Why Do My Towels Smell And How To Get Rid Of The Smell  

  • By: Tiffany Peris
  • Time to read: 6 min.

It can be frustrating washing your towels and drying them only to come out of the shower smelling like onion or something else not attractive. Don’t worry; towel smells are common and nothing to worry about.

One common reason towels smell is that they are stored before they are completely dry. The wetness in the towels encourages bacteria growth, resulting in a sour smell. In addition, when detergent and fabric softener accumulate in the towel, the accumulation results in the towel smelling sour.

This article delves into towel smell and discusses it from different perspectives. By reading the article, you will find out what makes your towels smell even after you have washed them and what you can do to get rid of the sour smell.

Why Do My Towels Smell Like Onions?

It’s embarrassing to clean your towel and keep them in your closet only to find that they smell like onions when you want to use them. Whether it’s your bath towel, face towel, fingertip towel, or any other type of towel, you will find that if you store the towels when they are not completely dry, the towels will smell after some time.

Let’s look at why towels, whether used or clean, smell like onions, ginger, or garlic and how to get rid of the foul odor from towels.

Your body odor

After taking a shower and drying yourself with a towel, you might note that the towel that was not smelling like an onion is now smelling like an onion. In such cases, the reason why your towel smells like onions will be your body odor.

According to Science Focus, human beings have two types of sweat glands in their skins. One of the sweat glands is the Apocrine gland, which is present in the groin area and armpits. The other sweat glands comprise the Eccrine glands, distributed throughout the body.

Even though Eccrine sweat glands produce sweat with no smell when it leaves the pores, bacteria on the skin feed on the sweat and skin flakes; from the feeding process, thioalcohol is produced as a by-product, and it is this thioalcohol makes one have a smell similar to that of onion. Thus, if you use a towel to dry dirt comprising of thioalcohol, the towel will smell like onion.

To ensure that your towel does not smell like onion, you need to ensure that before drying yourself with a towel after bathing, you have entirely rinsed yourself well and that all the thioalcohol is washed off.

Growth Of Microbial

In most cases, we tend to keep towels in places where they do not come into contact with a lot of heat or light. Specifically, after showering, we hang the towels in the bathroom even though the bathroom is not well ventilated and does not let in the sun.

Microbes that are tiny and cannot be seen by the naked eye thrive in dump areas that are poorly ventilated. Thus, when we leave damp towels in poorly ventilated areas, the microbes thrive and multiply on the towels. These microbes are known to produce different smells, and one of these smells resembles the smell of garlic, ginger, and onions.

The unfortunate bit of this development is that you transfer the microbes from the towel to your body whenever you shower and use a towel with microbes, which can be devastating.

Likewise, if you keep towels in the cabinet for long and notice that the towels smell like onions or garlic, there is a high chance that the towels have microbes on them, hence why they smell like onions, garlic, or ginger.

To avoid your towels having microbes that will make them smell like onions, ensure that you keep your towels in well-ventilated areas. Moreover, you can also install towel warmers in your house so that the warmers can always dry your towels after you have used them. The heat generated by the towel warmers also helps warm the bathroom, thus making it less moist. 

You can also install an exhaust fan in the bathroom so that the fan removes any moisture in the room. When installed in the bathroom, the exhauster fan will control and get rid of bathroom odors, thus offering a fix to the problem of towels smelling like onions. In addition, the fan ensures that the bathroom has sufficient circulation of fresh air, thus inhibiting the growth of microbes.

Poor Drainage In Your Bathroom

If the bathroom drainage is blocked, then your bathroom is likely to have a foul smell. Among others, the rancid smell caused by the accumulation of soaps, dirt, and hair, among other items, is likely to result in the bathroom smelling like an onion.

When you keep a damp towel in a bathroom with blocked drainage, the towel will take in some of the foul smell from the drainage and make your towel smell like onions.  

To get rid of the smell, you need to ensure that your bathroom drainage works well. After removing whatever is blocking our bathroom drainage, you can put baking soda and vinegar on the drainage to ensure unclogged drainage. In addition, you could also pour boiling water into the drainage so that any fat accumulations are washed away.

You Haven’t Used Your Water Heater For A Long Time

Another common cause of towels smelling like garlic, onions, or ginger is stagnant water stuck in the heater, especially when you don’t use your heater for long periods.

When water is not used for some time, it can develop a smell similar to onions. For example, if you go for a holiday for two weeks and come back shower, and dry yourself with a towel, the towel will have a bad smell caused by the stagnant water you have used to shower.

If you do not use your water heater for a while, it is always advisable to let the water run for at least seven to ten minutes before you start bathing. Then, you will ensure that any water with an odor is drained off before you can shower.

Why Do My Towels Smell Burnt?

If your towels smell burnt after washing them, they should be an indicator that your washing machine or dryer is about to break down.

The burning smell indicates that your washer or dryer has an issue resulting in a smoking smell. If you do not fix the problem, you can damage your machine and clothes.

You should consult your repair technician immediately after realizing that your clean towels smell burnt.

Why Do My Towels Smell Like Pee After Washing?

After washing and drying your towels, you might realize that the towels have a sour smell. In some cases, the foul smell might even smell like pee.

Towels are likely to smell like pee after washing because the microbes that make towels smell are still present in the washing machine or the towel. You should rewash the towel in the washing machine and dry it in the sun since the sun is the ultimate bleaching agent.


We all love our towels dry and smelling fresh. However, when the towels smell like onions, we feel bad and are even tempted to throw them away. By ensuring that towels are well dried before they are stored, we can ensure that our towels do not smell bad. In addition, if we use towel warmers and install extractor fans in the bathroom, we can solve the lousy smell towel issue.