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Unless you’re like Chrissy Teigen and feel good about wearing a towel all day you probably don’t think much about that terrycloth rectangle until you exit the shower soaking wet. We’re pretty sure Chrissy’s towels are clean—she’s wearing a fresh one every time we see her on social. But what about your towels?
If you’ve been leaving them on the bathroom floor, washing them once a week with your dirty clothes, and tossing them in the washer with lots of detergent and fabric softener, you’re making some serious mistakes. No worries—we’re here to help you correct them.
The right way to wash towels
Okay, we get it. Who knew towels required special maintenance? But if you've got amazing bath towels and you want to keep them clean, really clean, you'll have to step up your laundry game. Here’s how.
1. Wash them more often: If you’re waiting more than three days to wash your towels, you’re waiting too long.
2. Use bleach: Hot water alone is not enough to kill bacteria. By the way, never add bleach to a wash cycle if you’ve added vinegar—the combo can release toxic gases.
3. Hang up towels after you use them: When you leave wet towels in a pile, germs, mold, and mildew can proliferate, creating a stink and a stain that won’t easily wash out.
4. Wash them separately: Towels shouldn’t be washed with your other laundry. They’re heavy and linty, so your clothes can’t toss well enough to get clean in the wash water and may end up covered with fuzz.
5. Use less detergent: When there’s too much detergent in the washer, it ends up back on your laundry. Don’t fill the liquid detergent cup more than one-third of the way or use more than one detergent pod for a medium load.
6. Use an extra rinse and spin cycle: Doing this may help remove any accumulated detergent and softener residue.
Stop using fabric softener and dryer sheets
Be honest: Have you ever been met with a towel that feels waxy, greasy, and spreads the water around instead of absorbing it? If so, your laundry routine has got to change.
Don’t stress. The change is an easy one: Just stop using fabric softener and dryer sheets. These items soften fabric fibers, reducing wrinkles and static cling on clothing, but they actually have a negative effect on fluffy fabrics like towels.
Why? “Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is the active ingredient in most fabric softeners and dryer sheets,” says Jonathan Chan, a senior lab technician at Reviewed. Because this ingredient is essentially a silicone oil, it can destroy the absorbent properties of the terrycloth, causing towels to feel oily and slippery. Long story short, fabric softener and dryer sheets reduce a towel's ability to absorb water.
What should you do instead for soft, fluffy towels?
To keep your towels feeling and looking great without using fabric softener or dryer sheets, do this instead.
1. Soften with vinegar: Some people swear by using vinegar in the washer. "Add a quarter to a half-cup of distilled vinegar to your wash cycle in place of fabric softener,” according to Jennifer Gregory, brand manager of Molly Maid, a Neighborly company. “This will soften your clothes, reduce static, and help keep your washer smelling fresh at the same time.” But it’s not a universal solution. We have concerns about using vinegar in front load washers with rubber parts, because, over time, vinegar can deteriorate the waterproof door seal in a front-load machine. Try a half-cup of baking soda instead.
2. Keep laundry static-free: Dryer sheets are well-known for reducing annoying static in clothing, but there's something else you can do to reduce static without the waxy feel and product waste. And we're not talking about dryer balls: They don't actually soften the laundry and they don't do much to eliminate static cling. Instead, to discharge static, try making balls from aluminum foil and adding them to the load.
3. Deodorize musty towels: Apartment Therapy suggests that you soak them with vodka. But maybe you’ll enjoy laundry day more if you just pour yourself a glass.
4. Add a fresh scent: If you miss the fragrance fabric softeners or dryer sheets impart, try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the laundry in the dryer. Dampen an old washcloth, wring it out, and add three to five drops of oil. Then toss it in the dryer with your clothes for a subtle, lasting scent. This set of eight essential oils is a favorite among Amazon reviewers, with nearly 7,000 reviews and 4.3 stars.
If you do all that, your towels may become so delightful that you’re tempted to wear them all day, as Chrissy does. Or at least you might find them more comfortable to use when you step out of the tub.