How to Extend the Life of Your Towels

Plus, the trick for brightening dingy bath towels.


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Whether you’re buying towels to use every day, a fresh set for a guest room, or decorative towels for a powder room—soft, high-quality towels don’t come cheap. So how can you make them last and extend their lifecycle? Here’s what the experts recommend doing, plus a couple common mistakes to avoid,

How Long Are Towels Supposed to Last?

Whether you buy pricy embellished Egyptian cotton towels or a simple set on sale, every towel has a shelf life. “When properly cared for, a typical towel's lifespan is about two years (less if they're heavily used, more if they're mainly for display)! The telltale signs a towel needs to be replaced is that musty smell or when it has lost its fluffy, absorbent qualities,” says Lindsey Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Weezie Towels

How to Wash Towels

If your washing machine has a towel setting, use that. If it doesn’t, Johnson suggests washing your towels every three to five uses in cold water. “Our rule of thumb is cold water because high heat both causes shrinkage and weakens cotton fibers over time, causing them to get less soft. One hot wash won’t do it, but repeated exposure to hot water will.”

On the other hand, Daelin Arney, soft goods designer at Cozy Earth, says warm water is perfectly fine. “You can also do a sanitizing cycle, however, this may not be recommended for every wash, depending on the towel fabric.” During a sanitize cycle, the water can exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which requires a lot of energy and is tough on textiles, so it's best to reserve this cycle for when a towel is truly dirty or when someone in your home is sick.  

In terms of drying, Johnson advises low heat only. ”High drying heat will decrease the towel's lifespan, and in general, makes towels feel hard and crispy.”

Wash Your Towels Alone

While you might be tempted to wash your towels with bedding or mix them into a load of clothing, it’s best to wash them alone. “Terry is prone to snagging,” Johnson explains. If you must wash your towels with a few items of clothing, make sure they aren’t garments with hooks and eyes such as bras, tops, or dresses.

Avoid Fabric Softener and Excess Detergent

While many of us love the feeling of fabric softener, it’s not great for clothing, linens, and especially washing machines. Arney tells me it can cause buildup on towels as well as decrease absorbency. 

Same with extra detergent. While all of us have been tempted to pour a little bit over the line when towels are extra dirty, it’s best to avoid this because it can cause buildup.  

How to Brighten White Towels

Remember how white your towels were when you first purchased them? If they’re starting to look dingy, they may not need to be replaced. There are two ways you can try to brighten them up. While your first thought might be to use bleach, both experts warn against this because it can be damaging. 

Arney recommends adding one cup of baking soda to the detergent dispenser along with one cup of distilled white vinegar to the liquid dispenser. “Then, run [the washer] on the longest and hottest wash cycle option.”

Not a fan of vinegar? Try Branch Basics Oxygen Boost. “It's clean and gets the job done,” says Johnson.

Keep Your Machine Clean

“A dirty washing machine can leave buildup on your towels including dirt, detergent, and hard water residue,” says Arney. Be sure to properly clean and maintain your washing machine. Affresh is a good product for this because you can run one cycle and clean without additional effort. 

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