How to Remove Fabric Softener Buildup From Towels

Fabric softener may sound like a great idea for towels -- but it leaves behind a residue that resists water, making the towels less absorbent and, eventually, less clean even after washing. Remove the residue by cutting through the coating with baking soda or vinegar the next time you wash a load of towels.

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Fabric Softener Facts

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Some fabric softeners contain silicone-based chemicals that make laundered items feel smooth and silky, much the way silicone hair-care products do for strands of hair. Silicone leaves behind a thin residue that makes washed towels feel soft, but the residue also resists water, reducing the usefulness of the towels. This residue eventually washes away if you stop using fabric softener.

Removing the Residue

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Wash the towels with your regular laundry detergent -- no fabric softener -- to remove softener buildup. Wash no more than a few towels at a time, depending on the size of the towels and the space in the machine. Towels need room to soak and spin so the washer can completely remove the residue. After the final rinse and spin cycles, keep the towels in the machine and run another wash cycle, this time using 1 cup white vinegar in place of laundry detergent. The vinegar breaks up the buildup and helps remove any odors trapped in towel fibers. Instead of using fabric softener in the future, use the vinegar-wash method any time the towels feel less soft than usual.

Banished By Baking Soda

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Baking soda helps lift the fabric softener coating off towels during a regular wash cycle. Add 1/2 cup baking soda in with a load of towels, along with a small amount of your usual laundry detergent, to bust up that buildup. Like vinegar, baking soda also helps remove any odors trapped within the towels.

Ditch the Dryer Sheets

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Some dryer sheets also leave a residue on towels, so even if you've stopped using a liquid fabric softener, it may be difficult to remove its buildup because of the dryer sheets. Stop using both products so you can keep your towels residue-free. As an added bonus, the towels maintain their absorbency and natural softness when they aren't coated with slick chemicals. Add a few dryer balls or clean tennis balls to the dryer to help the towels stay soft and fluffy.