to do just once or twice a year, but it’s grossly satisfying to see how much grime comes out of your linens when you do.

To strip-wash linens, add 1/4 cup of borax, 1/4 cup of washing soda, and 1/2 cup of liquid laundry detergent directly to the machine. Select the longest, hottest wash and rinse cycle permitted on the fabric’s care label.

6. Make Space in Your Storage.

After you’ve washed and dried your linens, don’t ruin your efforts by wadding them into a pile and cramming them into a musty closet. Fold clean towels and sheets directly out of the dryer to prevent wrinkles, but wait to put them away until they’ve cooled so you can be sure they’re completely dry.

Once you’re certain, place them on your linen closet shelves with plenty of space between stacks so air can circulate. You can even tuck sachets between layers to add a beautiful scent to your towels and sheets.

7. Add a DIY Linen Closet Sachet.

To make homemade linen closet sachets, combine one of the damp-absorbing materials with one or more of the fragrant ingredients in a muslin bag or or shallow bowl. The damp-absorbing materials help eliminate musty smells while the fragrant ingredients add a delicate scent to create fresh-smelling towels and sheets. Change when the fragrance fades.

Damp-absorbing materials: Charcoal, clay or crystal kitty litter, silica gel, baking soda, cedar shavings, chalk sticks or powder, uncooked rice.

Fragrant ingredients: Cinnamon sticks, cedar shavings, lavender blossoms, dried herbs, eucalyptus leaves, flower petals, star anise, dried citrus slices or peels, tea leaves, cloves, bay leaves.

How to make damp-absorbing fragrance sachets for linen closetsPin

8. Rotate Your Linens.

The general rule for linens is to have “one set in use, one in the wash, and one on the shelf” so you’re ready for repeated bed changes if someone is ill, or if you fall behind on laundry. But the rule also helps you avoid using the same set over and over.

Rotating different sets of linens helps you spot which ones need a strip-wash to get them smelling fresh again, since you’re more likely to notice musty smells after they’ve been off-duty for a bit. Plus, you’ll avoid wearing out your towels or sheets too soon.

9. Skip the Fabric Softener

Using fabric softener to stop static or add fragrance can do more harm than good. Fabric softeners add a thin residue to make things feel fluffy and soft, but this can trap bacteria and cause a sour smell in your towels and sheets that’s tough to get rid of.

Try using white vinegar instead—the acetic acid removes detergent residue and softens fibers. Or make your own dryer sheets and you can control what touches your clothes.

10. Use a Linen Spray

To make an easy DIY linen spray recipe, combine 4 ounces of a quickly evaporating, antibacterial ingredient (vodka or rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, or white vinegar), 12 ounces of water to dilute it, and 20 drops of essential oils for fragrance.

Try any of the fragrance combinations from my homemade air freshener recipe to layer a custom scent throughout your home.

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  1. Hedda Szczepanski says:

    Excellent advice and just what I needed! Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Hedda,
      I’m happy to have helped!

  2. Catherine Ballay says:

    I didn’t think I needed this article, because I’ve never noticed an odor on towels or sheets. But, wow, I learned a LOT! Thanks, Katie.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad you found something helpful in it! ❤️

  3. Dixie Rapp says:

    Love all of your helpful tips and recipes! Thanks for all of these wonderful ideas!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You are so welcome, Dixie!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Katie
    Quick question. Can you strip wash colours or does the borax make them fade?

    Thanks for the tips. They’re really helpful and I particularly like the sachet recipes and the idea of using the same fragrance.

    Reading your rotation tip, in the nicest possible way, you sounded like my mother! She used to say “one in, one on and one in the wash”!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Elizabeth!
      Yes, you can strip wash colors but it may cause them to fade, depending on the material and dye process. An alternative is to double-wash them using the method I outline here. Your mother would be proud of how clean they get!

  5. Wendy Clare says:

    Katie, what is “washing soda”? And in what section of the store would I find it? Is it the same as baking soda, or something different?

    Thanks in advance for the extra info, and thanks always for such easy, non-toxic tips! 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Wendy!
      Washing soda, which is made from soda ash, is different from baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate. Both are great natural cleaners and water softeners, but in this case, washing soda is used because it’s more powerful at dissolving soap and body oil buildup.

      You’ll find washing soda in the laundry section of most stores — I get mine at Walmart, but it’s also available online. If you want to go that route, check out the natural cleaning section of my Amazon page. All my favorites are there.

  6. Helen Playdon says:

    Just a query really, I use washing soda in every wash and thereby reduce the amount of detergent I use. In the U.K. the price has nearly trebled this last year, has the same happened in the USA? Is there a world shortage I haven’t heard of? My usual supermarket source has also become very unreliable; when stocks DO arrive the shelf is cleared within minutes and they have begun to ration the number of kilos i can buy at a time. It make me wonder if the usual source was in Ukraine.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Helen,

      I haven’t encountered a marked price increase or shortage on this, though we’ve certainly seen both with other household staples. Washing soda is soda ash, and the world’s largest suppliers are in the U.S. But Turkey is another source, and it’s possible that’s where the U.K. gets theirs?

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