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How to Wash and Properly Care for Towels

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, you need to properly care for them.

We’ll explain the best way to wash towels to ensure their longevity, plus how to dry and store your towels 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.

Towel-Washing Instructions

For all of the essential laundry tips for towels, follow this step-by-step guide on how to keep your towels fresh and clean:

  1. Separate your towels by color. In addition to water, towels tend to absorb dyes from other items in the wash. So if you have classic white towels, running them through a rinse cycle with other white towels will help keep them from getting that dingy, discolored look. If you’re washing colored towels, you can avoid splotching and dye transference by sticking to the same color in a load.

  2. Don’t overload the washing machine. Because towels are made of absorbent material, they can take longer to dry if they don’t have proper space to move within the washing machine drum. For most top-loading machines, the maximum number of towels you should wash at one time is 10. If you use a front-loading washer, keep it to seven or less.

  3. Use a mild detergent with towels. If you notice your towels are feeling a bit stiff, try using half the recommended amount of detergent. Detergent can build up on the fibers over time, thus reducing absorbency and fluffiness. For tips on which kind of detergent to use, check out our guide to natural laundry detergents.

  4. Towels need a good washing to get rid of the bacteria, dirt, sweat and sebum that accumulate every time you dry off. So, use the regular or normal washer settings for towels. Wondering if you should wash your towels in hot or cold water? That may depend on the type of towel and how soiled it is (see below for specific temperature recommendations). Washing in cool water on the regular cycle will help preserve the delicate fibers in luxury towels.

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

How to Clean Musty or Soiled Towels 

Regularly washing your towels is a great way to extend their life, maintain their color and keep them smelling fresh and feeling 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 will ultimately shorten the lifespan of your towel. 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 using only one cup of distilled white vinegar (no detergent), then put them through your regular drying cycle. If they’re still smelling musty, wash the towels again, only this time use half a cup of baking soda (no vinegar or detergent). Then dry them as you normally would. Follow up by washing the towels one more time using your regular detergent, and dry them as usual.

How to Dry Towels in a Dryer

Drying towels requires a bit of balance. You need to fully dry the towels to avoid mildew from forming, but you don’t want to overdry them and destroy the fibers that keep your towels feeling soft and cozy.

The answer: Stay low and slow.

To maximize the fluff, keep your towels smelling fresh and reduce the drying time, follow these steps for how to dry towels in the dryer:

  1. After the wash cycle is complete, remove the towels from the washer and shake them out before placing them in the dryer. This helps reduce the amount of moisture the towel fibers retain. That not only reduces drying time, it also helps start the re-fluffing process.

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

  3. 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?)

  4. When the cycle is complete, remove your towels from the dryer promptly and fold them immediately. This decreases the opportunity for wrinkles to set in.

If you prefer to air-dry towels, you can lay them flat on a drying rack or outdoors. Be sure the towel is completely dry before folding. And 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 Care for Towels

Once you know how to wash towels and dry them properly, storage and maintenance figure into the longevity and comfort level for your towels. Here’s what you need to know to care for towels so they last long and feel great against your skin.

To avoid wrinkles, towels should not be ironed, as the high heat can damage the fabric. Remove towels from the dryer as soon as the cycle is complete and fold them promptly.

How to Store Towels

You can store towels in a linen closet, display them on a bathroom rack or tuck them neatly into a drawer. Either way, the most important thing to remember is that you should never fold and store your towels when they’re still damp. It’s also important to keep them in a dry place, free from humidity.

Damp towels are a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria, so towels should be completely dried before you fold and store them.

For folding options based on your style and space needs, see this Organizing your Linen Closet guide, and this article on Folding and Styling Towels like a Luxury Hotel.

How Often Should You Wash Your Towels?

Although some may prefer fresh towels daily, luxury bath towels should be washed at least every three to four days.

Washing more than that won’t necessarily hurt the fabric — as long as it’s done properly — but waiting longer than three to four days allows dirt, bacteria, skin cells and sweat to accumulate. That makes for a less-than-luxurious experience when toweling off.

How to Keep Towels Feeling Soft

Keeping your luxury towels feeling soft and cozy requires a bit of light touch when it comes to detergent.

Detergent and fabric softener can build up on the delicate fibers of your towel, so use about half of what the manufacturer recommends. By shaking the extra moisture from your towels before you put them in the dryer and using a Wool Dryer Ball in place of fabric softener, you’ll lessen the drying time and the opportunity for the dryer’s heat to damage the towels’ fibers.

Tips to Ensure the Longevity of Your Towels

When cared for properly, high-quality towels can last for years. Here are a few ways to care for your towels to extend their life:

  • Let towels air-dry before putting them in a laundry basket or hamper.

  • Hang your towels flat across a bar or shower rod between uses. Avoid hooks, as moisture and mildew can accumulate in the creases when they’re hanging.

  • Each person in your household should have at least two bath towels, so everyone has a clean, fresh towel — even on laundry day. 

  • If you use products with whitening or bleaching agents, such as whitening toothpaste or benzoyl peroxide creams, designate bath linens especially for them. These products can discolor fabrics.

Wash and Care Tips for Specific 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 a 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 your towels, use the low dryer setting with wool dryer balls to decrease the drying time and maintain their soft feel. Fold them immediately after the drying cycle is complete.

Waffle Weave Towels

Lightweight waffle weave towels are crafted to be exceptionally quick-drying. To care for them, machine wash using cool water and a 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 the drying cycle is complete.

Baby Towels 

If you’re the parent of a newborn or infant using the delicate, lightweight hooded baby towel, 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 at least the first few months.

As your child grows and baths become more frequent, you can launder towels less frequently — every three to five uses is typically enough.

When washing, use a mild liquid soap that’s unscented and free of dyes to avoid irritating your baby’s sensitive skin. Cold water is recommended for regular washes; however, if the towel becomes soiled, wash it 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 comfy. 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 and dirt so they don't damage the cotton fibers during the wash cycle. Towels are machine washable and can go in the dryer. But keep in mind that because they’re typically lighter weight than bath towels, the drying cycle for beach towels may be shorter.

Washcloths and Hand Towels

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

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, towels, 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 these 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