Skip to main content

The right (and wrong) ways to wash bath towels

Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s such a great feeling when you step out of the shower and wrap yourself in a fluffy, soft, and fresh-smelling towel. But it just kills that great feeling when the towel has a weird, musty odor even though it’s fresh from the dryer. It may be an older towel that has just outlived its usefulness. Or, you may be washing it wrong. Yes, there is a right and wrong way to wash them. Washing bath towels correctly will keep them fluffy and preserve the color. Good towels should last about 10 years if you care for them properly.

Part of proper care starts with what happens after the bath or shower. Avoid hanging them on a hook because the bunched-up fabric will take too much time to dry, and they will develop a musty odor. Instead, hang them over a towel bar or a shower rod.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Don’t throw wet towels into the hamper or laundry basket for the same reason. Let them dry or put them right in the washer when you are done using them.

What is the best way to wash towels?

First, you should always wash a new towel before you use it. Those lovely towels stacked on the shelves at the store are treated with a finish, so they stay looking and feeling fluffy at the store. You want to wash that finish off because it inhibits absorbency. If it’s not washed, it will sort of squeegee the water off your body until you wear the finish off. 

Towels should be washed separately from your other clothes for several reasons. Germs and bacteria from your clothes can transfer to your towels in the washer, and some may survive the dryer cycle. That’s not something you want to be rubbing on your body. You can adjust the temperature for towels if they are the only thing in that washer load.

If you are washing towels with your clothes, wash white towels with whites and wash colored towels with similar colors. 

Washing specifics

Wash towels every three to four days.

For all towels, use about half of the recommended detergent and add a half cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. The vinegar will “set” the color of the colored towels and remove detergent residue. Colored towels should be washed on warm.

You can use nonchlorine bleach with colored towels — never mix vinegar and bleach. Make sure you are adding the vinegar to the rinse water, not the wash water.

Wash white towels in hot water with nonchlorine bleach. You need to use the nonchlorine bleach on the white towels because over time they can develop a subtle discoloration that will be evident if you put another white towel next to them. 

If your towels have a musty smell and you can’t seem to get rid of it, wash the towels on one wash cycle with a half cup of baking soda. Then, wash in regular detergent — that should do the trick.

Don’t overload the washer with towels. They are heavy and they tend to clump up, then don’t wash or rinse properly.

Use fabric softener every three to four washes, not in every wash cycle. Fabric softeners can create a waxy buildup on towels, which will reduce their absorbency.

On to the dryer

You want to dry on low or durable fabric dryer settings. Shake the towels out before you put them in the dryer. This will separate the towel fibers, and they will dry faster. If you just throw them into the dryer all bunched up, they will take longer to dry and will retain any creases that get set as they start to dry.

Dry them completely — folding them damp and putting them away will guarantee that musty smell will be back.

Still have an odor?

If you’ve washed and dried the towels correctly and there is still and odor, it’s likely from your washer. Dead skin and dirt get trapped in your washer, and that in turn gets deposited on towels — because they are so absorbent — during the rinse cycle. To get perfect towels, you will need to wash your washer. This will actually benefit all of your clothing. Even if you’ve wiped out your washer, a small amount of rinse water always sits in parts of the washer you can’t see. Run a wash cycle on hot with 2 cups of vinegar in the washing machine. Wipe it out and then run one cycle again on hot, and that should do it.

With a little care, your towels should stay soft and fluffy as well as colorful for years.

Editors' Recommendations

Kathleen Ostrander
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kathleen has worked for United Press International and she's written about everything from style to pets for newspapers…
5 easy ways to kill fruit flies before they take over your kitchen
close up of a fruit fly

Tiny flies are quick to invade our homes, especially in warm, humid weather. Left alone, these bugs are capable of causing a disgusting and embarrassing infestation that may last for weeks or months. They erupt in clouds above potted plants, swarm around trash cans, and hover over drains. For many homeowners, these pests present more than a few problems, making kitchen prep frustrating and hosting gatherings near impossible.

If you're struggling to control the new fruit fly population invading your space, we have a few simple steps to help you keep them out of your kitchen for good.

Read more
8 simple, creative ways to add curb appeal to a flat-front house
Father and daughter painting exterior of house

If you've got a flat-front house and want to add some curb appeal, there are several things you can do to help spruce it up. While most people invest in remodeling the inside of their home, the outside is an important element, especially if you're looking to sell soon. You want a house that stands out from the rest, and often a flat-front house can appear boring and one-dimensional. While colonial and ranch-style houses often have flatter fronts, any style home may have been built this way.

If you're wondering how to add curb appeal to a flat-front house, there are some tricks of the trade that design experts recommend. Some are more costly than others, so make sure you have a good idea of your budget before you map out any changes. This will give you an idea of just how far you can change the outside to transform the way it looks.

Read more
4 home improvement projects to do right now if you want to sell this spring
home improvement projects for selling a house shutterstock 103238630

Home renovation projects make your standard of living better, but they also increase the value of your home. If you're planning on selling a house this spring, you may be thinking about making some updates to boost your asking price. Here's how to sell your house at a premium by completing these four simple home improvement projects that will get you the most out of your sale.

Minor bathroom updates
Remodeling the bathroom is one of the best ways to increase your home's value. If you're not able to do a complete remodel before spring, there are some minor updates you can do to your bathroom. These small upgrades can get you a 70.1% return on investment (ROI), according to Zillow.

Read more