How to Wash Towels in 3 Easy Steps

White and tan towels folded in bathroom next to houseplant and wicker basket with rolled gray towels

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

How you wash towels can make the difference between having soft, absorbent towels to use after a shower or having stiff, stale-smelling ones. Fortunately, washing towels is simple if you follow these three steps.

Before You Begin

There are a few rules that will help you up your towel-washing game:

  • Don't use a cheap detergent that is mostly water. It won't remove the body soil left in towels.
  • Don't forget to sort towels by color to prevent dye transfer.
  • Don't use fabric softeners (or use them sparingly) because they reduce the absorbency of the towel.
  • Don't dry on high heat; lower temperatures make fluffier towels.
  • Don't use a towel more than three times before you wash it.
  • Don't leave a damp towel on the floor or bunched up on a hook between uses.
 Detergent  Heavy-duty laundry detergent
 Water Temperature  Warm to hot, check the care label
 Cycle Type  Normal wash
 Drying Cycle Type  Tumble-dry on low heat
 Special Treatments  Do not use fabric softeners in the rinse cycle

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 washer or large laundry sink
  • 1 clothes dryer or drying rack
  • 2 to 3 wool dryer balls
  • 1 soft-bristled nylon brush

Materials

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

Instructions

How to Wash Towels

  1. Sort the Towels

    Tip

    Sheets and towels can be washed together by grouping the sheets and towels by fabrics and colors.

  2. Select the Washer Settings, Detergent, and Load the Washer

    • Wash white cotton towels in hot water to remove stains and bacteria.
    • Select warm water for colored towels or towels made from bamboo or microfiber.
    • Use the normal wash cycle, instead of the short or gentle cycle, so that the towels spend plenty of time in the detergent.
    • Choose a heavy-duty detergent that contains enough enzymes to break apart soil and stains. Add it directly to the washer drum or the detergent dispenser. Read the product label and measure your detergent to prevent over-usage.
    • 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 to get thoroughly clean.

    Tip

    Do not add commercial fabric softeners to the rinse cycle. The softeners leave a coating on the towel fibers that make them feel silky but also interferes with the absorbency of the towel. If you still want to use a fabric softener, use a half dose and add only every other time you wash the towels.

  3. Dry the Towels and Keep Them Soft

    • As you remove the towels from the washer, give each one a good shake to speed up the drying time.
    • Select the moisture-sensing cycle on newer dryers so the machine will stop when the towels are dry to avoid over-drying that breaks down their fibers.
    • Use low or medium heat when drying towels.
    • Add two or three wool dryer balls to the dryer drum to help fluff and soften fibers.

    Tip

    If line-drying towels or using a dryer rack, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle during washing. The vinegar will help remove any detergent residue left in the fibers that can make towels feel scratchy and stiff.


Treating Stains on Towels

If you are using a heavy-duty detergent, most towel stains will come out during regular washing. However, some stains may need extra attention.

  • Blood: Hold the towel under a faucet running cold water at full force to flush out the blood. Fill a sink with cool water and oxygen-based bleach powder. You'll want to follow the product label directions for exact amounts. Submerge the towel and allow it to soak for at least four hours and then wash as usual.
  • Sunscreens: These products contain chemicals that may react with hard water and create brown discolorations on freshly washed towels. To remove stains, 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: The dyes can permanently stain towels. For fresh stains, flush the area with cold water. Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach in a sink or bathtub full of cool water and submerge the towel for at least eight hours. Wash as usual.
  • Make-up and Mascara: An oil and dye combination stain can be difficult to remove. Apply a pre-wash stain remover and work it into the towel with a soft-bristled brush. Allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before washing the towel as usual.

Care and Repair

  • White and colored towels can be brightened by soaking them in a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water for eight hours.
  • Small rips along the edges of towels can be repaired by sewing with a matching thread. Once the towels become worn and threadbare, give them new life by turning them into cleaning cloths.

Storing

Towels should be completely dry before folding or storing to prevent mildew from forming. If you detect a stale odor from a towel storage area, the towels aren't clean and should all be washed following the recommended steps.

How Often to Wash Towels

 Hand towels  Wash after one day's use
 Washcloths  Wash after every use
 Bath towels  Wash after 3 uses, hang to dry between uses
 Illness  Wash every type of towel after every use if someone is ill
 Gym towels  Wash after every use

Tips for Washing Towels

  • Always wash new towels before using them to remove sizing and reduce lint.
  • 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.
  • If stains remain on towels after washing, do not dry the towels on high heat. Treat the stains and rewash the towels.
  • To soften line-dried towels, tumble them in a dryer for five minutes.
FAQ
  • Can towels be washed by hand?

    If you don't have access to a washing machine, towels can be washed in the bathtub.

  • Can towels be washed with other clothes or laundry?

    Can you wash them with other laundry? Yes. Should you? No. Cotton towels are lint shedders that can leave other clothes covered with lint. Microfiber towels are lint attractors that will have small pills of lint if you wash them with cotton t-shirts. Plus, towels are best washed in warm or hot water and your other laundry may suffer.

  • Can towels be washed with colored clothes?

    If you plan to wash towels with other laundry, be sure to sort by color. Wash white towels with white clothes and dark-colored towels with dark-colored laundry.