Learn from these common linen-laundering mistakes before you throw in—or throw out—the towel
5 Ways You’re Ruining Your Bath Towels
Photo by Thomas J. Story
Soft gray and white towels and neutral-toned bath accessories meld with the overall palette.

1. Washing with too much detergent

Why it’s a problem: Too much detergent can actually stiffen towels. Plus, it’s not necessary. “Towels already absorb residual soap from our bodies, and because they’re used to dry clean skin, they don’t contain that much dirt,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, certified house cleaning technician and author of Cleaning Plain & Simple.

Solution: Use half the detergent you would need for a normal wash, or skip it “every couple of washes and just use vinegar,” says Carolyn Childers, chief home officer of Handy, a website that connects you with house cleaners and handymen in your area. “If you must use extra detergent for very soiled towels, make sure to change the washer settings, so it’ll have an extra long rinse cycle.”

2. Using fabric softener

Why it’s a problem: Fabric softener actually prevents towels from absorbing water and can leave a waxy buildup.

Solution: Skip the softeners altogether. Buy a few dryer balls (clean tennis balls also work) to toss into the dryer, suggests Childers. As the balls bounce around, they’ll beat out any lumps and fluff your towels. If you’ve included softener by accident and towels come out with a residue, Kuper recommends rewashing them with a half a cup of vinegar. If the softener has left an odor, rewash with a half a cup of baking soda.

3. Using a towel to remove makeup

Why it’s a problem: Eyeliner smudges on your precious linens are unsightly—and very difficult to remove. “Makeup can cause permanent stains if not treated correctly,” cautions Missy Tannen, co-founder of organic luxury linen company Boll & Branch.

Solution: Use a makeup removing wipe, not a towel, to get the job done. And if a houseguest has left lipstick traces on your good linens, be sure to spray a pre-treatment on the problem area. Without it, a complete wash and dry can cause the stain to set. If the stain is oily, pre-treat it with Dawn blue dishwashing liquid, says Kuper.

4. Washing towels in water that’s too hot

Why it’s a problem: Hot water can ultimately cause your towels to fade and get scratchy. The dye in colored towels makes them more susceptible to this problem, while white towels actually benefit from higher temperatures. In fact, according to Kuper, a hot cycle preserves a pristine white better than bleach.

Solution: Wash your colored towels in cold water using 7th Generation Energy Smart Naturally-Derived Laundry Detergent, says Kuper. Its advanced enzyme technology cleans your towels no matter what the water’s temperature.

5. Not drying towels properly

Why it’s a problem: Over-drying after a wash can destroy your towel’s fibers; not drying towels enough can cause them to get mildewed.

Solution: For starters, every time you use a towel, be sure to hang it flat afterward, says Tannen. The fabric of the towel needs to breathe in order to air-dry effectively. When drying in the machine, be sure to follow the care instructions on your towel, and shake them out in between the wash and dry cycle. This helps to fluff them up and ensure the dryer doesn’t “iron” creases into them, says Tannen. If a towel smells like mildew, run it through the wash twice using a half a cup of baking soda to eliminate the odor.

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