How to Clean and Care for Beach Towels

beach towel by the pool

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20

Nothing welcomes summer like a bright and colorful beach towel spread out over white sand, a shady lakeshore spot, or a poolside lounge chair. You rely on your towel for its comfiness, its style, and most specifically, its absorbency. However, sand, salt, chlorine, and sunscreen all do a number on your towel, causing it to fade, stain, or lose its knap. But with a few simple tips—like washing in heavy-duty detergent and using the moisture-sensing cycle on your dryer—you can keep your favorite beach towel fluffy and colorful for many summers to come.

materials for cleaning beach towels

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer or clothesline


  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Enzyme-based stain remover
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Distilled white vinegar


How to Wash Beach Towels
Detergent Heavy-duty detergent (no fabric softener)
Water Temperature Warm, cold, or hot (for extra sanitation)
Cycle Type Regular
Drying Cycle Type Moisture-sensing cycle
Special Treatments Pre-treat stains 
How Often to Wash At least every other day


  1. Shake Out and Dry Beach Towels

    Remove loose debris or sand from the fibers of the towel by giving it a vigorous shake (even if the towel is still wet, and preferably away from unsuspecting sun worshippers). Since sand can still cling to a wet towel, hang the towel to dry completely, and then give it another good shake.

    shaking out a sandy beach towel
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  
  2. Check the Care Label and Sort

    Look at the care label to figure out your beach towel's fiber content and washing instructions. While classic beach towels are made of thick, absorbent cotton, lightweight towels consist of synthetic microfiber.

    Next, sort by color (lights and darks) and fabric type (cotton or synthetic). If you don't have enough towels to make a full load, other laundry items can be added with like fabrics, excluding swimsuits.

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

    Place towels evenly around the center post of a top loader to keep the washer in balance. For all types of washers, make sure not to overload the washer drum. Towels need room to agitate in the cleaning solution in order to get really clean.

    examining the beach towel for stains
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
    • Add Detergent

      Choose a heavy-duty detergent (like Tide and Persil) that contains enough enzymes to break apart soil and stains. If you use a heavy-duty detergent, you may get away without pretreating stains.

      selecting the right washing cycle
      The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
    • Choose the Water Temperature and Cycle

      Opt for a lower water temperature (warm or cold), if you plan on drying your towels in the dryer. The heat from the dryer will take care of any lingering bacteria. However, select the hot water cycle if you'll be sharing towels, or if the towel has been used several days before washing.

      Set your machine to the regular wash cycle, instead of the short or gentle cycle, so that the towels spend plenty of time in the detergent bath.

      loading towels into the washer
      The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
    • Select Your Drying Cycle

      Select the moisture-sensing cycle on newer dryers. On this cycle, the machine will stop when the towels are completely dry to avoid over-drying them and breaking down their fibers. If you don't have a moisture-sensing cycle, the regular cycle, set on medium heat, should do.

      Alternatively, beach towels can be hung on a clothesline to dry.

      selecting the drying cycle
      The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

    Treating Stains on Beach Towels

    Before you toss beach towels into the washer, check them for stains or discoloration. If you see dark stains from self-tanners, yellowing from sunscreen, or organic stains, like blood and grass, treat the stain first before washing as usual.

    Sunscreens contain chemicals that may react with hard water and create brown discolorations on freshly washed towels. To remove sunscreen before washing, spray an oxygen- or enzyme-based stain remover onto the stain and scrub it with a soft-bristled brush, before tossing it into the machine.

    Self-tanners contain dyes that stain your skin, which can also permanently stain towels. So, any spilled product needs immediate attention. First, flush the area with cold water. Next, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach in a sink or bathtub full of cool water, and then submerge the stain for at least eight hours.

    Blood Stains and grass stains can be removed by flushing the stained area with water, and then pretreating the stain with an oxygen-based stain lifter. Allow difficult stains to soak overnight in the solution before laundering as usual.

    Oil Stains from suntan oils or food will require a sprinkle of baking soda applied to the stain for 15 minutes, before adding a stain remover and then washing as usual.

    Beach Towel Care and Repairs

    Beach towels can easily fade with use, and from being exposed to the sun, salt water, and pool chlorine for extended periods of time. For this reason, it is important to launder them after every, or every other, use.

    Never use chlorine bleach on towels, as this can weaken the fibers and further fade the fabric. For cotton towels, use oxygen-based bleach instead, and always be sure to read the product labels and follow the recommendations.

    Faded towels can invoke a sense of nostalgia in die-hard beachgoers. Still, if you want to brighten colored towels, enlist the help of a fabric dye to dye the whole towel. White towels can be brightened after seasons of use, too, by presoaking them in a mixture of 1 cup of baking soda to every gallon of water. Let the towels sit in the solution for up to eight hours before washing as usual.

    Storing Beach Towels

    At the end of the summer, wash and dry your beach towels, and donate any that are past their prime. If you want to save space, roll your towels and tuck them snugly into a large wicker storage basket, or plastic laundry hamper, before stashing them away in a cool, dry closet. You can also fold or roll towels, and store them in a sealable plastic bin that will protect them from any moisture they may encounter during the off-season. Come summer, fluff your stored towels in the dryer before using them, for maximum comfort and absorption.

    How Often to Wash Beach Towels

    Whether you are spending a lazy week at the beach or taking a quick dip in the pool, your towel will make contact with body soil, bacteria, and environmental impurities. That said, ideally, a beach towel should be washed after every use. However, that might not be possible when you're on vacation. So between uses, make sure to hang dry your towel in the sun to help with sanitation.

    To keep colors bright, make sure to rinse towels that are used by the pool every day to remove chlorine residue that can fade them. At the minimum, a beach towel should be washed every other day, depending on the number of times it was used and the level of soiling.

    Tips for Washing Beach Towels

    • Make sure to remove as much sand as possible before washing your towel. Excessive sand or grit in the towel can clog your washer's filters and cause it to malfunction. Eventually, this can lead to leaks or a broken water pump.
    • Always wash new towels alone. While most towels are colorfast, new towels may bleed dye during the first few wash cycles.
    • Never wash towels with other fabrics that attract lint. No one needs a sleek swimsuit or rashguard covered with cotton pilling.
    • To maximize absorbency, skip commercial fabric softeners that coat the fibers. Instead, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to strip away detergent residue. Your towels won't smell like a pickle—we promise—just clean, fresh, and soft to the touch.
    • Always try to tackle stains first before throwing towels into the dryer. Dryer heat will set stains, making them very difficult to remove.
    • Fluff up your stiff, line-dried towels in the dryer before using them to maximize both comfort and absorbency.
    • Why do beach towels get hard after line drying?

      Salt, soap residue, and hard water solids can stiffen the fabric of cotton beach towels, creating a scratchy feel. A quick trip through the dryer on low heat will soften them up and restore their fluff.

    • What happens to towels that stay wet?

      Wet towels can harbor mold, fungus, and bacteria that can cause skin irritation if not removed. Always wash towels that have been sitting damp in hot water, with heavy-duty detergent, before using them again.

    • When should you replace a beach towel?

      When your beach towel has lost its knap, is no longer absorbent, and is greatly faded, it is time to replace it. Generally speaking, beach towels used regularly for two years will need replacing.