10 top tips to keep your towels soft and fluffy

Towels getting crusty? Follow our tips to keep them super-soft

Bath towels hanging off edge of bath
(Image credit: Scooms)

There’s no cosier feeling than wrapping yourself in a soft and fluffy towel just after getting out of the bath. But that pleasure becomes a pain once your towels become stiff and rough. Yet that can happen to even the best bath towels if you don’t follow a proper washing and drying routine. 

In this article, we’ll explain how to keep your towels soft and fluffy for longer, and how to bring any stiff and damaged towels back to life. 

1. Wash new towels before using them

We all know that washing can wear out items, so this might seem counter-intuitive. But all the experts recommend you wash new towels before you use them for the first time. The reason for this is to get remove any pre-treatments the manufacturer may have added to help preserve and protect the towel, during its long journey from the factory to warehouse, retailer and your home.

2. Wash towels separately

Yes, we know it’s a pain. But washing towels separately really will help keep them soft and fluffy. Mixing them with sheets or clothes, in contrast, will lead to them getting covered with lint from the other items. 

3. Limit your load

Another way to damage your towels is to fill your washing machine to the brim. This can lead them to clump and tangle, resulting in small pockets of moisture that are resistant to smooth drying. Instead leave plenty of room in your machine for your towels to breathe, and they will dry much more efficiently, preventing scratchiness.

4. Use a warm heat

Washing your towels on a high temperature can damage the fibres of cotton towels, so choose a medium heat setting: 40 degrees Celsius is a good rule of thumb. If your towel is very dirty, you might want to up that to 60 degrees Celsius, but in general, the lower the temperature, the better the softness.

3 rolled up towels next to bath

(Image credit: Castorly Stock from Pexels)

This may surprise you, but the most common cause of stiff towels is using too much detergent. And by 'too much', we actually mean the recommended amount. That’s because the detergent builds up in the fibres in your towel and makes it less fluffy. So the simple solution is to use half the recommended amount for a normal load, and run an extra rinse cycle to make sure all the detergent is rinsed out after washing.

6. Use vinegar not fabric softener

Fabric softener, despite the name, is also the enemy of fluffy towels. Its oily consistency can form a film on your towels, making them stiff. So instead use three tablespoons of distilled wine vinegar with each load, which will soften the towels much more effectively. An alternative is half a cup of baking soda. Don’t ever mix the two, though, or it will cause your washing machine to overflow.

7. Start drying immediately

One of the surest routes to stiff towels is to leave them piled up in the washing machine, in a wash basket, or on the floor after drying, encouraging mildew and leading to the fibres getting crushed. Instead, move them immediately to the tumble dryer or a  washing line outside, preferably in a place with good airflow. Never dry towels on a radiator.

8. Avoid tangles in the dryer

If your towels tangle in the dryer, they’re not going to dry efficiently and evenly. So if your machine allows it, open the door partway through the cycle and pull apart any towels that have twisted together. Adding a clean tennis ball or two to your load can also discourage tangling. Also add a dryer sheet to reduce creasing and static, and give them a nice fresh smell.

9. Put away your towels properly

Two folded towels

(Image credit: Thomas Cotton from Pexels)

At the end of the drying cycle, shake your towels and fold them as soon as possible. Don't store them in a tall pile, as that will put too much pressure on the towels at the bottom and distress the fibres.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t put away your towels away until they’re fully dry. That said, never iron them to speed up the process, as that can damage the fibres and make them less fluffy. 

10. Reinvigorate crusty towels

If your towels have become stiff and crusty, here’s how to perform an emergency rescue. You wouldn’t want to do this often, but it’s worth trying when all else has failed. Rather than the normal warm water wash, run a hot wash with a cup of vinegar. Then run another hot wash with cup of baking soda. If this still doesn’t work, try another cycle.

Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and author of the book, Great Ted Talks: Creativity. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.