Picture it: You're fresh out of the shower and looking for a warm cotton hug in the form of a soft towel. Instead, you're greeted with what feels like crunchy tree bark.
Hard water, product buildup and improper drying techniques can all contribute to stinky, stiff towels.
We asked laundry experts for their advice on achieving the soft, fluffy towels of our dreams.
Wash like items together. It can be a pain to separate laundry, but following the general rule of washing like clothes with like clothes helps laundry go faster and prevents lint transfer. “When you wash like items together, they clean better because everything is even in the washing machine and even in the dryer,” says Becky Rapinchuk, author of “Clean Mama's Guide to a Healthy Home” and founder of the Clean Mama website.
Tossing too many towels into a load can cause them to clump and tangle, which creates pockets of moisture that the dryer's heat can't reach, leaving you with still-wet towels that will be stiff and scratchy when they dry. Rapinchuk suggests limiting each load to avoid overcrowding so heat can circulate within the dryer and reach all parts of the towels. Dryer balls or clean tennis balls can help reduce static and break up clumps. It's also not a bad idea to open the door midway through the cycle and pull apart any tangled towels.
Rethink your products. It might sound counterintuitive, but fabric softener isn't always the way to achieve cloud-like towels. Fabric softeners coat a towel's exterior and often contain oils and petroleum-based ingredients that hinder its absorbency. This filmy coating may mean more frequent washing, which breaks down the towel. Rapinchuk instead pours a quarter-cup of distilled white vinegar into the fabric softener compartment of her machine with each load. “It softens the towels, gets rid of any bacteria and keeps my washing machine smelling like nothing, which is what you want,” she says.
White vinegar also helps set colors and makes whites brighter.
Another remedy for stiff towels comes from the kitchen: baking soda. To create a softer texture and get rid of the sour odor that comes from leaving wet towels in the laundry, Rapinchuk runs a wash cycle with a half-cup of baking soda either alone or mixed with detergent before drying (if running alone, launder as normal after). Be sure not to mix vinegar and baking soda in the machine; the chemical reaction may cause the machine to overflow.
Turn down the heat. As tempting as it is to blast towels with the highest possible temperature (to banish germs, right?), dial back the heat if softness is what you're after. Keep in mind that heat can also set stains, so if you're using the heat to wash a seriously stained towel, pre-treating could help lift it out.
Make sure they're dry. Damp, crumpled towels piled on the floor are an invitation for mildew, and fabric fibers can be creased or crushed if left long enough. Terry cloth is constructed from yarn that's stitched into loops, so avoid doing anything that would crush this structure, such as unkempt storage or ironing. Gwen Whiting, co-founder of upscale laundry product brand the Laundress, says towels don't have to be dry before going into the wash, but they should be completely dry before they're folded and put away.
Wash towels regularly. Just like with clothing, frequent laundering will eventually break down a towel's fibers, robbing it of its drying ability. Rapinchuk launders her towels after two uses and changes her hand towels daily to avoid spreading germs, and Whiting recommends washing every three to five uses.
– Helen Carefoot, Washington Post