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.

Laundry 101: clean towels

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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.

    • Clean towels, Warm, cool, hot water, warm or hot dryer cycle, hang dry.. Growing up in the 60’s, i remembr takn laundry to the line & the wood clothespins, Im thinkn we hung our clothes as most everyone else on our block, not for sun rays, or to kill a germ, because of a family of 6, & that was the thing we all did. I find all this very interesting, but agree if ur lookn to kill germs a hot dryer will help, but dont think for a minute ur hot water isnt hot as well, 200° easy., Im a Tide guy who uses bleach on whites, & i wash on warm for every stitch of clothing. I also have 1600 thread count sheets, thick plush Aprima Bath towels i pay $12 each for. About the only thing i dont do is mix my kitchen towels, or use fabric softener in dryer with bath towels., all else gets a fabric sheet, dried on a med dryer. And i think most women will agree im doin ok, and i like most othr men still have my fav underwear thats 10+ yrs old & no holes or skid marks. I still remembr my mom telling me nevr get caught with holey skivvies, or skid markd, one nevr knows when a nurse or other woman is removing my droors. I welcome any replies to set me straight on laundry 101.. thx for the time to reply, happy laundering friends..

  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.

      • Patti says:

        Where do you live that you’re able to hang your towels out to dry? It’s certainly can’t be where I live in the northwest. I guess the dryer will have to do for me. Lol 🙂

    • 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.

      • Jason says:

        The anonymous poster is right about sunlight not killing germs. A few weaker bacteria may not thrive in sunlight, but many others will. If sunlight had such an effect, then the outdoors would be very clean and germ-free! This, obviously, is not the case. If you’re actually looking to kill germs, then the heat from a dryer is the way to go. If you’re not concerned about germs, mites, allergens or forgetting your things, then sunlight can be a great (and free!) method.

  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?

  6. Turkishia says:

    In fact, it is Turkish Towels. Yes, they have very good towels, but as a Turk, I have to prevent the name “Turkish” towel here.:)

    Yes they are much better, softer and more absorbent than any other terry towels. Not many people know about it. However, in Turkey it has been very popular nowadays to use a turkish towel on the beach.

    You can have a look at
    They have good prices, also very best quality.

    Another source for turkish towels is

    Thanks for the article.

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