Ways to soften and reduce the chance of smelly towels

You’ve just taken a refreshing shower that leaves you feeling invigorated. You reach for your towel, and your spirits deflate. The towel is a bit rough and takes on a funky smell as soon as dampness sets in. Sound familiar?

When your towels smell and lack absorbency—especially shortly after being laundered—it’s a sign that detergent and fabric softener have built up in the fabric. While it sounds counterintuitive, using too much detergent is actually bad for towels. When soap residue builds up, the towels don’t dry as effectively, decreasing their softness and increasing their ability to be a breeding ground for bacteria (thus, the musty smell).

Don’t worry, there is still hope for your towels!

How to refresh towels

Washing towels with vinegar and baking soda can bring them back to life in just three steps:

  1. Wash towels in hot water and one cup vinegar. Don’t add any detergent.
  2. Wash the towels a second time (without drying them) in hot water and one cup baking soda.
  3. Dry your towels but avoid fabric softener, which builds up on towels and reduces softness. Learn more about fabric softeners in our Liquid Fabric Softener vs. Dryer Sheets

How to keep towels soft

Now that you’ve refreshed your towels, how do you make sure they stay that way? Follow these guidelines:

  1. Let’s talk detergent.
    • Use the correct amount of detergent.
    • Match the detergent to your machine. If you own a high-efficiency machine, use HE detergent.
    • Measure detergent according to the manufacturer’s package. You’re likely to use more—rather than less—than recommended if you eyeball the measurement.
    • If you have hard water, you may need more detergent.
    • Know how to tell if you have used too much detergent. Suds left over after rinsing is a sure sign. Also, if your wet clothes feel stiff, they are likely filled with soap residue.
  2. Hang your towels to dry. Never throw a wet towel in the hamper. Bacteria will grow faster on towels that aren’t allowed to dry completely.
  3. Clean your washing machine frequently by running a cycle with one-quarter cup bleach.
  4. Launder your towels frequently. A good rule is to use the towel no more than three times between washings.

Take these steps to enjoy fresh, soft towels!