washing cloths

Simple Solutions for 3 Common Laundry Problems

What do stinky, yellowed, and crayon-stained laundry items have in common? They’re the reason lots of people write to me. Fortunately, each of these problems has a unique remedy—a way to reverse the stains and get those items back to looking good as new.

washing cloths

Stinky towels

No matter how many times you wash those items, you just cannot get rid of the disgusting sour, mildewy odor. They’ve become stiff and scratchy and have begun to repel rather than absorb water. The problem is clear evidence of a build-up of bacteria that continue to live along with soap and softeners that have not been rinsed out—despite having been previously washed and dried.

This will be a two-step process. Vinegar contains acetic acid that breaks down mineral deposits and dissolves the build-up of detergent and fabric softeners. Baking soda is alkali and breaks down dirt and grease and neutralizes odors. Used together they counteract one another. To fix this problem, you want them to do their work independently. This will strip the residue and leaves it fresh and able to absorb more water again.

Wash #1

Load towels into the washer loosely set it for a long wash cycle and fill with the hottest water you can manage. Turn the water heater up to 140F for this event. Or boil water on the stovetop then carefully transport it to the washer. The point is that the water must be very hot to kill the bacteria. Add two cups of white vinegar to the load. Allow it to run the entire cycle then leave the towels in the washer.

Wash #2:

Fill the machine once more with the hottest water possible. This time add 1 cup baking soda. Run the entire cycle.

Dry completely

Whether you hang the towels outdoors or put them in the dryer, make sure they are completely and thoroughly dry. Now smell them. If they do not smell fabulously clean, repeat Wash #1 and Wash #2 as necessary until the smell is completely gone. The investment you’ve made in these towels makes them worth the effort.

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MORE: A Simple Solution for Gross, Smelly Towels


Yellow underarm stains

Armpit stains on white t-shirts are caused by the reaction between antiperspirant ingredients and the salts in human sweat. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds to reduce wetness. It is the aluminum that causes the build-up and yellowing on fabrics. The stains don’t appear overnight, but without proper washing of shirts after each wearing, the stains will start to show and the show will be yellow on white shirts.

You will need these items:

  • Blue Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent
  • fresh* hydrogen peroxide
  • baking soda
  • bristle brush

In a small jar or bowl, make a mixture of 1 part Dawn and 2 parts hydrogen peroxide. Protect your countertop or work area with a thick white towel, fully saturate the stains with the liquid. Now sprinkle baking soda over the stain and with an old toothbrush or bristle brush, scrub the areas well. Allow to sit for at least an hour, then launder as usual.

*hydrogen peroxide dissipates with age and exposure to light. It’s good for up to six months once opened, provided it has been stored in a dark place—completely out of the light. Make sure it’s fresh for this treatment.

MORE: How to Get Yellow-Stained Bed Pillows White Again


Melted crayon on clothes and dryer


For some reason, crayons seem to find their way into little pockets and wreak havoc when the heat of the dryer causes them to melt.

Place a folded white paper towel under the stained area of fabric and then spray WD-40 lubricant on the stain until saturated (WD-40 is available in the automotive aisle in some discount department stores, home improvement centers, online, or likely on a shelf in your garage) directly on the crayon stain.

Turn the fabric over and spray the stain on the wrong side of the fabric. Let the WD-40 work for at least fifteen minutes to loosen the waxy part of the stain. Then use a dull knife or the edge of a credit card to gently lift any crayon solids from the surface.

Next, rub a bit of  Blue Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent, into the crayon mark. Work it into the stained area with your fingers or with a soft brush. Allow the WD-40 and detergent to work on the stain for at least 15 minutes and then launder as usual, following the fabric’s care label instructions.


If the stains were caused by crayons that melted in the dryer, it is important to clean the dryer drum. If you don’t, any traces will continue to transfer to other fabrics when the dryer heats up again.

Spray each and every stain with WD-40. Allow it to work for a few minutes and then use a rubber scraper to remove the solids. Wipe down with an old cloth. Repeat until no more traces remain.

To make sure you can safely use the dryer again for clean clothes, toss in a couple of old towels and run on high heat for at least five minutes so they can absorb any traces of WD-40 that remain.

MORE: How to Use Wool Dryer Balls and Why You Should!

First published: 10-18-17; Updated 4-9-19

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9 replies
  1. Deena Costley says:

    For the solution for Arm pit stains…is your remedy safe for colored clothes? I have a handful of pastel colored tops that all have this issue.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      A qualified yes … please test first on say the inside seam or other place just to make sure the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t lighten the color on a specific garment. If it is colorfast, no worries. Just give it a litte test first.

  2. Candie Janes Wiser says:

    I bought a new Maytag, top load and with the first load of whites I was getting gray spots on them. The washer has a clean washer with affresh, cycle. I have used affresh, I have used vinegar and I have used bleach to try and get it to not leave these stains. I have even done an Affresh cycle and then a vinegar cycle. I use the home made laudry soap with the wahsing soda, borax and Fels Naptha. Coluld that be the problem? I have read forums, where many people complain of these gray spota on their whites, but no one has a solution. I feel like I am not only wasting money contantly running the clean cycle on my washer, I realize I put off wahsing my whites for the fear of gray spots. Do you have a solution? Thank you!

  3. Connie Pyburn Lancaster says:

    This stinky clothes column made me remember something I wanted to ask. My farmer hubby often gets a diesel bath (not completely but smells like it) from busted hoses, changing lines, etc. Do you think vinegar would help with this or do you have any other good remedies??? I’ve washed them several times with laundry soap, hung them out in the sun to air. I can still smell it.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      That’s a job for Nok-Out, an amazing product like no other. It doesn’t try to cover up or even “remove” odors. It neutralizes them scienfically through a process call oxidation. Chemically turns them into pure, clean oxygen. They’ll come out smelly like … nothing! Just clean. I’d sure give that a try. More here with a link to Nok-Out: The Simple Science of Eliminating Odors

  4. Lorrie Ney says:

    I have found that sour smelling clothes after washing often mildew inside thick seams etc which don’t get completely dry in the dryer. It builds up over time. A cup of clear ammonia added to the laundry wash ( pour directly into clothes) will kill the mildew smell. This eliminates sour smell quite well! Great for towels and blue jeans!

  5. P Keenan says:

    another way to get rid of smelly towels is to dry them in the fresh air. always using a dryer helps the smell to sink into the fabrics. i know not everyone can do this (ie apartment dwellers, fire areas, etc) but having your towels air dry outside is great if possible. thats how grandma did it and had fresh smelling towels always. otherwise put lavender into your shelves and let it soak into the towel cupbaard.

  6. Loretta Dell says:

    I very much enjoy your tips and help.
    The best solution to stinky towels is to make sure you hang them up to dry totally before throwing them in a hamper. The only time to dump damp towels together is when they’re going straight into a washing machine. Our daughter-in-law got mildew spots on her baby’s clothing and wondered how to get rid of them. I don’t know of a solution except to make sure they’re bone dry before putting them in a hamper. Prevention is always the best medicine.

  7. Linda says:

    Shaklee makes a fantastic germicidal product called Basic G that I have used for at least 40 years. I think I am on my third bottle, if that tells you how little it takes to do the job. For the occasional stinky laundry load, just add a little to the washer and soak a few hours or overnight, then launder as usual. It has never failed to work for me. It is not cheap, but when I consider how many years a bottle lasts, the ease of use, and the effectiveness, it is worth it.


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