How To Wash Towels Correctly—Because We’re Definitely All Making the Same Mistake (2023)

It is a common laundry mistake to think that more is better when washing towels. Too often, people use more laundry detergent than is needed and additives like fabric softener and dryer sheets. According to “The Laundry Evangelist” Patric Richardson: “These aren’t necessary.” Not only will they do more harm than good to towels, they can also shorten their lifespan. With this in mind, Richardson and other laundry experts share how to wash towels the right way—your best bath towels deserve nothing less.

In This Article

  • 01

    how to wash towels
  • 02

    how often to wash towels
  • 03

    how to make towels soft
  • 04

    how to dry towels
  • 05


How To Wash Towels the Right Way: 4 Tips & Tricks

1. Use Less Detergent

When washing towels—or anything else, for that matter—you only need two tablespoons of laundry detergent per load. “It sounds counterintuitive,” says Richardson, “but people get crunchy towels or towels that smell sour or musty because they use too much detergent.” What’s more, excessive detergent can leave towels dirtier, rather than cleaner, in the long term. As Hampr laundry expert Kate Hanks told Well+Good, it causes build-up between fibers which hold on dirt and bacteria.

Richardson recommends washing towels with a plant-based laundry detergent like this one from Biokleen—and it has received a 4.7-star overall rating on Amazon to boot. It’s also hypoallergenic and free of fragrances, dyes, and artificial brighteners. As a bonus, it’s EPA SaferChoice certified and is cruelty free. The concentrated formula means you can clean more towels with less laundry.

2. Avoid Fabric Softeners and Dryer Sheets

“Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets like the plague,” says Richardson. Both can leave behind residue that affects a towel’s absorbency and, as a result, its ability to dry you off. Plus, that residue can contribute to odor retention and leave you with stinky towels. In place of these additives, laundry experts recommend using distilled white vinegar. “[It] removes detergent and mineral residues … as well as a conventional fabric softener,” Branch Basics co-founder Marilee Nelson told Well+Good. Just a half-cup of vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser should do the trick.

Lucy’s, Natural Distilled White Vinegar, 128 Fl. Oz. — $17.00

With a near-perfect star overall rating on Amazon after more than 10,600 shoppers chimed in, Lucy’s distilled white vinegar is a popular choice. Many reviewers have attested to using it for laundry—and with great results. “I love putting this vinegar into my laundry,” one Amazon reviewer proclaimed. “It is saving the fluffiness of my towels!”


3. Steer Clear of Chlorine Bleach

If you want to thoroughly disinfect your towels, don’t use chlorine bleach, which can discolor white and colorfully dyed varieties. Instead, use color-safe bleach or oxygen bleach, which are safe to use on colorfast fabrics. Richardson also says that baking soda can work to clean and brighten towels that have been stained. (As a bonus, the natural deodorizer can also promise fresh-smelling towels.) To use, simply add a quarter-cup of baking soda to the washing drum.

This odor-and-stain remover promises to be tough on stubborn smells and stains while being gentle on your stuff. The formula is chlorine-free and color-safe, only leaving behind a scent that many Amazon reviewers seem to love. “Got the mildew stink out of my towels in the first wash,” wrote one satisfied Amazon shopper.


If you want to avoid using bleach, try baking soda. Multiple Amazon reviewers have reported that it successfully eliminates unwanted odors and lifts stains. A reviewer also mentioned that they use it to stave off smells in between laundry days: “We use them in sports laundry hampers to remove odors until we can launder the clothing.”


4. Wash Towels in Warm Water on the ‘Quick-Wash’ Cycle

Richardson advises washing towels in warm water (unless the care label specifies washing them in cold water). If you’re using a washing machine, he also recommends choosing the 30-minute “quick-wash” or “express” cycle. Richardson warns that if you keep towels in the washing machine for too long, you risk them wearing out prematurely. “Once they’re clean, they’re clean,” he says. “There’s just no reason to continue to abrade them.”

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How Often To Wash Towels

As a general rule on how often to wash towels, it’s recommended to wash bath towels about once every two days, microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, wrote in a TIME Magazine article—and preferably with oxygen bleach to rid towels of the stuff they typically accumulate when you use them daily. (Think dirt, oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.) As for how often to wash hand towels? That will depend on whether they’re being shared among multiple people. Consider washing hand towels twice a week if shared among several individuals, Melissa Homer, MaidPro chief cleaning officer, previously told Well+Good. Otherwise, you can wash hand towels once a week, says microbiologist Jason Tetro, PhD.

Should you wash brand-new towels?

You always want to wash brand-new towels before using them, says Richardson. Manufacturers typically add chemicals that make them look—and feel—soft and fluffy in the store. When your skin comes into contact with these substances, they can cause irritation, particularly if you have sensitive skin or if you are allergic to one or more of these ingredients, dermatologist Shirley Chi, MD, previously told Well+Good.

How To Make Towels Soft and Fluffy Again

If your towels have transformed from soft and fluffy to stiff and scratchy, it’s probably because you’re using too much detergent when you wash them. Fortunately, you can bring them back to their former glory using several methods, the first of which involves laundry stripping. “Laundry stripping is a process of removing build-up—residue from softeners, hard water, and minerals, as well as dirt, oil, and bacteria,” Diane Regalbuto, owner of Betty Likes to Clean, told Well+Good. It’s also easy to do: Simply soak your laundry in hot water and a mixture of baking soda, Borax, and laundry detergent. Easier still, you can simply reduce the amount of detergent you use. It will take three to four washes to notice a difference, says Richardson, but wash towels with vinegar to speed up the process.

How To Dry Towels in the Dryer

Drying your towels properly is the next step to ensure it stays in excellent condition. Richardson recommends tumble-drying towels and removing them from the dryer as soon as they’re dry—and not a minute longer. He says that if you leave towels in the dryer for too long, it can weaken the fibers and cause rips and tears. It’s also worth mentioning that a towel’s dry time varies according to the fabric. Quick-drying towels made from bamboo or microfiber, for example, will require less time in the dryer than lofty options made from, say, terry cotton. If you’re unsure of how long it will take your towel to dry, Richardson recommends monitoring the dry time of the bath towels the first few times of washing them.

What About Air-Drying Towels?

While you can air-dry towels, Richardson says using a dryer is preferable if you want to maintain their fluffy softness. “If you hang [towels] on the clothesline or hang them to dry, they generally aren’t as lofty because they aren’t exposed to that tumbling [of the dryer] to build up that loft,” he says.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Wash Towels

How do you wash towels to keep them fluffy?

If you want to keep towels fluffy when you wash them, there are three things to remember. The first is to “use a tiny amount of detergent,” says Richardson. (Ideally, you’ll want to use two tablespoons of detergent per load.) The second is to avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets. And lastly, according to Richardson? “Do not overdry your towels.”

Is it okay to wash towels with clothes?

The short answer is yes, says Richardson, for as long you don’t use too much detergent. “If you don’t use too much detergent, you won’t have the issue with lint sticking to your clothes,” he says.

Is it smart to wash towels in cold water?

Richardson prefers washing towels in warm water, though some manufacturers will require washing in only cold water. With this in mind, it’s always best to wash towels according to the manufacturer’s care instructions.

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How To Wash Towels Correctly—Because We’re Definitely All Making the Same Mistake (6)

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Can you wash towels with vinegar and baking soda at the same time? ›

Washing towels with vinegar and baking soda can bring them back to life in just three steps: Wash towels in hot water and one cup vinegar. Don't add any detergent. Wash the towels a second time (without drying them) in hot water and one cup baking soda.

How to wash towels Correctly? ›

The best way to wash colored towels is with warm water and color-safe bleach, if necessary. For white towels, use hot water and non-chlorine bleach as needed. White towels should be washed separately or with other white items to avoid subtle discoloration over time.

How do you deep clean towels in the washing machine? ›

To refresh towels in the washing machine, let them run through a complete wash cycle using no detergent or bleach. Instead, add one cup of distilled white vinegar into the washing machine before starting the wash cycle. Let towels air-dry or put them in the dryer when cycle is complete.

Should towels be washed in hot water? ›

Generally, warm or hot water is recommended for washing towels. Use a cycle specifically for towels or a normal/regular cycle. A sanitizing cycle can also be used, but may not be recommended for every wash, depending on the towel fabric.

What happens if you use vinegar and laundry detergent together? ›

Before going further, we have to warn you: adding vinegar or baking soda to the wash along with your laundry detergent increases the risk of poorer cleaning performance, as detergents are optimized for a specific pH level, which is altered by the presence of these two household additives in the wash.

How do hotels get their towels so soft? ›

The main reason is that they wash their towels in hot water 40-50c with commercial detergent and no fabric softener. Fabric softener can really reduce the absorbency of your towels,which leave a waxy residue on towels, for example. Also, cotton gets more absorbent with use, and hotel towels are well-used.

How often should towels be washed? ›

How often should I wash my bath towels? Dead skin cells, bacteria, and even sweat can accumulate quickly on your towels, so using a fresh one about every three days is a simple rule of thumb—for all kinds of towels.

Is it OK to use the same towel for a week? ›

The Cleaning Institute recommends washing bath towels after three uses. If you shower every day, that means laundry almost twice a week. Regular laundry is sufficient to clean towels and remove any germs that are starting to accumulate.

What temp is best to wash towels? ›

A good temperature for washing towels and sheets is 40 degrees, but a 60 degree wash will be better at killing germs. Changing your sheets and towels once a week can help to keep them fresh and clean**. Use our laundry tips section for guidelines on different fabrics.

Why do my towels smell even after washing? ›

If a towel continues to have a smell, it means that bacteria are still in your machine or on your towel. Run the washing machine again with bleach, or wash the towel a second time to remove the stubborn bacteria.

How do you get towels clean and fluffy? ›

Add Baking Soda

Mix half a cup of baking soda along with a normal detergent dose for fluffier and cleaner towels. Baking soda also naturally eliminates musty and mildew smells that come from towels remaining damp for too long.

How do hotels keep towels white? ›

Most hotels use peroxide-based laundry detergents to keep their sheets and towels bright. While these compounds are extremely successful at preventing white linens from greying or yellowing, they do necessitate some amount of knowledge. When used incorrectly, they might cause damage to your linens.

What dryer setting is best for towels? ›

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.)

Is it OK to wash towels with clothes? ›

Are There Any Items I Can Wash With Towels? If you're running a small load of towels and really want to throw additional items in to save water, some sturdy clothes, like jeans and tee shirts, can be included. In this case we'd recommend a warm wash (not hot), and a lower heat in the dryer as well.

What goes first baking soda or vinegar for laundry? ›

Don't mix baking soda and vinegar.

pH is a scale used to measure acidity or basicity in chemistry. Since vinegar has a low pH and baking soda high pH, they will neutralize each other when used together. What you want to do instead is to use baking soda first mixed with water to do your laundry.

Can you mix Dawn detergent and vinegar? ›

To make the solution is simple and easy on the wallet! Pour equal parts of vinegar and Dawn into a spray bottle. Gently shake, then spray liberally onto the surface to be cleaned. I have found the best results is when I use it to clean chrome shower and sink fixtures.

Is baking soda or vinegar better for laundry? ›

Baking soda in the laundry can be a great addition for a natural fabric softener or controlling excess suds, while vinegar in laundry can be an amazing agent for getting those whites extra sparkling and banishing mildew odor. They help even the best laundry detergents to be more effective.

Why do people use white vinegar in laundry? ›

Vinegar works by loosening zinc salts or aluminum chloride, which means that dirt won't stick to your clothing. In addition to this, vinegar has antibacterial properties. Washing your clothing with vinegar will leave your clothes odorless — and no, they won't smell like vinegar.

How do you make a towel like a fancy hotel? ›

Classic Hotel Folding Method
  1. Begin by spreading your bath towel out on a flat surface. Fold one long end towards the middle. ...
  2. Next, fold each short end towards the middle. Be sure to leave a gap where the ends meet. ...
  3. Finally, pick up one end and fold it over the other, creating a beautifully folded bath towel.
Jan 13, 2023

What does hydrogen peroxide do to laundry? ›

You can use hydrogen peroxide to whiten and brighten clothes, disinfect laundry, and remove stains. Pour it directly on stains such as blood. Add one cup of hydrogen peroxide to whites in the washing machine to brighten them. Add one cup to a load of diapers to whiten, deodorize, and disinfect.

How often should you change bed sheets? ›

Why do we even need to change our bedsheets? To cut to the chase, Dr Browning says we should be changing our sheets once a week, or every two weeks at the most. Hygiene is a big factor, and one of the reasons is sweat. If you've ever tried sleeping in a heatwave, you'll know how difficult it can be.

How often should bed sheets be washed? ›

Most people should wash their sheets once per week. If you don't sleep on your mattress every day, you may be able to stretch this to once every two weeks or so. Some people should wash their sheets even more often than once a week.

How often should you wash towels with vinegar? ›

Do wash your towels every two to three uses. 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.

How many times should you use the same towel after a shower? ›

Solve a household debate: How many times can you use a towel before having to wash it? Three or four, say consumer and environmental health agencies. Any longer and towels can breed bacteria and mold. Hang your towels properly: Spread them out on the rack (not bunched up) so they dry thoroughly.

How often should you shower? ›

Many doctors say a daily shower is fine for most people. (More than that could start to cause skin problems.) But for many people, two to three times a week is enough and may be even better to maintain good health. It depends in part on your lifestyle.

What happens if you use the same towel for too long? ›

That said, anyone who reuses their towels could possibly get folliculitis, which looks similar to acne, says Amy Kassouf, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic. This condition occurs when you develop a bacterial infection in a hair follicle, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Is it better to wash towels in cold water? ›

According to Brian Sansoni, the senior vice president of communications for the American Cleaning Institute, “Most laundry can now be done in cold water. That should be the default.” And yes, he includes towels in that statement. This is good news for your wallet!

Does washing towels in cold water clean them? ›

Despite popular belief, washing your towels with cold water is the best way to keep them clean, soft and fluffy. Washing your towels in cold water will also help you save up to three-quarters of the energy you would have used had you chosen hot water.

Is it best to wash smelly towels with cold water or hot water? ›

Wash towels on a hot, long wash cycle to deep clean and remove residue from body oils, makeup, and skincare products. This will also ensure your towels stay bright, free of odors, and fluffy.

How do you wash and deodorize towels? ›

How To Remove Mildew Smell From Towels
  1. Give your towels a wash in warm water with 1 cup of white vinegar. ...
  2. Do a second cycle with normal detergent or 1/2 cup of baking soda. ...
  3. Put your towels in the dryer and dry completely.
Apr 15, 2020

How do you clean and deodorize towels? ›

Soak your stinky towels in a bucket of white, distilled vinegar for 30 minutes to overnight with a tablespoon of detergent to help loosen body soils. Vinegar contains acetic acid that breaks up mineral deposits and dissolves the build-up of body soils on your towels. Rinse thoroughly.

Does white vinegar Keep towels fluffy? ›

If your towels are very stiff and scratchy, try adding around 250ml of vinegar to a wash along with your laundry liquid. Add it to the washing machine drum just before you load and set the cycle going, don't worry, it won't make your washing smell like a bag of chips.

Does soaking towels in vinegar? ›

Soak towels in vinegar.

Soak your stinky towels in a bucket of white, distilled vinegar for 30 minutes to overnight with a tablespoon of detergent to help loosen body soils. Vinegar contains acetic acid that breaks up mineral deposits and dissolves the build-up of body soils on your towels. Rinse thoroughly.

Why do my towels have so much fuzz? ›

Pilling usually occurs on towels that are made from short fibers, which break easily and continually throughout the life of the towel. Abrasion during washing and drying is one culprit that causes the broken fibers to form small balls that cling to the surface of the towel.

Should you use dryer sheets on towels? ›

Dryer sheets work well for most everyday items made of natural fibers, such as cotton shirts, pants and socks, but it's best to avoid using dryer sheets on athleticwear & microfiber, towels, flame-resistant clothing and water-repellent fabric.

What softens towels in washing machine? ›

We prefer a more natural approach to softening towels. Try pouring one cup of white vinegar to your load every six weeks or so. You can also mix half a cup of baking soda with your normal amount of detergent, to loosen up fibers and clean off any chemicals or grime. Reduce your load.

Why does vinegar soften towels? ›

The vinegar will help strip away the residue left in the towels that is causing them to feel stiff.

Why is there no room 420 in hotels? ›

Some hotels are playing it even more safe by removing room 420 altogether from their room numbers. It´s kind of a superstitious move – the same way hotels went mad some decades ago and removed level 13 and room number 13. Other hotels have been even more creative with their solution, labelling room 420 as “419 + 1”.

Do they reuse towels in hotels? ›

The short answer to your question is yes and yes—yes, many hotels do actually let guests reuse towels, and yes, the note is there to make the hotel seem as green as an organic farm. The longer answer, and the guide to the most environmentally friendly hotels, is a little more nuanced.

Should I dry towels on high or medium? ›

Dry on low heat.

"Your towels will last longer if you dry them on low heat, as high heat damages the cotton fibers," explains Eichholz. "Depending on your dryer, you might have to send your towels through more than once, but, I promise, it will be well worth it!"

What temperature do you dry towels in the dryer? ›

The high heat setting on a tumble dryer should be used for items such as towels and sturdy cotton items. The temperature will vary between appliances, but as an example Samsung (opens in new tab)'s high heat setting is around 140 to 145ºF (60 to 63ºC).

Is air fluff the same as air dry? ›

This setting may appear under the name “air dry” or “air fluff” on your dryer's setting list. The main thing to remember with this setting is that it uses no heat. The dryer will draw room temperature air from the surrounding area as the drum tosses your clothes.

What should you not wash towels with? ›

Skip the fabric softener entirely, which could also decrease absorption. Wash white towels in hot water and colored towels in warm water, using a regular cycle for both. Once the wash cycle has finished, remove towels from the washing machine and shake out each one before putting it in the dryer.

How many towels can you wash at once? ›

For reference, a typical front-loading washing machine can hold around seven bath towels, and a top loading machine can hold around 10. Use Less Detergent – Using too much laundry detergent can cause your towels to get stiff.

Can I mix vinegar and baking soda in washing machine? ›

There's one very important caveat, she notes: “Both vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean your washing machine and clothing, but they should not be mixed together because they neutralize each other.”

Can you mix baking soda and vinegar in laundry? ›

Don't mix baking soda and vinegar.

pH is a scale used to measure acidity or basicity in chemistry. Since vinegar has a low pH and baking soda high pH, they will neutralize each other when used together. What you want to do instead is to use baking soda first mixed with water to do your laundry.

Can you use both vinegar and baking soda? ›

These two common household materials can serve as natural cleaners to remove grime and keep your surfaces clean. Because vinegar and baking soda are on opposite ends of the pH scale, they can be combined and used as effective cleaning solutions.

Can you mix baking soda and vinegar and laundry detergent? ›

There's one very important caveat, she notes: “Both vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean your washing machine and clothing, but they should not be mixed together because they neutralize each other.”

How do hotels keep sheets white? ›

One of the most well-known secrets of the hotel industry in keeping their sheets enviably is peroxide-based detergents. Bleach is also added to the mix. While these chemicals are truly effective in preventing white linens from greying or turning yellow, they do require some level of expertise.

Is it better to wash produce with vinegar or baking soda? ›

Baking soda, whose alkalinity helps to neutralize many common acidic pesticides, is generally thought to be the most effective produce wash.

Why shouldnt you mix baking soda and vinegar? ›

Baking Soda And Vinegar

The mixing reaction causes the baking soda to foam up and produce carbon dioxide gas. If these chemicals are kept in a sealed container for a long time, it can cause a small explosion because the carbon dioxide will try to escape.

Does vinegar damage washing machines? ›

Vinegar is sometimes used as a fabric softener or for getting rid of stains and odors in laundry. But as with dishwashers, it can damage the rubber seals and hoses in some washing machines to the point of causing leaks.

How do I make my towels fluffy again? ›

Add Baking Soda

Mix half a cup of baking soda along with a normal detergent dose for fluffier and cleaner towels. Baking soda also naturally eliminates musty and mildew smells that come from towels remaining damp for too long.

Can you leave baking soda and vinegar in toilet overnight? ›

For extra-stubborn clogs, you can let the fizz mixture sit overnight or combine this method with plunging. If your toilet remains clogged or continues to get clogged, this may be an indication of plumbing problems such as mineral buildup or pressure issues.

Can you mix Dawn and vinegar and baking soda? ›

Cleaning Organizing. Tired of stinky, retail cleaners? Try this: Vinegar Cleaner: 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp Dawn dish soap 1 tbsp white vinegar Directions: Fill spray bottle with water. Add Dawn.

Where do I put baking soda in my washing machine? ›

For Extra-Clean Clothes

“It will help lift dirt and grime from clothing,” says Reichert. Don't put baking soda in your washer's detergent dispenser, however. Instead, sprinkle it into the empty drum of your washer, then add clothes and whatever detergent and fabric softeners you'd normally use.

How do you get human urine smell out of clothes in the washing machine? ›

Use your washer

We recommend using enzyme-based detergent as it will break down the urine stains and odor and separate them from your clothing's fabric. Remember to set your water as cool or lukewarm and run the cycle.


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