woman smelling towel

Towels Smell Like Pee – Causes and Solutions

The experience of unwrapping a towel after a refreshing shower or bath should be one of pure comfort and rejuvenation.

However, it can be disheartening to discover that instead of a clean, fresh scent, your towels emanate an unpleasant odour reminiscent of urine.

This comprehensive guide delves into the reasons behind towels taking on a pee-like smell, and gives some practical and effective solutions to resolve this issue.


What Makes Towels Smell Like Pee?

Cause 1: Inadequate washing

towels in the washing machine

One of the primary culprits behind towels smelling like pee is simply not washing them properly. When towels aren’t washed correctly, they can retain urine odours.

It could be that you haven’t used enough detergent, have used a detergent that isn’t suitable for the load, have washed your towels at too low a temperature, or have overloaded the washing machine.


We recommend you follow our guide on washing towels to make sure your towels are adequately washed.

Ensure you use an appropriate amount of laundry detergent and wash your towels at a sufficiently high temperature (at least 60°C) to effectively remove bacteria and odour-causing residues.

Regular washing, ideally every three to four uses, is key to keeping your towels fresh.


Cause 2: Residual urine stains

wiping hands with towel

Undetected urine stains on towels are another leading cause of persistent odours. When urine is not entirely removed during the washing process, it can lead to an unpleasant, lingering smell.

These stains are often invisible, making them challenging to identify. Such stains can occur when the initial cleaning of the towel does not effectively break down the compounds in the urine, leaving behind microscopic residues that emit odours over time.

These invisible stains can often build up with repeated use and washing, gradually intensifying the unpleasant scent.


To tackle residual urine stains, it’s advisable to pre-treat your towels before washing them.

Dab the stained area with white vinegar, lemon juice, or a paste made from hydrogen peroxide and bicarbonate of soda. Allow it to sit for a few minutes to break down the urine residue.

Additionally, ensure that you inspect your towels for stains regularly, as early detection is crucial for successful stain removal.


Cause 3: Bacterial growth

dirty towels

Bacteria tend to thrive in warm and damp environments, making towels an ideal breeding ground.

When towels remain damp or aren’t dried adequately, bacteria proliferate, leading to foul odours.

Damp towels create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. These microorganisms break down organic matter, including residual urine, and produce the unpleasant smells associated with bacterial activity.


Effective drying and storage are key to preventing bacterial growth and maintaining fresh-smelling towels.

After use, ensure that your towels are hung up in a well-ventilated area to allow them to dry completely.

If you live in a humid environment, consider using a dehumidifier to reduce moisture levels and minimise bacterial proliferation.

When storing your towels, ensure they are completely dry before you put them away. If you can, store them in an area or cupboard that is better ventilated.


Cause 4: Old towels

old towels

As towels age, they accumulate wear and tear, which makes them more likely to retain odours.

Older towels, no matter how well-maintained, are more susceptible to harbouring unpleasant smells.

Over time, the fibres in towels deteriorate, losing their ability to release odours and moisture efficiently.

As towels age, they become less effective at absorbing water and releasing it during the washing process.

This decline in performance leads to increased odour retention, even when subjected to meticulous cleaning routines.


Regularly assess the condition of your towels and consider replacing them when they start showing signs of wear or retaining odours despite your best efforts to clean them.

If you’re concerned about sustainability, consider donating old towels to animal shelters or recycling centres to give them a new purpose.


Cause 5: Pets

puppies wrapped in towel

If you have pets in your home, their fur, dander, or even accidents can transfer unwanted odours to your towels.

Pet-related odours can be challenging to eliminate, particularly when not addressed promptly. Pets, while beloved companions, can inadvertently introduce odours to your towels.

Pet fur, dander, or accidents can transfer distinct smells to the fabric. These odours often require special care and treatment, as they may not respond to typical washing methods effectively.


To address pet-related odours on towels, it’s crucial to wash pet bedding and towels separately from your towels and to ensure that pet accidents are cleaned promptly and thoroughly.

Using enzyme-based detergents designed for pet odour removal can also be helpful.

Pets are notorious for using anything as a bed, so keep your towels out of reach to prevent this is in the first place.


Cause 6: Mildew

mildew on towel

Towels that are not adequately dried and stored in damp conditions are susceptible to mildew growth.

Mildew not only causes unpleasant odours but can also be harmful to your health. Mildew, a form of mould, can develop when towels are stored in damp or poorly ventilated areas.

It thrives in humid conditions, and its presence not only results in unpleasant odours but can also pose health risks.

Mildew can be particularly challenging to remove from towels, making prevention the best strategy.


Properly dry and ventilate your towels, storing them in a dry and well-ventilated area.

Preventing mildew growth involves regular washing, thorough drying, and keeping the bathroom or storage area dry and well-ventilated.


Cause 7: Dirty washing machine

dirt in washing machine drum

Sometimes, the washing machine itself may be the source of the issue.

A dirty or mouldy washing machine can transfer odours to your towels during the washing process, compromising their freshness.

Washing machines can be an unexpected source of towel odours. A machine with built-up dirt, mould, or mildew can contaminate your towels during the wash cycle.

This can undo your efforts to keep your towels fresh, requiring both washing machine maintenance and re-washing of the affected towels.


Regularly cleaning and maintaining your washing machine will solve this issue, keeping your towels smelling clean and fresh every time.

Run cleaning cycles with a washing machine cleaner, bleach or vinegar, and ensure the machine’s rubber seal and detergent drawer are free from mould and residue build up. Here’s a guide on cleaning your washing machine.

Additionally, wash the washing machine’s lint filter and keep the machine’s door or lid open between uses to allow it to dry thoroughly.


How To Keep Your Towels Smelling Fresh

Addressing the issue of towels smelling like pee is a matter of adopting a holistic approach that combines proper washing techniques, stain removal methods, effective drying, and proactive towel maintenance.

Let’s explore comprehensive solutions to ensure your towels stay fresh and inviting:

Proper washing techniques

white towels on washing machine

We provided tips on dealing with specific scenarios earlier in this article, but here is a general guide on how to effectively wash your towels.

Consider pre-soaking your towels in a mixture of water and vinegar before washing. This can help break down odour-causing residues.

Set your washing machine temperature to at least 60°C. Higher temperatures are more effective at killing bacteria and removing odours.

Use an appropriate amount of high-quality laundry detergent. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the product’s packaging to ensure you’re using the right quantity for your load.

If you live in an area with hard water, which can exacerbate odour problems, consider using a water softener or an appropriate laundry detergent for hard water.

We recommend you carry out this routine every three to four uses.


Stain removal methods

towel stain removal

We recommend the following steps to effectively remove residual urine stains and prevent odours.

Before washing, identify any urine stains on your towels. Dab the stained area with white vinegar, lemon juice, or a paste made from hydrogen peroxide and bicarbonate of soda.

Allow it to sit for a few minutes to break down the urine residue.

After pre-treatment, follow your usual washing routine with the appropriate temperature and laundry detergent.

Always inspect your towels before folding them away. If any stains persist, repeat the stain removal process. The key is to catch these stains early to ensure they don’t become embedded in the fabric.


Drying and ventilation

Air Drying Towels

Proper drying and ventilation are essential for preventing bacterial growth and retaining towel freshness. Here’s what we recommend doing:

After use, hang your towels in a well-ventilated area. Avoid leaving them in damp or enclosed spaces, which can encourage bacterial growth.

Whenever possible, hang your towels outside in the sunlight. Sunlight has natural disinfecting properties that can help remove odours and kill bacteria.

Ensure that your towels are completely dry before folding or storing them. Even slightly damp towels can become breeding grounds for bacteria.


Towel maintenance

towels in the bathroom

Regular towel maintenance is key to preventing odours and ensuring long-lasting hygiene.

Establish a rotation system for your towels. By having a set of towels for regular use and another for backup, you can ensure that they have ample time to dry and avoid becoming musty.

Consider replacing your towels every 1-2 years, depending on their condition. Old towels are more likely to retain odours, even with diligent care.

As we mentioned earlier, consider donating old towels to pet homes to reduce waste and the impact on the environment.

Use separate towels for different purposes, such as hand towels and bath towels. This reduces the risk of odours transferring from one towel to another.


More Ways to Keep Your Towels Fresh

While the solutions outlined earlier can effectively address the issue of towels smelling like pee, there are additional tips and strategies that can further enhance the freshness and longevity of your towels.

Odour-preventing products

wool dryer balls

Odour-neutralising products can provide an extra layer of protection against unwelcome smells:

  1. Scented sachets: Placing scented sachets or pouches in your linen closet or towel storage area can help infuse your towels with a pleasant fragrance.
  2. Dryer balls: Consider using dryer balls, which not only speed up drying but can also distribute a mild, natural scent to your towels when scented oils are applied to them.
  3. Essential oils: A few drops of your favourite essential oil on a cloth or tissue placed among your towels can lend a refreshing scent. Lavender, eucalyptus, and citrus oils are popular choices.


Keeping your bathroom clean

Mop on bathroom floor

Keeping you bathroom clean can also help to ensure your towels stay fresh.

Develop a routine for cleaning your bathroom, paying attention to areas that often collect urine splatter, like around the toilet or on the floor.

Use effective cleaning products designed to tackle bathroom odours and stains. Make sure to follow the instructions on the product labels for best results.

Make sure your bathroom is well ventilated by using extractor fans, opening windows, or keeping the door ajar after showering. This can help reduce humidity and prevent odour build up.


How to Freshen Up Towels Quickly

air drying towels on a line

If you’re in a hurry or need a quick refresh between washes, consider these techniques:

  1. Fabric freshener spray: Invest in a fabric freshener spray and lightly mist your towels. Be sure to let them air out before using them.
  2. Essential oils in the dryer: If you use a tumble dryer, you could add a few drops of essential oil to a cloth or dryer ball to impart a subtle scent to your towels during drying. If you decide to do this, you need to choose a safe essential oil, as some essential oils can set fire in the dryer.
  3. Hang outside: On a sunny day, take your towels outside and hang them in the fresh air for a few hours. Sunlight can naturally eliminate odours and freshen your towels.



Why do my towels smell like pee?

Towels may develop a urine-like odour due to several factors, including inadequate washing, residual urine stains, bacterial growth, pet-related odours, mildew, and even a dirty washing machine.

Understanding the specific cause can help you find the right solution to eliminate the smell.


How can I prevent my towels from smelling like pee?

To prevent towels from smelling like pee, follow proper washing techniques, regularly inspect for urine stains and treat them, ensure effective drying and ventilation, maintain a towel rotation system, replace old towels, and consider the presence of pets and mildew. These strategies will help maintain fresh-smelling towels.


What’s the ideal washing temperature for towels?

To effectively remove bacteria and odour-causing residues, it’s recommended to wash towels at a temperature of at least 60°C. Higher temperatures are more effective at killing bacteria and preventing odour build up.


How often should I replace my towels?

Towels should be replaced every 1-2 years, depending on their condition. Over time, towels accumulate wear and tear, which makes them more likely to retain odours. Replacing them when they show signs of wear is a good practice.


How do I clean a smelly washing machine?

cleaning washing machine drum and filter

To clean a smelly washing machine, run cleaning cycles with a washing machine cleaner, bleach or vinegar.

Ensure the machine’s rubber seal and detergent drawer are free from mould and residue build up. Wash the lint filter and keep the machine’s door or lid open between uses to allow it to dry thoroughly.


Can I use essential oils to freshen my towels?

Yes, you can use essential oils to infuse a pleasant scent into your towels. Simply add a few drops of your preferred essential oil to a cloth or dryer ball during the drying process to give your towels a subtle and refreshing fragrance.


How do I remove urine stains from towels?

To remove urine stains from towels, pre-treat the stained area with white vinegar, lemon juice, or a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and bicarbonate of soda. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before washing. Early detection of stains is crucial for successful removal.


Is there a way to prevent pet-related odours on towels?

To prevent pet-related odours on towels, wash pet bedding separately from your towels and ensure that pet accidents are cleaned promptly and thoroughly.

Using enzyme-based detergents designed for pet odour removal can also be helpful.


Can mildew on towels be harmful to health?

Yes, mildew on towels can be harmful to health. Mildew is a form of mould that thrives in humid conditions. It can not only create unpleasant odours but also pose health risks. Preventing mildew growth by maintaining dry and well-ventilated storage is essential.

towels in basket inside bathroom


Can I use scented sachets to keep my towels fresh?

Yes, scented sachets can help maintain the freshness of your towels. Placing them in your linen closet or towel storage area can infuse a pleasant fragrance into your towels, keeping them smelling delightful.