How to Soften Bath Towels (An At-Home DIY Guide)

We all enjoy the cozy embrace of new, fluffy towels, but over time, even the most luxurious ones can lose their softness and become scratchy. Fear not! With a bit of knowledge, you can maintain that plush and snuggly feeling for your towels for many years.

Wondering why your towels feel more like an exfoliating loofah than the soft, luxurious ones you first bought? It might be due to a combination of excess detergent and fabric softeners. To keep your towels soft and snuggly, it’s crucial to wash them correctly.

Start by washing your towels separately from the rest of your laundry, especially the white ones. This prevents lint from other fabrics from accumulating over time, leaving your towels looking a bit “grey-ish.” Also, make sure not to overfill your washing machine, allowing enough water to surround the towels for proper soaking and washing.

When washing, use a reduced amount of detergent, about a quarter of your regular load, and opt for a warmer or hot water temperature. This helps soften the fibers in your towels, ensuring they stay soft and cozy.

1. Change Your Washing Routine

The main reason towels lose their softness is due to an accumulation of detergent, which penetrates the cotton strands, making them stiff. To combat this, a simple solution is to use less detergent than recommended.

By doing so, more detergent residue is washed away, leaving your towels silky soft and clean.

When You First Get Your Towels

Upon unpacking new towels, you may notice they are a bit stiff and rough. This is normal, and the key to achieving the perfect softness and fluffiness is to wash them a few times to break in the cotton fibers.

Avoid Overwashing

Contrary to what you might think, towels don’t need to be washed after every use. While they’re used to dry your clean body, the dampness and the presence of bacteria mean towels can become a breeding ground for germs if left alone.

The Cleaning Institute suggests washing towels after approximately every three uses and ensuring they dry completely between uses.

Adjust the Washing Temperature

Lowering the washing temperature can also contribute to maintaining towel softness. Detergent is absorbed better in water around body temperature, so using a warm setting (unless hot water is necessary for stains) can extend your towels’ lifespan.

Keep the temperature above 85°F (30°C) to address bacteria concerns. An additional tip is to start the washer without towels, let it cycle briefly, and then add the towels.

This allows the detergent to dissolve before the towels are introduced, reducing the chance of them soaking it up.

2. Wash with White Vinegar

Towels may become stiff due to gradual buildup on the fibers from chemical oils and fabric softener. An effective way to remove this buildup involves using a simple, age-old cleaning technique with an item from your kitchen cabinet.

To prevent towels from stiffening, or as a one-time rescue, add a small amount of white vinegar every few washes. Combining white vinegar with baking soda enhances the cleaning power without leaving a vinegar scent. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wash your towels separately using warm water and 1 cup of white vinegar. Avoid using laundry detergents, fabric softeners, or bleach—just the vinegar.
  2. After the first cycle, open the washer and add ½ cup of baking soda. This natural abrasive helps remove any remaining residue. Again, run a full cycle with warm water.
  3. Dry your towels on the hottest setting until completely dry, usually 40-60 minutes, to evaporate moisture and ensure no vinegar remains.

If the stiffness persists, repeat the three-step process, this time using an additional 1 cup of vinegar.

Important: Do not mix white vinegar and baking soda in the same run, as it could lead to an undesired reaction. While a small residue between loads is okay, purposefully combining them in one load might not be safe.

Remember those homemade volcanoes from 5th-grade science fairs? We wouldn’t want a similar reaction in your washer. Although it might save time, it’s safer to use vinegar and baking soda separately in different loads, especially with front-loading washers.

3. Avoid Fabric Softener

Contrary to expectations, using fabric softener is not recommended if you want to keep your towels soft. Most fabric softeners contain a silicon compound that coats towels, making them repel water.

This coating can lead to worse washing results and faster roughening of the towels. So, skip the fabric softener for softer bath towels.

4. Don’t Overload Your Washer or Dryer

Avoid cramming too many towels into your washing machine—it’s a recipe for trouble. Quality towels are crafted from heavy fabrics, and overloading the machine can strain it, potentially causing long-term damage or even a breakdown. Additionally, stuffing too many towels into the machine results in a less effective wash.

Why does this happen? When your washing machine is overstuffed, water can’t flow freely, leading to uneven cleaning. The same principle applies to your dryer, which needs space for air circulation to produce those light, fluffy towels everyone loves. Overstuffing the dryer can leave you with matted and rough towels.

Most standard machines can comfortably handle two or three towels, perhaps with a few washcloths or hand towels thrown in. For particularly heavy towels, consider washing them one or two at a time.

5. Don’t Over Tumble Your Towels

While the warmth of a fluffy towel straight from the dryer is enticing, excessive reliance on your tumble dryer, especially at high heat settings, can cause long-term damage to your towels. High-quality cotton, common in luxury towels, is sensitive to heat.

Fortunately, there are alternatives:

  1. Turn down the heat setting on your tumble dryer.
  2. Alternate between tumble drying and air drying after each wash.
  3. Opt for outdoor drying when possible. If you finish on a washing line, toss the towels in the dryer for a few minutes on low heat for extra bounce and warmth.

6. Use a Dryer Ball

Dryer balls work wonders for softening your laundry. Their simple principle involves rolling and bouncing around inside the dryer, smoothing out lumps and softening the towels.

Add a couple of dryer balls to ensure your towels come out as soft as possible. If you don’t have any, you can use tennis balls or roll a pair of socks into a solid ball.

Final Thoughts

Taking care of your towels doesn’t have to be challenging. Follow these straightforward tips, and your towels will stay light, fluffy, and soft on the skin for a long time. Keep in mind that even with proper care, low-quality towels may be challenging to revive, and it might be time for a replacement.

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