How to Soften Towels

folded white towels

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Even the plushest towels can feel stiff and scratchy after a few months. It's because of how they're washed and dried, and if you have hard water, but with a little TLC, you can safely soften towels.

Washing towels in hard water leaves a build-up of minerals, as well as body soil, body oils, detergents, and chemicals on the fibers. Stripping all the gunk away is the best method for softening towels. Learn from the following steps how to soften towels and ways to prevent the problem from happening on future purchases.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water has high amounts of dissolved minerals, mostly calcium and magnesium. The higher the concentration of these minerals, the harder the water.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Clothes dryer
  • Wool dryer balls (optional)
  • Outdoor clothesline (optional)
  • Water softening system (optional)


  • Hot water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Household ammonia (optional)


How to Soften Towels
Detergent None
Water Temperature Warm or hot
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Medium heat or permanent press
Special Treatments Distilled vinegar, conditioned water
materials for softening towels

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  1. Load the Washer With Towels

    Gather similarly colored towels and washcloths, and load them into the washer. Do not overload the washer because the towels need room to move in the washer drum.

    person adding towels to the washer
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  2. Select the Water Temperature and Cycle

    To remove body soil, detergent, and fabric softener build-up that is causing the problem, select the warm or hot water option. Set the cycle to normal wash.

    selecting a washer cycle
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  3. Add Distilled White Vinegar and Wash as Usual

    If you have pre-loaded automatic detergent and fabric softener dispensers, disengage them for this load. Do not add any detergent or fabric softener. Instead, add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the washer drum. The vinegar will help strip away the residue left in the towels that is causing them to feel stiff.

    adding white vinegar to the cycle
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 


    If you live in an area that has hard water and don't use a water-softening system, it will take more than vinegar to cut through the mineral deposits built-up in the fibers of your towels. Instead of vinegar, add one cup of household ammonia to the hot water wash. Do not add anything else. Combining other products with ammonia can cause toxic fumes.

  4. Load the Dryer Correctly and Choose the Correct Cycle

    As you remove the towels from the washer, give them a quick shake to help fluff the fibers before you toss them in the dryer. Choose a medium heat or permanent press setting to prevent over-drying the fibers. After loading the dryer, toss in several wool dryer balls if you have them. The balls will "beat" the towel fibers during the tumbling action, leaving them softer and fluffier. Give the towels another good shake as you remove them from the dryer before folding.

    adding dryer balls to the dryer
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 


    If you choose to hang your freshly vinegar-washed towels on an outdoor clothesline or drying rack, they may still feel a bit stiff after drying. Give the dry towel a quick knead to help loosen fibers before folding.

  5. Repeat If Needed

    If the residue is particularly heavy and the towels have not returned to a soft state, repeat the steps.

    Repeating the washing steps to soften towels

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Tips to Keep Your Towels Softer Longer

  • Reduce the amount of laundry detergent you use in each load of towels: Excessive detergent leaves residue in towel fibers and causes them to feel scratchy.
  • Increase your washing water temperature: Warm or hot water will produce better results, especially if you do not use a heavy-duty detergent.
  • Don't overcrowd your washer when washing towels.
  • Replace commercial fabric softeners with distilled white vinegar to combat residue that reduces absorbency.
  • If you like the feel and scent left by commercial fabric softeners, use them sparingly, and do a deep cleaning monthly with vinegar to prevent excessive build-up in the fibers.
  • Clean your washer, especially a front-load washer, regularly to remove detergent and fabric softener residue that encourages mold and mildew growth and causes strong odors that easily transfer to towel fabric.
  • Use wool dryer balls and a lower heat setting in the dryer to keep towels fluffy.
  • Install a water-softening system if you have hard water.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Household Cleaners. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.