Knowing how to soften towels will allow you to create the wonderful feel they had when they were brand new, restoring the pile that spells luxury after a bath or shower.
Regular washing and drying can make the fibers of towels stiff and scratchy, but knowing which washing temperatures to use, how to load the washing machine, and which products to opt for can restore softness to towels, and keep them that way.
Good laundry room ideas will create a space with everything you need to soften towels and keep them soft for a spa feel at home, and our guide will give you the lowdown.
How to soften towels and keep them soft
Knowing how to soften towels that are no longer a pleasure to use and the methods for retaining their fluffiness will make them kinder on the whole family’s skin. Do bear in mind also that learning how to use towels correctly and buying good quality versions in the first place is important.
‘Choose high quality cotton towels to provide absorbency, durability and that coveted cozy texture,' says Lucy Ackroyd, head of design at Christy (opens in new tab), inventors of the towel as we know it today.
'The higher the weight, the more opulent they will feel. I would suggest choosing a towel with a weight of at least 500gsm (grams per sq metre) for the ultimate luxury experience.
'The most important factor for luxuriously soft towels is the yarn used and you ideally want a high quality cotton spun from long silky fibers. This is why yarns like Egyptian cotton and Supima cotton are so sought after as they guarantee long fibers and, therefore, high quality.
1. Soften towels with vinegar
The expert-recommended way to soften towels that have become scratchy is to use vinegar. ‘Throw a cup of white vinegar in your next wash,’ advises textiles expert and CEO of New Sega Home, Brian Delp.
The towels have likely become stiff and scratchy because of the use of fabric softener. While adding this to the wash might seem like a sound idea, it actually has an adverse effect on towels. ‘The fabric softener can actually build up residue over time. This prevents their absorbency and can cause them to dry out as well as preventing their natural softening from use,’ Brian explains.
Don’t worry if this treatment doesn’t work after just one wash. ‘Depending on how extensive the buildup is, you may have to repeat this step,’ he says.
2. Allow time to soften towels
Fabrics soften over time, and towels are no different, so be patient. ‘Your favorite worn-out T-shirt wasn’t as soft on day one as it is today,’ says Brian Delp. ‘Assuming that your towels are cotton, linen, or some other natural fiber, they will get softer with each wash.’
3. How to use the washing machine to keep towels soft
In order to keep them soft, it’s important to wash towels the right way. The general rule? ‘Make sure to wash your towels separately to your other laundry to avoid any color or fibers transferring on to your beautiful pristine towels,’ says Lucy Ackroyd.
Want to wash towels with clothes or wash sheets and towels together? It is possible to create a mixed load if you need to in order to save energy, but to keep towels at their fluffiest, keeping them separate is the best strategy.
Bear in mind, too, that new towels shouldn’t be washed with those you already own. ‘Mixing brand new and seasoned towels can lead to the transfer of color between different fabrics,’ says Lily Cameron, cleaning supervisor at Fantastic Cleaners (opens in new tab).
To keep towels soft, it’s also crucial not to overload the washing machine. ‘The towels need plenty of room within the drum to breathe and circulate, allowing them to be rinsed and fluffed up properly,’ says Lucy. ‘If you try to stuff too many in, you’ll end up with a clumped-together heap with moisture pockets throughout, leading to scratchy, stiff towels.’
How much is too much? ‘A typical front-loading washing machine can hold around seven bath towels, and a top-loading machine can hold around 10,’ says Bonnie Fisher of Better World Apparel (opens in new tab), which works to bring awareness about increasing products’ life cycles.
4. Use the right amount of detergent
Cleaning tips on keeping towels soft include not adding too much detergent to the wash, which can mean it’s not thoroughly removed during the rinse cycle. ‘Cut back on your detergent,’ says Jessica Samson from Maids.com (opens in new tab). ‘Using too much detergent can stiffen your towels up and take away their softness.’
To keep towels fluffy, Lucy Ackroyd is a fan of eucalyptus-based detergent. ‘Not only will this leave them smelling super fresh, the eucalyptus will also protect the fibers of the towel and ensure the colors stay bright and fresh,’ she says.
Thinking of using bleach? ‘Yes, bleach can remove the stains on white towels, but it can also make the colors fade and even cause permanent damage to the fabrics, destroying the towels,’ says Lily Cameron.
5. Skip the fabric softener
Along with too much detergent, as we noted above, fabric softener can make towels scratchy so skip it entirely or cut back to keep towels feeling soft.
‘If you are using a fabric softener, only use a small amount as overuse of softeners and conditioners will build up over time, leaving towels feeling slick and non-absorbent,’ says Lucy Ackroyd.
6. Perfect the wash temperature
For soft, fluffy towels, pay attention to the wash temperature, checking the laundry symbols on the labels of all towels before they go into the machine. ‘Each towel is different and requires different treatment,’ says Jessica Samson. ‘Be sure to read the label before washing so that you can maximize the effectiveness of the wash and prevent ruining the towel.’
7. Shake towels out to maintain softness
Shaking your towels is a simple, quick step in your washing routine that can have a huge impact on their softness.
'First, before you put your towels in the washing machine, give them a good shake. This will open up the fibers slightly, allowing the detergent to sink inside every pore and make them super clean,’ says Lucy Ackroyd.
Shake again for maximum softness. ‘At the end of the drying cycle, or before hanging them outside if you are line drying, shake the towels a second time,’ says Lucy. ‘The act of shaking will loosen the fibers of the fabric, making your towels super plush and fluffy.’
8. Mix up your drying methods
To keep towels soft don’t dry them on radiators if you heat your home this way; this will lead to a rough finish, exactly what you are trying to avoid.
‘Alternate between tumble drying and line drying,’ advises Lucy Ackroyd. ‘The best way to get super fluffy towels is tumble drying immediately after a wash, however overuse can make the fabric wear down over time.
'To combat the effect of the tumble dryer, line dry your towels occasionally. Not only does line drying leave your towels with a fresh natural scent, but the sunlight can also have a bleaching effect which is perfect if you have white towels. The UV rays can even help kill bacteria.’
9. Store for success
Once you’ve perfected the washing and drying routine, the final step in keeping towels soft is storing them correctly. When thinking about how to design a bathroom, factor in suitable storage for towels, such as shelving or cabinets. Or perhaps even a towel rack or rail.
To store, you can roll towels, which can be space saving, or fold towels. ‘Rather than folding your towels one on top of the other, as many people do, try neatly folding them side by side instead,’ suggests Lucy Ackroyd. ‘This simple storage hack will prevent the bottom towels from being crushed which can lead to them losing that plush, full effect that you have achieved.
‘If you prefer to store your towels on a towel rack or ladder shelf, you should also avoid placing them on top of each other. Again, this will flatten the bottom ones, leaving them stiff and flat.’
Add a few drops of lavender or other essential oil to towels before storing to keep them smelling gorgeous.
Why are my towels hard and scratchy?
A combination of factors makes towels hard and scratchy, including the use of fabric softeners, and an excess of detergent. But another reason could be the hard water in your area. ‘Hard water is water that contains minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which makes cleaning your clothes more difficult,’ explains Corey Trojanowski of ARS/Rescue Rooter (opens in new tab). And the same goes for towels.
A water softener can help – and prevent limescale buildup in the washing machine and other appliances – but otherwise, try using a cup of white vinegar in the washing machine to soften towels.
How do you soften towels after line drying?
To soften towels after line drying, put them into the dryer briefly. ‘We suggest tossing them in the dryer for a quick “no-heat” fluff if they feel a little stiff,’ says Bonnie Fisher. This will still bring the benefits of line drying and reduces energy bills compared to a full drying cycle.
Otherwise, you actually need to take action before putting the towels on the line. Shake them first, which will keep the towels softer by loosening the fibers before they begin drying.
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.
- Sarah WarwickContributing Editor
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