You probably haven't spent a lot of time pondering how to wash towels, but perhaps you should. When you step out of the shower, the towel you reach for should feel super soft and smell divine. If your towels are anything less, you're missing out on one of life's simplest pleasures. Happily, a few simple tweaks to your towel-washing routine is all it takes to see what you've been missing.
Here's how to wash your towels properly, plus some tips on towel care to keep your towels soft and give them the longest possible lifespan.
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Things You'll Need
Bleach or color-safe bleach
Laundry drying balls or tennis balls
How to Wash Towels
1. Sort and Prewash
Although sorting is not as crucial with towels as it is with your workwear, washing colored and white towels together does lead to some color bleeding. You can avoid this by separating your towels. Pre-washing is optional but works well when you have gym towels or towels with a strong musty odor.
- Sort your towels, separating colors and whites.
- Give your dirty towels a good shake to fluff them up a bit.
- Throw the towels in the washing machine and wash them with 1/2 cup of baking soda only (no detergent).
2. Wash the Towels
When getting ready to wash your towels, make sure you haven't exceeded the comfortable capacity for your washing machine. An overloaded machine may become unbalanced during the wash cycle and will mash your towels together, preventing them from getting completely clean.
- Add laundry detergent and, if desired, bleach or color-safe bleach, as appropriate. Use about half of the recommended amount of detergent. Too much can build up in towels and leave them flat.
- Set the washing machine to a cycle made for towels or its longest wash cycle for a thorough clean.
- Wash the towels in your desired water temperature.
3. Dry the Towels
You can dry your towels in the dryer or hang them out on a clothesline. Towels smell heavenly when dried outside, but they can get a little stiff. Stick with your dryer if you don't like a crisp towel. Or, you can hang-dry the towels outside and then run them through a heat-free fluff cycle when you bring them inside to soften and fluff them.
- Transfer the towels to the dryer one at a time, shaking out and fluffing each one as you go.
- Toss a few wool laundry balls or tennis balls in the dryer with the towels.
- Set the dryer to a medium setting (or drying time) and dry your towels. Higher heat settings will work but may shorten the length of the cotton fibers in your towels and wear them out quicker. The fabric care label on your towel should always have the final say on how you proceed.
- Remove your towels promptly when they are dry. Overdrying towels may damage the fibers, so dry the towels completely but don't leave them on a longer dryer cycle than necessary.
4. Fold and Store the Towels
When your towels are dry, storing them properly will help keep them fluffy. Don't pile as many towels as you can on your linen closet shelf. Instead, stack only as many towels as will fit comfortably so that you do not squish them together.
- Fold the towels. Fold each towel in half with the open end on the left; then fold in half again. Fold up the bottom third of the towel and then fold down the top third.
- Place the towels in the linen closet or on a storage shelf with the smooth folded edge facing out for a cleaner look and to make grabbing a towel easier when you need one.
- If desired, lay a dryer sheet on the linen closet shelf under or next to your towels to keep them smelling fresh.
Making sure you have soft, fluffy towels starts with buying the right ones. Poor-quality towels will always be poor-quality towels no matter how you wash and dry them. Cotton is super absorbent and strong, so try to buy towels made of 100 percent cotton. Loop count matters too. When towel fibers are woven, the material forms a series of small loops. The more loops per square inch, the better the towel will dry you. A high thread count generally indicates more loops.
How the threads in the towel are constructed also makes a difference. Some threads are combed, which means the shortest threads are removed so only the strongest, longest, and highest-quality threads remain. Another construction methods is ringspun. This process twists both short and long threads tightly together, resulting in a strong thread that has a more luxurious feel compared to combed cotton.
Your other two options are terry and twist. Twisted threads are similar to ringspun, but the fibers are spun together far more slowly — think spinning wheel versus factory equipment. The twisting process is a less rigorous one, and fewer twists make the towel feel softer. More twists make the towel last longer, but fewer twists make it more absorbent because it increases the surface area. Finally, there are terry towels. These are made using extra thread to produce larger loops for superior absorbency.
But there is one more factor to consider: weight. Towel makers measure weight in grams per square meter (GSM), which breaks down as follows:
GSM in Towels
Light and quick-drying; great for kitchen towels
Medium weight but soft; most bath and beach towels
Heavy, thick, and very absorbent; takes a long time to dry
When shopping for towels, compare durability and comfort. The best way to pick the right towel characteristics for you is to actually feel the towels yourself. Shop online only once you know which characteristics you prefer.
Should I wash new towels before I use them?
Absolutely. New towels sometimes contain treatments to make them look extra fluffy and feel super soft on store shelves. And it's likely too that many people have handled the towels before they get to you. Always wash a new towel prior to using it for the first time.
Do you wash towels on hot or cold?
Nowadays, this is largely a matter of choice. In the past, laundry experts recommended washing white towels in hot water and colored towels in warm water, and some still do. Thanks to advances in washing machine technology, however, other experts now claim that cold water cleans effectively and can help you save on energy costs.
Can you wash towels with clothes?
Can you? Yes. Should you? No. Just like your clothes, towels can harbor dirt and bacteria. But towels hold different types of bacteria than your everyday clothes. Do you really want the germs from your kid's kindergarten classroom spreading to the towel you wrap yourself in after a bath?
Washing towels separately also gives you more control over the water temperature you use and whether or not you can use bleach. It also prevents overdrying your clothes, as towels often take longer to dry than other items.
How do you wash towels so they stay fluffy?
There are several tricks to getting super-fluffy towels. The first is to stop using fabric softeners. This seems backward, but fabric softener leaves a waxy buildup on towels that can make them much less fluffy and less absorbent. It's also a good idea to shake out your towels to open up the fibers before tossing them in the washer, and then do it again before transferring them to the dryer.
Avoid overloading your washing machine when washing towels as well. A cramped machine mushes the towels together and flattens them. Dial back your detergent usage a bit too. Too much detergent stiffens towels. Drying towels with wool dryer balls also fluffs them up.
Is it OK to use the same towel for a week?
Using the same bath towel for a week may be pushing things a bit too far. The experts recommend washing your bath towel every three to four uses and hand towels every two days. This timeline shortens significantly if you crumple the towel on the floor rather than hanging it to properly air-dry. When in doubt, take a whiff of the towel. If it smells like mildew, it's time for a fresh towel.
What detergent is best for towels?
It's perfectly fine to wash your towels with your favorite laundry detergent. They really don't need anything special. You should also feel free to use bleach for your white towels and color-safe bleach for your colored towels unless the care label says otherwise.