Ford Prefect would be ashamed
July 30, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Please solve my weird towel problems!

My bathtowels have been giving me grief lately and I can't figure out why. I have two problems that only seem to affect the towels that I use, but my wife's towels (hung right next to mine) are fine...

1. After less than a week of use, my towel reeks of mildew. It stinks up the whole bathroom and it stinks up me after I dry off. I end up with a mildewy smell hovering around me all day.

2. Every bathtowel I use, even once, gets ruined. Somehow they get streaks of discoloration that look like bleach got splashed across them. At first I assumed this was a problem with how I was doing laundry, but I've accidentally ruined other people's towels on more than one occasion while staying as a houseguest. It must be something on my body that I'm wiping on the towel.

Here's my toweling routine, if it helps: I briefly drip-dry in the shower before reaching for the towel. First I dry my face, which is still very wet. Then I dry my very-wet Beatles-shaggy hair. Finally I dry off the rest of my body and immediately hang up the towel to dry. I fold it twice the long way (so it's in thirds) and once in half the other way and put it on the same rack as my wife's towel. It's still pretty wet at this point. I wring out my washcloth and drape it on top of the hanging towel to dry.

To contrast, my wife dries off less thoroughly than I do. She takes the towel with her into the bedroom and often leaves it sitting, wet, on the bed for hours. By the time she does hang it up, it's mostly dry already. She folds it the same way I do so it'll fit on the rack. Her towel smells fine. Her towels and mine came together in a set and are identical — or were until I messed mine up.

I've considered that maybe I'm not rinsing well enough, and the soap stuff I use in the shower is still on me when I dry, staining the towel. I use Selsun Blue shampoo, Dove body wash and conditioner, and a benzoyl peroxide face scrub for acne. I have oily skin. Could my skin naturally be doing that? The problems only affect towels though; my clothes are all fine.

I'm tired of doing towel laundry so frequently, and I'm really tired of buying new ones! Please halp!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Grab Bag (54 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's the benzoyl peroxide that's doing the bleaching. I was going to ask if you used it before I saw that sentence.

I think you're folding it up too much. Is there a reason you need to do that?
posted by something something at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

Your benzoyl peroxide face scrub is what's bleaching the towels.

As for (1) -- what's your towel-hanging like? It sounds like you sog yours pretty well, and it's not put away in a fashion that lets it air out. Either get a hook that lets it air out well, or resign yourself to more frequent laundering. I doubt putting the soggy facecloth on it is helping anything -- is the facecloth smelly?
posted by kmennie at 8:21 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I fold it twice the long way
Folded wet towel = mildew.
posted by sanko at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2010 [13 favorites]

Get white towels (or be resigned to the bleaching) with BP. Watch your clothes and pillowcases for it too.

Maybe to avoid the mildew, hang it on a hook? Also, is your towel hanging while others use the shower and steam it up?
posted by k8t at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2010

We have a small bathroom and my wife and I have to share a towel rack. Folding the towels in thirds is the only way to fit them both on there.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2010

I would try using a separate towel for your hair and face, and see if the makes a difference. Folding a wet towel can't be helping, either.
posted by wens at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2010

It sounds like the way you are folding up the towel is preventing it from drying out in a timely manner. If it just sits there all day being damp, mold and mildew are going to grow in there, and it sounds like this is what's happening to you. Can you hang your towel (unfolded) across the top of the shower door/curtain rod or somewhere else before folding it and putting it back on the rack? Also, even though your wife's method seems to be working, I can't help but think that it's getting your bed a little bit damp and allowing stuff to grow on your mattress.

As for the discoloration, that's most definitely a result of the benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide may bleach hair, towels, and clothing. Take great care during and after application to avoid letting it come in contact with any of these materials. You may want to wear an old shirt if benzoyl peroxide is applied to the back or body. Let the lotion dry thoroughly after your nightly skin care treatments before getting into bed at night, to avoid bleaching your pillowcase." (Source)
posted by kitty teeth at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Re: the mildew issue. It sounds as though your towel may never REALLY be drying off - especially if your towel rack is close to the shower. Wet, drippy towel folded on itself and hung in a steamy bathroom... the poor lil' thing isn't getting a chance to air out in between showers. Try either draping it over the shower's top bar or the top of the (open) bathroom door for a bit to let it dry out BEFORE towel-rackin' it.

Re: bleachin' towels. While I guess it's remotely possible that your skin is somehow secreting chlorine ions or something, a more likely possibility is that the peroxide-based face wash isn't being FULLY washed off of your entire self. After completing your shower product routine, try rubbing your entire self all over with a clean, wet washcloth and nice warm water for a few minutes before you exit and towel off. I'd be surprised if that didn't help.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2010

We have a small bathroom, too, so I bought one of those over-the-door towel rack things with hooks. Like this.
posted by something something at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2010

The washcloth isn't too smelly but I agree that it's not good to drape it on the hanging towels. Even after I wring it out it tends to retain a lot of water. Problem is, I don't know where else to put it. I don't want to leave it wadded up in the shower. We can't install any additional racks (or hooks) because there's no room, and we live in a rental.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2010

Damn, everybody else in the universe beat me to it! Conversely, if you have a clothes dryer in your domicile, you can just toss the wet towel in there and give it a 20-minute spin. Energy inefficient, but hey, nice crisp towel every time!
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2010

Hang your wet towel and washcloth so that both sides are fully exposed to the air. How? Clothes hangers with clips (like for pants) on the shower rod.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2010

It's definitely the folding that is making it mildewy. It needs more open surface area. My husband and I share a small bathroom as well and it doesn't even have a towel rack. Our solution is to hang them over the shower curtain rod, which is not super attractive, but it does the job. We take them down when we have guests over. You may also consider hanging them somewhere else outside of the bathroom, or maybe putting up an over the door towel rack. Installing pegs behind the bathroom door might also work.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2010

Folding your towel before it's completely dry is guaranteed to make it smell mildewy. Every time. Without fail.

We have a small bathroom and my wife and I have to share a towel rack. Folding the towels in thirds is the only way to fit them both on there.

My husband and I have a tiny bathroom too, with no room for a towel rack at all. We hang our towels on wire hooks that slip over the back of our bedroom door.

[On preview: what everyone else says!]
posted by hot soup girl at 8:28 AM on July 30, 2010

Unfortunately, an over-the-door rack won't work in our bathroom because the door opens into a wall at a 90-degree angle. We have one of those racks and tried it when we first moved in, but it doesn't allow the door to open wide enough to use practically (and the metal rack is rough on the drywall).
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:29 AM on July 30, 2010

I hang my towel over the top of a slightly-ajar wardrobe door in the bedroom. If you can bare the untidiness of it, it works well (in that the towel dries out well).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the rack won't fit on our bathroom door either; that's why we put it in the bedroom. You can put the over-the-door rank on any door in your flat, including wardrobes.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you're having company over, hang the towel over the shower curtain to dry. That will leave the towel rack for your wife. Then either drape your washcloth over the tub to dry, or buy some suction cup hooks to leave in the shower to dry.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010

Lots of weirdo options for towel holders - one will probably fit in your bathroom.
posted by k8t at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010

Even though you do not have enough room in your bathroom for more towel racks and you therefore have to fold your towels in order for them all to fit on the same rack, there is actually no law requiring you to keep your damp towels in the bathroom or on a rack of any sort. They must be allowed to dry. Drape them over a chair in your kitchen, if you have to, put them anywhere as long as they are not folded and have a good chance to dry, and do not use them again until they are dry. As a general rule of thumb, anything that remains wet (or even damp) for more than 24 hours is likely to develop mildew.

I also agree that the simplest solution for the problem of bleaching is to just use white towels (as long as you continue to use benzoyl peroxide).
posted by grizzled at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you really can't hang a device like the one above on the back of a door, then you could always hang your wet towel on the top corner of a door or something similar while it dries. It won't look fantastic, and it's definitely not great when company is around, but at least you avoid the smell.
posted by divisjm at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no answer for the bleaching thing, but I know how to cut down on the mildew thing.

You've got to stretch your towel out and let it dry off before you fold it up and hang it. Those little dark, wet creases are like Club Med for mildew. And you've got to leave off the washcloth.

I don't have a towel rack that's wide enough to stretch towels out on, so we do two things in our house. I have a hook that I hang mine up on, but the hook is in my bedroom. Not having it in the damp room helps it dry better. It's just a simple coat hook, but I hang my towel with the wettest part up. My husband stretches his towel over the open bathroom door (this only works if you have a door that can be left open since the door won't shut with a towel on it) and then folds it up and hangs it when it's dry. I've noticed his gets the mildew smell a lot quicker than mine.

I'm really sensitive to that mildew smell, I check my towel before every shower and get a new one if it has even the slightest smell. So I've learned how to get it dry with out the smell. Hanging it up as stretched out as possible and away from the damp room (Remember it gets damp when anyone showers, not just you. Your towel is sitting in the damp while your wife is showering too.) seems to work the best. I just hang my towel up in the bathroom right before I shower.

My guess for your bleaching thing is that you aren't rinsing the peroxide wash off your skin well enough and it's causing the problem, but that's just a guess.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2010

Do you have a floor fan? I have an old fan that I don't use much because I got a better one. The fan (about 4' high one of the models that I can fan-on-a-tall-stick) is off & unplugged I sometimes use it as a thing to hang things on. It was cheap. It takes up little space & the open wire design is good for damp things. It is easily movable .
posted by pointystick at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2010

Thanks for all the responses! You guys wrote so fast I couldn't respond quickly enough! Glad to know the face wash is the culprit... that will help me avoid the bleaching problem. Not sure what to do about the not-folding-to-avoid-mildew suggestion. Our apartment's too tiny — and I'm too much of a neat freak — to hang full-size bathtowels around the place. I'll try to come up with a good method. Using the shower curtain rod seems like it might work, except for the times my wife showers right after me.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2010

You could use a new towel every day. More laundry, but no wet towels hanging around to offend your sensibilities.
posted by crankylex at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

We have a teeny tiny bathroom with a door opening into a wall like yours. We have a towel rack that mounts to the hinges of the bathroom door that lets us open it all the way, but lets us hang a couple extra towels when there'd probably only be room for one. We also have a double towel rack which lets us hang two towels without even folding them once. We don't have mildewy towels any more!
posted by zsazsa at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you try squeezing out the washcloth, folding it in two, and draping it over the tap spindle to dry? I have nowhere to hang my washcloth either and I find that works well.
posted by Georgina at 8:38 AM on July 30, 2010

Use the top of an open door (cleaned up) as temporary hanging space for your (unfolded) towel. Then half a day later it can go on the regular rack.
posted by knz at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2010

Just another vote for hanging it on a hook. I have two of those glorious 3M hooks in my bedroom for towels, and two hanging immediately above those for my washcloths. No holes in the wall, towels dry out, washcloths dry out, life is good.
posted by teragram at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

I agree that the benzoyl peroxide is leaving the streaks and like FreezeBoy's suggestion to throw your towel over the shower bar - unfolded - to dry.

Also, you might want to let your towels and your washcloths sit out in the sun for a while before the next time you wash them. That'll kill the mildew. You might even want to wash them as usual, let them dry out in the sun, then wash them again and dry them normally. Or dry out in the sun again if the mildewy smell is still there.
posted by cooker girl at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2010

Since no one has mentioned this: 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the wash can help eliminate the mildew smell, if it somehow survives your wash cycle.

I struggle with this same issue in my downstairs bathroom, which doesn't get much air flow!
posted by gregglind at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2010

I've had the same problem with the mildew smell. And it's always worse in the warmer months. Hang your towel -- in a single layer -- anywhere you can *outside* of the bathroom, which is a high-humidity area after a shower. I sometimes hang mine over the top edge of the bedroom door, or on the knob of the bedroom door. Once it's sufficiently dry, you can return it to the towel rack in the bathroom.
posted by slogger at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

My acne medication bleaches the cheaper towels I use at school but not the nicer ones I have at home.

The washcloth isn't too smelly but I agree that it's not good to drape it on the hanging towels. Even after I wring it out it tends to retain a lot of water. Problem is, I don't know where else to put it.

Problem solved.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2010

My BF gets his towel much wetter than I because guys typically have more body hair, and dry their hair with the towel. I have a separate smaller towel for my long hair. You might also want to try squeeging out your hair with your hands, and generally sweeping off water with your hands before you get out. We also have only one towel rack.

He gets the whole rack, and spreads out the towel, unfolded, over it. I've got a Super Jumbo Command Strip Hook on the back of the door. The hooks won't leave damage to the paint and are surprisingly strong. When there were 3 people sharing one towel rack, I just put my towel to dry over my desk chair. No big deal.

Yes, benzoyl peroxide is destroying your towels. It is more effective at bleaching when wet.
posted by fontophilic at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2010

Can you put an over-the-door hanger over your bedroom door? Like this? You probably go into your bedroom before/after a shower anyway, so it wouldn't be a huge hassle to keep your towel there instead. Plus you could but a robe or two there as well.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2010

I'd say the first to use the shower gets the towel rack, while the next uses the shower rod. But when the first person hangs theirs on the rack, where does the other still dry towel go? Hmm.

Well, since it is still dry, it could go anywhere, I guess, until the second person showers.
posted by misha at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2010

Maybe a heated towel rack/radiator towel rack would help the folded towel dry more quickly? We fold our towels and hang them on a heated towel rack and have never had this issue.
posted by ukdanae at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2010

What about a variation of this?
posted by adipocere at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2010

Microfiber camp/pack towel. Forget cotton.

Fast-drying, soaks up water, quite mildew-resistant.
posted by Ky at 8:54 AM on July 30, 2010

What about putting a few extra shower curtain rings in a style like this on the curtain rod, and clipping the towel to those until it's dry? It's more fiddly than throwing it over the curtain rod, but if you're hanging the towel on the clips so it's outside the shower curtain, then it wouldn't interfere with anyone else using the shower, and assuming your bathroom isn't an ungodly swamp all day, your towel should be dry by evening.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:55 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

At our house one person gets the towel rack and the second person gets the shower rod. The towels are usually dry when people come over, and we can tidy them up. I find that a single hook is NOT enough to dry the towel I use two hooks, over closet doors, towel rack or the shower rod; in my climate you really need to avoid any creases to get it dry.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2010

oooH. I also remember hearing about a clever person that put up a second curtain rod inside and below the shower curtain, specifically for this purpose. Perfectly hidden away from view.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

we have a horrific towel mildew problem, living in florida with no air conditioning, no clothes dryer and no window in the bathroom. here's how we've largely solved it:

- buy a crapload of the smallest, thinnest, cheapest towels you can find. like the ones you get at really cheesy old mom-n-pop hotels, that are thin enough to read through, scratch like sandpaper and reek of bleach. that same effect is your objective.

- don't fold the towel when you hang it, and don't hang it in the bathroom. hang it over a door or doorknob or chairback, or anyplace else that doesn't confine the water in the towel.

- change towels often. how often? as often as it takes.

- every time you wash towels, bleach them senseless. if you have a dryer, dry them on hot til they're crunchy. don't use fabric softener. if you don't have a dryer, line-dry them all day. add borax to your wash for extra cleaning. you can add vinegar if you want but I don't, because Mr.Doodley loathes it, and swears that the smell lingers.

- also, use powder detergent rather than liquid, because it dissolves better and rinses cleaner, leaving less residue behind to trap crud in the fibers. I use Wind Fresh (Sam's Club brand) because it's crazy cheap and football teams use it for uniforms so you know it works, right?
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

i can't believe no one's mentioned this song on the subject...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

We have this same problem when it gets really hot and humid. We use, temporarily, one of those wooden folding towel racks. It looks like this. We don't leave it up all day, because we have a small bathroom. We take it down after we get home from work, since we shower in the morning. The towels will be dry by then, and they go on their regular rack.
posted by chocolatetiara at 9:41 AM on July 30, 2010

Seconding toodleydoodley: towels don't have to be hung up in the bathroom. I have a free-standing wooden towel rack from IKEA that I keep in the hallway outside the bathroom, but if I didn't have room for that, I would hang my bath towels over the backs of my dining chairs, or on my laundry drying racks, or anywhere that would allow them to air out sufficiently. I always try to avoid folding towels when hanging them up.
posted by Orinda at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2010

They make double shower curtain rods that work great. Just put the shower curtain on the back rod and hang your towels on the front rod.
posted by swizzlepants at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2010

Meant to add "hang your unfolded towels on the front rod"
posted by swizzlepants at 10:01 AM on July 30, 2010

Door hook option: one of these.

We have several of the single-hook flavor around the house. They hook over the door [no screws or modifications] and they're shorter than the doorknob [won't hit the wall].

I've seen this sort of thing at Not Ikea, too.
posted by chazlarson at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2010

You could also try changing both the type of towel you use. A microfiber towel will dry much more quickly than the thick, fluffy cotton towels most of us are accustomed to and microfiber won't trap those nasty mildew smells in the cloth like regular cotton towels do.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2010

A more expensive (and decadent solution is to get a towel warmer. Dries the towels before they have a chance to mildew, plus the towels are toasty.
posted by rtimmel at 2:29 PM on July 30, 2010

Another vote for more towels! I finally gave up on mildew prevention and bought 5 more towels. Now I have a fresh one every day! It's SO awesome. And I bought them at Fred Meyer on sale for only $4 each!

A $20 permanent mildew cure. How great is that?!
posted by ErikaB at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2010

I was going to suggest the double curtain rod, but swizzlepants beat me to it. As for your towel rack, as a renter it sounds like you're unable to make additional holes in the wall. Well, if your towel rack is screwed to the wall, how about fashioning something yourself? Remove your existing towel rack. Take a couple pieces of wood, 1x2 about a foot long should be plenty. Mount these wood strips to your wall using the existing holes. Use the top part of the strips to mount your existing towel rack. At the bottom half of the strip, use more 1x2 to build out from the wall a couple inches, and mount a second towel rack to this. End result, two towel racks on the wall, above each other, with the bottom one sticking out a couple inches so the towels are staggered. You can each now use the full width of the rack, so you don't have to fold your towels up, and it all uses the original holes so you can put it back to the way it was when you move out. Does this make sense?
posted by xedrik at 3:49 PM on July 30, 2010

You could also try wicking water off of your body before you towel off, a version of strigiling. Strigils were a small tool used in ancient Rome to bathe.

You use your open palms to wipe the water down off of your arms, torso, and legs after you've turned off the shower, while you are still standing in the tub. This is a pretty effective way of not soaking your towel with water from your finished shower, I've found.
posted by k8lin at 12:30 AM on July 31, 2010

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