Keeping Bathroom Towels Fresh

Last week, I finally tackled a simple project that had been nagging at me for months.  We switched our towel hooks for towel bars so that the towels could dry better between uses and stay fresher longer.  I like the look of towels hanging from hooks, but it seems that they go “sour” or mildewy because they don’t air dry as well if they aren’t laying flat.
I chose an inexpensive, modern looking towel bar from Target.
I like how they include a template so that you are sure to hang the bar straight.  Taping the paper template up with wash tape makes sure no damage is done to your cabinet/wall when the tape comes off.
The towels still have a bit of bunching at the top, but it’s better than before.  What is your tip for keeping towels fresh?  How many times do you use your towel before you wash it?  I think I probably use mine 3 times.   James’ little towels probably get washed once a week.
Dr. Oz said that you should clean towels two times per week or after every 3 uses.  Bacteria loves to hide in dark, wet places like a towel.  When your towel gets smelly, it is because of the bacteria growing on it that lives off of dead skin cells. Yuk!  I have heard that adding about a 1/2 cup of vinegar to the detergent dispenser keeps towels fresh and soft too.
I picked up a couple new towels and hand towels when I was shopping for the towel bar.  I dig the color and pattern.  They are from the Threshhold collection, but only available in store.
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Meet Megan

Hi! I’m Megan, mom to a thoughtful teenager and spunky young girl. We call Houston home and recently moved into our dream home. I traded my lawyer hat to become a full-time blogger in 2010. I love sharing my passion for affordable fashion, home decor, organization, & fitness to help inspire you to take care of you!


  1. Megan,
    This issue bothered me, too. I hang the large bath towels over the shower stall until dry. I change them every week….they dry well and sadly, unless someone besides us will see them, that's where they stay. I keep the monogramed NM ones on the towel bars to be rotated (wait for RL sales ant NM).

    Wash cloths and face towels are changed everyday for me. I buy a 'mess' of white hand towels at Walmart (Mainstay line) for next to nothing and Gerber baby washclothes for my face (Walmart 12 packs). Cut the tags out of the face towels, they are coated with a sort of plastic. When they get soiled from makeup, I just use them for household/car jobs and buy another dozen (they sometimes go on sale for $.97 a piece). Thanks for bringing up this issue…Dr. Oz is right.

    Warmly, Kathleen

  2. I love your blog and read it regularly. I solved the towel problem way back…Have you noticed that white towels don't smell? I think it's because when we wash white the temperature of the water is higher and therefore kills bacteria. I only use white towels now and put one scoop of oxy clean in the load! I also use the towels 3 times before they get washed.
    When it comes to hand towels I tend to opt for those colored ones or with a cute pattern on it but keep them on the lighter side! Hope that helps

  3. We put our towels in the dryer every morning when we are finished in the bathroom. I thought the woman who taught me this was crazy…until I realized it really only takes a few seconds of our time and our towels are still amazingly fresh and cozy (and never smelly) a year later!

  4. I'm a big fan of using those over-the-door hooks racks. I spread my towel over multiple hooks so it dries quickly (and I buy quick dry towels). I throw the towels into the wash about every 5 days – more often if the humidity is high. I also stick to all white towels which I wash on hot and I use white vinegar in the softener dispenser.

  5. Are your patterned bath towels Threshold too? I love them.

    I should probably wash our towels / change them out more often. I usually only do it every 5 days or so. I'll start doing it more often though now! Bacteria?! Yuck!

  6. I wash towels on Wednesday and Saturday so 4 uses before a wash and then 3 washes the next time. It works out great for our laundry routine to have set days to wash the towels and I wash all kitchen towels at the same time. We have one towel bar and one towel hook for our MBath.

  7. Our bath/shower towels are used once and straight to wash. Hand towels are changed daily.

    I remember a story a friend told me once. She had bought her boys towels that said face on once side and body on the other side. Her boys would often dry their bum and then their face. This made me cringe. I know that one is clean after a shower, but aound here a bath/shower towel is used once.

    PS . . . James' room is looking great!

    Hope you have a great day!

  8. The towel bars look great! We have hooks for our bath towels due to space constraints, so we wash 'em pretty frequently. Love the pattern on the new towel!

  9. We have hooks and don't seem to have a problem. We had more of a problem with the rods (the backs wouldn't dry). I do wash ours a couple times a week, especially now that it is warmer and the humidity so bad. We use only white towels, that way I can wash them on the hot/sanitizing cycle and use a bit of Seventh Generations Oxi Powder. For face clothes we too stock up on cheap white ones either from Target or Wal-mart in bulk. When the makeup gets bad on them they become rags for the garage or basement.

  10. Husband and I wash ours after 2-3 uses and I wash the kids' towels after a week. I wash all towels (dish, bathroom, face ones used to clean boys after meals) with a 1/2 c. or so of vinegar added with the soap. This seems to get rid of that mildew smell.

  11. Seriously. . the sour smell kills me. It drives me crazy. We wash all the time but I feel like even on the first use sometimes they have that smell. I don't get it. Brand new washer and dryer, too. I tend to use white towels, but patterned handtowels as they don't stain as easily as the white ones from make up.

    1. Courtney, when you wash your towels, add 1/2 cup of vinegar in the detergent dispenser. You will find that your towels have never smelled better, or been fluffier!

  12. Towel bars come in 18 inch and 24 inch width; a larger towel bar will eliminate the bunching.

    I wash towels after each use and always have. (I think I was the only one in college that showed up with a dozen towels, lol.) I don't understand why people don't wash them after each use. Our skin is the largest organ on our body and releases toxins through sweat, etc. When we shower, etc. we wash that off however why would you want to use a towel on the chance that any bacteria might be growing and put that back onto your clean body? Just a thought, not a criticism. Keeping healthy means eliminating toxins and clean towels just seem to make sense.

  13. WE hang our towels on hooks on the back of the bathroom door. I change out all of our towels once every week, and hang up fresh ones. I have never had a problem with them turning sour or not drying. Maybe it is because they get moved back and forth when the doors open and close? Anyway, another great tip for making towels smell fresh and clean when you wash them is to add about 1/2 cup of vinegar to the detergent dispenser. I have found that my towels have never smelled batter than when I started doing this!

  14. We use our towels once and then they get washed. Because of that, we have definitely had to stock up on tons and tons of towels, but I love having a fresh towel each time I get out of the shower or bath!

  15. We wash towels after 3 uses in my house too. I much prefer a bar to hooks. I see pictures of towels on hooks all over Pinterest and I just think about how quickly the towels smell!

  16. I can't believe how many commenters are washing towels more than once a week, even every day! If you are washing on a hot cycle, and using a dryer, think of all the energy you are using!

    I wash towels once a week in cold water (hanging them on a bar to dry in between) and line dry in the sunshine. It's fine to be concerned about hygiene, but it needs to be balanced with some sort of regard for the environment.

  17. I use towel bars for our big towels which we change every 3 days. Also, we change washcloths every day. I buy a bunch of cheap ones from Target when they are on sale so I have a stack of them. I do have the round towel ring for the sink which unfortunately doesn't dry the towel very well. It ends up getting smelly after a day. So, I'm going to switch to a towel bar. Love your blog!

  18. I have to admit, we use our towels only once then into the laundry they go. I had tried to get the girls to use them twice but it never did work out. I love hanging them on the line and letting the dry in the breeze. Dianntha

  19. I never thought about hooks vs. Bars but it makes total sense. I don't have a lot of wall space in my bathrooms so hooks let me get more towels hung up. We change our towels twice a week to keep the smell away. I have a front loader machine and I add a tiny bit of bleach to the detergent cup. It doesn't bleach the color but keeps them fresh.

  20. I use regular kitchen vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser on every load. It is great for softening clothes, removes smells from towels (and from little boys clothes) and is kind to the mechanics of your washer and the budget!

  21. This post is SO appropriately-timed for me! We inherited two off-centered towel bars in our master bath that have been driving me CRAZY (mostly because of the way they are mounted…seriously, people…measure!). I was just thinking tonight how a couple stylish hooks would just look so much better. Buuutttt, now you have me second-guessing that. Either way, we need to start over, because my self-diagnosed OCD cannot handle the current look much longer!

    1. You are cracking me up because there were towel bars installed originally (per the builder) and I changed them to hooks, only to put the bars in last week! Ha!

  22. Perfect timing on this post for me too Megan! We are picking out towel bars/hooks for all bathrooms next week! And just like you I was planning on hooks! But now I need to really think about that because San DIego is so humid and our towels take forever to dry out! Fun post. 🙂 SO fun catching up on your blog tonight BTW. LOVE the gallery wall in James' room! He and Kole are so alike. We are all about Donald Duck cartoons right now too. He climbs on my lap and we watch them together on the computer. 🙂

  23. As a mom who has a child who attracts ring worm and atheletes foot. We use a different towel and wash cloth everyday. The laundry is worth it. And my towels never smell.

  24. I wish I was brave enough to use our towels more then once. I tried it once and I was so grossed out by it. As soon as everyone is done taking their showers they go into the washing machine. I can't even put them in the hamper. A little OCD, I know! But,after a nice shower I just can't dry myself with a towel that has dead skin cells on it. I use all white towels and bleach them after every use. Our hand towels are changed twice a day. My son had cancer and after what the DR. told me about hand towels I can't imagine using them for more then a half of day. He was in children's hospital in Loma Linda for 11 months, He only got to come home for a week twice. I used paper towels in the bathroom then. Be careful with towels. A bar will not change the large bacteria level on towels.

  25. I use white vinegar in all my towels and linens when doing laundry. I use a downy ball and fill it between the 1 ans 2 line. It keeps everything super soft and absorbent. I read that using a fabric softener actually decreases the absorbency of your towels – but I don't have that problem anymore! 🙂

  26. I always wash my towels after the second use. I was always afraid to use vinegar as I hate the smell of vinegar but it seems like it doesn't smell bad. I will give it a try.

  27. I change our bath towels every other day, and all hand & kitchen towels daily. As much as I like fluffy, soft towels, I stopped using fabric softener because it created a mildew smell in our front load washer that transferred to the towels. I use vinegar along with my regular liquid detergent and then use homemade dryer balls in the dryer. The balls add the fluff factor but not the softness. They are much more absorbent when they are less soft, and I think they dry faster.

  28. great topic about wash towels . it must important that you need to always wash your towels because is good for you and your family and specially your health . another is important that every person need to use his own towels. i watch many families who use only one towels .i think you need to works out great for our laundry routine to have set days to wash the towels and I wash all kitchen towels at the same time. We put our towels in the dryer every morning when we are finished in the bathroom. I thought the woman who taught me this was crazy…until I realized it really only takes a few seconds of our time and our towels are still amazingly fresh and cozy (and never smelly) a year later!
    British Wholesale

  29. Nothing feels better than a clean towel! Ditch the fabric softener, use vinegar in your rinse and wool dryer balls in your dryer…You will have the fluffiest towels ever! Fabric softener coats the fabric, making it less absorbent and less fluffy. Add a drop of essential oil to the dryer ball if you must have a fresh smell. (Though after a while, you wont' notice). Off to wash my towels…I'm sure it's been more than 3 uses!

  30. I have purchased cotton turkish towels…the kind that are not fuzzy at all. They are larger though and 2 of them will take up most of the wall. I was thinking of hooks and thought they would dry faster than the thicker kind….does anyone use this type of towel…do you find they dry faster? Would hooks work ok?
    Love all these comments…so helpful.

  31. I hang a large clothes hanger in a hook in the back of the door. Then I fold my towel in half lengthwise and drape it over the hanger. You can color coordinate your plastic hangers and have one for each family member. Also you can put a large suction hook on your tile wall and hang your bath mat using a clothes hanger on it. You can use a hanger with clips like for a skirt if you like, also.

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