This is the secret to fluffy, fresh-smelling bath towels.  

By Leslie Corona and Caylin Harris
Updated August 18, 2020
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Peter Ardito

Consider matching bath towels that feel like they came straight from the spa a new status symbol—or at least a sign that you’re finally an adult. But here’s a secret: You don’t have to spend money constantly replacing your bath towels—just treat them right the first time. Here’s how to wash bath towels the right way, and just in case you run into any issues along the way, we’ll offer solutions for musty odors and dingy-looking towels as well.

How to Clean Towels (the Right Way)

What You’ll Need:

Follow These Steps:

  1. Start by separating your towels, then wash white towels separately from colorful towels. Washing them together will lead to subtle discoloration over time.
  2. Wash white towels using hot water, detergent, and non-chlorine bleach or a natural fabric brightener, like sodium percarbonate, according to its package directions. White towels stay brighter when washed in hot water. Wash colorful towels in warm water, using detergent with color-safe bleach.
  3. To soften towels, you can use fabric softener, but only add it to every third or fourth wash to prevent buildup. If you prefer a more natural alternative, add ¼ cup of white vinegar.
  4. Dealing with musty odors? First, wash the towels with ½ cup of baking soda sans detergent, then rewash the towels with detergent.
  5. Once they’re laundered, shake and place your towels into the dryer adding the wool balls (clean tennis balls work, too, but skip the essential oils). If you want to impart a light scent, add a few drops of essential oil on the wool balls. The wool balls are a natural alternative to dryer sheets and can be used to fluff the towels and help them dry faster.
  6. Make sure the towels are completely dry before removing them from the dryer. Towels take longer to dry than clothes and even a hint of lingering moisture can cause odor.

Dos and Don’ts of Towel Care

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.)

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