Rough towels are history, thanks to a little help from a simple pantry staple.

By Brandi Broxson
Updated May 20, 2016

No one likes stepping out of the shower and wrapping up in a scratchy, stiff towel. And you’re probably wondering how your once-plush towels got to feeling so coarse in the first place. The most likely culprit? Residue from your laundry detergent. Adding too much detergent for the amount of laundry in the load is a very common mistake, says Marlowe Leverette, the laundry expert for Here’s the trick to help break down all that leftover gunk: Add a cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle. This simple step will restore the softness to your towels. Also, when you’re washing, aim for a full load of just towels. It uses less water and energy, and you won't coat the other clothes with lint.

A few other tricks can keep your towels from getting rough again. Don’t just dump a scoop of detergent into the machine willy-nilly. Make sure to read the back of the detergent packaging and follow the recommended amounts for the size of your load to a T. Using hot water when washing towels also helps dissolve the detergent so it won’t settle into the fibers of the towels. And this may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s best to skip the liquid fabric softener, says Leverette.

Are your towels soft but smelling musty? That unpleasant odor is the smell of bacteria breeding. According to Steve Boorstein, a coauthor of The Clothing Doctor's 99 Secrets of Cleaning and Clothing Care ($5,, you should start by sanitizing the washing machine to stop bacteria. "People shed about 1 billion dead skin cells every day, much of which ends up in your clothes, towels, and washing machine," says Boorstein. "Before washing your towels, do your whites, if you use bleach. Or run an empty load with ¼ cup bleach to disinfect the interior." Then, wash stinky towels in small loads on a hot water setting. And make sure to get them in the dryer quickly after washing or bacteria will start breeding (thanks to the damp washer environment) within one to two hours.