How to Wash Towels in 3 Easy Steps

Washing towels regularly is an important part of any household cleaning routine. Towels can harbor bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew if not cleaned properly. Following these easy steps for washing towels will help keep them fresh, clean, and free of any nasty microbes. With just three simple steps, you can have clean towels every time.

Supplies You Will Need

  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener (optional)
  • Dryer (or drying rack/line)

Step 1: Prepare the Towels

Sort Towels by Color

  • First, separate towels by color – whites, lights, and darks into different loads. Washing lights and darks together can cause fading.

Check for Stains

  • Inspect towels for any visible stains before washing. Pretreat stains with a stain remover stick or spray to help lift stains.

Wash Towels Separately

  • Wash towels separately from other laundry. The lint from towels can transfer onto clothing.

Step 2: Wash Towels

Choose the Right Water Temperature

  • For white towels, use the hot water setting. Hot water helps kill germs and sanitize towels.

Add the Detergent

  • Add the recommended amount of laundry detergent for a full load directly into the washing machine drum. Powder, liquid, pods all work.

Include Fabric Softener (Optional)

  • Add 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup of liquid fabric softener or a dryer sheet if desired. This leaves towels soft and static-free. Skip for ultra-absorbent gym towels.

Set the Machine to a Normal Cycle

  • Set your washing machine to a normal cycle for around 30-45 minutes. This gives the detergent time to work.

Wash Towels Alone

  • Washing towels alone provides maximum cleaning as they have room to move and absorb detergents. Overcrowding reduces effectiveness.

Use Chlorine Bleach for Disinfecting

  • For a periodic deep clean, add 1⁄2 cup bleach to disinfect and brighten whites. Avoid using with colors.

Step 3: Dry and Store Towels

Shake Out Towels

  • Before drying, shake out towels to prevent wrinkles and evenly distribute fabric softener.

Dry Towels Completely

  • Dry towels completely on high heat. Any remaining moisture can allow mold and mildew to grow.

Fold and Put Away Promptly

  • Once fully dry, promptly fold towels and store or put them back in the bathroom. Don’t leave laundry sitting.

Change Towels Weekly

  • To prevent bacteria buildup, aim to wash bath towels at least once a week or more if used heavily. Replace old towels every 1-2 years.

Tips for Extra Clean and Fresh Towels

  • Wash towels in hot 140°F (60°C) water to sanitize and kill germs
  • Use an oxygenated bleach alternative monthly for added whitening
  • Replace musty smelling towels that have started to sour from microbial growth
  • Wash gym towels after every use to prevent odor and bacterial contamination
  • Add 1⁄2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove detergent residue
  • Use non-chlorine bleach occasionally to disinfect and brighten colored towels
  • Wash towels separately from clothing to prevent lint transfer
  • Avoid overloading the washing machine to allow towels to move and rinse freely

Common Questions about Washing Towels

How often should you wash bath towels?

It’s best to wash bath towels at least once a week or more frequently if they are used daily. Towels used by multiple family members should be washed more often. Aim for every 3 uses to prevent microbial growth.

Should you wash towels with clothes?

No, wash towels separately. The lint shed from cotton towels can transfer onto clothing. Towels also need more aggressive cleaning to sanitize them.

What temperature should you wash towels?

For household cleaning, washing towels in hot 140°F (60°C) water helps kill bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew. For whites, always use the hot water setting. For colors, warm or cold water is fine.

Should you use fabric softener on towels?

Yes, you can use liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets when washing towels. It leaves them feeling softer and static-free. Avoid very heavy silicone-based softeners as these can affect absorption.

How do you get musty smell out of towels?

First, wash towels in hot water with bleach or an oxygenated cleaner. Baking soda or vinegar in the wash can help deodorize. Then dry towels completely and store in a well-ventilated space. Replace any towels that remain musty smelling.

How do you whiten dingy towels naturally?

For whitening, add 1⁄2 cup baking soda to the wash cycle with detergent. You can also soak towels before washing in oxygen bleach. Lay towels in the sun to dry for extra whitening power.

Drying Towels the Right Way

Drying your towels properly after washing is just as important as the washing process. Any moisture left in towels creates the perfect breeding ground for mildew, bacteria, and fungi.

Here are some key tips on drying towels correctly:

  • Shake towels out – Before placing in the dryer, give towels a good shake to prevent wrinkles and evenly distribute any fabric softener.
  • Dry on high heat – Towels should always be dried on the highest heat setting. This ensures that any lingering moisture gets completely evaporated.
  • Don’t overload the dryer – Like the washer, be sure not to overpack the dryer. Towels need room to tumble and dry effectively.
  • Use dryer balls – Wool or rubber dryer balls can help separate towels so air circulates better to cut down on drying time.
  • Check towels are bone dry – Pull towels out halfway through and check that they are fully dry before stopping the cycle. Any damp spots can breed mold.
  • For thick towels – For very thick, plush towels aim for a 2nd dryer cycle to guarantee they are dried through completely.
  • Fold right away – Don’t leave laundered towels sitting in a heap. Fold them promptly after drying so they don’t hold wrinkles.

Following these simple drying steps will ensure your towels stay fresh, soft, and microbe-free until their next wash. Taking a bit more care when drying towels really makes a difference.

Storing Towels the Proper Way

After going through the trouble of washing and drying towels, you don’t want to undo all your hard work by storing them improperly. Here are some top tips for towel storage to keep them cleaner for longer:

  • Store folded towels in cool, well-ventilated spaces. Avoid musty areas.
  • Alternate towel use and don’t leave damp towels piled up.
  • Discard extremely old, worn out towels that have started to sour.
  • Wash towels used for cleaning separately from personal bath towels.
  • To limit bacterial growth, don’t share towels between family members.
  • Use towel racks or open shelves instead of closed linen closets.
  • Refrain from tightly rolling up towels, allow them to air out.
  • Keep a spare stash of backup towels for when others are in the wash.
  • Store towels away from moisture and humidity to avoid mildew.

Proper storage habits prevent fungi, mold, and bacteria from accumulating in your clean towels. Establish designated towel areas, limit sharing, and toss out old ones regularly.

Avoiding Common Towel Washing Mistakes

It’s easy to make some simple mistakes when it comes to washing towels that can impact their freshness. Be sure to steer clear of these common pitfalls:

  • Not washing towels frequently enough leads to bacterial and fungal growth.
  • Using too low wash and rinse temperatures fails to kill microbes living in towels.
  • Overloading washers and dryers prevents proper cleaning and drying.
  • Not using enough detergent means towels don’t get fully sanitized.
  • Leaving wet towels piled up creates a breeding ground for mildew.
  • Adding too much fabric softener makes towels less absorbent.
  • Line drying towels outdoors exposes them to pollen and pollution.
  • Storing damp towels allows odor and stains to set in.
  • Neglecting to wash new towels before first use risks chemical residue.
  • Putting off washing gym towels after each use harbors bacteria.

With just a little more diligence and care taken when washing, you can keep your towels cleaner and lasting longer. Avoid these common pitfalls for better results.

Extending the Lifespan of Towels

With proper care and washing, the lifespan of bath and hand towels can be extended considerably. Here are some tips to keep towels in good shape for longer:

  • Wash with gentle, hypoallergenic detergents to prevent fiber damage.
  • Use whitening treatments and oxygenated detergents periodically.
  • Alternate towel use to allow them to fully dry out before reusing.
  • Wash towels in mesh garment bags to avoid pilling.
  • Avoid harsh bleach and fabric softener that degrades fibers.
  • Fold versus tightly rolling towels to prevent creasing wear.
  • Mend any tears, holes or frayed seams as they occur.
  • When toweling off, pat gently instead of rubbing vigorously.
  • Rinse away any soap residue after each use.
  • Replace thinning, threadbare towels to maintain absorbency.

With proper laundering and care, higher quality towels can last upwards of 5-10 years or more before needing replacement.


Washing towels doesn’t have to be a complicated, daunting chore. By separating colors, using hot water and detergent, drying thoroughly, and storing properly, you can keep your towels fresh and clean. Taking a bit more care when laundering towels prevents the buildup of odor, stains, and microbes.

Follow these simple tips for how to wash towels in 3 easy steps. Soon you’ll have soft, fluffy, hygienic towels every time. Establishing good laundry habits keeps bacterial and fungal growth at bay. So grab those dirty towels and get washing – in just three steps you can have clean towels again.