Stop your Dish rags from Smelling so Bad – How to Clean Stinky Dishcloths



Why, oh why do dishcloths smell so bad so quickly, and how do you stop your dish rags from smelling so bad?  If you want to know how to disinfect dishcloths naturally by boiling dishcloths in vinegar, read on, because smelly dishcloths are the worst.

stop your dishrags from smelling so bad

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First of all, what I’d really like to know is how my dishcloths are always going missing. I mean, I know there’s the sock monster in the dryer, but that doesn’t explain the dishcloths disappearing, especially since I don’t even have a dryer.

This is right up there with wondering why my Tupperware container lids go missing, or my spoons. SPOONS! I mean, how do spoons go missing? I can’t even blame my kids on leaving them at school because they are home schooled.

Somewhere out there there is a mountain of spoons, lids, and dishcloths that someone, or maybe some animal is enjoying.  Do mice steal these type of things?


Anyways, missing items aside, do you ever notice that over time your dishrags start to smell really, really bad? Are you wondering how to get the sour smell out of dishcloths?  Why, oh why do dishrags smell?  Maybe you were wondering what that sour smell in the kitchen was, to find out it was your wash cloth.

Dish cloths are essential cleaning tools in any kitchen, aiding us in wiping down counters, washing dishes, and keeping our cooking spaces tidy. However, over time, these seemingly innocent kitchen helpers can develop an unpleasant musty smell that leaves us wondering why.

The musty smell that often plagues dish cloths can be attributed to a combination of factors. Food particles left on the cloth after cleaning can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms. When dish cloths remain damp or moist for extended periods, they become an ideal environment for bacteria growth, leading to bad smells. Additionally, using paper towels or fabric softener can trap moisture and odors, exacerbating the issue.

Damp dish cloths are especially prone to bacterial growth, including potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli. When you clean surfaces with a contaminated cloth, you inadvertently spread these bacteria around the kitchen, posing health risks to you and your family.

I used to think there was nothing you could do about it. All that you could do is wash them to get them clean and deal with that lingering smell that was still in the cloth. The alternative was buying new wash cloths every few months but I’m way too cheap for that. Plus, the dishcloths were perfectly fine otherwise, it felt like a waste not using them anymore.



And let’s be honest with ourselves, many of us may not wash dish cloths as regularly as we should. Leaving them in the laundry room or kitchen sink without proper cleaning can lead to lingering smells. On top of that, using a washing machine’s regular cycle might not be enough to eliminate the odor and bacteria.

Of course, I could use bleach on them, but since none of them are just white, well, that ruins them.  Plus, I prefer to use bleach only when I absolutely have to.

But it turns out, I was wrong that I couldn’t do anything about the smell! You can get the smell out with a little technique. And let me tell you, you will have a newfound confidence that your dishes are really clean when you are washing them with a dishrag that doesn’t stink. It also will make you feel better when you have company over and they offer to help with the dishes and you can hand them a dish rag that doesn’t smell gross. 🙂

And let’s be honest, doing dishes isn’t really a lot of fun. So, let’s try and make it a little more enjoyable with fresh smelling dish cloths. And music. And dancing.

Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

Doing dishes is just not my idea of a good time. Maybe I’ll change my mind after we get a dishwasher when our kitchen renovations are done. For most of my life I haven’t had a dishwasher so this is going to be life changing.  Especially because I have three kids who like to eat and drink a LOT which means they produce a LOT of dishes.  I don’t know how it happens.  My kitchen will be clean for about 3.2 seconds and then I turn around and it’s like a mini tornado has hit again.

However,  for now, I still have to wash the dishes by hand until our new kitchen is finished, so I might as well add some dancing and music to the whole washing dishes activity – AND dishcloths that don’t smell.


Now, there’s a few things you can do to give yourself more time before you need to do something about that smell. There are ways to prevent the cloths from developing an odor too quickly.

Always rinse out your cloths with hot water and rinse then out well after you’ve washed the dishes.

Hang them to dry. I hang them over my tap or the divider between my double sink.

Wash them often.

Of course, even with a little bit of preventative measures, you will still need to do something eventually about that smell.


There’s actually two ways you can do this, so keep reading to the end to find out the second way.  The first way you will learn is how to clean dishcloths with vinegar.

So, here’s how you can get rid of that gross smell and have your dishcloths smelling good again.  This is how to sanitize dishcloths so you can have fresh dishrags ready for use.

  1. Grab your dishcloths. I did about 5 at a time because that’s how many could fit nicely into my pot.
  2. Fill a pot big enough for the dishrags with water. Put it on your stove on high heat and bring it to a boil.
  3. Once the pot of water is boiling, add about a cup of white vinegar.
  4. and then add the dishcloths.
  5. Let that boil for about 20 minutes. Every once in a while I use a wooden spoon to push around the washcloths under the water.
  6. Once the 20 minutes is up, turn the stove off and leave the cloths in the pot till it cools down and you can grab them out of the pot.
  7. Hang them to dry. Then, toss them in your washing machine and wash them how you usually would.  This is the part where I totally forgot to keep taking pictures, but I’m sure you get the idea without photos. 🙂

I love hanging clothes on the line, especially dish cloths and dish towels because the sun is a natural disinfectant for clothes when hung out to dry.


Of course, there is another way that is a little easier.  You can toss your dishrags in the washing machine at night, put in some detergent and fill it with water, and add a few drops of lemon essential oil. Soak them overnight and wash them like normal in the morning. Lemon essential oil is antibacterial and does wonders to get smells out!  You can grab a bottle of lemon essential oil here (which by the way, is a favorite around here when we are cleaning just about anything and is a super affordable essential oil.)

You can also try boiling dishcloths in baking soda and water as opposed to the vinegar.  This is not a method I’ve tried, but others prefer to toss in about 1/8 cup of baking soda to some water and boil their cloths that way.


But what if you notice your dish towels, not your dish rags have a stubborn odor? Do you want to know how to get the smell out of dish towels too? You can use the same methods, though you may need a bigger pot if you take that route!

So, quick review on what I think is the best way to get rid of that horrific smell in your cloths:


  1.  Fill a large pot with water.
  2. Once boiling add 1 cup of white vinegar.
  3. Add the dishcloths.
  4. Boil for about 20 minutes, stirring around with a spoon every now and then.
  5. Turn the stove off and let the cloths cool.
  6. Hang to dry.

And that’s all there is to it. That is how you stop your dish towels and dishrags from smelling so bad.

That is, until they start to smell again, and you have to do this process all over!  You know, like how we have to brush our teeth even though we already did it, and make our bed, and sweep our floors, over and over and over again.


If you are wondering how to keep dish cloths from smelling, while more than likely over time they still will eventually have a “stink” to them, you can put it off a little longer by making sure you always ring out your dish cloth after you use it and hanging it nicely to dry.  And, of course, always rinse it out thoroughly after using it. Also, make sure to dry damp cloths properly. Hang dish cloths to dry after each use, and avoid leaving them in a damp state.  This will keep them fresh and ready for the next use.

 That’s how to keep washcloths from smelling so quickly.

When it comes to Fabric Softener, Skip It.

Avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets. These products can leave residues that trap odors and reduce absorbency.

Another Alternative – Swedish Dishcloths

Swedish dish cloths, also known as Wettex dishcloths or Swedish washcloths, offer a great alternative to traditional dishcloths. Made from wood pulp and water-based ink, they are more absorbent and durable, reducing the chances of lingering moisture that causes bad smells.  Try Wettex Swedish dishcloths for the best results.

If you want dish cloths that don’t smell, use these methods above to have dish rags that don’t stink regularly.  By understanding the factors that lead to dish cloths smelling musty and adopting simple tips like washing regularly with hot water, avoiding fabric softener, and using Swedish dish cloths, you can ensure that your kitchen cleaning tools remain fresh and free of harmful bacteria. Remember, proper care and hygiene are vital for maintaining a clean and healthy kitchen environment. Happy cleaning!

dishcloths stink



How to stop your dishrags from smelling so bad
Article Name
How to stop your dishrags from smelling so bad
Learn how to get that bad smell out of your dishcloths that develop over time.
Publisher Name
Simple Life of a Frugal Wife

10 thoughts on “Stop your Dish rags from Smelling so Bad – How to Clean Stinky Dishcloths”

  1. Thanks for this great tip!! I too love music and dancing while doing housework of any kind!
    NO thats not the tip I meant lol, Dish cloths oui ve the smell is awful and sometimes right out of the drawer one use and there it is again!! So I will definitely give this a try!!

    1. It’s just an extra step to have them out in the sun if you can air dry them. Sun is a natural disinfectant. Of course, you may be fine without drying before running in the washing machine. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

  2. Thank you very much for this info. And I’m with you on the socks and spoons. Lol
    And the music! We all need music in our lives. Music is how I get my chores done. 😁
    I use my dishrag once and there is that awful smell.
    I am definitely going to try this.
    God Bless you

    1. Yes, without music i don’t know how I’d exist. 🙂 We are also a musical family so there is music wherever we go it seems. 🙂 I hope these tips help you. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Do you think dish clothes smell because of the dish soap we use? I recently visited a friend that uses Melaluca dish soap and she swears that her dish clothes never smell between laundries. I was there for a few days and used the same dish cloth and was surprised to see that she was right. No smell. Just rinsed and hung to dry and no smell. May have to give this a try.

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