Over time though they went from feeling really soft and fluffy, to crunchy and a little smelly. I would wash them as good as I could and even tried boiling them in vinegar water a few times, but to no avail.
I basically gave up on using them anymore until I got an idea from a cloth diapering Facebook group I'm in. There's a product called rlr that a lot of people use to strip the fabric of their cloth diapers if it has hard water build-up or stink. A while back, the founder of the group who is a chemist, figured out what was in rlr and realized it's almost identical to powdered dish washer detergent. Some members of the group tried soaking their diapers in water with dishwasher powder added and it pulled out all kinds of gross, even from freshly washed fabrics.
So I decided to give it a try. In a bucket filled with scalding hot water, I added 1 tab of dishwasher powder and let it dissolve. I then stirred my rags in and let them soak until the water cooled.
Prepared to be grossed out. These were freshly washed rags.
Right???? That's so gross! I ended up doing it 4 times before the water was mostly clear. Then I bleached them, because ew.
So of course, I had to start soaking ALL THE THINGS!!!
I started with our bath towels. And while the water didn't get nearly as nasty, there was still some discoloration. My only consolation is that just about everyone who has tried this, and posted pictures, has similar results. Unless you have a water softener, the same hard water build-up that happens in your shower is happening on your fabrics.
You now have an activity for while you're snowed in. You're welcome.