How to Wash Your Towels the Right Way

Plus, learn how to banish musty odors for good.

Caring for your towels seems simple enough. Just toss them in the wash and you're good to go, right? As it turns out, there's a bit more to it than that. For example, you need to consider fabric type and whether you're cleaning white or dark towels, which call for different temperature settings and ingredients. To help you wash your towels the right way, we asked laundry and cleaning experts for their best tips. From washing and drying to folding, they shared how to maintain these essentials so they stay fluffy absorbent for years to come—and also explained how to tackle musty odors and stubborn stains.

Woman pulling freshly cleaned towels out of drying machine

Wash Towels Before You Use Them

Be sure to wash your towels before you use them; this will open up the fibers, says the team from Garnet Hill, a home textile company. "If the fibers aren't open, they won't be as absorbent," they say.

New towels are also often coated in fabric softeners so they're nice and plush for shoppers—but these ingredients actually prevent towels from soaking up water. To get rid of that buildup, add a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle during the initial wash. Pro tip: In general, skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets when washing and drying bath towels to ensure they remain as absorbent as possible over time.

How Often to Wash Your Towels

The team at Garnet Hill suggest washing towels after every three or four uses—but frequency also comes down to personal preference, they add.

How to Wash Your Towels

Most towels should be washed in warm water in a regular cycle, but read the tag to be sure. "If the label stresses that you should separate your dark colors from your white colors, you better do that," say Garnet Hill's experts. "And each towel could differ depending on the fibers."

Speaking of those fibers: To avoid getting lint all over your clothes, wash towels separately from garments.

How to Wash Colorful Towels

Use a cool to warm water setting (about 40 degrees) when washing your dark-colored towels, says Maria Mooney, cleaning expert and brand director of Truly Free. This will help preserve the colors but still eliminate bacteria. If possible, use a color-safe bleach, like Truly Free's 100% Chlorine Free & Color Safe Oxyboost, to remove strong stains without damaging the towels.

It's best to wash colorful towels with similar shades to prevent bleeding, at least for the first few washes. Want to give your bright towels an extra boost? "Use about half the recommended amount of detergent while washing and add 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar to the water during the rinse cycle," Mooney says.

How to Wash White Towels

There are a few rules of thumb to follow when washing white towels. First, always wash them in hot water, as this helps maintain their brightness. From there, use the recommended amount of detergent (follow the manufacturer's instructions) and a non-chlorine bleach with a natural fabric brightener, like Truly Free's OxyBoost, which contains sodium percarbonate, a technical grade oxygen boost.

Towel Washing Mistakes

Be sure to avoid overloading your machine with towels when you wash them. This will not only prevent them from getting clean, but it could also damage your washing machine's drum and decrease its efficiency, says Mooney. As a result, your towels may inevitably need another wash to remove stains and odors.

Another misstep? Letting wet towels sit in the drum. "Always dry towels immediately after washing them," says Mooney. "If you leave your towels in the washer or lying around damp, they'll likely get a mildew smell, and you don't want that."

How to Get Smells and Stains Out of Towels

White vinegar is an all-natural towel stain remover—and it can get rid of that musty towel smell, too. To use this ingredient to your benefit, follow Mooney's advice: "Soak items in distilled white vinegar for three minutes before adding them to your washing machine," she says. Better yet, a vinegar soak will also make them feel soft and fresh once they are dry.

How to Dry Towels

After running your towels through the washing machine, follow these expert tips to dry them.

  1. Remove your towels from the washing machine, give them a shake, and tumble dry on medium heat in the dryer.
  2. Once dry, remove immediately (inhale that fresh scent!) and fold.
  3. To avoid a musty smell, make sure your towels are completely dry before folding and storing.
  4. If you're considering line drying your towels, be prepared for a not-so-soft result—line drying makes towel fibers stiff and scratchy.
  5. To avoid wrinkled towels, pull them out of the dryer as soon as they are 100 percent dry and fold.

How to Fold Towels

Once you've dried your towels, it's time to put them away. If you plan on displaying them in your bathroom, follow Martha's tip, which she shared on her TV show back in April 2008: "Fold towels so that the edges are hidden and the towels look fluffy and neat," she said. "Fold the towel in thirds lengthwise, and then hang it over a rod."

If you're planning on putting towels in your linen closet, fold them in half lengthwise, then fold down one-third from the top. Continue folding that portion onto the bottom third to form a rectangle. Then, tuck them away in a dry storage area to prevent moisture buildup.

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