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.
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.