How to Wash Your Towels to Keep Them Clean and Fluffy
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These easy laundry tips will ensure that your towels look and feel brand new—and are truly clean.
Knowing how to wash towels properly is the gift that keeps on giving. After all, nothing beats the feeling of wrapping yourself up in a soft, luxurious towel when you get out of the shower. Not only does proper towel-washing help keep them clean and stink-free, but it will also extend the life of your towels, keeping them in tip-top shape instead of letting them become raggedy, limp, and scratchy with age.
While you might already know a lot about how to do laundry, figuring out how to wash towels is a whole different ball game. After all, it’s all too easy to end up with smelly towels—and a larger but invisible problem like bacteria buildup. Read on for everything you need to know about keeping your towels clean and fluffy for the long haul, from how often you should wash them to what you should be washing them with. Once you’re up to speed, find out how to wash a down comforter, bed sheets, and pillows for equally amazing results.
How often should you wash your towels?
You should wash your towels every two to three days, according to both Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Chuck Gerba, PhD, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona. Hold out longer than that and bacteria will start to build up on your towel, leaving it dirty and possibly even smelly.
However, if you’re acne-prone, you might want to wash your towel every time you use it, says Tierno, rather than waiting a day or two between washes. As you rub your skin—especially open pustules—with a dirty towel, bacteria from your used towel could get on your skin and give you zits.
One caveat: If you have a heated towel rack that speeds up dry time, you might get away with washing it after four uses—but that’s “pushing it,” says Tierno.
Why it’s important to wash your towel regularly
Beyond leaving your towels smelling so fresh and clean, experts say washing them regularly is important for a number of reasons.
- It reduces the growth and buildup of bacteria. You only use your towel after scrubbing off in the shower, so it can’t get all that dirty, right? Not so fast. “When you say you wash off bacteria, you’re partially correct—you wash off some bacteria,” says Tierno, PhD. But some bacteria sticks around, and it gets on your towel during your post-shower rubdown. Once that bacteria is on there, it will start to multiply. “It keeps building up as you use the towel again day after day,” says Gerba. In fact, a study led by Gerba found that used hand towels have 1,000 times more coliform bacteria than newly bought ones.
- It reduces the risk of infection and acne. “When you use a towel vigorously, you scratch your skin,” says Gerba. Those tiny breaks in the surface of your skin—which are too small to notice—give bacteria an entryway to get in your body, which could result in pimples or, worse, an infection.
- It reduces musty odors. When bacteria builds up on your towel, it can start smelling musty or mildewy, and there’s nothing pleasant about that!
- It keeps them fluffy and absorbent. Freshly laundered towels work better at absorbing liquid—which, of course, is the whole purpose of a towel!—since the towel fibers have more air between them and aren’t matted down. You’ll also want to know how to choose the right dryer setting, too.
How to wash towels
Of course, you want the best laundry detergent for the job. Once you have that, follow these steps for how to wash towels the right way:
- Separate your towels from the rest of your laundry and wash them separately, keeping colored towels and white towels separate to avoid bleeding.
- Add about half the amount of detergent as usual (using too much detergent can cause buildup on your towels that reduce their absorption), as well as non-chlorine bleach (if needed). Skip the fabric softener entirely, which could also decrease absorption.
- Wash white towels in hot water and colored towels in warm water, using a regular cycle for both.
- Once the wash cycle has finished, remove towels from the washing machine and shake out each one before putting it in the dryer. This loosens up the fabric’s loops and helps with drying and fluffiness.
- Dry towels on medium to low heat until dried completely; any remaining moisture could cause mildew. That said, avoid overdrying, which could damage the fabric fibers with time. It’s also a good idea to use dryer balls to make towels extra fluffy and to avoid twisting and clumping.
- Remove towels from the dryer immediately and shake them out again to ensure fluffiness before hanging or folding for storage.
If you’re washing microfiber towels, the process is slightly different. Make sure to follow those special rules so they retain their cleaning magic.
Washing towels with vinegar
If your freshly laundered towels smell musty, vinegar may be your new best friend. Simply add 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. This will help deodorize your towels and remove any detergent buildup that could be affecting their absorbency.
Additional towel-washing tips
Knowing how to wash towels will only get you so far. These tips will take your laundry game up another notch and ensure that you don’t make an all-too-common mistake.
- Wash towels separately. Whenever possible, don’t mix towels into your normal clothing loads. This helps extend the life of your towels by reducing the risk of pulled threads that can get caught on buttons or zippers.
- Wash new towels before using. Towels are often coated with silicone to make the fabric look and feel great in stores. However, these coatings can make your towels less absorbent, which is why laundering them first is a good idea.
- Air-dry towels between uses. Allowing your towel to air-dry fully cuts down bacteria growth, according to Tierno. Instead of folding it, leave it open and drape it on the rod. The more surface area that’s exposed to the air, the better it will dry.
- Don’t use dryer sheets. Dryer sheets, while amazing for your clothes, leave a fabric-softening residue on your towels, and that makes them less absorbent.
- Remove towels from the dryer right away. The secret to the fluffiest towels: Don’t let them sit in the dryer! The fibers will have more fluff and air between them if you remove them promptly.
- Dry towels on low heat. With time, high heat can damage towel fibers and decrease their life span (which is one to two years on average).
- Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine
- Chuck Gerba, PhD, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona
- Food Protection Trends: “Bacterial occurrence in kitchen hand towels”