Nobody Likes a Scratchy, Dingy Towel — A Guide to How (and When) to Wash Your Towels

published May 27, 2022
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When you’re getting out of the bath or shower, there’s almost nothing more disappointing than grabbing a rough, brittle towel — OK, except for maybe grabbing a towel that feels like sandpaper and also smells like mildew. Even if you’ve mastered the art of laundry, keeping your towels clean and soft can feel like a major accomplishment. Following the wrong steps can damage the cotton fibers, compromising the soft-and-fluffy factor and even reducing a towel’s absorbency over time. 

As easy as it is to mess up your towels, it’s also easy to maintain them. 

Learning how to properly wash towels might take some practice, but the good news is, it’ll feel simple once you create a laundry routine. Here’s how to wash towels at home — and make them last a whole lot longer — according to cleaning experts. 

What you’ll need to wash towels: 

  • Washer and dryer
  • Laundry soap or detergent
  • Wool dryer balls
  • White vinegar (optional)

How to Wash Towels at Home

This expert-recommended step-by-step guide will help you properly wash and sanitize your bath towels and keep them soft and fluffy.

Gather all your dirty towels. 

The process for washing towels is different than laundering, say, a load of t-shirts and underwear. According to Adriana Aziz, operations manager at MaidForYou, a cleaning company in Sydney, Australia, it’s best to wash towels together. (Anything else absorbent, like washcloths, can go in the same load. The goal is to keep similar materials together.)

Run a load in your washing machine. 

Once you load your washer, add your go-to laundry soap. In general, liquid detergents are better than powdered ones. “The mineral content in the water mixes with the powdered detergent, which limits the cleansing effectiveness,” Aziz says.

Don’t use too much detergent — Steve Evans, owner of Memphis Maids, recommends using half of what you normally use. For one thing, too much detergent can damage the towels’ fibers and compromise their softness. And unless you wiped up a mess with your towels, they probably need more sanitizing than actual cleaning. 

To that end, Evans recommends using hot water for white towels to maximize germ-killing power. Choose warm water for darker towels to preserve their colors. 

Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Dry your towels in the dryer. 

Air drying will likely result in a stiff, brittle towel texture. Your dryer is the key to achieving that light, fluffy feel you’re looking for. Put your now-clean towels into the dryer with a few wool dryer balls, which Evans says absorb and evaporate moisture (which translates to faster drying time). Choose low heat when drying towels, because high heat can damage their cotton fibers. 

Also, it may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually best not to use fabric softener on your towels. According to Evans, the fabric can absorb the waxy coating, making your towels feel rough over time. 

How do you restore your towels’ fluffiness?

If your towels are already losing their fluff from detergent and fabric softener, you can try to restore them with a kitchen ingredient you probably already have on hand. Alessandro Gazzo, manager of Emily’s Maids in Dallas, suggests running a full wash cycle with a cup of white vinegar instead of detergent. Take your towels out of the dryer as soon as they’re completely dry to avoid baking the threads, which Gazzo says can compromise their fresh and fluffy feel. 

For lasting fluffiness, don’t overwash your towels. Unless they smell or you used them to clean up an actual mess, you can hold off on laundering until absolutely necessary. Carrie Filtcroft, director of Shiny and New Cleaning Services, says she simply pops her used towels in the dryer to restore their fluffiness, then washes them as needed. 

In the market for some new towels? Aziz suggests choosing dense, cotton material. Quality towels may be a bit more expensive, but they’ll likely last longer as long as you take care of them — and you’ll thank yourself each time you dry off. 

Extra Credit: Learn how to fold towels like they do at the spa so you can display your fresh and fluffy towels, or what to do when it’s time to get rid of your old towels.