How to Wash Towels The Right Way

If you want your towels to stay fresh and soft for a long time, follow these tips when washing and drying them.

Understanding how to wash towels properly can extend their lifespan and save you money. While having a set of matching hand and bath towels may seem luxurious, the reality is that towels can get dirty and worn over time.

Here’s a secret: you don’t need to keep replacing your towels if you take care of them from the start. Treat them right, and they’ll last a long time. Here’s the best way to wash towels, according to laundry expert Mary Johnson, former principal scientist at Tide & Downy.

Before Washing Towels

  1. Separate by color: Always separate towels into whites and colors. Washing them together can cause subtle discoloration over time.
  2. Use fabric softener sparingly: Add fabric softener to every third or fourth wash to prevent buildup in your washing machine and on the fabric.
  3. Pre-treat for odors: If towels have an unpleasant scent, wash them with ½ cup of baking soda (without detergent) first, then rewash with detergent.
  4. Wash new towels before use: Remove any chemicals used to make them fluffy and soft in the store. This can also help reduce lint.
  5. Use bleach selectively: While effective for stains on white towels, frequent use can break down fibers and shorten their lifespan. Consider using bleach every few washes.

How Often to Wash Towels

Standard bath towels can be used three or four times under normal circumstances before washing.

If someone has been sick, replace their towel after every use to prevent the spread of bacteria.

The washing frequency assumes proper drying (spread out on a towel rack to reduce moisture) rather than being crumpled on the floor.

If you can’t remember, a musty smell is a good indicator.

Why Wash So Frequently?

  • Towels can harbor yeast, mold, and bacteria like E. coli, even if not visible.
  • Sweat, salt, sebum, skin cells, and other body soils can transfer onto towels during use.
  • Towels left in a damp bathroom can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Regular washing prevents skin issues like acne caused by using dirty towels.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools:

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer


  • Detergent
  • Non-chlorine bleach or sodium percarbonate
  • Fabric softener or white vinegar
  • Wool laundry balls
  • Essential oils (optional)

How to Wash Towels in a Machine

  1. Wash Towels With Detergent:
    • For white towels, use hot water, detergent, and non-chlorine bleach or a natural fabric brightener (like sodium percarbonate) following package instructions.
    • Colorful towels should be washed in warm water with detergent and color-safe bleach to prevent fading over time.
    • Use no more than two tablespoons of detergent for a full load in a high-efficiency machine to avoid buildup.
  2. Soften Towels With Vinegar:
    • For softer towels, use fabric softener sparingly during the wash cycle. Alternatively, use ¼ cup of white vinegar as a natural alternative. Remember to skip fabric softener on some washes to prevent buildup.
  3. Shake Then Dry Towels:
    • Shake out towels before drying to prevent stubborn creases.
    • Dry towels in the dryer with wool laundry balls on a low setting to avoid overheating and maintain absorbency.
    • Optionally, add a few drops of essential oil to impart a light scent. Wool balls act as a natural alternative to dryer sheets.
  4. Ensure Complete Drying:
    • Ensure towels are completely dry before removing them from the dryer.
    • Avoid leaving wet towels in the washing machine for an extended period to prevent mildewy odors.

Washing Colorful Towels

  • Water Setting: Opt for a cool to warm water setting (around 40 degrees) when washing dark-colored towels. This preserves colors while effectively eliminating bacteria.
  • Color-Safe Bleach: Consider using a color-safe bleach, such as Truly Free’s 100% Chlorine Free & Color Safe Oxyboost, for stubborn stains without harming the towels.
  • Color Separation: Wash colorful towels with similar shades, especially during the initial washes, to prevent color bleeding.
  • Boost Brightness: Use half the recommended detergent and add 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle to enhance the brightness of your vibrant towels.

Washing White Towels

  • Hot Water: Always wash white towels in hot water to maintain their brightness.
  • Detergent and Bleach: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended amount of detergent. Use a non-chlorine bleach with a natural fabric brightener, like Truly Free’s OxyBoost, which contains sodium percarbonate.

Common Washing Mistakes to Avoid

  • Overloading the Machine: Avoid overloading your washing machine with towels, as this can hinder proper cleaning, damage the machine’s drum, and reduce efficiency.
  • Immediate Drying: Dry towels promptly after washing. Leaving them in the washer or lying around damp can lead to a mildew smell, which is best avoided.

How to Keep Your Towels Clean Longer

  1. Hang Towels After Use:
    • Hang towels after each use to dry thoroughly and prevent bacterial growth and odors.
    • Avoid using hooks, as they can trap moisture in the folds.
  2. Frequent Washing:
    • Wash towels regularly, especially every three to four uses, to maintain freshness.
    • Add borax or vinegar to the machine every few washes to refresh towels and remove detergent residue if they feel stiff or less absorbent.
  3. Avoid Overloading:
    • Avoid overloading the washing machine with towels to ensure proper washing and rinsing.
  4. Maintain Quantity:
    • Keep at least two bath towels per person, rotating them when needed.
    • Have four hand towels per person, as they are used more frequently.
  5. Mindful Body Care:
    • Be cautious with products like benzoyl peroxide creams or whitening toothpaste that may cause discoloration.
    • Use special washcloths exclusively for these products if needed. Stain-resistant towels may not always be effective.

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