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An At-Home DIY Guide on How to Soften Towels

There’s no better sensation than slipping out of the shower after a long day and wrapping yourself in the comforting embrace of a warm, soft, snugly towel. 

But nothing lasts forever, and a mistreated towel can quickly lose that softness, becoming rough and uncomfortable against your skin. 

We have something to say about that! Follow this guide and you, too, can keep your towels in peak condition as long as possible.

  1. Change your washing habits
  2. Wash with white vinegar
  3. When you wash your towels, don’t use fabric softener
  4. Make sure you don’t overload your washer or dryer
  5. Don’t over tumble your towels
  6. Use a dryer ball
Person diving inside washer

1. Change your washing habits

The single biggest reason that towels stop being soft is because they start to become full of detergent soap. The soap works its way into the cotton strands that make up your towel and stiffen the individual strands.

You can slow this process down in several ways. By far the simplest method is to use less detergent.

By using slightly less detergent than is recommended, you allow more of the detergent residue to be washed free whilst still ending up with silky soft, and clean, towels.

Wash your towels when you first get them

When you unpack your new towels for the first time, they might be a little stiffer and rougher than expected.

That’s because a brand new towel needs a few washes to break in the cotton and make it perfectly soft and fluffy. So make sure you remember this tip when your new towels arrive.

But don’t over wash your towels

You don’t need to wash your towels every single time they’re used.

It’s fair to assume, because your towels are being used to dry your body after you get out of the shower or bath, that they’re going to be clean.  

But this isn’t true. Because towels are damp after use, and your body is always covered in bacteria and other microorganisms, even after you get out of the shower, left alone a used towel turns into a breeding ground for germs. That’s pretty gross.

According to the Cleaning Institute, a towel should be washed around every 3 uses, and should be left to dry completely between each use.

Turn down the heat

The second method is to lower the temperature you wash your towels at. Detergent soap is absorbed by water that’s hovering around body temperature, so turning the setting on your washer to warm, unless you really need it hot to clean a heavy stain, can lead your towels having a longer lifespan. 

Make sure that when washing towels, you always keep the temperature above 85°F (30°C). This is because towels carry a lot of bacteria, considering they are used to dry your body and can be left damp for reasonable periods of time. 

Another trick you can use is to start your washer without putting your towels inside. Let it cycle for a minute, then add your towels. This lets the detergent dissolve into the water before the towels are added, leading to less chance that they will soak it up.

Image of white vinegar

2. Wash with white vinegar.

Towels can also get stiff because of gradual buildup on the fibers due to chemical oils and fabric softener. Removing that buildup is easy with an age-old cleaning technique using an ingredient you have in your kitchen cabinet.

Adding a small amount of vinegar every few washes can help prevent towels from getting stiff, but this method also works for one-time rescues. Combining white vinegar with baking soda also will provide extra cleaning strength. Don’t worry, this won’t make your towels smell like vinegar if done correctly. Here’s how:

  1. Wash your towels by themselves with 1 cup of white vinegar using warm water. Do not use any laundry detergents, fabric softeners, or bleach. Just the vinegar.
  2. After the first cycle is complete, open your washer and add ½ cup baking soda. This mild natural abrasive will help chip off any remaining residue. Again, don’t use anything extra. Run a full cycle again with warm water.
  3. Dry your towels until the hottest setting until they are dry, typically 40-60 minutes by varying depending on your dryer. This will help evaporate moisture and make sure there is no vinegar left over.

If this doesn’t do the trick, you can repeat the three-step process above, this time using 1 cup more of vinegar, to see if that works.

Be careful not to mix the white vinegar and baking soda in the same run! It’s okay if a little remains from load-to-load, but don’t purposefully do it. Remember those 5th grade science fair homemade volcanoes? You wouldn’t want the same reaction here!

We tested adding both in a single load and it seemed to be okay with our top-loading washer. Nothing explored or overflowed. We may be more wary with front-loading washers. Although this may save some time, it’s probably best to play it safe and use the vinegar and baking soda on two different loads.

Using white vinegar and baking soda is the best technique in the book for softening your bath towels.

3. When you wash your towels, don’t use fabric softener

You heard that right. If you want to keep your towels soft, you shouldn’t be using a fabric softener. 

Whilst this sounds paradoxical, there’s a very good reason for it. The vast majority of fabric softeners use a silicon compound that coats your towels and makes them actively repel water. This will actually make them wash far worse, and get all nappy and rough faster than they otherwise would.

Image of washer and dryer

4. Make sure you don’t overload your washer or dryer

Putting too many towels into your washing machine is a bad idea. 

First off, high quality towels are made of heavy fabrics, and too many towels in a machine at once can cause it to struggle and could contribute to long term damage or your washing machine breaking down. 

Second, too many towels makes the wash come out so much worse than it otherwise would. 

The reason for this is simple. When you overstuff your washing machine, there’s not enough room inside for the water to flow freely, which means it can’t flow evenly enough to clean your washing properly. 

It works the same with your dryer, which needs space inside for the air to flow around, to give you the light, fluffy towels that your whole family loves. If you overstuff your dryer, you’re going to get towels that come out matted and rough.

Most normal machines can comfortably take two or three towels, with a few wash-cloths or hand towels thrown in alongside. For particularly heavy towels, you may even want to only wash them one or two at a time.

Image of dryer with absorbent towels

5. Don’t over tumble your towels

Everyone loves the feeling of a fluffy towel straight from the dryer, toasty and warm, but relying on your tumble dryer could be causing long term damage to your towels. Especially if you’re using a high heat setting to dry them quickly.

This is because high quality cotton that makes up a luxury towel is very susceptible to heat. 

Luckily, there’s several things you can do instead:

  • Turn the heat setting of your tumble dryer down
  • Switch between tumble drying and air drying every wash
  • Dry your towels outside
  • If you do dry your towels outside on the washing line, you can throw them into the dryer for a few minutes on a low heat, to give them a little bounce and warmth

6. Use a dryer ball

Dryer balls really do make your washing that much softer, and work on a really simple principle. 

When your washing is inside the dryer, the dryer balls roll and bounce around inside, rolling out lumps and softening the washing inside. 

So add a couple of dryer balls to make sure that your towels come out as soft as possible. (If you don’t have any, you can also substitute in one or two tennis balls, or roll a pair of socks inside themselves to make a solid ball.)

Final Thoughts

Looking after your towels doesn’t have to be hard. Just follow our simple tips, and your towels will stay light, fluffy and soft on the skin for the longest time.

Even if you follow these steps, if your towel isn’t high quality to begin with, it may be hard to revive it. You may just need a replacement.

Head to our shop to check our long-lasting zero-twist bath towels. Our towels use longer and stronger cotton fibers that are built to last.

Authored by Brooke Holden on March 10th, 2020.
Brooke is a resident home textile expert at Wove. She enjoys simplicity, style, and sustainability in everything she reviews. By day she’s a professional interior designer and by night she’s scouring the web for the best towels, blankets, clothing, and everything in between!