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Why Do My Towels Smell Like Onions?

Have you ever stepped out of the shower all fresh and clean, but suddenly caught a whiff of something sour, and asked; why do my towels smell like onions?

Well, we’ve all been there. The same odor that smells fantastic in your dining room may have an entirely different effect if in the bathroom.

Usually, this kind of terrible smell is due to the formation of odor-causing germs that love to explore and inhabit moist places such as towels. Sometimes, however, it can also be due to bath towels absorbing smells that resemble the smells of onions, ginger, or garlic.

The odor could also be absorbed by your skin from the kitchen and transferred to your towels in the bathroom. Human skin, stagnant water, and clogged drain are some of the major causes of such unpleasant smells.

So, Why Do My Towels Smell Like Onions

These common sources will form the basis for our discussion.

Human Body

There is a possibility that the onion-like smell on your towels isn’t due to microbial growth, clogged shower drain, or even smelly water from your heater. At times, it may be due to body odor.

There are various reasons why you may have body odor. Some people tend to put the blame on stress as it can cause a rise in your core temperature and an increase in your sweat, thereby inhibiting odor-causing germs.

This can be due to a medical condition or a change in your diet, such as eating spicy foods or consuming lots of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

Clogged Drain

Sometimes the cause for the onion-like smell that your towels send-off may be due to reasons other than your body odor.

The unpleasant smell could also have been caused by a clogged shower drain. Your bath towels may have absorbed the smell from a faulty drain and retained it if not properly treated.

The various reasons behind a clogged shower drain are dirt, hair, water minerals, and some ingredients such as fat and wax in some soap. They can easily accumulate to a great amount and leave your shower drain ineffective.

If the shower drain is not clogged, then the smell could be caused by a faulty bathroom sink drain. To prevent this, always make sure that every drain in your bathroom is in perfect working condition.

Microbial Growth

Towels are meant to get wet but are not supposed to stay wet. They can take up to an average of 3 hours to dry completely, subject to the drying method being used. Therefore, if you’re someone who baths within the interval of the drying process, your towels will be damp most times.

Another reason is that towels are usually kept in dark and often moist bathrooms. In absence of proper control, germs can easily thrive and multiply on your towels due to these kinds of factors. 

The presence of these microbes gives off different kinds of unwanted smells, which could well include the odor that resembles that of onions.

Also, towels that have been kept for a long time without usage may harbor microbes that may eventually cause odors that resemble that of garlic or onions. Still, the offensive smell may be caused by factors other than a clogged drain. One of these factors is what we’ll discuss next.

Stagnant Heat Water

In other cases, the heater in your bathroom could be a potential reason for the unpleasant smell on your towels. If you haven’t used your heater for a while, the stored water may pick up a smell.

After taking a hot shower, you may realize that your towel is sending off an awful smell. This can be due to the smelly water that has been left stagnant in your heater for a while. It is a common occurrence among those who don’t use their water heater frequently.

Another reason behind the smelly water is the heater’s anode rod. Note that the rod is normally made of metal. So when corroded, it may develop a platform for an offensive odor to grow and possibly be transferred to the water.

How To Prevent Your Towels From Smelling Like Onions

Drain and Refill Your Water Heater

Draining and refilling your water heater frequently won’t actually cost you a dime. In fact, it can save you the stress and discomfort of having smelly towels and water.

In the event that your heater’s anode rod is faulty or rather corroded, consider using the user’s guide to replace it. You could alternatively hire a professional plumber to resolve the issue if you don’t consider yourself fit to do it.

Good Bath

Another effective way to keep off the onion-like smell from your towel is to make sure you’re having a good bath for every shower. Also, you may want to lower your stress rate and cut down on foods that could potentially leave you smelly. This will help to avoid body odor.

In case your body odor comes with strange symptoms, consider visiting a doctor, as the odor could be a result of certain health conditions like diabetes or infection.

Unclogging Your Shower Drain

To prevent bad smells that could be transferred to your bath towels, it is always important to always unclog the shower drain of visible debris if necessary.

After that, you can put some baking soda into it with vinegar and if the issue persists, pour some hot water into it. However, you may just need the help of a local plumber because this method could be bad for PVC pipes.

Installing Fans or Large Windows

Another way to keep your bathroom and towels smelling nice is by having an exhaust fan in place. You could also install large windows in the bathroom to allow easy circulation of natural air.


Towels can smell like garlic or onions due to various reasons and it’s important to make sure you identify the reason behind it. If none of the tips discussed above work for you, then you should simply just hang your bath towels outside and let them dry properly.