Put an end to sour kitchen odors with these steps that keep dish rags from smelling.
Not everyone has a washer and dryer in their home to help them stay on top of the laundry. Even those fortunate enough to have easy access don’t necessarily have the time to wash and dry a load daily. Sometimes, that leads to nasty dish rags that smell bad even after you’ve washed them.
How To Get Rid of Dish Rag Odors
The steps below will get rid of stubborn odors in your dish rags and keep them smelling fresh, even if you can’t do a load of laundry every day.
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 things like food particles, grease, and moisture, which means there’s plenty for bacteria to feed on.
To make matters even more disgusting, that bacteria will get transferred to any surface you wipe with a smelly dishrag: your counters, sink, appliances, even your hands. From there, it’s a short step to food contamination. So, yep, you need to do something about it.
Daily Steps to Control Dish Rag Odors
1. 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. 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.)
2. 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, work some hot, soapy water through your rag and give it a thorough rinse. 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 because they allow air to circulate.
3. 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.
Get Rid of Stubborn Dish Rag Odors
If you’ve noticed your dishcloths still 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.
So, the first step to getting rid of stubborn dishcloth odors is to boil them to eliminate buildup. Then, follow the laundering instructions to keep the smells out.
- Bring 1 gallon of water to boil in a large pot on the stove.
- Add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and your dish rags to the water. Do not add soap or any other product.
- Boil the cloths for 15 minutes to kill odors and bacteria, mold, and mildew.
- Turn the heat off and let the dishcloths cool to room temperature.
- Once cooled, wring the rags out one at a time and hang them to dry in a sunny spot.
How to Wash Smelly Dishrags
Once you’ve dealt with trapped bacteria and lingering odors, follow the steps below to properly launder your dishrags and keep them smelling fresh.
- Launder dishcloths and dish towels in a load by themselves to avoid cross-contamination.
- Set both the wash and rinse cycle for the hottest possible water temperature and the longest washing cycle. On my machine, that’s “Heavy Duty,” but check your washer’s instructions.
- Use your regular laundry detergent, and add 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. (Optional: Add 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to the washer with your dishcloths. It’s a deodorizer, and the reaction between the vinegar and baking soda can help dislodge additional grime.)
- IMMEDIATELY transfer the dishcloths to the dryer when the wash cycle ends. Dry on HIGH heat for 45 minutes to finish knocking out the smell. Or line-dry them outdoors in bright sunlight, which is a natural disinfectant.
Keep Rags from Stinking All Week
Just because you have to use a laundromat, or can only do laundry once a week, doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with smelly dishrags stinking up your home. 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 n a plastic bag in the freezer. The cold temperatures will keep bacteria, mold, and mildew from growing. Then on laundry day, pop them straight out of the freezer into the washing machine, no defrosting required. Just be sure to label the bag clearly, so no one goes poking around hoping to find something good to eat.
The bucket trick: Several readers suggest keeping used dishrags in a plastic bucket of water with either a few spoonfuls of 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. Change this soaking solution mid-week if needed, and always give the bucket a thorough cleaning while the soaked rags are in the wash.