How to wash towels and microfiber cloth towels for perfectly fluffy results

Looking for tips on how to wash towels? This guide will give you the softest, most luxurious results every time

How to wash towels
(Image credit: Getty)

Are you up to scratch on how to do laundry? Learning how to wash towels properly will prolong their lifespan, as well as making your towels more pleasurable to use. Even the most luxurious bath towels need a little TLC. And if you do it right, high-quality towels will last as long as a decade (really!) and still feel soft.

It all starts as soon as you bring new towels home, so you'll want to make sure you start off on the right foot. Washing towels before use will help remove any leftover residue from the manufacturing or packaging process, and will also help your towels become more absorbent. Then once they're used, it's even more crucial to remove any lingering residue or germs.

Experts at The Laundress (opens in new tab) explain, 'Sheets and towels are often in contact with body oils and body products (like lotion) which can cause staining, discoloration, and dinginess. Washing sheets and towels in warm or cold water will not be effective in removing these elements, no matter what laundry detergent you use. Hot water provides the most thorough and hygienic cleaning.'

Because there are lots of ways to launder your towels for great results, we've put together this quick guide to help you choose the right method for you. 

  • Looking for laundry hacks to make your wash not just brighter but quicker and easier to do? Look no further.

How to wash towels

Towels need washing and drying as soon as you get them home. 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 (opens in new tab).

How to wash microfiber towels

Need to wash your microfiber towels? Washing these fast-drying bathroom towels is slightly different to washing your common cotton terry cloth variety. When machine washing, never load them in with terry towels as the terry cloth can cause fluff and lint to stick to your microfiber towels.

We'd recommend skipping the fabric softener when you're washing microfiber. Ditto to washing them at a high temperature as that can ruin them permanently. Microfiber is made up of polyester so if boil washed, it will clump and damage the towels. 

Another good tip is to air-dry microfiber because exposing them to high heat in a tumble dryer will dissolve and harden the synthetic fabric and in turn, will ruin your towels.

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. 

Martha Stewart explains, 'New towels are often coated in fabric softeners so they're nice and plush for shoppers, but these softeners prevent towels from soaking up water. To get rid of that build up, add half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle during the initial wash.'

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.

How to get mildew smell out of towels

Ever wondered why your towels get that musty smell? We feel your pain.

Towels are designed to get wet but not stay wet so if you throw your wet towel in the hamper or worse, on the bathroom floor, it's not going to dry. This is great news for germs and mold, which will happily grow and thrive in the fibers. Nice. 

Sometimes, even in the hottest of washes, your towels still come out with an odor, so here's how to get rid of the stinky towel smell and prevent it from happening again.

  • First wash your towels on a regular cycle with very warm or hot water, your usual laundry detergent and a cup of vinegar for the rinse cycle.
  • Next, run your towels through a regular cycle again and this time using only a half cup of baking soda – nothing else.
  • Hang the towels to line-dry or line-dry them followed by a quick dry in the tumble dryer with tennis balls or drying balls to fluff them up. 

how to wash towels - white towels on a bathroom shelf - H&M towels

(Image credit: H&M)

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.

  • Remember we have a dedicated bathroom ideas gallery to check out too where you'll find more tips and tricks on keeping your bathroom beautiful.

how to wash towels - Dunelm towels AW20

(Image credit: Dunelm)

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 is to alternate between 40°C and 60°C cycles: that way you're making sure you properly remove all the bacteria from your towels, but not washing them on hot all the time will be gentler on the pile.

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 wash linen towels

Linen towels are popular in hotter climates and make for great summer towels, when people tend to shower more frequently. 

Linen is absorbent and dries quickly, as well as being a highly sustainable fabric. It does need to be treated differently from cotton: always wash linen towels at no more than 40°C as they're likely to wrinkle or even shrink in hotter temperatures. Avoid fabric softener. 

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab) 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. 

Up next: our favorite towel storage ideas for when you're tight on space

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.