How Do I Keep Towels Soft?

It’s a hard life, being a towel. All that hard water and friction can really wear a fabric down. Not to mention regular exposure to oil and soil. Even our fluffy, luxurious Turkish towels need a little TLC now and then, to keep them feeling their best.

If you’ve ever asked the question ‘How do I keep towels soft?’ we can help. We’ve put together some tips to get your towels as good as new.

Cut back on detergent.

Towels feel stiff because they start to build up soapy residue. By using a little less detergent than suggested, your machine’s rinse cycle will have an easier time washing out those last pesky bits of soap.

Wash in warm water.

Warmer water (around body temperature is best) absorbs detergent better, leaving less buildup on your towels. You can also let detergent dissolve in the washer before adding towels – just start the wash cycle, add soap and wait a minute or two before adding your towels.

Replace fabric softeners with vinegar.

Fabric softeners contain silicon that will make towels water repellent, so they won’t get as good a wash. Instead, soften your towels by using one cup of white vinegar about every six weeks; this will remove the soapy residue that makes towels feel rough, bringing back softness while restoring them to full absorbency. Simply run the towels through a regular washing cycle, then redo them using vinegar instead of soap.

Use baking soda.

This will help loosen up fibers and clean off any chemicals or grime, making your towels softer. Just mix half a cup of baking soda with your normal amount of detergent. As an added bonus, baking soda naturally eliminates musty odors that may have built up – say, if you left damp towels lying around in a gym bag or in a pile on the bathroom floor.

Lighten your load.

Don’t put too many towels in your washer at once. Not only will it strain the machine, it won’t allow enough room to rinse out all the dirt and detergent from your towels. The same goes for your dryer; if you overload it, there won’t be enough air in the dryer to properly fluff the fabric. So you’ll get stiff, matted towels, instead of soft, fluffy ones. For most standard machines, try two or three bath towels at a time, along with hand towels and washcloths.

Toss in a tennis ball or dryer ball.

Having a few unused tennis balls or dryer balls bouncing around in the dryer helps remove lumps while softening and fluffing your towels.

Go easy on the tumble drying.

True, it makes towels fluffier, but heat from the dryer can damage the integrity of the Turkish cotton. So use a lower setting, or alternate between air drying and tumble drying. You can also partially dry towels on the line and then finish them up in the dryer. If you prefer line drying, shake the towels out afterwards to fluff up the fibers, or toss them in the dryer on a cool setting for additional softness.

There you have it – the answer to the age-old question ‘How do I keep towels soft?’ Follow these self-help tips and your towels will stay plush and fluffy their whole lives. For more advice, visit our towel care section.



  1. Sick-nurse

    Another remedy for stiff towels comes from the kitchen: baking soda. To create a softer texture and get rid of the sour odor that comes from leaving wet towels in the laundry, Rapinchuk runs a wash cycle with a half-cup of baking soda either alone or mixed with detergent before drying (if running alone, launder as normal after). Be sure not to mix vinegar and baking soda in the machine; the chemical reaction may cause the machine to overflow.

  2. david bartlett

    New Towels are soaked in borax / this changes the ph in water to softer water, then wash towels adding white vinegar to clean softener off of NEW Towels / Vinegar clean bacteria as well as cleans cotton. My high end towels stay soft and cozy / Do not expect a $30.00 Towel to stay as soft as a $90.00 Towel, SPEND more save more-you get what you pay for, it”s TRUE

  3. Jennifer

    I live in the woods with my husband. We are pretty much self sufficient. We grow our own food and have a few chickens and a cow. We don’t have electricity so I wash our clothes and towels in a crystal clear creek that’s spring fed. I wash them using bar soap and a lot of elbow grease. Then I hang them on a long dead tree branch.

    The wind dries them quickly unless it’s winter and then I have to dry them in our cabin. Even though I air dry my towels they still tend to be scratchy. If I use vinegar it helps but I wish the towels were super soft. We don’t have many luxuries so my husband and I like a soft towel to dry with. Is there a particular detergent that would make our towels softer without hurting the environment? Thanks. Be safe from the coronavirus! That’s one thing my husband and I don’t have to worry about. We are 15 miles from the nearest person and we never see him.

    1. charlotte

      Hi Jennifer, we asked our laundry expert here, who was in the hospitality industry for years. She said that the soap is not the problem…when you air dry towels, they will always be somewhat stiff. That is why some of her inns who line-dry most of their laundry still put them in the dryer for about 7-10 minutes at the end to soften them. Sorry we couldn’t help any more.

  4. Susan

    I have hard water, so tried using Calgon and hot water, no soap and then rinse again in vinegar. White towels still stiff. Any other suggestions that I have previously read that actually work.? I hang them up then throw in the dryer with dryer sheets. Still not perfect….

  5. Deke

    I wash my towels at 40°C. Sometimes for 45 minutes sometimes for 60 minutes depending… Then i take them out, ruffle them up hard in my hands before throwing them back in with two dryer balls. Tumble on intensive dry for 60 minutes before letting them aside dry completely. I always have soft fluffy towels this way. If i forget the ruffle stage then the towels are not so fluffy but still soft. I never use vinegar. I never use soda. Just a small amount of soap. During the summer time i might just tumble for 15 minutes and then dry outside but they are not so soft as tumbling for 60 minutes. So to recap… Wash at 40 for 45 to 60 minutes with a small amount of soap (more if you live in a hard water area). Take out, ruffle up, tumble for 60 minutes. Never use fabric softener. Et voila…

  6. Bruno

    I have an Ultra High Efficiency Front Loading washer (and dryer) so i totally understand the not being able to just start a cycle and open up to add stuff. But like someone else said,,, they do have a pause button that will unlock the door and then resume the cycle from where it left off.. The same is generally true if you have a power outage or just unplug it…. once the power comes back on or you plug it back in,,,, they SHOULD if you just press start and dont change anything resume from when they lost power. And as far as cycles,,, i dont have these fancy towels,,, so i like the more heat the better, so i either use the Sanitize / Allergy Cycles since they have to be certified to run the wash part, and to rinse a certain amount of times to not leave any bacteria behind. There is also a specific Towels Only cycle which i have tried multiple times and dont really have any information,,, good or bad whether it helps with washing and rinsing and making them come out softer.

  7. Nancy Soller

    In our country SA water is like liquid gold we cannot do so many washes and cycles. We also pay a lot for water. I have tried vinegar as well to no avail. Hard towels. I am going to try without detergent.Thank you

  8. Pamela N.

    Hi! To soften the towels, first you need to wash them in hot water with just vinegar, and then do another wash with just baking soda. Best let the soda dissolve first in the hot water, but it is not necesarry. On my really old towels, I had to do that twice, but one run through vinegar and then baking soda should be enough. My towels became soft and fluffy like before.

  9. Debbie

    Just tried using white vinegar and towels have come out much softer (softer than they’ve been for ages),was worried about them smelling of vinegar, instead they smell really fresh – thank you for this tip

  10. Linzi

    I have a septic tank so wanted to use less chemicals. I use Dripak liquid soap flakes with a heaped tablespoon of washing soda and white vinegar as conditioner. I am in a medium-hard water area. I air dry outside when poss. Othereise indoors on a rack or over the Aga. All my washing incl. towels is actually softer than with commercial products. No vinegar smell!

  11. Valerie

    If you use vinager would that make the towel smell bad? How to make it smell fresh and clean when using vinager?

  12. Joyce

    Hi Chris, I’m sad to report that this seems to be a common problem with front loading washing machines. If anyone has one that doesn’t harden towels I’d be interested to know the brand.
    I use vinegar in my rinse water all of the time adding a few drops of lavender oil.
    I’ve experimented with the different cycles. The kids clothes cycle runs a longer rinse time so I use that. I cut the heat back to 20 and reduce the spin cycle. Improved but not perfect

    1. Yvonne Bekvalac

      Advice here sounds effective, especially the use of Sodium Bicarbonate dose 1/2 cup per small load. Vinegar could affect any rubber on door seal. A good machine brand is Siemens much like Bosch only better price. I got a replacement machine and these were recommend by visiting engineer. Best washes nowadays.

  13. Teresa Hempen

    I red that to get my towels soft again .. Use vinegar and baking soda but I need to know about how much to use could you please send me amounts?
    thank you

    1. charlotte

      Hi Teresa,
      Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the laundry when you add your regular liquid detergent. Baking soda helps whiten whites, brighten brights, and ensure odor-free clothing. If you would prefer to use vinegar, use the same amount — 1/2 cup per load.

      1. Chris

        I’ve just inherited an newish front loader when my long term top loader finally died. Towels that used to be quite soft from the top loader are now really hard from the front loader. Vinegar doesn’t make any difference. Any ideas?

        1. charlotte

          Hi Chris — hard/crunchy towels are usually caused by too much detergent. (And, never use fabric softener, as it coats the fibers of the towel and builds up over time.) Try washing them with in warm water with just vinegar or baking soda. That should strip any residue. Front-loading washers use much less water, and need less detergent. (I found this out recently too with the switch to a new front-loading machine.) Also, look for an HE (High Efficiency) detergent that is made for a front-loading machine. Good luck! Check out our towel care tips here:

  14. Eric Lane

    How do you start the washing cycle and add the towels later. the door will not open until the cycle ends

    1. charlotte

      @Eric — Some washing machines have a pause function, where you can pause the wash cycle within 5 minutes to add or remove clothing.

  15. Marj

    What could be used, if not using fabric softener, to give towels a fresh, fragrant smell. I wouldn’t want to smell vinegar in my towel.

  16. Sheila

    Thanks for the tips for soft towels. Ours get so hard and rough its like drying yourself with sand paper. Will give these a try and let you know the results. Thanks

  17. Pam Austin

    I do not have a tumble drier so what is best way to dry towels after treating with vinegar and baking soda? Thanks

  18. Dorothy Hunter

    I have tried less soap powder and using vinegar instead of conditioner but they are still hard I would appreciate some advice,thank you.

    1. Rita Goff

      Have very expensive towels (a gift) have tried the no soap approach and the white vinegar but still very scratchy towels now.Help

    2. robert hender

      i, like your obove clients have uded vinega , white distilled, every which way.
      towels still scratchy, something wrong, advise correct procedure.
      yours rob.

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