Brightly colored towels being washed inside a washer

How to wash & dry towels to keep them soft

Whether they’re bath towels, hand towels or washcloths, washing towels the right way and often enough is essential to keeping them fluffy and absorbent. Follow this step-by-step guide for tips on how to wash white and colored towels, as well as how to make towels soft again for the entire family to enjoy.

Towels that aren't washed properly can become stiff and scratchy, making them less pleasant to use. However, knowing how to properly care for your favorite towels before throwing them in the washer or dryer can help keep them feeling light and fresh for years to come.

A woman washing towels with a Whirlpool® washer and dryer set A woman washing towels with a Whirlpool® washer and dryer set

How often should you wash towels?

You can keep your family’s towels looking new and smelling fresh by washing them after every three uses or so. Towels have close contact with your body and easily absorb water or sweat, but proper cleaning in hot water and high dryer heat can help prevent moist environments where bacteria can grow.

Can I wash towels with clothes and sheets?

While grouping fabrics of similar weight together can help you protect the fibers of items during wash or dry cycles, the absorbent nature of towels make these items best suited for long, hot wash cycles. You can help protect clothing and sheets from damage by sorting them separately.

In addition to protecting the fibers of your clothing and sheets for a soft and comfortable feel, sorting your towels separately allows you to give them a more vigorous clean with hotter water temperatures and dryer heat. Doing so can also help you limit the chances of any possible transfer of bacteria to clothing and sheets.

Why are my towels hard after washing?

Improper washing and drying of your towels can affect their soft and fluffy texture, leaving them feeling hard or rough to the touch. If the wash cycle isn't hot enough, towels can build up soapy residue that can also leave them feeling crunchy and stiff. They can also become hard due to over-drying.

You can help soften your towels and keep them feeling light and fluffy by sticking to hot wash cycles and using only the recommended amount of detergent. After washing, keep them feeling soft by limiting their time spent in the dryer.

Towels of assorted colors being cleaned in a washing machine Towels of assorted colors being cleaned in a washing machine

How to wash and dry towels

Towels play an important role in keeping us clean and dry, but they can also be a source of bacteria if they are not properly washed. To ensure that your towels are fresh and clean, it is important to follow a few basic guidelines when washing and drying them, such as using hot water and high drying heat.

By following these simple tips, you can help keep your towels feeling clean, fresh and soft. Keep in mind that not all towels are made of the same material and may require different wash and dry settings. Always follow the instructions on your towel’s care tag first and foremost.

Supplies
  • Detergent

  • Bleach or color-safe bleach

  • White vinegar (optional)

Tools
  • Wool or rubber dryer balls (optional)

Woman opening a Whirlpool® Washer Woman opening a Whirlpool® Washer

Step 1: Consult the laundry care label

New towels should be washed before you use them to remove any chemical coatings and to help reduce lint. Before washing, remember to check the care label. Some towels may have trim or other decorative fabrics that are different from the normal cotton towel, which can affect which wash and dry cycle you use.

Step 2: Separate towels by color

To keep white towels bright and help prevent discoloration, wash them in a separate load. Brightly colored or dark towels should be washed in their own loads to prevent fading or dye transfer. You’ll also want to wash towels in a load without clothes to avoid any possible transfer of bacteria.

Step 3: Load towels in the washer

Load towels loosely in the washer—towels need to be able to move around the wash basket for a thorough clean. Some larger capacity washers can handle more towels at once, but take care not to overload.

Swash™ Laundry Detergent being added to a Whirlpool® Load & Go™ Dispenser Swash™ Laundry Detergent being added to a Whirlpool® Load & Go™ Dispenser

Step 4: Add detergent and other additives

Add detergent as you normally would for a regular load. Swash® laundry detergent1 is designed with a pre-measured pour dosage cap to help you use the right amount. If your towels are beginning to feel stiff, you may want to consider adding a little bit less detergent. Residue from too much detergent can build up over time and be harder to wash out.

If you’re using bleach to brighten up or sanitize white towels, add about a half cup of liquid bleach in the bleach dispenser or to the wash water before loading the towels.

How to soften towels

While fabric softener or dryer sheets may seem tempting for softening towels, the chemicals can affect absorbency of your towels and leave behind a coating that repels instead of soaking up water. Instead, add up to a half cup of white distilled vinegar or baking soda to help soften fibers and get rid of musty odors.

Step 5: Choose the right washing cycle and settings and wash your towels

Towels should be washed in the warmest water appropriate for the fabric according to the care label. Generally, warm or hot water is recommended for washing towels. Use a cycle specifically for towels or a normal/regular cycle. A sanitizing cycle can also be used, but may not be recommended for every wash, depending on the towel fabric. Some washer models, like Whirlpool® top load washing machines with Intuitive Controls, help you choose a cycle based on what you’re washing and how you’re washing it.

Person selecting a cycle on a Whirlpool® Washer Woman opening a Whirlpool® Washer

Step 6: Transfer to dryer and select the right dryer setting for towels

Once the wash cycle is complete, transfer towels to the dryer right away to avoid any build-up of musty smells. To help towels dry faster, give them a good shake before loading to help release any creases or crumples.

Towels should be dried with the warmest heat appropriate for the fabric according to the laundry care label. Generally, they should be dried on low to medium heat. Use a dryer setting specifically for towels or a normal/regular cycle. High heat and overdrying can cause fabric damage, so be sure to remove the towels promptly once they’re dry. Some dryers contain moisture sensors that stop the cycle automatically when clothes are dry, including these models from Whirlpool brand. You can also add wool or rubber dryer balls to help soften towels and help with drying efficiency.

Step 7: Fold towels when dry

Wait until towels are completely dry before removing them from the dryer, as any remaining moisture can cause musty smells. Fold towels and store them in a cool, dry spot to keep them fresh and fluffy.

Looking to upgrade your laundry pair for optimal performance? Take a look at smart washers and dryers from Whirlpool brand.

Shop Whirlpool® washers and dryers to tackle your towel loads

One of the best ways to keep your towels looking and feeling great is to wash and dry them properly. Keep your family’s well-loved towels looking and feeling their best with the Smooth Wave Stainless Steel Wash Basket of select Whirlpool® washing machines. Then, give your laundry loads an optimal dry with Whirlpool® dryers.

Explore more laundry cleaning how-tos with Whirlpool

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1. Swash and the recommending brands are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.