How to Wash your New Towels

How to wash towels

Towels need washing and drying as soon as you get them home. Why? Most are finished with a coating that makes them feel fluffy, but actually means they’re not very absorbent.

Ideally, towels should be washed with other towels, and not with clothes. This will allow you to set the towel washing temperature just right (more on that later) and it’s more hygienic to keep towels separate from clothes. Also, towels can be abrasive against more delicate fabrics. 

‘When doing a load of washing, try not to overcrowd the machine so it has plenty of water around them to soak and wash,’ advises Jo Ross, general manager of design at Sheridan.

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Reviving Old Towels

If you’ve noticed that your towels aren’t as absorbent and soft as you’d like them to be, try this process to bring some life back into them:

  1. Fill your washing machine about ½ – ¾ full of towels. (The key here is to not overfill the machine.)
  2. Set your water temperature to the highest setting. If you have a “deep clean” or “power-wash” setting on your washing machine, now is the time to use it.
  3. Pour one cup of white distilled vinegar into the machine and run a wash cycle.
  4. When the wash cycle is done, you’re are going to leave the towels in the washer and add one cup of baking soda.
  5. Repeat the wash cycle, again using the hottest temperature your machine will allow.
  6. When the second cycle has completed, throw your towels into the dryer on the setting recommended by the towel manufacturer.
    • You may be surprised to find that most manufacturers recommend that their towels should be dried at LOW heat, not high as most of us are pre-programmed to do. Make the switch and you will definitely notice the difference. Drying on high heat will damage the towel fibers.
  7. Do NOT add dryer sheets. In order to soften the towels as they dry, you can throw three unused tennis balls into the dryer or, as I prefer, wool dryer balls.

Considerations When Trying to Revive Old Towels

Keep in mind that this method is awesome at removing the gunk from towels that have been washed in too much detergent or have been run through the dryer with dryer sheets. It really does lift the fibers and make them fluffy and more absorbant.

If, on the other hand, your towels are thin from loss of fibers, there isn’t much that can be done for them and you may need to replace them if you want that fluffy “new towel” feel.

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As soon as you bring home new towels, toss them into the wash to remove any chemicals manufacturers may have used to make them look fluffy and feel soft in the store. This can also help reduce lint.

Letting them sit is how they develop that musty, mildewy odor.

If your towels begin to feel stiff or less absorbent, add vinegar or borax to your machine every few washes to refresh them and remove detergent residue.

They’re heavy and will take a toll on your machine, plus they might not wash and rinse properly if everything is packed in.

Launder towels after a few uses in warm water with mild soap. For a full load in a high-efficiency machine, add no more than two tablespoons of detergent. Any more might cause a buildup that limits absorbency.

After your shower or bath, hang your towel across a bar or shower rod so it can dry fully. This will help prevent bacterial growth and extend the time between washes. Avoid using hooks, which can cause moisture to get trapped within the fabric’s folds.

Make to shake them out before drying. If you throw them into the machine all bunched up, they may take longer to dry and could retain stubborn creases.

To prevent overheating—which can tighten the fibers, making them stiffer and less absorbent—dry towels together on the low setting.

It coats the fibers with a slick residue and inhibits water absorption. Instead, use wool dryer balls to increase air circulation and help fluff fibers.

Have at least two bath towels for each person in your household. When one is in the wash, the other can be in the bathroom. Keep four hand towels per person, since they’re used (and therefore washed) more frequently.

It’s great for getting stains out of white towels, but frequent use will break down fibers and shorten their lifespan.

If you use benzoyl peroxide creams or a whitening toothpaste, know that these could cause discoloration. Set aside special washcloths to use exclusively with these ingredients. (Some towels are marketed as stain-resistant, but they are not always effective.)

How Do I add Baking Soda Vinegar to a Front Loading HE Washing Machine?

The advice below for adding baking soda and vinegar should work with most front-loading washers, but please check your machine’s specific directions before proceeding.

  • Add the baking soda directly into the barrel of the machine. Just sprinkle it into the middle of the barrel prior to adding your clothing.
  • Add the distilled white vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Bob says

    Hi Julie, your articles are amazing. Thank you! Going out to buy disinfectant for my towels. Love to get all these cleaning tips!

  2. Bonnie Lawfer says

    Thanks, two comments. I have a front loading washing machine that only uses as much water as it needs to wash items. There is no presoak cycle. Perhaps I could shut off the washer after the water has filled the tub, but I am not sure. I wonder if this question has ever come up before. I would think there are many more folks with this type of washer reading your newsletter. Please let me know if you have suggestions. Second, I have been using 1/2 cup to 1 cup of vinegar in the rinse water with my towels for some time and they seem to be much softer than they have been previously. Thank you for your hints. I enjoy your articles.

  3. Solange Cardinal says

    Hi Julie thank you for posting such interesting ways of doing laundry. I’ve just washed as per directions “MAKING SCRATCHY TOWELS FEEL SOFT AGAIN” Must of missed something because they still feel dry.

Wash New Towels Before Use

Before you learn how to wash towels, note when you should be washing them. Always wash and dry bath towels before using them for the first time. Most new towels are coated with silicone or other finishes that block absorbancy. This coating gives them that extra-fluffy look and feel at the store. Washing new towels removes these finishes and permits maximum absorbency.

Designate special towels for special skin care

Some skin care products (makeup removers, acne preparations, etc.) can stain or take the color out of towels. It’s a good idea to have separate hand towels to use when they might come in contact with these products. (I like to use white ones because there’s no color to bleach out, and they can be washed in hot water, if necessary for stain removal.)

Dry Towels Right

Tumble-dry towels on low and remove while still sl

Shaking excess water out of your towels before putting them in the dryer will help fluff the terry loops and keep them absorbent.

Tumble-dry towels on a low setting and remove the towels while they’re still slightly damp.

Excessive heat wears down towel fibers. If they’re hot (not warm) to the touch coming out of the dryer, you’ve overdried them.

How to Dry Towels

Ensure that towels are dry when you remove them from the dryer, keeping in mind that clothes dry quicker than towels. Even slightly damp towels can quickly mildew. The best dryer setting for towels is the regular or automatic setting that you use for other durable fabrics. This will use the highest heat and be most efficient in getting the job done. Avoid overdrying; it can destroy the integrity of the individual cotton fibers.

diy wooded bathroom vanity with baskets and white accents Credit: Edmund Barr Photographer

8. Toss in the dryer until just dry, or air-dry flat

Select the Regular or Automatic cycle on your dryer. This setting uses high heat to maximize fluffiness. When just dry (over-drying can deteriorate fibers), retrieve towels one by one, folding each one immediately to minimize wrinkles.

If you don’t have a dryer, or prefer to air-dry towels, spread them out indoors on a drying rack positioned near an open window that receives ample sunlight or near a heater if a window isn’t available. Alternatively, hang them outdoors on a clothesline.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Photo: istockphoto.com

Avoid fabric softeners

Most fabric softeners work by coating the fabric fibers with waxy ingredients (such as silicon). This waxy coating repels water, making the fabric less absorbent. Not a selling feature for a towel! This waxy buildup can get worse over time, too, as it mats down the fibers, making them increasingly stiff and non-absorbent.

If you want softer towels, try tossing a tennis ball or two in the dryer with them. Or invest in a couple of wool dryer balls. And if your towels are stiff and/or non-absorbent because of detergent buildup, add a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle every month or so.

6. Set the water temperature to hot (for whites) or warm (for like colors)

Set the water temperature according to the color category of towels as follows:

  • For white/light colors, set the water temperature to hot. This temperature helps brighten white or light towels.
  • For dark colors, set the water temperature to warm. This temperature helps eliminate bacteria yet preserve color.

Making Scratchy Towels Feel Soft Again

Now that you know how to wash towels to keep them soft and fluffy you might need to fix those old scratchy towels and make them seem new again.

Towels tend to get scratchy and lose their fluffiness from too much detergents and fabric softeners. Plus, body oils can get in the fibers and make them greasy. To make them feel like new again you will want to wash them with some vinegar and baking soda.

Start a load of towels in the machine with hot water. Make sure you don’t overload the towels. You want them to have plenty of room to agitate in the washing machine.

Add a cup of vinegar to the washing machine load, but don’t use any soap. Let the machine run like it normally would.

After the cycle is done then add a cup of baking soda and once again run the machine like normal.

The vinegar will get rid of any soap that is still in the towels, plus get rid of any funky smells. Don’t worry, your towels won’t come out smelling like vinegar. They will dry scent-free.

The baking soda will help break up any body oils that are in the towels and also get rid of smells.

Once you are finished with both of the loads you can wash your towels per the instructions above.

You can do this whenever your towels start to lose their absorbency. Keep in mind that hard water will make your towels feel hard and crunchy so you may need to do this about once a month if you have hard water.

How to buy towels that will last

The clue to good quality towels is in the number of loops per square inch. The thicker the pile, the better the towel and the longer it will last. 

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