Toss them into the wash after a maximum of three uses, say our experts.
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Whatever your routine, keeping your skin clear always calls for this essential step: washing your face before the day's end. After cleansing your face, it's time to pat everything dry with a fresh, clean face towel, one free from pore-clogging bacteria. But exactly how many times can you get away with using the same cloth—sans breakouts—before it's time to toss it into the washing machine? Find out thanks to our laundry experts' insight, ahead.

woman drying face with towel
Credit: Hispanolistic / Getty Images

Wash them after three uses maximum.

"You should wash your towels after no more than three uses," says Anna Utley, the general manager of the consumer products group at Whirlpool Corporation. "It's important to wash them frequently—not only do they have close contact with your face, but they can also absorb water or sweat and become breeding grounds for bacteria." 

Mary Johnson, a Tide and Downy principal scientist, adds that it's critical to wash these cloths on this timeline, since up to 70 percent of their soil won't be visible to the naked eye. "For example, our body produces the following body soils in a 24-hour period without exercise and much of this can be transferred to towels: one liter of sweat, 10 grams of salt, 40 grams of grease and sebum, and two billion skin cells (approximately 10 grams)," she explains. Plus, there are other specific types of dirt that can accumulate on face towels, like mucus, dandruff, makeup, facial moisturizers and sunscreens, earwax, saliva, and hair care products.

Wash them thoroughly.

While you can simply toss face towels into the washing machine with your other linens, keep these professional tips in mind. "Mildew smells tend to intensify in warm, moist environments, so a bunched-up, wet face towel left in the washing machine drum or at the bottom of your laundry basket provides just the right circumstances for that mildew smell to develop," Johnson explains. "Additionally, body soils left on your face towels either from use or from poor-performing detergents will break down over time to release a sour, musty odor." As for how to get them as clean as possible? Beyond separating your white and colorful towels to avoid the transfer of any dye (especially when cleansing them for the first time), Johnson recommends adding two pods of heavy-duty detergent, like Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy 10x Duty Power PODS Laundry Detergent Pacs ($18.31, amazon.com), for extremely soiled towels (think mascara or foundation stains) or an extra-large load.

But don't go overboard with the cleaning solutions: "Using more detergent than necessary can encourage odor and residue buildup in your washer," Utley shares. If you opt for liquid detergent, like Swash Laundry Detergent ($15.99, amazon.com), she suggests using a precise amount. Another reminder: Don't overload your machine. Johnson explains that you should be able to fit your open hand between the washing machine door and the towels. If you are using a heavy-duty cleaning agent, the principal scientist says that simply washing your face towels on cold should do the trick to get them clean. But if you are working with a neutral detergent or the towels are extremely soiled, cycle them "in hot water and dry on high heat," adds Utley.  

Prevent odor.

Your drying method matters, too, especially when it comes to odor, note our experts. "Even if you only use your towel very lightly, it's important to air dry it away from humidity to avoid unpleasant smells," Johnson says. Other expert advice? Don't put wet towels into your laundry basket and forget about them, since that mildew smell can set in after a few hours; and make sure moist cloths don't sit in the washing machine, either. Again, this will prompt that unfavorable odor. The takeaway? Dry your towels immediately after they have been washed and toss in dryer sheets, like Bounce Plus Febreze Sport Odor Defense Fabric Softener Dryer Sheets ($11.99, amazon.com), for added freshness and static prevention. Lastly, "only store your towels when they are completely dry," Johnson says. "This prevents the unpleasantness of musty towels."

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