You wrap up your shower solo, turn off the water and open the curtain. Nothing can bring you down. Except, maybe, a rough, lifeless, mildew-y towel. There’s hope, friends. It’s easy to keep your towels in tiptop shape. All you have to do is stop washing them like any other laundry (hint: save your dryer sheets for these non-laundry solutions), and you’re on your way to feeling fresh, clean and comfy.
Use, Hang, Repeat
I’ll start with the good news. You don’t need to wash towels after every use. You’re off the hook as long as your towels are on one. Just dry off, then hang that bad boy up right away. Keep towels off the floor and you can go at least three uses before washing, so you only have to worry about the rest of these tips once a week or so.
Don’t Mix Laundry Loads
Wash your towels separately. Since bath towels generally stay pretty clean (you’re clean when you use them, right?), they don’t require as much soap as clothes do. Plus, excess soap can build up on your towels and dull their softness. Liquid fabric softener is a definite no-no, as it coats towels’ fibers and can prevent them from absorbing moisture.
A clean machine goes a long way for clean towels, too. Check this list for how to clean your washer.
Count on Kitchen Staples
It’s easy to freshen up your towels. Start with a hot water cycle (for whites) or warm cycle (colors) and add about half the detergent you’d use for clothes. To clean musty towels or strip old fabric softener away, add 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar (it’s such a miracle cleaner!) to your rinse cycle. Don’t worry—they won’t come out smelling like vinegar.
Using vinegar every other wash or so can also help prevent the musty smell, but you can also treat extra-stinky towels by using baking soda instead. Super-scratchy towels might benefit from this occasional treatment: one hot cycle with only vinegar (no detergent) followed by one hot cycle with only baking soda.
Psst: It’s a good idea to keep plenty of vinegar and baking soda handy for all kinds of food stains.
Dry Them Right
In an ideal world, we all do just one load of laundry at a time. If your dryer is empty, you’re more likely to get those towels in there straight away. This helps prevent the mustiness that can breed while wet towels sit in the wash.
Dryer sheets can impart the same absorption-blocking buildup that liquid fabric softener can. You can use them every now and then, but they’re not crucial for keeping towels soft. What is? Giving your wet towels a shake before drying, then pulling them out as soon as they’re dry. Shaking helps fluff out the fibers for maximum absorption and more efficient drying. Overdrying (along with using too much soap) is one of the cardinal sins of scratchiness. If towels are still a little damp when the dryer finishes, err on the side of caution and hang them up to finish.
Try out these tips on your towels—then, once you’ve mastered the art of towel maintenance, you can feel a little better singing in the shower and splurging on those Turkish cotton ones knowing that, with proper care, you’ll get years of dry, comfy softness out of them.