Laundry 101: clean towels

Laundry 101: clean towels

Laundry 101: clean towels

When I left home for the college at the age of seventeen, I had never done a load of laundry.  I had only looked on with envy as my cousins helped their mom with the wash–and they got paid a quarter a load to do it, too.

I arrived at my college dorm with loads of clean sheets, and clean towels–and no idea what I needed to do to keep them clean.  Clothing was easier for me to understand–I wore it, it got dirty, or smelly, and therefore clearly needed washing.  But towels and sheets often don’t look dirty, even if they are unclean.   How often to wash?  How to do it?  No idea.

Thank goodness for my British roommate, who showed me the ropes.

What the Brit taught me about clean towels.

Clean bath linens will look bright white and smell like….clean towels!  There should be no trace of a musty or mildewy scent.  If your white towels are not clean, bright and fresh, there is no way to hide it.  It’s not complicated to get great laundry results for your towels, you just have to know what to do.

Choosing your towels

Colored towels can be lovely, but white towels are more versatile.  White cotton terry towels are a classic choice and they can be bleached, which is key. These organic towels from Pottery Barn are my personal favorites.

During the week

Hang wet towels to dry right away.  Hang properly, which means in as thin a layer as possible.  No bunching!  The towels need to dry quickly so mildew and mold don’t have the opportunity to form.

Wash towels at least weekly

Any longer between washings and trouble is more likely to arise.  Hang towels to dry, and then place towels in hamper.  Don’t leave piles of wet towels around waiting for laundry day.

Laundering Instructions

Wash towels on “high” with the hottest water you can.  Add bleach (for white towels) or vinegar to the rinse cycle at least every few times you wash the towels.  If towels are coming out dingy,  increase the water temperature and use bleach.  Make sure you are using a quality detergent.  You can also add a booster to the detergent for better results, such as borax, washing soda or Oxiclean.  (Note:  don’t bleach colored towels.)

Biokleen laundry powder is my favorite detergent. It contains grapefruit and citrus seed extracts that smell wonderful and clean well. I get mine from Vitacost. Get $10 off your first purchase by getting a coupon here.

Don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets.  This may seem counterintuitive, but fabric softeners work by depositing a thin layer of wax on the fibers, and this decreases the absorbency of the towels.

Remove wet items from the washing machine promptly. Don’t give mildew an opportunity to set in.

Dry the towels. Dry on high in the dryer, hang on a clothesline, or try a combination to save energy.  The dryer kills more germs than the actual wash cycle. For pure freshness, hang towels outside to dry in the sunshine.  The sun’s rays sanitize the towels, making this a healthy choice as well.  If you don’t like the crispness of line-dried towels, try a clothesline-dryer combination.

Fold neatly until ready to use. Shield your clean towels from dust by storing them in a cabinet or linen closet.  Or, as the case may be, in a plastic tub in your teeny dorm room closet.

Read here to learn about clean sheets.

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  1. Interesting – your tip about the dryer and no fabric softener. My son has asthma which is induced by dust (actually dust mites.) His pediatrician recently gave me a similiar tip in regard to his bedding: no fabric softener! The residue feeds dust mites. Unless the bedding is soiled, she said to stick it in the dryer on high heat once a week and presto – the dust mites are dead!

    • Naomi says:

      Place pillows in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer over night, or during the day, and the freezer will kill the dust mites. The plastic bag contains any contaminates from being released into the freezer.

  2. Stu Powers says:

    I have a problem with light-colored, especially white, wash cloths. They get stained and it doesn’t wash out, getting worse over time. It seems to be bodily residue but the darker soap also leaves behind a stain in the middle.
    Lacking specific guidance I am trying presoaking them in a detergent and using a pre-spray wash.

    • Anne says:

      Stu, bleach is the obvious go-to, but I’m sure you already knew that. Have you tried hanging them to dry in the sun? The UV rays are a natural brightener.

    • Patty says:

      I buy my husband burgundy wash cloths that are thick and very nice. They are dark and I bought him matching towels and hand towels for his bathroom. I wash them all together when there are enough for a load. He is good about not letting them stay wet. You might enjoy having a bright color light blue or purple or green better, but if you buy just a couple sets you will be good. Then just pick up extra wash cloths.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sunlight is far too weak to destroy germs on towels. You’re more likely to pick up airborne irritants (if you have alergies this is important.)

    Not to mention forgetting them out there and having to re-wash them!

    • Jen says:

      I beg to differ, Anonymous. Sunlight is great for killing germs on clothing and towels. I have never owned a clothes dryer (most people hang clothes in Australia) and have no problems with allergies from clothes. I don’t understand why you think you would have to rewash the clothes if you hung them outside? We all do it.

  4. Cihan says:

    Have you ever heard of Turkish Peshtemal Towels? Pure cotton, flat woven ( no-fluff) towels weighting less than 300 gr and in size 180 x 90 cm average. Perfect as travel towel for beach/ yacht, caravan and camping holidays. 100 % drying satisfaction is guaranteed. Compact, rolls up nicely to fit into any size of bag. Very authentic, trendy towels with typical stripy patterns and hand-finished tassels on both ends. Definitely recommended!

  5. Katie says:

    Hi I was hoping you might be able to help me. My husband and I were living in an apartment and out towels were getting bleach looking spots all over them. We found out many apartment buildings have a water softener and that could be the cause. We tried first washing new towels in vinegar first and the same issue continued so we gave up and thought it was the building. We just moved into a house and the same issue continues. I know that whitening toothpaste and other products can have that affect but if I simple just wash my hands and dry them, the towel will get those bleach stains. I would love to have nice looking towels and not continue ruining them. Any help is appreciated. I was thinking of getting bleach resistant towels. Thoughts?

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