DIY Cleaning & Organizing

The Right Way to Wash Your Towels

Tweak your towel cleaning techniques to keep them fresh, fluffy, and color true.
How to Wash Towels


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Tossing soiled towels in with the rest of the wash won’t get them as clean and fresh as possible because stains, germs, and dye from other items could transfer onto them. What’s more, large towels in with the regular load could damage fibers of delicate garments and wrap around and trap small items, preventing them from being evenly washed. Read on to learn how to wash towels correctly to boost hygiene and comfort, plus tips for towel maintenance that will help extend their fluff, absorbency, and lifespan.

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1. Separate towels into their own loads of lights and darks.

First, pull out the towels from other clothing and linens. Then separate white and light colored towels from dark colored ones into separate piles. Any towel darker than pale yellow should be in the dark pile. Towels being highly absorbent, white and light ones could pick up the dye from darker ones and become discolored over time. Dark towels, having transferred their dye to the white and light towels, may fade.

2. Load the towels without overstuffing.

Start with either the white/light or dark colored pile, loading towels into the drum of your washing machine without overstuffing, as towels may otherwise get unevenly washed. A front-load washer can handle a 12-pound load on average, or about seven bath towels; a top-load washer can usually handle a 15- to 18-pound load, or nine to 11 bath towels.

RELATED: 12 Laundry Mistakes You’re Probably Making

The Best Tips for How to Wash Towels

3. Use half the detergent you’d use for a normal load.

Avoid using too much detergent, which will stiffen towels. Open the detergent drawer located at either the front of the machine for front-load machines or below the lid of top-loaders, filling the reservoir with half the amount of detergent you would use for a normal load. Use any quality detergent, either natural (e.g., Mrs. Meyer’s Laundry Detergent, on Amazon) or synthetic (e.g., Tide Clean Laundry Detergent, on Amazon).

4. Add chlorine or non-chlorine bleach as necessary.

To banish stains, add bleach to the bleach reservoir of the machine in the amount specified on the packaging, as follows:

  • If washing only white towels, add chlorine or non-chlorine (aka, color-safe) bleach to the bleach reservoir.
  • If washing either a combination of white/light towels or dark towels, use only color-safe bleach. Chlorine bleach can lift the dye from colored towels along with the stains, fading the towels over time.
The Best Tips for How to Wash Towels

5. Select Regular or Normal cycle on your washing machine.

The fast spin and longer duration of these cycles eliminate dust, dirt, and bacteria from towel fibers.

6. Set the water temperature to hot (for whites) or warm (for like colors).

Set the water temperature according to the color category of towels as follows:

  • For white/light colors, set the water temperature to hot. This temperature helps brighten white or light towels.
  • For dark colors, set the water temperature to warm. This temperature helps eliminate bacteria yet preserve color.

7. Shake out the excess water from each towel before transferring to the dryer.

Press the Start button to begin the wash cycle. When the cycle completes, retrieve towels one by one, shaking each one out by hand to get rid of excess water before transferring it to the dryer. This will shorten the drying time.

8. Toss in the dryer until just dry, or air-dry flat.

Select the Regular or Automatic cycle on your dryer. This setting uses high heat to maximize fluffiness. When just dry (over-drying can deteriorate fibers), retrieve towels one by one, folding each one immediately to minimize wrinkles.

If you don’t have a dryer, or prefer to air-dry towels, spread them out indoors on a drying rack positioned near an open window that receives ample sunlight or near a heater if a window isn’t available. Alternatively, hang them outdoors on a clothesline.

The Best Tips for How to Wash Towels

Maintenance Tips for Fluffy, Fresh Towels

Enlist these tips to keep newly laundered towels looking and smelling fresh for days.

Deal with damp towels properly:

  • Dry wet towels immediately after each use by spreading them out on a towel bar so that they are not bunched up or overlapping with other towels or garments. This will maximize airflow to the towel and speed up drying time.
  • Never store damp towels in a drawer or linen closet; this can encourage the formation of mildew.

Eliminate a mildew smell from towels:

  • Run them through a wash cycle without any detergent or bleach, adding one cup of distilled white vinegar into the drum of the machine before starting the cycle. Air- or machine-dry when finished.
  • If towels are still smelling musty, run them through the wash without detergent or bleach with one-half cup baking soda before air- or machine-drying.
  • Dilute anywhere from two tablespoons to one-half cup of oxygen bleach (e.g., OxyClean) into a gallon-sized tub with a gallon of water (hot for white/light towels or warm for dark towels). Add mildewed towels to the solution, letting them soak 30 minutes or overnight. Run the soaked towels through a wash cycle with detergent, then air- or machine-dry them.
The Best Tips for How to Wash Towels

If laundering towels of different colors:

  • Always wash white/light and dark towels separately, even if you opt to use cold water to wash them to save energy. Color transfer can still happen in cold water.
  • Dry white/light and dark towels separately as some color bleeding can occur near the beginning of the dry cycle. This usually only happens with new towels whose colors have not set; older white/light and dark towels can be dried together with a low risk of color transfer.
  • If washing light or dark colored towels for the first time, add one-half to one cup of distilled white vinegar into the drum of the machine before starting the cycle to set the color of the towels and prevent future color bleeding. Never mix bleach and vinegar in the same cycle; the combination is toxic.

To maintain the comfort and absorbency of towels:

  • Always wash new towels before you use them to remove the silicone finish that coats them, which reduces their absorbency.
  • Avoid using fabric softener more than every three or four wash cycles, as it can leave a waxy build-up on towels that reduces absorbency.
  • Avoid ironing towels; the iron will flatten their fibers, making them less fluffy. The direct heat of the iron can also damage their fibers.
  • Wash towels every three to four days to maintain their fluffiness and cleanliness.