How to wash new towels – an expert guide to breaking in bath towels in 5 simple steps

Wash your new towels before you use them, to help them keep their color and softness with this expert-approved guide

Towels in beautiful bathroom with bathtub
(Image credit: Getty /Credit: Andreas von Einsiedel Creative #: 532885042)

Did you know that you should wash new towels? Yes they may feel soft already, and you're probably more than ready to replace your rough ones with your fresh set, but your bath towels should be broken in first. 

Most new towels will have a coating (usually a silicone finish) put on by the manufacturer to keep them feeling plush. While this makes towels soft to the touch, it also means they aren't very absorbent. Washing new towels before use will reduce any residue and increase absorbency, and will get rid of any bacteria that may have built up on the surface too. 

There's more to washing your new towels than putting them in the wash with the rest of your laundry, and you should approach the chore differently to how you would when washing towels you've owned for a while. Importantly, you'll want to make sure they stay soft, and keep their color. To find out how to wash new towels properly, we've spoken to the experts and put together a simple five-step guide, so you can dry off without worry.

How to wash new towels 

Fresh towels stacked up in neutral colors

(Image credit: Getty / Credit: ScantyNebula Creative #: 471009151)

If you've followed our rules for buying towels, whether you've opted for luxurious Egyptian cotton or have picked up a terry towel set, washing them before you use them is essential. Different towels will have their own washing instructions according to the laundry symbols on the care label. Most, if not all, towels will be machine washable and tumble dryer friendly. Follow these expert steps to get your new towels fresh. 

1. Keep towels together

Key to keeping the color of your towels looking as vibrant and the texture as soft as when you first got them, Anna Brakefield, co-Founder of Red Land Cotton, advises to always 'keep towels together. By washing towels with only towels, you keep velcro and zippers away. These trims can wreak havoc on towels by pulling, ripping, and fraying delicate terry cloth.' 

Fresh towels, especially of brighter colors, are likely to have dye residue on the surface. Removing any other laundry from your washer will lessen the chance of color bleeding. 

Anna Brakefield author expert pic
Anna Brakefield

Anna Brakefield is co-founder of Red Land Cotton.  Red Land Cotton creates heirloom quality bedding and bath towels crafted from cotton grown exclusively on our family farm and made entirely in the USA.

2. Add the right amount of detergent

How much detergent you use matters: 'Use too much detergent, and your towels become less absorbent ' says Brakefield. It's recommended to use only a third of the amount of detergent you would usually use, and 'strictly follow the directions recommended on the bottle because leftover suds not only affects absorbency but also can lead to bacteria and mold build-up', not to mention affect your washing machine performance. 

We like Method's eco-friendly free and clear laundry detergent

When it comes to fabric softener, scooms founders Emily and Jonathan Attwood suggest against using it entirely, as it will reduce absorbency, and counteract the process of pre-washing. 'Fabric softener can mat down the cotton fibers, leaving your towels too porous.' adds Brakefield. 

3. Select a low heat setting

White towels in the washing machine drum

(Image credit: Getty / Credit: Aitor Diago Creative #: 1135942779)

Too much heat in your washing machine can damage the fibers of fresh towels. Emily and Jonathan Attwood suggest you 'machine-wash your towels at 80 to 90 degrees'. 

4. Pause the wash to fluff

So your towels stay fluffy, you can pause your cycle mid-way (if possible) and give them a move round. Whilst in the drum, air may struggle to circulate, in turn flattening down fibers. Providing you haven't overfilled your washing machine, fluffing them up halfway will 'return some of the body to the loops and help your towels stay more absorbent, and softer in the future,' says Brakefield. 

5. Dry on low

Just like washing and drying silk on too high a setting can damage delicate the material, you should avoid putting your towels in the dryer at too high a temperature – for at least the first few washes. Here Emily and Jonathan Attwood recommend adding wool dryer balls (see below) to 'help reduce tumble drying time and add a little softness to your towels without using chemicals.' 

As Brakefield suggests 'even better than drying on low, hang your towels on the line'. If it's warm and dry outside and your outdoor space allows it, letting them dry naturally is the best for new towels. You can 'fluff them as you take from the washer to the sunshine', adds Brakefield.


How do you keep new towels soft and fluffy?

New towels will feel soft and luxurious compared to the ones you've had for some time. Due to natural wear and tear, towels will lose their softness over time. Washing your towels frequently and drying them in the tumble dryer can contribute to their change in texture. To help keep your new towels fluffy and soften up your existing ones, there are a few tips and tricks you can do – including using white vinegar in laundry and using as little detergent as possible.  

How do you wash new towels so they don't pill?

It's likely for new towels to shed. As Emily and Jonathan Attwood confirm 'it is possible to get a few stray threads or cotton fibers on new towels which is completely normal. These can be removed on the first wash'. 

You can wash new towels according to the guide above, but add baking soda, or vinegar to a hot wash to really break down whatever treatment the towels have on them. This may make your towels feel rough, but you will be free of any lint and potential piling. Also, pay particular attention to choosing a no-heat or low-heat setting on your dryer. 

Buying yourself some brand-new towels can feel like something of a treat – so make sure your fresh set stays soft and luxurious by washing them before you get in that bubble bath. 

Louise Oliphant
Ecommerce Editor

Louise is your eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist to help you wind down well. A connoisseur of the mattress world, Louise previously covered sleep and wellness (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, and has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the buys for your bedroom. With an MA in International Journalism and PR experience, Louise brings bags of bedding expertise and enjoys nothing more than helping readers find solutions and products that best suit their sleep needs.