Can You Wash Dish Towels in the Dishwasher?

Dish towels are essential for keeping your kitchen clean. You use them multiple times a day to wipe up spills, dry dishes, and clean countertops. It’s important to wash dish towels regularly to remove bacteria and prevent the spread of germs. But can you toss dirty dish towels in the dishwasher to clean them?

Can You Wash Dish Towels in the Dishwasher

This is a common question many homeowners have. The dishwasher seems like an easy and convenient way to clean grimy dish towels. However, there are a few things to consider before putting dish towels in the dishwasher.

Should You Put Dish Towels in the Dishwasher?

There are pros and cons to washing dish towels in the dishwasher. Here are a few things to think about:

Pros of Washing Dish Towels in the Dishwasher

  • High heat. Dishwashers use very hot water, often reaching 140-150°F or higher. This can help sanitize dish towels and kill bacteria and germs more effectively than washing in the washing machine.
  • Convenience. You can wash dish towels at the same time as dirty dishes. No need to wait until you have enough towels for a full washing machine load.
  • Water and energy savings. Washing dish towels in the dishwasher allows you to maximize each wash cycle. You use less water and energy than running multiple small washing machine loads.

Cons of Washing Dish Towels in the Dishwasher

  • Less cleaning power. Dishwashers are designed to clean hard surfaces like plates and glasses. They may not get dish towels as fully clean as the washing machine.
  • Potential damage. The high heat and harsh dishwasher detergent could prematurely wear down cotton dish towels, causing fraying or holes.
  • No spin cycle. Dishwashers don’t spin out excess water like a washing machine. Dish towels may stay soggy and take longer to fully dry.
  • Transfer of germs. There’s a small risk of spreading bacteria from dirty dishes onto the towels.

Tips for Washing Dish Towels in the Dishwasher

If you do want to wash dish towels in the dishwasher, follow these tips for the best results:

  • Use the hottest wash setting on your dishwasher, at least 140°F. This helps properly sanitize towels.
  • Add bleach or a sanitizing rinse aid to kill bacteria. Make sure it’s dishwasher safe.
  • Shake out any solid debris from towels first so food doesn’t get stuck in the dishwasher filter.
  • Place towels on the top rack so they get fully exposed to water coverage.
  • Avoid cramming in towels. Overstuffing can lead to poor cleaning.
  • Inspect towels after washing. If grease or stains remain, rewash in the dishwasher or machine.
  • Air dry towels completely to prevent mildew growth. Don’t use the dishwasher drying cycle.
  • Disinfect with vinegar. Occasionally run a hot dishwasher cycle with only vinegar to sanitize the interior.

Key Takeaway: You can wash dish towels in the dishwasher, but use the hottest setting, bleach, and fully dry towels for the best results.

When to Avoid Washing Dish Towels in the Dishwasher

Here are a few instances when it’s better to skip the dishwasher and wash dish towels using your regular washing machine:

  • Heavily soiled towels with lots of grease, oil, or stuck-on food debris. The dishwasher may not get them fully clean.
  • Highly absorbent towels like flour sack towels. The lack of a spin cycle will leave them dripping wet.
  • Damaged or worn towels. The harsh dishwasher environment could worsen holes, tears, and fraying.
  • Specialty towels like microfiber or antibacterial towels. The heat and detergent could break down materials.
  • When dishes aren’t very dirty. You don’t need an intense dishwasher cycle. Save it for filthy dishes.
  • If towel fabric is unknown. Playing it safe prevents damage to towels made with delicate materials.

In most cases, lightly to moderately soiled standard cotton dish towels can go in the dishwasher successfully. But avoid making it a daily habit. For heavily soiled towels or special fabrics, the washing machine is the safer choice.

How to Wash Dish Towels in the Washing Machine

Washing dish towels in the machine is simple. Here’s how to do it:

  • Shake off crumbs and debris. Pre-rinsing in the sink helps too but isn’t required.
  • Wash towels in hot water, at least 130°F, using a full machine cycle.
  • Use a laundry detergent specially formulated for disinfecting. Look for ones containing bleach.
  • Add chlorine bleach to the detergent dispenser. 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup is recommended for disinfecting.
  • Dry towels completely. Remove from washer immediately and hang up or tumble dry on hot. Avoid letting sit wet.

The combination of hot water, bleach containing detergent, and machine agitation helps remove soils, bacteria, and odors from dish towels. Proper drying prevents mold and mildew growth.

Key Takeaway: For best results, wash dirty dish towels in the machine using hot water, bleach detergent, and completely dry towels immediately after.

Dish Towel Care Tips

Properly caring for dish towels between washes will keep them cleaner longer:

  • Don’t use towels for long periods between washings. Wash every few uses at minimum.
  • Rinse towels under hot water to remove debris and soils after heavy use before reuse.
  • Hang towels to dry between uses instead of leaving damp.
  • Rotate towels frequently and allow fully dry before using again. Have sets to swap out.
  • Discard extremely dirty or worn towels. Don’t risk transferring bacteria onto hands or dishes.
  • Wash and disinfect kitchen sinks and counters before placing clean towels out for use.
  • Avoid wiping hands on towels before handling food to prevent transfer of germs.
  • Consider paper towels for messes containing dangerous bacteria like raw meat juices.

With proper dish towel maintenance and regular hot water washing, you can keep these hardworking kitchen towels fresh and hygienic.


Can you put dish towels in the washing machine?

Yes, the washing machine is perfectly safe for washing dish towels. Use hot water, bleach detergent, and machine dry immediately after washing.

How often should you wash dish towels?

Ideally, wash dish towels after every 3-5 uses. At minimum, aim to wash them 2-3 times per week if used daily. Don’t let them go more than a week without washing.

Should dish towels be washed separately?

It’s best to wash kitchen dish towels separately from other household linens. You can wash them along with kitchen rags or other heavily used towels.

How do you sanitize dish towels?

Wash towels in hot 130°F+ water with added bleach. The combination disinfects and kills germs. Or run towel-only loads with a sanitizing washer cycle.

Why do my dish towels smell bad?

Towels that smell are usually left wet or damp too long before fully drying. Mildew and bacteria grow rapidly on moist towels. Be sure to dry thoroughly after each wash.

Do you have to use hot water to wash dish towels?

Hot 130°F+ water is recommended to sanitize towels and remove grease. However, you can wash in warm or cold water with added bleach or sanitizing detergent.


Hot water washing helps kill germs and bacteria. Use the hottest setting possible. Add bleach or sanitizing detergent to disinfect towels. 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup bleach per wash load. Wash dish towels separately from other household linens like sheets and clothes. Dry towels completely after washing to prevent mildew odors. Don’t leave damp. Wash towels frequently, every 3-5 uses. Don’t let them go longer than 1 week without laundering. Inspect for wear and discard extremely dirty or worn out towels. Consider paper towels for raw meat and dangerous bacterial messes.

With proper care and frequent hot water washing, your dish towels can be kept fresh and germ-free for use in your kitchen.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.