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Towel Tune-Up

Martha Stewart Living, July 2006

Are your towels holding less water than they used to? It may be that your choice of washing detergent contains fabric softener, which has residues that cling to individual fibers, rendering towels less absorbent. The next time you clean a load, add a cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle; it will remove the residue and restore towels' soaking power. In the future, avoid detergents with fabric softener when washing towels.

Comments (25)

  • Sghanson 22 Aug, 2011

    That is to say, 1/4 cup of baking soda per wash load.

  • Sghanson 22 Aug, 2011

    I stopped using fabric softener years ago - now I add 1/4 of baking soda to every wash load instead. My clothes and towels come out of the dryer fresh and fluffy. You can buy baking soda in bulk at warehouse stores.

  • Gardener26 21 Aug, 2011

    I do not use fabric softener, but to keep my towels soft and fluffy, I dry them in the dryer for no more than 10 minutes and then hang them on the line outside to finish drying. Towels come in too stiff if they go straight out onto the line to dry.

  • mzooms2 20 Aug, 2011

    Martha, can you tell me how to keep that decorative band about three inches up on one end of the towels to stop shrinking in? All the towels look like they're “gathered” at one end and it looks stupid! Any ideas?

  • KristyMum 20 Aug, 2011

    Absolutely. No fabric softener here nor a dryer and we manage just fine. While I love the softness of 'fancy hotel' towels, they're no good if they don't absorb water :)

    Just be careful using vinegar on cloth nappies. Some say it's ok with the elastic and some say not. Flat nappies should be fine though :) Either way, no fabric softener for nappies for absorbency and less chemicals AND if you have no dryer, a quick 'rub and crunch' between your hands will soften them easily :)

  • MDWV50bt 1 Apr, 2008

    I always wash my towels without fabric softener. Since I dry them in the dryer they are fluffy and nice as well as absorbent.

  • kimwylie0523 31 Mar, 2008

    How true this is!! I recently got married and my "ex-bachelor" had towels that were so laden down with softener that they practically repelled water! One run through the wash with a cup of white vinegar made them great absorbent rags. (Oh, come on! We got new ones with our registry.)

  • kimwylie0523 31 Mar, 2008

    How true this is!! I recently got married and my "ex-bachelor" had towels that were so laden down with softener that they practically repelled water! One run through the wash with a cup of white vinegar made them great absorbent rags. (Oh, come on! We got new ones with our registry.)

  • kimwylie0523 31 Mar, 2008

    How true this is!! I recently got married and my "ex-bachelor" had towels that were so laden down with softener that they practically repelled water! One run through the wash with a cup of white vinegar made them great absorbent rags. (Oh, come on! We got new ones with our registry.)

  • FredericKahler 30 Mar, 2008

    Try a half cup of vinegar or a half cup of baking soda every other time you wash your towels.

    Dry them on a clothesline occasionally to sanitize them.

    To soften towels add a little bit of hair conditioner to the final rinse once in a while. Towels, like T-shirts, are softest when new. The fibers slowly fracture. It's a fact of life. It is unfortunate that so many folks buy into the commercialized notion that towels MUST be very soft. Towels are meant to be absorbent!

    Frederic Kahler

  • mairgl 29 Mar, 2008

    When you recommend avoiding detergent with fabric softener for more absorbent towels, are you recommend not using fabric softener at all, ie separate liquid or dryer sheets?

  • Rhythmhound 28 Mar, 2008

    I put vinegar in the softener section of my H.E. front loader and it works just great. I just fill it to the max like, I think a cup is probably more than you really need, but it depends on how much fabric you have in there! You can also add a few drops of essential oil to the vinegar and ad a natural scent if you want. Just make sure it's a clear light essential oil.

  • Donna_Jagoe 28 Mar, 2008

    Does anyone know if a full cup is needed for a front loading washer? Seems like a lot.

  • bellepauly 28 Mar, 2008

    @ KatieLB03 I use Seventh Generation cleaning products, I think they work just as well as normal non - earth friendlly products. Plus I feel abit better everytime I wash the water away. They are a biit expensive. There are loads of other eco-friendly products you can try. I just like them.
    http://www.seventhgeneration.com

  • emeralddragonfly 28 Mar, 2008

    I wash my towels in vinegar water. After all vinegar sterilizes the fabric

  • craftygirl1 28 Mar, 2008

    Adding Borax is also very effective. I used it with every wash and it keeps towels smelling wonderful!

  • KatieLB03 28 Mar, 2008

    Has anyone tried "all natural" or "eco-friendly" detergent? Just curious if it works better then standard detergent.

  • casperboy 27 Mar, 2008

    Adding vinegar to the rinse cycle works well. Also use less detergent than recomended on detergent containers. Baking soda in the wash cycle makes the water softer so.....the detergent works better. Wonderful ideas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • bubbiefour 27 Mar, 2008

    Try the dryer balls with the little soft spikes all over them. I have been using them for about a year and they really do a nice job of softening. They come in packages of two, but 4 is even better. yeah they make noise going round in the dryer, but I find it worth it.

  • ovestobake 27 Mar, 2008

    My towels had become very stiff from using a well known fabric softener, After learning fabric softener was the cause, I quit using it. First rinsing the towels twice, but no longer. My opinion is if a person doesn't overload the washer and dryer, or over dry them the towels are soft

  • hewahc 27 Mar, 2008

    Fabric softeners from a natural foods store-brands such as Ecover and Mountain Green-don't seem to leave the same waterproof coating yet do have some softening power. It's not quite like the chemical kind but still soft.

  • JeanieCurry 27 Mar, 2008

    Okay, so now my towels will be absorbent but stiff and scratchy - which is worse or better? Maybe add the white vinegar every other time you wash towels, then you have the best of both worlds. Just a suggestion!

  • MLuiken 27 Mar, 2008

    Here's a direct quote from Textile companies: Do NOT use fabric softeners or dryer sheets on your towels! It coats the terry fibers with silicones, and will actually make towels less absorbent. To freshen towels add a half cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. You'll end up with extra-fresh smelling towels! After working in a textile department of a major department store, we learned this and shared with our customers - although some didn't like the advice.

  • loki5 27 Mar, 2008

    Soft towels are highly overrated. I like them a bit scratchy which feels good on my back but also exfoliates nicely.

    Towels done with fabric softener never get me dry, they just move the water around. And I am told that the vinegar itself will soften the towels without compromising their ability to absorbe water.

    Sherry

  • KristinEddinger 27 Mar, 2008

    Then how do we keep the towels soft?