How to Clean and Care for Beach Towels

beach towel by the pool

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

Nothing says summer like a bright and colorful beach towel spread over white sands, a shady picnic spot, or a poolside lounge chair. But those towels take lots of abuse from sand, salt, chlorine, sunscreen, and tanning products. Knowing how to best wash and clean your favorite beach towel will help it last for many summers to come.

Whether you are spending a lazy week at the beach or just taking a quick dip in the pool, the towel you use is coming in contact with body soil and bacteria as well as environmental factors. Ideally, a beach towel should be washed after every use.

However, when you're on vacation, that may not be possible. Between uses, the towel should be hung to dry, preferably in the sun where it will dry quickly and take advantage of the ultraviolet rays that help with sanitation. If you want to keep the bright colors, rinse towels that are used by the pool each day to remove chlorine residue that can fade colors.

A beach towel should then be washed at least every other day depending on the number of times it was used and the level of soiling.

How to Wash Beach Towels
Detergent choice Heavy-duty detergent, skip fabric softener
Water temperature Warm or cold, or hot if extra sanitation is needed
Cycle type Regular
Dryer cycle type Moisture-sensing cycle
Special treatments Pre-treat stains 

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

Instructions

materials for cleaning beach towels
The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  
  1. Shake Out and Dry Beach Towels

    After every use, it is important to remove any loose land or soil from the fibers of the towel. Even if the towel is wet, give it a vigorous shake (preferably away from unsuspecting sun-lovers) to remove debris. Since sand will cling to a wet towel, hang the towel to dry completely and then give it a good shake again.

    shaking out a sandy beach towel
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  

    Tip

    Avoid a Sand Disaster

    Besides the uncomfortable feel of a sandy beach towel on your skin, there is another reason to get rid of as much sand as possible after every use. Excessive sand or grit in the towel can cause your washer to malfunction. All of that sand flows toward the washer's filters and causes them to become clogged. This leads to washer leaks and broken water pumps.

  2. Check Care Labels and Sort Your Beach Towels

    While most beach towels are made of thick, absorbent cotton, there are towels made of synthetic microfibers. Take the time to look at the care label to find out the fiber content and washing instructions.

    When it's time to wash a load of beach towels, be sure to sort by color (light and dark). While most are colorfast, new towels may bleed dye during the first few wash cycles.

    If you don't have enough towels to make a full load, other types of laundry can be added. Just be sure to choose fabrics that do not attract lint. No one needs a sleek swimsuit or rash guard covered with cotton lint.

    checking the care label on a towel
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  3. Load the Towels into the Washer

    If washing the towels in a top-load washer with a center agitator, place them evenly around the center post to keep the washer in balance. For every type of washer, do not overload the washer drum. The towels need room to move in the cleaning solution to get really clean.

    loading towels into the washer
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  4. Choose Detergent, Water Temperature, and Cycle

    To get beach towels clean you need to make the right choices in water temperature, washer cycle, and laundry detergent.

    If you plan to toss the towels in the dryer, you can opt for a lower washing water temperature (warm or cold). The heat of the dryer will take care of any lingering bacteria. However, if someone using the towels has athlete's foot or any other type of fungal or bacterial infection, opt for hot water. Instead of a short or gentle cycle, choose the regular wash cycle so that the towels spend plenty of time in the detergent solution.

    For the best results, choose a heavy-duty detergent (Tide and Persil are brand names) that contains enough enzymes to break apart soil and stains so they can be washed away. By using a heavy-duty detergent, you probably won't need to pretreat stains.

    selecting the right washing cycle
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

    Tip

    Skip the Fabric Softener

    To keep towels as absorbent as possible, skip commercial fabric softeners that coat the fibers. Simply add one cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to strip away any detergent residue that leaves towels stiff and scratchy. They won't smell like a pickle, just clean and fresh and soft to the touch.

  5. Stain Removal

    Before you toss the beach towels into the dryer, check them for any stains or discoloration. If you see color bleeding, dark stains from self-tanners or yellowing from sunscreen, skip the dryer until you can treat the problem. The heat of the dryer will set the stains and make them very difficult to remove.

    Here's how to remove specific stains often found on beach towels:

    examining the beach towel for stains
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  6. Select Your Drying Cycle

    Once the towels are wash and removed of all stains, choose your dryer's moisture-sensing cycle. This way the machine will stop when the towels are dry to avoid over-drying them. Beach towels can be hung on a clothesline to dry, too.

    selecting the drying cycle
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

How to Restore Dull and Dingy Beach Towels

Beach towels can easily fade with lots of use and being exposed to sun, salt, and chlorine for extended periods of time. Do not use chlorine bleach on towels, as this can weaken the fibers and further fade the fabric. For cotton towels, use an oxygen-based bleach, as it will work more slowly. See our guide on how to wash cotton for best practices. Always be sure to read the product labels and follow the recommendations.