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.
In this article, I’ve put together ten tips to help you freshen up your towels and sheets naturally and keep them smelling clean so they’re always a comfort to use.
1. Keep Your Washer Clean
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.
Then every month, give your washer a deep clean by running an empty hot cycle with a cup of white vinegar. Once that’s done, soak and scrub the detergent dispenser with an old toothbrush to remove soap scum and residue. Keeping your washer free of odors goes a long way to getting your linens smelling fresh and clean on laundry day.
2. Change and Wash Your Linens on Schedule
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.
Don’t Overcrowd the Washer
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.
3. Choose the Right Wash Temperature
Repeated studies show that odor-causing germs and the bacteria in fecal material survive cold water washing. So, check the care label on your linens and use the hottest setting recommended. If you can’t wash in a warmer temperature, use a longer cycle to get the most grime out. Here are some general guidelines for different fabrics:
- Cotton: Hot or warm
- Linen: Cool or warm
- Flannel: Cool or warm
- Polyester: Cool or warm
- Microfiber: Cool or warm
- Bamboo: Cool or warm
4. Dry Them Properly
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 as Needed
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. 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. 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.
6. Store Them Correctly
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. Use Sachets in the Linen Closet
To make homemade linen closet sachets, combine one damp-absorbing material with one or more 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.
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. But don’t worry, there’s a simple solution!
Try using white vinegar in the laundry instead of fabric softener. Vinegar contains acetic acid which helps remove detergent residue, brighten whites, and preserve colors while also softening fabric fibers. Plus, it eliminates musty smells by destroying odor-causing bacteria. Don’t be put off by the initial smell—the scent of vinegar fades as it dries, leaving you with fresh-smelling linens that are soft and absorbent, too.
10. Use a Linen Spray
Between washings, you can freshen your towels and sheets with a quick spritz of linen spray. This is best done after using a towel, so the spray has time to dry. It’s a great way to add fragrance to your bedroom or bathroom, too. Try any of the fragrance combinations from my homemade air freshener recipe to layer a custom scent throughout your home.
Linen Spray Recipe
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. Choose pet-safe essential oils if you share your bed with a furry friend.
- 4 oz. white vinegar, witch hazel, unflavored vodka or rubbing alcohol.
- 12 oz. water (distilled or filtered)
- 20 drops essential oils
- Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle.
- Shake vigorously.
- Spray lightly to mist linens.
- Use only on washable fabrics. Perform a spot-test before the first use.
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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.
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?
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! 🙂
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.
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”!
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!
Love all of your helpful tips and recipes! Thanks for all of these wonderful ideas!!
You are so welcome, Dixie!
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.
I’m so glad you found something helpful in it! ❤️
Excellent advice and just what I needed! Thank you!
I’m happy to have helped!