Put an end to sour kitchen odors with these steps that keep dish rags from smelling.
Why Dish Rags Smell Bad
That sour smell of a dirty dish rag isn’t just unpleasant — it’s the aroma of bacteria breeding. Dishrags are full of food particles, grease, and moisture which bacteria feed on. That bacteria gets transferred to any surface you wipe with a smelly dishrag: counters, sink, appliances, even your hands. From there, it’s a short step to food contamination.
How to Clean Dish Cloths with Vinegar
The first step to getting rid of stubborn dishcloth odors is eliminating buildup. To do this, fill a large pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil on your stove. Add 2 cups of distilled white vinegar and your stinky dishcloths. Do not add any soap or other products. Let the rags boil for 15 minutes to kill odors and bacteria, mold, and mildew. Turn off the heat and let the dishcloths cool until you can handle them safely. Wring the rags out one at a time, and hang them to dry in a sunny spot. You do not need to launder them again before use.
How to Wash Smelly Dishrags
Once you’ve removed the buildup, be sure to launder your dish rags and towels in their own load to prevent cross-contamination. Use the hottest setting and the longest wash cycle on your machine, so the heat has time to eliminate bacteria and soap residue. Along with your regular laundry detergent, add 1 cup of white vinegar in place of fabric softener. Use the high heat setting on your dryer for at least 45 minutes or line-dry them outdoors in bright sunlight, which is a natural disinfectant.
Optional: Add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to the washer with your dishcloths. It’s a deodorizer, and the vinegar and baking soda reaction will dislodge additional grime.
Tips to Keep Dish Cloths from Smelling
Once you’ve removed the odors from your dishcloths, a few changes to your routine can keep them from smelling bad again.
Check your water temperature.
If you’ve your dishcloths smell bad even after laundering, the problem most likely has to do with your hot water setting. Frugal-minded homeowners, laundromats, and landlords typically set water heaters to 120°F (49°C). That’s hot enough to dissolve soap and grease, but it’s not hot enough to kill mold, mildew, and many types of odor-causing bacteria.
Use thin, loosely woven rags.
Although thicker dishrags feel nice when you’re using them, they hold onto more residue and take longer to dry. Damp dishcloths are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and germs, so they quickly stink up a room. Save the plush washcloths for the shower. In the kitchen, it’s best to choose thin, lightweight dishrags because they can air-dry quickly. I use these microfiber cloths with a waffle weave because they dry super fast.
Hang rags to dry after use.
No matter what dish rag you choose, leaving it in a wad on the bottom of the sink will lead to odors. So will leaving it full of greasy food residue. When you’re done washing dishes, squeeze some dish soap and hot water through your rag and rinse it well. Then wring the cloth out well and hang it where it can air dry. The edge of the sink isn’t right for this, but the oven handle or a towel rack next to the sink are good spots if they offer good airflow.
Change your dishrag daily.
To reduce mildew smells, let your old rag dry on the hook overnight, then swap it for a fresh one first thing in the morning. And, of course, you should switch to a clean dishcloth any time the one you’re using gets so grimy that you can’t rinse away all the food residue.
Tips for Laundromat Users
Not everyone has access to laundry machines in their home. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with the lingering smell of stinky dishcloths. Here are two ideas to keep dish rags from growing mold or mildew between launderings:
The freezer trick: Stash used, rinsed dishcloths in a plastic bag in the freezer. The cold temperatures will keep bacteria, mold, and mildew from growing. On laundry day, pop them straight out of the freezer into the washing machine.
The bucket trick: Several readers suggest keeping used dishrags in a plastic bucket of water with either a few spoonfuls of chlorine bleach or a cup of white vinegar — but not both. It’s best if the bucket has a tight-fitting lid so the water doesn’t evaporate, and neither kids nor pets can get into it. The bucket should also be plastic, not metal, so it doesn’t rust.
Have any tips of your own to keep dishcloths from smelling bad? Share them in the comments!