It might go against your bathroom’s color scheme, but white towels have a bit of a superpower, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on it.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated March 04, 2019

If you’re constantly wondering how to get the smell out of towels, your towels probably aren’t clean enough—and they’re probably not drying enough between uses. Figuring out how to wash towels properly is a great place to start, as is knowing how to pick good towels, but there’s still a chance those towels will still get mildewed and smelly, despite your best efforts.

Proper towel maintenance is important—as is storing clean towels in the right spot—but there’s another trick that can keep your bath towels looking and smelling fresh for a long time. This rule for towel maintenance comes from Erin Napier, who (with her husband, Ben) stars in HGTV’s Home Town, and she swears by it: white bath towels.

“Ben’s mom taught me this trick,” Erin says. “She lives with all these big burly men who play sports and work on cars and come in greasy and filthy and her towels smell fresh.”

In the South, where Erin and her mother-in-law both live, the increased humidity makes towels even likelier to mildew and start to smell, so it’s an especially impressive feat.

What makes white towels so special?

“You just bleach them,” Erin says. “Every time you wash them, you add a little bleach, and they last forever. They never mildew. They always smell fresh.”

Erin calls this rule Southern mama advice, and it certainly is, but it’s also put to work in hotels all over the world. Think about it: Hotel towels are almost always white, likely for the same reason. They can be bleached, just a little, with every wash so they stay fresh and clean looking for a very long time, without the unsightly bleach stains you’d get from doing the same thing with colorful towels.

White towels may not be anyone’s first pick. They certainly start to show signs of use and dirt more quickly than darker towels would, though that might be a sign that you need to wash your towels more often. (One expert says towels should not be used more than three times between washings.) White towels can offer a visual cue that your towels need to be washed and be bleached when necessary, so they’ll be doubly clean, and that’s a real win-win.