How to Wash Towels to Keep Them Soft and Smelling Fresh

Washing towels may seem like a simple task, but there’s more to it than just tossing them in the washing machine.

How to Wash Towels to Keep Them Soft and Smelling Fresh

Proper care is essential to keep your towels feeling soft, absorbent, and smelling fresh.

Preparing to Wash Towels

Before you start washing your towels, there are a few important steps to take:

  1. Separate colors: Divide your towels into separate loads based on color. Never wash white towels with colored ones, as this can cause discoloration over time.
  2. Check labels: Read the care labels on your towels to ensure you’re following the manufacturer’s recommendations for washing and drying.
  3. Pretreat stains: If your towels have any stubborn stains, pretreat them before washing. You can use a stain remover or make a paste with baking soda and water, and gently rub it into the stain.
  4. Wash new towels separately: When you bring home new towels, wash them separately before using them. This will remove any chemicals or finishes that manufacturers use to make the towels look fluffy and soft in the store.

Washing Towels in the Machine

Now that you’ve prepared your towels, it’s time to start washing them. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Choose the right cycle: Use the regular or normal cycle when washing towels. These cycles are designed to provide a thorough cleaning and rinse.
  2. Use the right temperature: For white towels, use hot water to help maintain their brightness and remove any stains or buildup. For colored towels, use warm water to prevent fading.
  3. Don’t overload the machine: Overloading the washing machine can prevent your towels from getting fully clean. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the maximum load size, which is typically around seven bath towels for a front-loading machine and ten for a top-loading machine.
  4. Avoid excessive detergent: Using too much detergent can leave a residue on your towels, making them stiff and less absorbent. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the appropriate amount of detergent to use.
  5. Consider using vinegar: Adding 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle can help remove any residual detergent and keep your towels soft and fresh.
  6. Avoid fabric softener: While fabric softener can make your towels feel softer initially, it can also cause a buildup on the fibers, reducing their absorbency over time.

Drying Towels

Proper drying is just as important as washing when it comes to maintaining the quality of your towels. Here are some tips:

  1. Shake out towels before drying: After the wash cycle is complete, shake out each towel to help fluff up the fibers before putting them in the dryer.
  2. Use the right dryer settings: Dry your towels on the regular or automatic setting, which uses the highest heat to ensure they get completely dry. Overdrying can damage the fibers, so avoid using an extended drying cycle.
  3. Remove promptly: Once the drying cycle is finished, remove your towels from the dryer immediately. Leaving them in the dryer for too long can cause wrinkles and make them feel stiff.
  4. Consider air drying: If you prefer, you can air dry your towels by hanging them or laying them flat. However, this can sometimes make them feel a bit stiff. If you choose this method, consider tossing them in the dryer for a few minutes on a no-heat cycle to fluff up the fibers before using them.

Caring for Your Towels

In addition to proper washing and drying, there are a few other tips to help keep your towels in great condition:

  • Wash towels frequently: Towels should be washed every three to four uses to prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors.
  • Store towels properly: Make sure to store your towels in a dry, well-ventilated area. Damp towels can quickly develop mildew and musty smells.
  • Refresh towels with vinegar: If your towels start to develop a musty odor, you can refresh them by washing them with just vinegar and no detergent.
  • Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets: As mentioned earlier, these products can reduce the absorbency of your towels over time.
  • Replace towels when necessary: Even with proper care, towels will eventually wear out and become less absorbent. Replace them as needed to maintain the quality and hygiene of your bathroom linens.


How often should I wash my towels?

Towels should be washed every three to four uses, or more frequently if someone in your household is sick.

Can I wash towels with clothes?

It’s generally not recommended to wash towels with clothes. Towels are heavier and require a more vigorous wash cycle, which can cause damage to more delicate clothing items.

Why are my towels stiff after washing?

If your towels feel stiff after washing, you may be using too much detergent or fabric softener, which can leave a residue on the fibers. Try using less detergent and skip the fabric softener entirely.

Can I use bleach on my towels?

You can use bleach on white towels to help keep them bright and remove stains. However, avoid using chlorine bleach on colored towels, as it can cause fading. Instead, opt for a color-safe bleach alternative.

How do I remove musty smells from towels?

If your towels develop a musty smell, try washing them with just vinegar and no detergent. The vinegar will help neutralize any odors and freshen up the towels.


Proper care and washing techniques are essential for maintaining the softness, absorbency, and longevity of your towels.

Remember to separate colors, use the right wash and dry settings, avoid excessive detergent and fabric softeners, and wash towels frequently to keep them looking and feeling their best.

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.