7 Mistakes That Make Your Bath Towels Dingy

Spa-worthy bath towels await.

When you visit a luxury spa, there are stacks and stacks of pristine, white bath towels. Each one is stain-free, soft, fresh-smelling, and absorbent. Do your towels at home measure up?

The touch of a soft, fluffy bath towel after a warm shower or bath is the best. But if your bath towels are dingy, scratchy, and smell a bit funky, it's probably due to your laundry routine. Cleaning and drying your towels incorrectly can lead to discoloration, changes in texture, and odors. Here are seven bath towel laundry mistakes you're making—but don't worry, they are all simple to fix.

01 of 07

Choosing the Wrong Detergent

Decanted laundry detergent in laundry room

Martin Vecchio for Neat Method

Bath towels are used on the most intimate parts of our bodies and can trap body soil and bacteria. To remove body oils and soil, you need a heavy-duty detergent. Take the time to read labels to be sure that your detergent has several enzymes (protease, amylase, cellulase) in the ingredient list. Enzymes break down oils and stains so they can be flushed away in the wash water.

02 of 07

Using Fabric Softener

Used dryer sheet pulled out of dryer

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

If the towels do not come clean during the wash cycle, adding fabric softener to the rinse cycle traps the soil in the fibers, leaving the towels dingy. Fabric softener fragrances smell nice for a while, but in addition to soil, the residue also traps odor-causing bacteria that reappears when the towel gets damp.

Finally, fabric softeners also coat the fibers, causing the towel to be less absorbent. Instead of fabric softener, use one cup of distilled white vinegar in the rinse cycle. The vinegar cuts through any detergent residue left in the fibers, so it is flushed away, leaving the fibers soft and absorbent.

03 of 07

Washing With Cold Water all the Time

Laundry machine switched to cold water to lower electric bill

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

While washing with cold water is ecologically responsible, it's a good idea to add a hot water wash for bath towels at least monthly, especially if you use a less-effective detergent. Hot water helps break down soil and detergent residues so they are flushed away.

04 of 07

Forgetting to Clean Your Washing Machine

I Cleaned My Washing Machine for the First Time in Years and Now It’s Like New—Here’s How I Did It

A clean washer produces cleaner clothes. Adding a monthly cleaning cycle to your laundry routine reduces the chance of soil redepositing on towels and leaving them dingy.

05 of 07

Failing to Sort Your Laundry

Sorting the laundry before washing a fleece blanket

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

When that white towel is tossed in the washer with blue jeans and a red T-shirt, it will most likely absorb some of the loose dyes that are released in the wash water from the colorful fabrics. You'll have whiter, brighter towels if you sort the textiles first and don't overload the washer. If you use microfiber towels, don't wash them with cotton fabrics, because microfiber attracts lint that can dull colors.

06 of 07

Washing With Hard Water

You've Got Hard Water

Washing towels in water high in mineral content (aka hard water) and using too much detergent can leave them with residue that makes the fabric dingy, stiff, and scratchy. Add a water conditioner, reduce the amount of detergent you use, and add distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

07 of 07

Using too Many Body Washes, Soaps, or Other Products

Good Juju Honey Oat Exfoliating Body Wash Bar

Good Juju

If you notice dinginess and gray stains, especially on washcloths, your body wash or soap may be to blame. Some "natural" soaps react with minerals in water to leave a residue on the fabric.

To remove the stains, make a paste of powdered detergent or laundry borax and water and work it into the stains. Let the paste sit for at least 15 minutes and then wash the towels in hot water. Change your soap brand to prevent stains from reoccurring.

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  1. Gotoh K, Horibe K, Mei Y, Tsujisaka T. Effects of water hardness on textile detergency performance in aqueous cleaning systems. J Oleo Sci. 2016;65(2):123-133. doi:10.5650/jos.ess15168

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