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How to Wash Towels for a Clean, Fresh Smell

towels hanging off a bath tub
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When you step out of the shower, the first thing you want to feel against your skin is a luxuriously-soft towel. Investing in high-quality bath linens is the first step toward enjoying that experience. But if you want your towels to stay fluffy every time you wash them, you need to know how to clean towels the right way.

We’ll explain the best way to wash and dry towels to ensure their longevity so you can wrap yourself in that cozy sumptuousness every day.

How to Wash Towels

Washing towels the right way helps preserve their delicate fibers so you can enjoy a cozy feel against your skin for years to come. That care starts with the initial wash before you use them, followed by separating colors, keeping loads on the small side, choosing a mild detergent, and using vinegar to thwart musty smells.

How to Wash Your Towels Before Using Them

A critical first step in the towel care process is to choose a high-quality towel material to start. Consider organic cotton or waffle towels to ensure you have bath towels meant to last.

Once you’ve decided on the right fabric for you, it’s important to wash your towels before use to remove any silicone coating added during the manufacturing process. Removing this coating releases the fabric’s fibers, allowing them to absorb water more easily. An initial wash also helps remove lint left over from the weaving process.

For the first wash, add half a cup of white vinegar to the wash water, along with about half the recommended amount of laundry detergent. The vinegar will help set the colors and remove any residue on the towels. Dry them thoroughly on a low heat setting, using wool dryer balls to help keep the fabric soft and to reduce drying time.

1. Sort Towels by Color

Separate your towels by color. Towels often absorb dyes from other items in the wash. If you’ve ever wondered how to keep white towels white, the answer is proper sorting. Laundering classic white towels with other white towels will help prevent that dingy, discolored look. If you’re washing colored towels, you can avoid splotching and dye transference by keeping the same colors in a load.

2. Don’t Overload the Washer

Towels need plenty of space to move inside the washing machine drum. For most top-loading machines, you should wash no more than towels at a time, and fewer is better. If you use a front-loading washer, keep it to three or four.

3. Use Mild Detergent

Use a mild detergent when washing towels. If you notice your towels feel stiff, try using half as much. Detergent can build up on fibers over time, reducing absorbency and fluffiness. Also:

  • Wash towels with vinegar. Vinegar disinfects gently, without damaging your towels, and without leaving behind a residue or odor.

  • Don’t use too much bleach. You can use a little bleach on musty-smelling towels once in a while, but don’t overdo it. Bleach is harsh and can fade your towels.

  • Skip the fabric softener. The waxy buildup from softeners can actually make your towels hard and scratchy over time.

For tips on which kind of detergent to use, check out our guide to natural laundry detergents.

4. Select the Temperature

Should you wash your towels in hot or cold water? Washing in cool water on a regular cycle helps preserve delicate fibers in luxury towels. However, it depends on the type of towel and how soiled it is (see below for specific temperature recommendations for certain towel types). 

5. Set the Washer to Regular

Regular or normal washer settings work best for towels. This setting is the best way to remove the bacteria, dirt, sweat and sebum that accumulate every time you dry off. 

If you need help selecting the best type of towel for your home, see our Towel Materials and Sizes guide.

Can You Wash Towels with Clothes?

Most clothing has specific washing instructions, so it’s best to separate your laundry by fabric type and care instructions. Another reason to wash towels separately from clothing is so you don’t spread germs or bacteria, especially if someone in your home is sick.

How Often to Wash Towels

Wash luxury bath towels about every three to four days. Washing towels more frequently may fade their colors faster, and waiting longer than three to four days allows dirt and bacteria to accumulate. In between washings:

  • Hang your towels. Hanging between uses keeps mold and bacteria at bay.

  • Don’t leave them wet. Leaving towels wet in the machine (or in a hamper) will make them musty.

  • Don’t overload the washer. Your towels will get cleaner and smell fresher if you do them in smaller loads.

Shake towels before drying. Shaking your towels after you remove them from the washing machine helps fluff them up and keeps them soft.

How to Dry Towels

Drying towels requires a bit of balance. Under-drying risks mildew and odors, but overdrying can destroy the fibers that keep your towels feeling soft and cozy. To maximize fluff, keep towels smelling fresh and reduce drying time, choose the lowest dryer setting and use wool dryer balls or line-dry your towels.

Choose the Right Dryer Settings

Use the lowest dryer setting for towels and watch out for overheating, which can tighten the fibers. Tighter fibers leave your towels feeling stiff and reduce their absorption capacity.

Instead of using a fabric softener or fabric sheet, toss in a few Wool Dryer Balls to help fluff the towels and further reduce drying time. If you’d prefer your bath linens to have a light scent, try a few drops of essential oil. (You can learn more in this guide, Do Wool Dryer Balls Really Work?)

When the cycle is complete, remove your towels from the dryer promptly and fold them immediately to avoid wrinkles. Remember, damp towels are a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria, so towels should be completely dried before you fold and store them.

Save Energy By Line Drying Your Towels

If you prefer to air-dry towels, you can lay them flat on a drying rack or hang them on a clothesline outdoors. If you notice that your towels feel a little stiff after taking them off the clothesline, you can toss them in the dryer on the “no heat” setting for a few minutes to help soften the fibers.

How to Wash Soiled or Musty Towels

Regularly washing towels is a great way to extend their life, maintain color and keep them fresh and soft. However, if you want to clean particularly soiled towels, or if your towels start to smell musty, it’s time for a little extra TLC.

Although bleach is a good way to remove stains, it also breaks down a fabric’s fibers and shortens your towel’s lifespan. A natural alternative like sodium percarbonate can brighten fabrics without harsh chemicals.

To get rid of a musty smell:

  • Run the towels through a complete wash cycle

  • Use only one cup of distilled white vinegar (no detergent)

  • Put them through your regular drying cycle

  • If they’re still musty, wash them again using half a cup of baking soda (no vinegar or detergent).

  • Dry your towels as you normally would.

  • Follow up by washing the towels one more time using your regular detergent, and dry them as usual.

Do’s and Don’ts for Towel Care

When cared for properly, high-quality towels can last for years. Here are a few things to consider to help extend the life of your towels:

  • Do let used towels air-dry before putting them in a laundry basket or hamper.

  • Do hang your towels flat across a bar or shower rod between uses. 

  • Don’t use towel hooks, as moisture and mildew can accumulate in the creases when they’re hanging.

  • Do make sure each person in your household has at least two bath towels, so everyone has a clean, fresh towel — even on laundry day. 

  • Don’t let products with whitening or bleaching agents, such as whitening toothpaste or benzoyl peroxide creams come in contact with your towels. These products can discolor fabrics.

  • Don’t iron your towels, as the high heat can damage the fabric.

  • Don’t use harsh detergents or excessive quantities of detergent or fabric softener. These products can build up on the delicate fibers of your towel, so use about half of what the manufacturer recommends. 

Wash New Towels First

Always wash new towels before use to remove any silicone coating added during the manufacturing process. Removing this coating releases the fabric’s fibers, allowing them to absorb water more easily. An initial wash also helps remove lint left over from the weaving process.

For the first wash, add half a cup of white vinegar to the wash water, along with about half the recommended amount of laundry detergent. Washing towels with vinegar will help set the colors and remove any residue on the towels.

How to Fold Towels

To fold towels, lay them horizontally then fold them two-thirds from the top to bottom. Smooth out the edges, then fold down the remaining third. Now fold the towel in half, smooth it out, and fold it in half again. You can then stack it with the folded edge facing out. See our article on How to Fold Towels Like a Luxury Hotel for more techniques.

How to Wash Different Types of Towels

Knowing how to wash your towels goes beyond the standard wash-and-dry tips listed above. That’s because some fabrics and types of towels have more specific needs for care and storage.

Turkish and Organic Cotton Towels

To care for these luxe bath towels, use cool water and mild detergent. Stick to the gentle cycle and do not use bleach, as it will damage a Turkish or organic cotton towel's delicate fibers. When drying, use the low dryer setting with wool dryer balls to decrease the drying time and maximize softness. Fold towels immediately after drying.

Waffle Weave Towels

Lightweight waffle weave towels are crafted to be exceptionally quick-drying. To care for them, machine wash using cool water and mild detergent. Do not bleach waffle weave towels. To dry, use the low heat setting with wool dryer balls. Be careful not to overdry, and remove the towels promptly after drying.

Baby Towels 

If you’re the parent of a newborn or infant using a delicate, lightweight hooded baby towel or baby washcloth, you can wash it with the rest of your baby’s laundry in cool water. Because an infant’s immune system hasn’t developed yet, it’s important to wash these towels after every use for the first few months.

As your child grows, you can launder towels every three to five uses.

When washing, use a mild, unscented, dye-free liquid soap to avoid irritating your baby’s sensitive skin. Cold water is recommended for regular washes; however, you should wash soiled towels in warm or hot water to help disinfect the fabric.  

To dry a hooded baby towel, tumble dry on a low or medium dryer setting using wool dryer balls to keep your baby’s towel extra fluffy and soft. 

You can learn more about hooded baby towels in our What is a Hooded Baby Towels guide.

Beach Towels

To launder beach towels, shake out the towels and let them dry first. It’s important to remove loose sand so they don't damage the cotton fibers during the wash cycle. Because beach towels are typically lighter weight than bath towels, their drying cycle may be shorter.

Washcloths and Hand Towels

Washcloths and hand towels should be washed more frequently — generally after a single use for washcloths and daily for hand towels. Due to their smaller size, they dry quickly, so plan your drying cycles accordingly.

Makeup Towels

You can wash most makeup towels using the same techniques as your other towels. Keep in mind that makeup towels frequently come in contact with makeup and skincare products that can stain your other towels. Make sure to rinse them out completely after each use or consider washing them separately.

Let the Luxurious Feeling Last

Selecting the right towels can make all the difference in what your daily bathing ritual will be like. The towels, robes, washcloths and other bath items you’ll find at Parachute will elevate your everyday bathing time into a spa experience. 

Our wide, attractive assortment of super-soft, high-quality bath linens are incredibly absorbent and designed to envelop you in luxury. By properly washing, drying and storing them, you can enjoy both the look and the luxurious feel of your beautiful bath linens for years to come. 

For more wash and care information about your household products, check out the other Parachute laundry and care guides:

Laundry Room Accessories 101: Laundry Essentials You Need for Clean Living

How to Wash and Properly Care for Bedding 

How to Wash and Properly Care for Linen Sheets

How to Wash and Properly Care for Sateen Sheets

How Often Should I Wash Cotton Sheets? 

What is a Jute Rug? Decor & Care Tips