How to Wash Towels So They’re Soft and Fluffy

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Categories Doing Laundry
Hotel-quality towels only. 

When you wash your towels correctly, they’ll last longer. Using the correct washing techniques helps them stay soft, fluffy and fresh.

We’ll show you how to wash towels, how to dry them, and how often to go through this routine. With these amazing tips, your towels — no matter the color and texture — will look and feel as good as new!

How to Machine Wash Towels

Wash towels separately from other clothes. Add half the usual amount of detergent and one cup of distilled white vinegar. Set the cycle to match the materials of the towels. Use the temperature recommended on the care label. Shake the towels out. Air dry or machine dry.


How Often Should You Wash Towels?

We recommend washing your towels every three uses. Between washes, after every shower, let the towel air dry completely to prevent germs from harboring.

Washcloths should be washed after every use. These washcloths are exposed to more dead skin cells, and they get much more wet than towels (1).

Gym towels should be washed after every use since they are exposed to more sweat.

Kitchen towels that have been exposed to food, such as raw chicken breasts, should be washed after every use.

Finally, if your towel has been exposed to bodily fluids, or you have eczema, you should wash the towel after every use. If you have eczema, this protects your skin from further irritation. Likewise, if you are sick or carrying an infection, wash your towels after every use.

Bonus Tip

If your towels aren’t drying between every use, which is often the case if kept in a humid bathroom, then you’ll need to wash them after every use.

How to Wash Towels by Hand

Hand-washing towels saves money and energy. Plus, it’s kinder on the towels so they won’t wear down as quickly. While it does require a bit more effort, the pros outweigh the cons for many families. Of course, it’ll definitely come in handy if your machine is ever to break!

What You Need

  • Dirty towels.
  • Sink, tub or basin.
  • Soap.
  • Cloth.
  • Detergent.
  • Borax (optional).
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Bleach (if disinfecting).

We do recommend a mild detergent, but any laundry detergent will do the job. If you’re dumping the water outside afterwards, it would help to use an eco-friendly detergent as that’s kinder on the environment.

Instructions

  1. Clean your tub, sink or basin with soap and warm water. Use your cloth to scrub it clean.
  2. Fill the tub with cold or warm water. You don’t need to use super hot water.
  3. Add your detergent. For a basin or sink, we recommend about one tablespoon of detergent. For a bathtub, use four tablespoons. Remember, less is sometimes more. Too much detergent can leave a residue on your fabrics. If you are using bleach, follow the manufacturer instructions for the recommended measurement regarding your amount of water.
  4. Mix together thoroughly wearing rubber gloves.
  5. If you have hard water, add one tablespoon of Borax per gallon of water. This softens your water and empowers your detergent to do a better job. It’s safe to mix bleach and Borax, so you can still use it if you’re using bleach.
  6. Add your towels and let them soak for up to an hour depending on how soiled they are.
  7. Rub the towels together to loosen dirt. Scrub together until clean. You can press them against the side of the tub to remove excess dirt. Do this for each towel.
  8. Drain the water. Rinse each towel under the tap to remove excess dirt and soap.
  9. As an extra step, you can fill the tub back up with cold water and let the towels soak again for five minutes. This ensures that all dirt and soap is gone.
  10. Drain any leftover water. Remove excess water from each towel by pressing it against the side of the tub or squeezing the towel. We don’t recommend twist wringing any fabric, as it can stretch the towels. If you have a hand wringer, that’s an awesome tool to use!

How to Wash Towels in the Washing Machine

Washing towels in the machine is easy, effective and saves you time.

What You Need

  • Laundry detergent.
  • White vinegar.
  • Baking soda (optional).

Instructions

Before we get into the steps, we recommend washing towels separately from other clothes. Towels are absorbent so they can pick up lint and dirt from other fabrics. Lastly, we also recommend separating your towels by color. If you wash white and red towels together, well, we all know what will happen: pink towels!

  1. Read the towel’s care label to check the recommended temperature. Most towels can be washed in hot water, but darks and colored towels often require warm water. Microfiber towels require cool or warm water.
  2. Add half the usual amount of your laundry detergent. Too much detergent can build up on fabrics and make towels less fluffy and absorbent. If you have luxury or super soft towels, use a mild or eco detergent.
  3. Skip the fabric conditioner. Fabric conditioner and dryer sheets can build up on towels. They become less absorbent. Instead, add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the drum or detergent tray. White vinegar can also kill odors and mold (2).
  4. Set it to the cycle that matches the material of your towels. For example, put cotton towels on a cotton cycle. Choose the correct temperature.
  5. For extra cleanliness, try this next step. You can skip it if you don’t have the time. After the cycle is finished, add ½ cup of baking soda to the drum or detergent dispenser and run a short cycle. Baking soda can soften fabrics and reduce odors (3).

Warning

Do not mix vinegar and baking soda in the same cycle. It will create a fizzing combination. It won’t do any harm, but it can fizz up too much in your machine. HE machines might not be able to wash it all away. Secondly, it actually reduces the cleaning qualities of both ingredients, making it a pretty pointless solution (4).

How to Dry Towels

Air Drying

Shake towels after removing them from the machine. This encourages softness and fluffiness. Hang them up immediately to reduce their chances of harboring mold and bacteria.

We recommend hanging them outside on a dry, sunny day. If it’s too humid, they can take too long to dry. In that case, hang them up inside in a warm room. Make sure there’s decent air flow to speed up drying times.

Air dry until completely dry or toss them in the dryer for half an hour towards the end. This can fluff them up, leaving them nice and soft.

Machine Drying

Before putting towels in the machine, give them a good shake to fluff them up. Then follow these steps:

  1. Clean out the lint trap on your tumble dryer. This prevents fires, but also ensures that no excess lint becomes attached to towels.
  2. Skip the dryer sheets! These can coat your towels and cause them to lose their absorbency. Instead, add wool dryer balls or even a tennis ball to encourage softness and reduce static.
  3. Read the care label. Check the material, and dry according to that material.
  4. Set the cycle to half an hour shorter than the recommended time so that you take the towels out when they’re still slightly damp. Air drying them the rest of the way. This encourages softness so your towels resemble hotel or spa fluffiness!

Overall, a combination of air drying and tumble drying is the best way to have soft, fluffy, lush towels.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Towels Smell Even After Washing?

Because there is still bacteria or mildew in the towels. To properly clean towels, use our tips and you’ll have super clean and odor-free towels, especially if you’re using our white vinegar tip!

Also remember to dry your towels properly after washing. Retained dampness can cause funky smells. If the smell still lingers, then it might be time to try bleach.

What Cycle Do You Wash Towels On?

It depends on their material. Cotton towels should be washed on the cotton cycle. Microfiber towels should be washed on the synthetics cycle. If you’re in a rush, then you can use the quick or daily cycle — but this is only for lightly soiled items.

Is It Ok to Wash Towels With Clothes?

We don’t recommend it. First, if there’s bacteria and germs in the towels — it can transfer to other clothes. Secondly, towels can handle higher heat which is ideal for removing germs. Many clothes can’t be washed at temperatures that high.

If you are going to wash clothes with towels, make sure they’re all the same material. For example, when washing cotton towels, only include other cotton clothes.

How Do Hotels Keep Their Towels So White?

You might think hotels use bleach to keep their towels white. And while we’re sure some hotels do, there are easier and less toxic ways they keep towels so white. Here are some top tips:

  • They wash all the white items together. Even putting in a grey or beige item can discolor your white items, so keep your whites together.
  • Spot-treat stains before cleaning the stained towel with other towels.
  • They recommend adding ½ cup of baking soda to each cycle along with regular laundry detergent. This brightens and whitens towels.
  • They don’t overfill the washing machine. Overfilling makes it hard for the detergent to do its job properly, as there’s not enough space to move between the fabric.
  • They boil the towels before washing. To do this, put the towels in a large pot with three tablespoons of laundry soap and three tablespoons of baking soda. Fill the pot with cold water before putting it on the hob for half an hour, stirring the towels occasionally. Then wash as normal!

Try these tips at home and enjoy that feeling of being at a hotel.

How Do You Wash Microfiber Towels?

  1. Check the care label. It will tell you the specific instructions for that towel. Usually, it will suggest cold water, but some allow for warm.
  2. Put your microfiber towel in the wash with similar microfiber items. We don’t recommend washing microfiber towels with cotton towels as the microfiber can pick up lint and other debris.
  3. Skip the detergent, or use a mild detergent. Too much detergent can coat the towels and they will lose their absorbency. Instead, you could use ½ cup of baking soda or white vinegar. Whatever you use, add it to the drum or detergent dispenser now.
  4. Skip the fabric softener. The microfiber towels will lose their absorbency.
  5. Set the synthetic cycle to cool or warm.
  6. After the cycle, let the microfiber towel air dry in a warm sunny spot with good airflow. If you are going to tumble dryer it, use low or no heat.

How Do You Revive Old Towels?

If a towel is old, rough and tattered, it might be nearing the end of its life. But we do have some tips to try:

  • Run the hottest cycle possible for those towels with one cup of white vinegar. When the cycle is finished, do a rinse and spin with ½ cup of baking soda. These two ingredients can strip built-up detergent and fabric softener from your towels so that they’re fluffier and more absorbent.
  • Brush your towels. Use a hairbrush to fluff up your towels. This can get rid of hidden debris and make the towels softer.
  • From now on, don’t use fabric softener. If you want fluffy and soft towels, adding a tennis ball to your dryer can do the trick!

How Do You Wash Towels So They Are Soft?

If you follow all our tips so far, your towels will stay soft. To recap, here are the most important tips:

  • Shake them out after the washing cycle. Use a combination of air drying and tumble drying to encourage ultimate fluffiness.
  • Use less detergent and no fabric softener! This can build up on your towels and leave them scratchy. Instead, add one cup of distilled white vinegar to keep towels soft.
  • Wash towels separately from other clothes. Remember, if washing microfiber towels, keep them separate from cotton towels.
  • Use a tennis ball in the dryer.
  • Don’t overfill the washing machine. Detergent needs space to work properly and drain away completely instead of remaining on the towels.

Should You Iron Towels?

We wouldn’t advise that. Ironing towels can crush the loops in the fabric and ruin the absorbency. Simply fold them up after drying and they’ll remain wrinkle-free!


Don’t Throw in the Towel

Don’t give up on your towels. Even if they’re looking a little dingy and worn out, you can revive them. But the best thing to do is to keep them in a good condition from the get-go.

Our tips for handwashing, machine washing and drying will leave you with hotel quality, soft, clean and fluffy towels.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!
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