How to Wash Towels: The Best Towel Washing Guide

December 21, 2023

Reviewed by
Suze Dowling

How to Wash Towels: The Best Towel Washing Guide

Welcome to the ultimate guide on washing towels! At Onsen, we believe that life's basics should be thoughtfully designed to make your everyday experiences more enjoyable. That's why we're here to help you take the hassle out of towel washing, ensuring that your towels stay fresh, fluffy, and functional for longer. No more scratchy or musty-smelling towels!

Towels are essential to our daily routines, providing comfort and absorbing moisture. However, many people underestimate the importance of washing them properly. By following the right techniques and using the correct products, you can extend the lifespan of your towels and maintain their superior absorbency.

This guide will share practical tips and techniques to help you care for your towels effectively. Whether you have luxurious bath towels, vibrant hand towels, or favorite beach towels, we've got you covered. Let's dive into the reasons why washing towels properly matters, so you can make the most of your towel-washing routine and enhance your overall bathing experience.

Why Does Washing Towels Properly Matter?

Properly washing your towels isn't just about keeping them clean — it's essential for maintaining their functionality and ensuring they remain fresh and absorbent. 

Here's why it matters:

Extends Towel Lifespan

You can significantly prolong their lifespan by washing your towels using the recommended techniques. This means you won't need to replace them as frequently, saving you time and money in the long run. Towels are an investment, and caring for them properly ensures they'll serve you well for years.

Preserves Absorbency

Absorbency is one of the essential qualities of a good towel. When towels are not washed the right way, residual soap, fabric softener, and mineral buildup can hinder their absorbency. By following the right washing practices, you can prevent the buildup of these substances, allowing your towels to continue soaking up moisture efficiently.

Avoids Mildew and Musty Smells

Improperly washed towels are prone to developing a musty smell caused by mildew growth. This can make using your towels a less pleasant experience. By implementing proper washing techniques, you can prevent mildew formation and eliminate any musty odors that may have accumulated over time.

Maintains Fluffiness and Softness

A well-maintained towel remains soft and fluffy, creating a luxurious sensory experience. Neglecting the proper washing methods can cause towels to become stiff, scratchy, and lose their fluffy texture. By following our recommended practices, you'll ensure your towels stay soft, gentle, and enjoyable to use.

Enhances Hygiene

Clean towels are essential for maintaining good hygiene. Proper washing removes dirt, sweat, and bacteria that may accumulate on the surface. Regular washing eliminates these contaminants effectively, ensuring your towels are fresh and hygienic for the whole family to use.

Now that we’ve covered why washing towels correctly is so important, let's jump into the practical steps for washing and caring for your towels.

Understanding Towel Care Labels

When it comes to washing your towels, understanding the care labels is essential. These labels provide valuable information about the manufacturer's recommended washing instructions and help you maintain the quality and longevity of your towels. 

Here's what you need to know about those care labels:

Washing Symbols

Care labels often feature washing symbols that depict specific instructions for the best way to care for certain fabrics. These symbols indicate whether you should machine wash, hand wash, or avoid washing altogether. Pay attention to these symbols to ensure you're following the appropriate washing methods.

Water Temperature

Care labels provide guidance on the recommended water temperature for washing your towels. Some towels may require a specific temperature, such as warm or cold water, while others may be suitable for a range of temperatures. Adhering to the specified water temperature helps prevent damage and maintain the towel's color and fabric integrity.

Bleaching Instructions

Care labels indicate whether or not you can use bleach when washing your towels. Some towels are suitable for chlorine bleach, while others may require non-chlorine bleach or no bleach at all. Following these recommendations ensures you avoid discoloration or weakening of the towel's fibers.

Drying Instructions

Care labels offer guidance on the appropriate drying methods for your towels. Some towels can be tumble-dried, while others are best air-dried. Additionally, care labels may specify heat settings for machine drying. Following these instructions prevents shrinking, damage, or loss of towel fluffiness.

By carefully reading and understanding the care labels on your towels, you can ensure that you're treating them in the best possible way, preserving their quality and functionality for a long time.

Preparing New Towels for First Use

Excitement fills the air when you bring home a fresh set of new towels. But before you start using them, it's important to take some simple steps to prepare them for their debut. 

Pre-washing your new towels removes any manufacturing residues, such as oils or dyes, allowing them to reach their full absorbency potential. 

Here's how to properly prepare your new towels for first-time use:

  1. Separate by Colors: It's best to wash colorful towels separately, especially if you have towels of different colors. This prevents any potential color bleeding, ensuring that each towel retains its vibrancy and prevents dullness or discoloration.

  2. Use Mild Detergent: Select a gentle laundry detergent suitable for delicate fabrics. Avoid using fabric softener during the first wash, as it can hinder absorbency and leave a residue on the towels.

  3. Warm Water Temperature: Set the water temperature to warm, which helps loosen any manufacturing residues clinging to the fibers. A warm water setting provides an effective balance between cleanliness and preservation.

  4. Proper Loading: Do not overload your washing machine. Overcrowding can result in inadequate cleaning and can cause the towels to become tangled or frayed.

  5. Wash Cycle: Start the washing machine using the regular wash cycle, ensuring a thorough cleaning process. This cycle helps remove any residue from transportation and storage.

Avoid Over-Drying: Once the drying cycle is complete, remove the towels promptly to avoid over-drying, which can lead to stiffness and potential damage to the fibers.

By following these simple steps, you'll prepare your new towels to provide the optimal absorbency and softness you expect. Now that your towels are ready for action, let's dive into the ideal washing techniques to keep them in pristine condition.

The Ideal Water Temperature for Washing Towels

Choosing the right water temperature is important when it comes to washing your towels effectively. Different temperatures have varying effects on cleaning power, fabric preservation, and color retention. 

Here's a breakdown of the ideal water temperature for washing towels:

Hot Water (130°F/54°C and Above)

Hot water is an excellent option for white towels or heavily soiled towels that need a deep cleaning. It helps kill bacteria, remove dirt, and ensure thorough sanitation. However, hot water can cause colors to fade and may shrink certain towel materials, so checking care labels before using high temperatures is essential.

Warm Water (90°F/32°C to 110°F/43°C)

Warm water strikes a balance between effective cleaning and fabric preservation. It works well for most towel types, removing dirt and grime without risking damage or color loss. It also aids in dissolving detergent and eliminating any residual build-up, leaving your towels fresh and soft.

Cold Water (Below 90°F/32°C)

Cold water is gentle on towels and helps preserve their color and fabric integrity. It's suitable for dark-colored towels, delicate materials, and not heavily soiled towels. While cold water may not remove tough stains effectively, it still provides a thorough cleaning and prevents potential damage caused by high heat or hot water.

When selecting the water temperature, consider your towels' condition, color, and any specific care instructions provided. It's important to note that some towels may have different washing requirements due to their composition or dyeing process, so always refer to the care labels for guidance.

Which Washing Machine Setting Should I Use?

The right washing machine settings can make a significant difference in maintaining the quality and longevity of your towels. Here's a guide to selecting the ideal settings when washing your towels:

Wash Cycle

Opt for a regular or normal wash cycle for your towels. This cycle strikes a balance between cleanliness and fabric care. Try to avoid intensive or heavy-duty cycles, which may cause excessive agitation and potential damage.

Water Level

Choose the appropriate water level based on the quantity of towels and the load size. Avoid overloading your washing machine, as this can lead to inadequate cleaning and rinsing.

Spin Speed

Adjust the spin speed to a moderate setting to prevent excessive stress on the towel fibers. High spin speeds can cause towels to become tangled, resulting in frayed edges or deterioration of the towel's overall quality.

Extra Rinse

If your washing machine offers an extra rinse option, enabling it when washing towels is beneficial. An extra rinse helps to remove any leftover detergent residues, leading to fresher and softer towels.

Avoid Overloading

To ensure proper cleaning and rinsing, avoid overstuffing the washing machine. Overloading can result in inadequate agitation, inefficient cleaning, and excessive wear on the towels. Maintaining a balance between the load size and your machine's capacity is key.

By selecting the appropriate washing machine settings, you can ensure that your towels are thoroughly cleaned while keeping them in the best condition possible. The next step is to select the right laundry detergent for your towels' needs.

What’s the Right Laundry Detergent for Towels?

Choosing the right laundry detergent is important to ensure clean, fresh, and long-lasting towels. 

Here are a few factors to consider when selecting the ideal detergent for washing your towels:

  • Gentle Formulation: Look for a gentle laundry detergent that is suitable for delicate fabrics. Towels are made of soft and absorbent materials — harsh detergents can damage the fabric fibers over time. Opt for a detergent specifically designed for sensitive skin or delicate fabrics.
  • Free of Harsh Chemicals: Avoid detergents that contain bleach, optical brighteners, or fabric softeners. These additives can affect your towels' absorbency, color, and overall quality. Instead, choose a detergent that is free from harsh chemicals and additives, as it will help preserve the towel's functionality and appearance.
  • Enzyme or Oxygenated Cleaners: Enzyme-based or oxygenated cleaners effectively break down stains and remove odors from your towels. These types of detergents provide a deep cleaning action while being gentle on the fibers. Consider using detergents that contain these ingredients for better stain removal and fresher-smelling towels.
  • Suitable for Water Hardness: If you live in an area with hard water, consider using a detergent specifically designed to tackle mineral deposits. These detergents work well in hard water environments and prevent the buildup of minerals that can make your towels stiff and less absorbent.
  • Eco-Friendly Options: Choose an eco-friendly laundry detergent for those concerned about the environment. These options are typically biodegradable, free from harmful chemicals, and manufactured using sustainable practices. By opting for eco-friendly detergents, you can prioritize both the cleanliness of your towels and the well-being of the planet.

When selecting a laundry detergent, it's always a good idea to refer to the manufacturer's recommendations, especially if you have towels with special care requirements. Choosing the right detergent ensures that your towels are thoroughly cleaned, soft, and enjoyable to use.

Steps for Properly Washing Towels

Following the correct washing process is essential to maintain the quality and longevity of your towels. 

Here are the steps for properly washing towels:

  1. Sorting: Separate your towels by color to prevent color bleeding. Wash white or light-colored towels separately from dark towels or heavily soiled ones to maintain the vibrancy of each towel.

  2. Load Size: Avoid overloading the washing machine. Providing sufficient space for your towels allows for proper agitation, thorough cleaning, and effective rinsing. A balanced load size ensures optimal results.

  3. Detergent Measurement: Use the appropriate amount of detergent as per the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging. Adding too much detergent can leave a residue on the towels, while using too little may result in inadequate cleaning.

  4. Water Temperature: Select the appropriate water temperature based on the towel's color, fabric type, and care label instructions. Refer to the previous section to determine the ideal temperature for your towels.

  5. Additives: If desired or necessary, add oxygenated or enzyme-based cleaners to eliminate stains and odors. Follow the package instructions for the proper amount to achieve the desired results. A cup of white vinegar or peroxide can also be added to wash or rinse cycles to help keep colors bright and remove tough stains and odors.

  6. Wash Cycle: Choose the regular or normal wash cycle for most towel types. This cycle strikes a balance between cleanliness and fabric preservation. Avoid intensive cycles that may cause excessive agitation and potential damage.

  7. Extra Rinse: Utilize the extra rinse feature if available. This helps remove any lingering detergent residues, ensuring your towels are thoroughly rinsed, soft, and fresh-smelling.

Drying: Give towels a shake to loosen them before transferring them to the dryer. If you prefer, you can air dry them instead. Set the dryer to an appropriate heat setting, or if air drying, shake out and hang the towels evenly to encourage faster drying and prevent stiffness.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your towels are properly cleaned, maintain their absorbency and softness, and stay in excellent condition for a long time. Let's move on to the final section, where we discuss the best practices for folding and storing your towels.

Tips for Drying Towels

Properly drying your towels is just as important as washing them. 

Here are some tips to ensure that your towels dry effectively and maintain their softness and absorbency:

  • Shake Them Out: Before placing your wet towels in the dryer, shake them well. This helps loosen any tangled fibers and prevents excessive wrinkling.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Ensure that your dryer isn't overloaded with towels. Overcrowding can result in inadequate airflow and improper drying. Give the towels sufficient space to tumble freely for optimal results.
  • Select the Right Heat Setting: Use a medium heat setting for drying your towels. High heat can cause excessive shrinkage and damage the towel fibers over time. If you prefer a lower temperature, you can choose a low or delicate heat setting and increase the drying time. This helps preserve the towel's softness and prevents any potential damage.
  • Dry Thoroughly: It's important to dry your towels thoroughly to prevent a musty or mildew scent. Ensure that there is no lingering moisture before removing them from the dryer or hanging them up to air dry.
  • Avoid Over-Drying: Be cautious not to over-dry your towels, as it can lead to stiffness and reduce their absorbency. Remove the towels from the dryer promptly as soon as they are dry. This prevents unnecessary wear on the fabric and maintains its fluffiness.
  • Tumble Dry with Dryer Balls: Consider adding dryer balls to the drying cycle to enhance drying efficiency and prevent towel clumping. They help separate the towels and increase airflow, resulting in quicker and more even drying.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your towels dry effectively, remain soft, and maintain their absorbency. Now, let's explore some additional care tips for specific towel types to further preserve their quality and appearance.

Additional Care Tips for Specific Towel Types

Different towel types may require specific care to maintain their quality and ensure longevity. 

Here are some additional care tips for various towel types:

Bath Sheets or Oversized Towels

These larger towels may require extra attention due to their size. Before washing, fold them in half to distribute the weight evenly in the machine. This ensures that they are thoroughly cleaned and dried without overloading the washer or dryer.

Delicate or Embellished Towels

Delicate or embellished towels, such as those with lace trim or decorative accents, should be handled with care. It's important to follow the care instructions on the label, which may recommend hand washing or using a delicate cycle. Place them in a mesh laundry bag to protect them during washing.

Microfiber Towels

Microfiber towels are known for their excellent absorbency and quick drying properties. To maintain their performance and prevent lint buildup, avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which can leave residue on the towels. Instead, opt for a low-heat setting or air drying.

Beach Towels

After a day at the beach, shake off any sand and rinse saltwater from your beach towels before washing them. This prevents the sand from clinging to the fibers and ensures a more effective cleaning process. Avoid using bleach on colored beach towels, as it can cause fading and discoloration.

By following these additional care tips specific to different towel types, you can help extend their durability, preserve their unique features, and enjoy their optimal performance for years.

Troubleshooting & Common Mistakes

While washing towels might seem straightforward, some common mistakes can compromise your towels' cleanliness, softness, and longevity. 

Here are a few troubleshooting tips to avoid these errors and ensure optimal results:

Excessive Detergent

Using too much detergent can leave a residue on towels, making them less absorbent and prone to build up over time. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the recommended amount for your load size to prevent detergent over-usage.

Neglecting Stains

Treating stains promptly is important for preventing them from setting in. Before washing, pretreat any stains with a stain remover or alternative methods such as vinegar or baking soda. This helps ensure that your towels come out clean and stain-free.

Overloading the Machine

Overstuffing the washing machine can impair the effectiveness of the cleaning process. Insufficient agitation and rinsing may result in inadequate cleaning and detergent residue. Leave enough room for proper movement and water circulation.

Ignoring Care Labels

Each towel may have specific care label instructions based on its material and construction. Neglecting these instructions can lead to shrinkage, damage, or loss of functionality. Always read and follow the care labels to maintain the integrity of your towels.

Using Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners may leave a coating on towels that reduces their absorbency and can cause them to become less fluffy over time. Instead, opt for dryer balls or vinegar as natural alternatives to soften and fluff your towels.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your towels undergo a proper and effective cleaning process, maintain their softness, and prolong their lifespan.

How Can I Make My Towels Last Longer?

To increase the longevity of your towels and keep them looking and feeling their best, consider the following tips:

Proper Storage

After use, allow towels to fully dry before folding and storing them. Damp towels can develop a musty smell and encourage the growth of bacteria and mold. Ensure they are completely dry to maintain their freshness.

Regular Rotation

Avoid using the same towel repeatedly without giving it time to dry thoroughly. Regularly rotate your towel collection to allow for proper drying and prevent excessive wear on a single towel.

Avoid Excessive Bleaching

Bleaching agents can weaken towel fibers and cause color fading. Limit the use of bleach and opt for alternative stain removal methods when possible. For white towels, consider using a non-chlorine bleach specifically designed for maintaining whiteness.

Separate Towels from Lint-Producing Items

When washing towels, separate them from lint-producing items such as clothing with Velcro closures or clothing made of materials like fleece. Lint can transfer onto towels and diminish their appearance.

Avoid Harsh Drying Methods

Avoid using high heat or excessive tumble drying, as it can lead to shrinkage and damage fibers over time. Opt for lower heat settings or air drying to preserve the softness and integrity of your towels.

The Takeaway

By implementing the guidelines and best care practices in this article, you can extend the life of your towels and enjoy their functionality and aesthetic appeal for a long time. With the right care and attention, your towels will continue to provide comfort and convenience throughout their lifespan.

Shop our collection of towels to incorporate a hint of luxury in your home.


The Right Way to Use Vinegar In Laundry–and Why You Should | Martha Stewart

22 Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide (and a Few You Should Avoid) | Healthline

How Often Should You Wash (Your Germ Magnet of a) Bath Towel? | Cleveland Clinic

A Comprehensive Guide to the Laundry Room: What Do Those Common Laundry Symbols *Actually* Mean? | Parade

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