Stinky Towels and Cruising

Out cruising, a “real” shower with unlimited hot water and real water pressure is sometimes a distant memory.  But we give the luxury up deliberately in order to anchor in pristine remote locations and enjoy cruising for weeks or months at a time.  Unfortunately along with the sun and warmth of beautiful tropical anchorages comes humidity and stuff that never completely dries.

Enter towels.  I love a BIG fluffy soft fresh smelling towel. But alas … somehow hand laundry and an occasional laundromat or laundry lady in a tiny village just don’t work out well with my big fluffy towels.   After a day …. maybe two … those big soft fluffy towels STINK, no matter how much we try to make sure they’re fully dried in the sun.  They take so long to fully dry that by then they’re saturated with salt air … and the Catch 22 begins.

Terry Towels Drying While Near the Laundry in the Marina

Terry Towels Drying While Near the Laundry in the Marina

Over the years we’ve evolved through just about every towel imaginable.  We started with fluffy bath towels, then switched to the first generation of Aquis.  YUCK!  It was worse than trying to dry off with a chamois – it sort of sluffed the water off, but I never felt completely dry and always felt a bit “slimey” while drying … even though I was clean.  Add to the fact that the towel was about the size of a hand towel, maybe, and it made for a less than satisfactory experience.  Plus they didn’t even dry as fast as I had hoped, making for stinky slimy towels.  NOT a good solution!

Then we tried European-style waffle weave cotton bath towels – the kind you’ll often see in a spa.  While I much prefer a thick, plush terrycloth towel, these towels were supposed to dry more quickly, wear well over repeated washings, and store in less space.  I could only find white, but I figured that was OK, I could always bleach them.  Well, they still didn’t dry fast enough to smell fresh after a couple of days.  And on a boat keeping them white was an absolute disaster.

Back to quick dry towels.  By now Aquis had added a waffle weave towel that was advertised as “large” to their quick dry line-up.  So maybe THEY would be the answer.  They turned out to be even smaller than the original Aquis towel.  But they did absorb better, still not good, but better and dried quicker.  Regardless I hated those towels for years … but they didn’t stink as quickly and the small size stored easily.

Size Comparison - Folded in Half, Terry Towel on Bottom, then REI Towel and the Waffle Weave Aquis

Size Comparison – Folded in Half, Terry Towel on Bottom, then REI Towel and the Waffle Weave Aquis

In 2008 we were wandering around an REI store when I spotted an new type quick dry towel.  We were getting ready to do a “Tiger Cruise” — i.e. return on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier from Pearl Harbor to San Diego with our Navy son — and we had to pack towels to take showers down the hall from our berth. (Curious about a US Navy “Tiger Cruise”? Click here.)  We purchased two extra large REI towels.   When put to the test, the new towels weren’t at all like my thick fluffy terrycloth luxury, but neither were they awful – and they were a nice size, but they folded to smaller than the tiny waffle weave quick drys we’d been using.  Aboard Winterlude the following winter cruising season, they became mainstays – they stored small, dried quickly, didn’t absorb salt air so that they’d never dry and they didn’t smell for almost twice as long — or longer than the waffle weave tiny variety.

SUCCESS!!!???   Well, not exactly … I still prefer wrapping up in a thick absorbant fluffy terry towel the size of my bathroom during the off-season for cruising.  And we keep terry bath towels aboard for while we’re in a marina with a real laundry facility, but the minute we leave the dock, the REI quick dry towels come out.

Returning to the smelly towel problem … smelly towels are caused by bacteria growing in them (yuck!).  The bacteria can often be the result of not getting completely clean while showering and then “wiping” it off on the towel.  To help, we use the “scrubby” body washers while showering and try to rinse as completely as possible – always a challenge with a solar shower, even with our “pressurized” version.  Trying to use as little water as possible just makes the problem worse, which compounds the never drying in salt air problem.    Never, ever throw a towel in a heap in the cockpit after showering – they need to be hung out to dry immediately.

Storage:  Hands Down the REI Quick Dry Wins Despite Being Larger than the Aquis Waffle Weave

Storage: Hands Down the REI Quick Dry Wins Despite Being Larger than the Aquis Waffle Weave

To keep them “fresh”, I rinse them every few days in a little ammonia and water, wring them out as completely as possible and hang them in the hot sun to dry.  I deliberately choose a day with brilliant sunshine to try and limit the amount of time they need to hang outside soaking up salt air.

BTW, they even dried overnight hanging from my bunk aboard the USS Peleliu, US Navy ship.  The others in my bunkroom were jealous because over the 10 days of the Tiger Cruise, all their terry towels didn’t dry completely and smelled!  Not to mention the space they lost while packing!  🙂

What do you do for towels aboard? And do you have any tips to keep them fresh-smelling?  Please leave your comments and share!   Cheers!  Jan

Comments

  1. Great article! We’re not cruising just yet, but I’ve wondered about towels onboard! Even at home, I don’t care for the “fluffy” towels, because they just don’t seem to absorb that good and do smell quick. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Thanks for the great info!

  3. Mary Mathisson says:

    Hi. We live aboard shoreside at the moment in Alameda, CA with access washing machines so may not be as relevant out cruising. We’ve had luck with “short nap” (cheaper) towels drying relatively quickly. We tried using our plush apartment towels when we moved aboard but had the same stinky problem. Thanks for REI towel and ammonia tips. I wonder if a little vinegar would work also.

  4. I came across with your article while searching online. My #turkish #peshtemal #towels can be a great solution for cruising. These unique and highly authentic peshtemal towels are all about being #lightweight, compact, #quick dry while they are perfectly absorbent as they are 100% cotton. No more awful smells, no more hassle with washing and drying. Just rinse under water and leave them air dry. Will be nice and dry shortly. These handy peshtemal towels are what we use at Mediterranean Turkey while yachting, holiday making, camping. They can be worn as #spa #wrap or #beach #sarong as well. Cotton and Olive sells these towels online in UK. To see the range, you can visit #www.cottonandolive.com or contact ilgen@cottonandolive.com

  5. Really interesting to hear how things are with towels and boating. I’ve had friends who get these fluffy, plush towels for their trip, but never thought about asking. The drying concept is interesting too. Thanks for sharing that REI towel.

  6. Turkish peshtemal towels are the best alternative for regular towels. Light, stylish, super fast drying and occupy almost no space.You can try https://fabricdome.com/
    For variety and wholesale prices.

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