How to make towels soft again after they’ve gone scratchy

How to recapture that 'new towel' feeling

Soft towels

by Sarah O'Byrne |
Updated on

Have your once fresh and soft towels become scratchy over time? Are you looking to recapture that hotel-like softness? Whether it’s a bath towel, gym towel, or dog towel, it's time to learn how to make towels soft again! Here's all the tips and tricks you’ll need to prevent and remedy your rough towels.

How to make towels soft again:

Cut back on detergent

Using less laundry detergent when you wash towels will prevent them from becoming stiff and coarse. This allows the water to fully cleanse the towels of soap before they are dried. In fact, Lucy Ackroyd, head of design at Christy, recommends using eucalyptus-based detergent. “Not only will this leave them smelling super fresh, the eucalyptus will also protect the fibres of the towel and ensure the colours stay bright and fresh.”

Do not over wash your towels

Although you may be tempted to wash your towels after every single use, The Cleaning Institute says that towels should only be washed after 3 to 5 uses, and always hung up to dry after each use to prevent the spreading of bacteria.

Don’t stuff your machine

It is important that you do not overstuff your washing machine. Putting too many towels in at once will prevent water flow and won’t allow the detergent to be fully washed out of each one, plus it can cause your clothes to smell too. Likewise, your dryer needs space to circulate air, so try to keep it to three to four towels maximum, with other hand towels or dish towels thrown in to make the most of the wash.

Towels in washing machine

Drop the fabric softener

While you may think that fabric softener can be a quick fix for hard towels, overuse can cause a build up and leave your towels rougher than before. In fact, fabric softeners contain a silicon compound that can actually make your towels even rougher, so it’s best to leave it out altogether.

If you don't want to ditch this product altogether, look for alternatives, such as plastic-free fabric softeners.

Cool it

Do not use excessive heat to dry your towels. There’s no problem with using your dryer to dry your towels every now and then, but too much heat can damage a towel. It’s recommended that every second wash you hang them outside to dry (on a retractable washing line, perhaps), or use a warm dryer setting when you use the machine.

If your towels feel stiff after line drying them, try simply shaking them out to loosen up the fibres. Or, if your dryer has a colder option, toss them in the dryer for a quick fluff up. Always check the label of your towels to see if they have any special washing instructions as some handle heat better than others.

Throw in a dryer ball

Dryer balls are great for softening your towels and even help them dry faster. Although they’re perhaps more common in the US than the UK, they’re available on to buy on Amazon or most UK grocery shops.

Dryer ball

The vinegar and baking powder method

Wash your towels with 250ml of white vinegar on a warm wash. Once the cycle is complete, wash once more on a warm wash along with a half cup of baking powder- so about half the amount of vinegar used. You can also add a few drops of essential oil as an optional step for that extra added element of luxury. Then dry your towels on a hot setting to ensure they are completely dry. Repeat this process every six weeks to keep your towels hotel soft.

CEO of New Sega Home Textiles, Brian Delp, says to not be deterred if this step does not improve your towel’s soft texture the first time you try it. “Depending on how extensive the build-up of fabric conditioner is – which is what typically leaves them feeling scratchy – you may have to repeat this step.”

Stack it right

Even the way you store your towels can affect the softness. Lucy Ackroyd says, “Rather than folding your towels one on top of the other, as many people do, try neatly folding them side by side instead… This simple storage hack will prevent the bottom towels from being crushed which can lead to them losing that plush, full effect that you have achieved.” If you prefer stacking them on top of each other, add a couple of drops of essential oil between each layer to keep them smelling fresh and fragrant.

Meet the experts:

Lucy Ackroyd is the head of design at Christy - a manufacturing company that creates household linens.

Brian Delp is the CEO of New Sega Home Textiles.

Sarah O’Byrne has been an editorial assistant at heat, Closer and Yours since May 2023. She has a BA in English with Film and an MA in Literature and Culture - both from University College Dublin.

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