You're fresh out of the shower and looking for a warm cotton hug in the form of a soft towel. Instead, you're greeted with what feels like crunchy tree bark. Hard water, product buildup and improper drying can all contribute to stinky, stiff towels. We asked laundry experts for their advice on achieving the fluffy towels of our dreams.
Start with a good towel
Barton Brass, president of the Turkish Towel Co., recommends starting with a dense, high-quality towel. Most towels are made of cotton or a cotton blend because of the natural material's soft, absorbent fibers. If a hotel-like towel is what you're after, Brass suggests buying pure cotton towels that weigh about 600 grams per square meter (gsm). Look for towels that feel hefty, have large thread loops and are made of high-quality cotton.
Wash like items together
Follow the general rule of washing like clothes with like clothes — it helps laundry go faster and prevents lint transfer. "When you wash like items together, they clean better because everything is even in the washing machine and even in the dryer," says Becky Rapinchuk, author of "Clean Mama's Guide to a Healthy Home" and founder of the Clean Mama website.
Tossing too many towels into a load can cause them to clump and tangle, which creates pockets of moisture that the dryer's heat can't reach, leaving you with still-wet towels that will be stiff and scratchy when they dry. Rapinchuk suggests limiting each load to avoid overcrowding so heat can circulate within the dryer and reach all parts of the towels.
Rethink your products
Fabric softeners coat a towel's exterior and often contain oils and petroleum-based ingredients that hinder its absorbency. Rapinchuk instead pours a quarter-cup of distilled white vinegar into the fabric softener compartment of her machine with each load.
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.
Using too much detergent can also lead to crunchy towels. Brass recommends using about half as much detergent as the bottle recommends and running an extra rinse cycle.
Turn down the heat
Brass recommends washing and drying at medium heat to preserve the towel's fibers and to eliminate bacteria.
Make sure they're dry
Damp, crumpled towels piled on the floor are an invitation for mildew, and fabric fibers can be creased or crushed if left long enough. At the end of the drying cycle, give them a shake and fold them soon afterward.
Wash towels regularly
Frequent laundering will eventually break down a towel's fibers, robbing it of its drying ability. Rapinchuk launders her towels after two uses and changes her hand towels daily to avoid spreading germs. Brass suggests having a rotation of about three towels to use so that the fibers can rest in between washes.