How to wash towels

Looking for tips on how to wash towels? We've got you covered with this easy to follow guide...

Learn how to wash towels with this easy guide: Towels on towel rail hung up in a bathroom for a feature on how to wash towels
(Image credit: Sheridan)

Knowing how to wash towels means that yours will last longer – in the case of good quality towels, that could mean up to 10 years. With the right towel washing techniques, they won't just stay looking good, they'll feel soft, too. There are lots of ways to take care of towel laundry. Use this quick guide to find out how. 

If you are after more tips on how do the rest of your washing head over to our guide to how to do laundry

Floor standing tap in a bathroom with towels for guide to how to wash towels

Towels from Sheridan

(Image credit: Sheridan)

How to wash towels

Towels need washing and drying as soon as you get them back from the shops. Why? Most are finished with a coating that makes them feel fluffy, but actually means they're not very absorbent.

Ideally, towels should be washed with other towels, and not with clothes. This will allow you to set the towel washing temperature just right (more on that later) and it's more hygienic to keep towels separate from clothes. Also, towels can be abrasive against more delicate fabrics. 

'When doing a load of washing, try not to overcrowd the machine so it has plenty of water around them to soak and wash,' advises Jo Ross, general manager of design at Sheridan.

How to wash towels with vinegar

You might wonder why? Washing towels with vinegar helps set the towels' colours – as well as removing excess detergent residue. Best practice is to group similar coloured towels together, cut the washing detergent you'd normally use by half and add half a cup of vinegar to the detergent tray. The vinegar smell will be removed on the rinse cycle so there's no need to rewash the towels afterwards.

Find more clever ways to use vinegar to clean your home in our guide.

Towels on towel rail hung up in a bathroom for a feature on how to wash towels

(Image credit: Sheridan)

Which washing detergent for washing towels?

Jo Ross advises using a eucalyptus-based washing detergent 'to protect the fibres and for superior colour retention', however, if you're happy with your current washing detergent, you might want to rethink about how much you use instead. Towels coming out of the wash stiff? It's because you're using too much washing detergent and it's not coming out in the rinse cycle. So, cut the detergent use by half (and add that half cup of vinegar) to restore them. There are more tips on keeping towels soft below.

Do you need fabric softener for washing towels?

The sort answer is 'no'. 'Avoid using silicone-based fabric softeners and conditioners,' advises Jo Ross. 'These will repel water and will reduce the absorbency of the fluffy towels.' However, if you love your fabric softener's scent and want to go ahead and add it to the wash, only do so every three or four times you launder towels to avoid that waxy build up.

What temperature for washing towels?

There are differing opinions on this. Some people say a hot wash is what's needed to kill bacteria (we'd say that's a must if someone in the family has a recurring skin condition or a tummy upset).

Others say that a cold wash will stop towels shrinking around the seams, help maintain their shape and their colour.

Our advice? Take the middle ground. 'A 40ºC gentle machine wash is best. It’s recommended that you put towels on an occasional deep clean on a warm to hot cycle to remove any bacteria and oils, too; 40ºC to 60ºC is ideal for this,' advises Jo Ross.

If you use linen towels or Turkish towels (the thinner cotton towels used in spas), wash them at 40ºC maximum. Linen in particular is prone to shrinking, and won't respond well to hotter temperatures.

Towel ladders with towels on in a bathroom

(Image credit: Sheridan)

How to wash towels so they are soft

Too much detergent, as we've already said, can result in stiff, scratchy towels. Another reason why your towels might no longer feel soft is hard water. And, as we've said above, fabric softener is not a good fix for softening towels because it stops them becoming absorbent. So, how to restore them so they feel like new? 

First, wash them on a warm cycle with a cup of white vinegar (but no detergent). Then wash them on a second warm cycle with half a cup of bicarbonate of soda/baking soda. Allow your towels to dry thoroughly (read on to find out the best way to do this), and they should feel like new.

Find more ways to clean your home with bicarbonate of soda in our guide.

Monkey towel ring

(Image credit: Dunelm)

How to make white towels white again

White towels should be washed separately to avoid discoloration over time. But how to brighten ones that have become dingier?

'For white towels, optical brighteners are fine to use, but avoid using these on coloured washes, and try to keep them separate to avoid colour running,' advises Jo Ross. 

'Attending to stains immediately as they occur will result in more effective removal, and to do so, I'd recommend oxygen-based stain removers. Never use bleach to clean and make sure bathroom cleaning products containing bleach are kept separately to avoid any bleach stains.'

And finally? Make sure your washing machine is clean. Everyone's need a regular rinse out: find out how to clean a washing machine in our guide. Or replace yours with the latest best buys from our best washing machines guide (below is our best washing machine pick).

How often to wash towels?

Hand towels carry a lot of germs, particularly if they never quite dry out, so do think before you wipe them on your face. As a general rule, swapping hand towels every couple of days and washing bath towels every three to four days is best practice. 

If you use face cloths to cleanse your face with, you have to wash them after each use; otherwise, you are risking developing acne. Therefore, it is advisable to have seven face cloths and wash them all at the end of the week. 

Find out more about getting rid of germs in our guide.

How to dry towels?

If you've washed your towels all together, it'll be easier to dry them properly because they'll all dry at the same rate. 

Ideally, they should air dry naturally, but first remove them from the washing machine and give them a good shake to fluff up their fibres. 'Line drying your towels in the shade is ideal and it reduces electricity usage,' advises Jo Ross. 

You can put towels in a tumble dryer: 'Tumble drying your towels for a few minutes when they are almost dry off the line will maximise their softness,' continues Jo Ross. 'Dry your towels on a medium to warm setting and ensure they are completely dry before storing in your linen cupboard.'

Another option to prevent damaging towels is to tumble dry them straight from the washing machine. Shake them out first to fluff the fibres, dry on a medium setting, then remove them before they are completely dry, letting them line dry thoroughly.

Either way, we'd advise avoiding dryer sheets – these will reduce absorbency – and opting instead for tumble dryer balls to fluff up the towels' fibres. And don't iron towels because it will reduce their absorbency.

How to buy towels that will last

The clue to good quality towels is in the number of loops per square inch. The thicker the pile, the better the towel and the longer it will last. 

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