How to Wash Towels to Keep Them Soft and Smelling Fresh

Learn how to wash towels the right way (in the washing machine and not), as well as tips for drying and folding towels like a pro. These simple care tips will help keep your towels softer and last longer.

Washing towels can appear to be simple, but following the right method is essential if you want them to last. While you can clean a towel by simply tossing it into the washing machine, these helpful tips help keep your towels looking and feeling fresh even after several washes. With the proper washing and drying techniques, you can avoid musty odors and faded colors to preserve the soft, fluffy texture of your towels. For the best laundry tips, follow this handy guide that covers how often you should wash your towels, whether you can wash towels with clothes, and what settings to use when washing towels with different colors and fabrics.

Bathroom with light blue walls and hanging white towels
Laura Moss

Wash New Towels Before Use

Before you learn how to wash towels, note that you should clean them before first-time use. Most new towels are coated with silicone or other finishes that block absorbency. This coating gives them that extra-fluffy look and feel at the store. Washing your new towels removes these finishes and allows for maximum absorbency.

Washing Towels with Vinegar

To prevent colors from bleeding, wash colored towels with similar shades in warm water for the first several washes. Use about half the recommended amount of detergent while washing and add ½ to 1 cup of white vinegar to the water during the rinse cycle. The vinegar helps set the colors and removes excess detergent residue.

laundry room white open shelves with folded towels and products
Brittany Ambridge

How Often to Wash Towels

You no longer have to guess how often you should wash your towels—the answer is every three to four days. The best way to wash colored towels is with warm water and color-safe bleach, if necessary. For white towels, use hot water and non-chlorine bleach as needed. White towels should be washed separately or with other white items to avoid subtle discoloration over time.

laundry hampers under sink
Jay Wilde

Can You Wash Towels with Clothes?

Washing towels with clothes can transfer germs and bacteria between items in the wash. For sanitary reasons, you should always wash bath towels separately from clothing items. Putting towels in their own load also makes it easier to adjust the setting based on color. It's also easier to dry towels in the same load since damp towels dry slower than most clothes.

How to Use Fabric Softener with Towels

Use fabric softener according to directions, but add it only every three or four washes. Waxy buildup from softeners can deteriorate the towel fibers over time and reduce their absorbency. No one wants a towel that's not fluffy, so be careful when using fabric softener with towels.

Shake Towels Before Drying

Give your towels a shake when taking them out of the washer. This will help fluff the terry loops that aid absorbency. Don't iron terry towels, which will reduce absorbency. Shaking your towels also helps prevent them from twisting into a ball in the dryer, lengthening their drying time.

modern laundry room with built-in shelving and farmhouse sink
Greg Scheidemann Pictures

How to Dry Towels

Ensure that towels are dry when you remove them from the dryer, keeping in mind that clothes dry quicker than towels. Even slightly damp towels can quickly mildew. The best dryer setting for towels is the regular or automatic setting that you use for other durable fabrics. This will use the highest heat and be most efficient in getting the job done. (Avoid overdrying; it can destroy the integrity of the individual cotton fibers.)

diy wooded bathroom vanity with baskets and white accents
Edmund Barr Photographer

Other Tips for Washing Towels

Not all fabrics are made the same, and that should be considered while washing towels. Some towels feature decorative trims to add a soft design element amid the hard, shiny surfaces of the bathroom. If possible, use towels with specialty trims as accents only, as this limits their laundering and reduces the wear on the ribbon, rickrack, lace, or other decorative elements.

Folded towels sitting on bed
Jay Wilde

Towel Buying Tips

Match Towels to Your Style: Towels, face cloths, and bath mats are as much decorative accessories as necessities. You can choose from the ever-popular classic white or an array of colors, trims, and patterns. Fluffy white towels give a clean, spa-like feel to a primary, guest, or shared family bath. White and other light, neutral towels coordinate with virtually any bathroom color and tend to have more longevity than colorful ones. Because colors tend to fade over time, you may want to buy extras.

Choose the Best Towel Materials: Because of its absorbency and strength, cotton is the fabric of choice for most bath towels. The manufacturing process and the choice of material affect a towel's absorbency. Although sheared towels—in which the tops of the loops are cut off—are the most absorbent, they aren't necessarily the best for drying. Towels don't dry you off simply from absorbing moisture; the fiber loops also brush water off your body. Bottom line: the number of loops per square inch is the most important indicator of towel performance.

Follow Towel Care Instructions: Good-quality bath towels can last for 10 years with proper care. Always check the label on your towels for particular care instructions before proceeding with washing and drying.

white bathroom black trim windows with chair holding towels
Kip Dawkins

How to Fold Towels

Fold bath towels and hand towels in thirds for best use of shelf space. Fold the towel in half, with open ends to the left, then fold in half again. Fold up the bottom third of the towel, then fold the top third down. When storing, face the outer edge of the towel to the front to make it easy to use in a single grab.

Linen bathroom hand towels can be safely ironed for a crisp finish. After ironing, fold linen towels in thirds like other towels.

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