Can you wash clothes with towels? Care strategies for laundry

Asking can you wash clothes with towels? Here’s the expert guide on what can and can’t be mixed in the wash

Clothes with towels laundry wash
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Combining washing loads can be tempting to save time and energy but if you’re thinking of doing so, you might be asking the question: can you wash clothes with towels?

While it is, of course, perfectly possible to put whatever combination of items you like from the dirty laundry hamper into the machine and run a washing cycle, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s what you should do.

Here, we take a look at the best way to wash clothes and towels with advice and laundry room ideas from the experts.

Can you wash clothes with towels: the steps to selecting laundry loads

The answer to the question can you wash clothes with towels is, of course, that you can – and many people do. What’s crucial, however, is that you still wash towels the right way to keep them in good condition, and we’ll give you the lowdown here.

The general rule when it comes to laundry? ‘You should try to wash similar items together,’ says Melanie Musson, a cleaning expert with Clearsurance (opens in new tab).

1. When not to wash clothes with towels

A laundry room with white shelving and wicker baskets

(Image credit: Paul Raeside/Future)

There are two things to consider when you want cleaning tips on washing towels: temperature and separation from other items.

For the wash temperature, look at the laundry symbols on the labels on your towels. They’re likely to indicate that the towels can go into a hot wash. However, this isn’t a rule – they can alternatively be washed at lower temperatures.

Towels that are shared are best washed at the high temperature indicated for hygiene reasons. The same goes for towels that are heavily soiled, or if someone in your home has an infectious illness. Other than that, though, they don’t have to go into a high temperature wash and can be washed in a normal cycle with detergent.

As for separation, it is best that shared towels are washed in a separate load, and when someone at home has an infectious illness towels should be washed separately from other items.

2. When to wash clothes with towels

Temperature is crucial when deciding on a load for the washing machine. ‘Since most clothes should be washed in warm water or cold water (depending on the fabric), it is much easier to wash and dry towels separately,’ suggest Derek Chiu and Leslie Tam, co-founders and directors of UrbanMop (opens in new tab).

However, if you’re happy to wash the towels at a lower temperature than the maximum indicated on the tag, and bearing the guidelines above in mind, mixing is possible. 

Wayne Edelman, CEO of Meurice Garment Care (opens in new tab), which specializes in interior and wardrobe cleaning services, says, ‘We understand and value that not everyone has time to do 100 loads as well as the aspect of water waste. If you only have a single towel, a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, socks, and underwear, it would be a serious waste of water, soap, and energy to do multiple loads so all items in one load would totally work provided the T-shirt is not some fancy designer thing. If the item is highly delicate, you may not want to mix with a towel or anything.’

If you’ve decided your personal answer to the question of can you wash clothes with towels is yes, there is something you need to be mindful of, however. You shouldn’t use fabric conditioner at all – or, at most, only a little – when washing towels in order to keep towels soft and absorbent, so this may influence what you choose to put together in the drum.

Note also that new towels may shed fluff, so this can be a reason to wash them as a separate load at first.

3. How should you decide on a washing machine load?

In answering the question can you wash clothes with towels, it is important to note that there are still guidelines you should follow when selecting what goes into the machine together. 

‘You should try to keep like colors together,’ says Wayne. ‘It is important to note that a light terry towel and dark sweatshirt will result in lint on both items.’

Think, too, about the nature of the pieces you’re planning to wash. ‘Try to keep heavy items separate from lighter items,’ says Wayne. ‘For example, it is not the best idea to wash a bath mat with a light cotton blouse for fear of the blouse being ruined.’

The extent to which items are soiled should also be considered when making up a load for the washing machine. ‘I would not mix dowels used to wash and dry the golden retriever with the rest of the laundry as everything will be covered in the dog’s hair,’ says Wayne. ‘Use common sense. You do not want to mix heavy cleaning (car wash) towels with your nice clothes.’

4. Drying clothes and towels

Bathroom with vanity and backsplash and towel rail with white towels

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

One reason you might decide that even though the answer to the question can you wash clothes with towels is yes, you still want to wash them separately, is the drying cycle. 

Towels take longer to dry than clothes, so you’ll need to monitor the tumble dryer cycle to swerve the potential risks. ‘If you are drying light items with heavy ones, always remove the light items when dry to prevent over drying,’ says Wayne. 

‘Most shrinkage occurs during the last 16 to 20 per cent of drying so we recommend dampening dry items to avoid shrinkage. Many new dryers have residual moisture controlled drying so use it to prevent shrinkage.’

Once they’re dry, fold towels or roll towels to retain the softness correct washing and drying promises.

Can you wash clothes with sheets and towels?

You can wash clothes with sheets and towels. But just as when you wash sheets and towels together or wash clothes with towels, pay attention to the washing labels so you don’t wash the load at a hotter temperature than the lowest maximum indicated when taking all items into consideration. 

Bear in mind that many items of clothing require washing at lower temperatures than can be used for sheets and towels, so for maximum hygiene separate loads are preferable – at least from time to time.

Follow the rules on mixing colors, too, to avoid runs, and avoid putting heavily soiled items with clothes.

Can you wash jeans with towels?

And can you wash clothes with towels if we’re talking jeans? ‘They are a great combo because they usually take the same amount of drying time,’ says Wayne.

As with mixing clothes, sheets and towels, don’t exceed the temperature indicated on the label of the item that has the lowest maximum, though.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.