How often should you wash your towels and is there truly a right or wrong answer to that question? We asked cleaning and towel experts to find out – and the answer was unanimous.
Overwashing towels can affect the fibres and turning your best bath towel into a rough, starchy sheet is not pleasurable for the drying experience – nor efficient because the absorbency levels can be affected.
Similar to managing how often you should wash your sheets, there's definitely a fine balance to be struck, because not washing enough is unhygienic and negates the effects of having a shower to get clean because every time you dry off you transfer dead skin cells. When combined with moisture, this becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.
See how often the professionals say we should be washing to avoid a bacteria build-up. And because it's also not just about how often you wash your towels, but how you wash them, we've also included advice on the best way to wash towels with some simple cleaning hacks to get better results.
How often should you wash your towels?
“The amount of times you wash your bath sheet depends on how often you shower or bathe," explains Lucy Ackroyd, Head of Design at Christy. "However, I’d suggest washing your main towel after three uses as this avoids a build-up of bacteria. When your towel is not in use, leave it to air on a towel rail. "
“How many times you should wash your hand towel can vary on how many people are in your household but, on the whole, I’d recommend switching and washing your hand towels at least twice a week in order to maintain cleanliness and avoid germs spreading," says Lucy.
"For towels and face towels, I'd recommend washing your towels after three uses - and waiting for them to dry completely before the next use," states Kyle Grant, Founder of sustainable, on-demand laundry service, Oxwash.
The American Cleaning Institute also suggests that "bath towels should be hung out to dry between uses and washed after three to five normal uses."
Dr. Beckmann spokesperson, Susan Fermor says, “We would recommend washing your towels after at least three uses because every time you dry your body, skin cells are transferred onto your towel which quickly grow bacteria."
"The best way to prevent germs from growing on your bath towel is to ensure it dries completely between each use and is washed frequently," says Joanna Ross, General Manager of Design at Sheridan.
Guidelines that say 'normal use' refers to your everyday cleansing routine, but this will differ depending on your lifestyle. For instance, if you've been doing a lot of physical exercise and producing excess sweat, you should strive to wash towels more than the recommended every three uses.
Similar to determining how often you need to vacuum, if you have a larger household with more people sharing hand towels, you'll naturally need to launder them more often, too.
"You'll need to wash your towels more frequently if, for example, the towel has body fluid on it, then it should be washed after only one use," Kyle explains. "Or if it's a sweaty gym towel! Finally, if your skin is sensitive and/or easily irritated, wash all of your towels after one use, and use an organic and skin-friendly detergent."
The best way to wash towels according to experts
Frequency aside, it's imperative to use best practices to maintain the quality and softness of your bath sheets and hand towels. Follow these tips from leading professionals to keep your bathroom towels in tip-top condition and preserve them for longer.
1. Wash at the right temperature
There's a temptation to use a hot cycle every wash when you're looking to eliminate possible bacteria, but all the experts agree that 40 degrees is fine for more frequent cleaning.
“Generally, wash your towels at 40 degrees as any higher can cause them to wear out too quickly," explains Lucy.
“When it comes to towel care and ensuring they last the distance, my top tips include washing them on a 40-degree gentle machine wash," advises Joanna. "Whilst it can be tempting to dry clean your luxury towels, I would avoid this as it dilutes the softness."
Lucy adds, “You can, however, remove oils and bacteria that can build up over time, by putting them through a 60-degree wash occasionally. This routine will allow them to be perfectly hygienic without taking away from their quality and texture."
2. Avoid overloading your machine
To get the best results when washing Lucy recommends, “Wash your towels together at the end of the week but try not to overload the machine because they need plenty of room within the drum to breathe and circulate, allowing them to be rinsed and fluffed up properly.
“If you try to stuff too many in, you’ll end up with a clumped together heap, with moisture pockets throughout, leading to scratchy, stiff towels. Make sure to wash your towels separately to your other laundry to avoid any color or fibers transferring onto your beautiful pristine towels”
It goes without saying, but for optimal results, you should also ensure your washing machine is clean before you get started.
3. Wash towels and clothes separately
When creating different laundry piles be mindful to separate more than just colours, because experts say towels should be washed on their own for best results.
"Washing towels with clothes can transfer a lot of bacteria between each item in the washing cycle," says Jessica Hanley, founder of towel retailer Piglet in Bed. "Putting towels in their own load allows towels to dry easier, as damp towels typically dry slower than clothes."
"Make sure you shake any excess water from your towels before placing them in the dryer, as this will help fluff the material and keep them absorbent. Avoid leaving wet towels to sit in the washer for a long period of time, as this can result in an unpleasant musty smell."
4. Use softeners sparingly
Hold off on the fabric softener, because while it may feel like it's essential for soft towels, too much is in fact bad for softness. Chrissie Rucker, Founder of The White Company explains, "for super-soft towels, adding a fabric conditioner to the final rinse enhances the softness of terry fabrics, but use sparingly as excessive quantities will reduce absorbency because it coats the fibers. Use just a little fabric conditioner every other wash to keep towels feeling their best.”
Joanna adds, "avoid using silicone-based fabric softeners and conditioners. As these will repel water and will reduce the absorbency of the fluffy towels."
5. Tackle stains immediately
Whether you're removing red wine stains from carpets, removing suncream from clothes or fake tan from towels, tackling stains as soon as they occur will always result in more effective removal.
"To remove stains efficiently it's widely recommended to use oxygen-based stain removers," says Joanna. "Never use bleach to clean stains, and make sure bathroom cleaning products containing bleach are kept separately to avoid any bleach stains."
6. Dry towels thoroughly
It's very important that towels are dried thoroughly to ensure no moisture is left because damp towels (even freshly laundered ones) are a breeding ground for bacteria and mould.
Line-drying towels may not always be possible, but it is always advisable. "Line drying your towels in the shade is ideal and it reduces electricity usage," says Joanna. "Tumble drying your towels for a few minutes when they are almost dried off the line will maximize their softness."
"If you need to tumble dry your towels completely, I’d recommend drying them on a medium to warm setting and ensure they are completely dry before storing them in your linen cupboard.”
If you don't have a tumble dryer you can look for alternative ways to dry laundry indoors, using expert tips and tricks to tackle the task more efficiently.
7. Fold your towels to keep them in good condition
Folding your towels is not only a great way to save space but can also be an easy method to ensure they stay in good shape. “Begin by holding the short end of the towel at chest height, and then fold each edge across to meet the opposite side fold to achieve neatly overlapping thirds,” says Jessica.
"Fold up the bottom third of the towel, then fold the top third down, and store with the outer folded edge of the towel facing out to make it easy to grab your towels off the shelf – and to keep your closet looking great."
Is it OK to use the same towel for a week?
Technically it is ok to use the same towel for a week but the expert recommendation is to wash a towel after every third use so a week is therefore too long a period in terms of professional advice. The longer you leave between washes the more you are encouraging bacteria to build up on the towel, so using the same towel every day for a week will mean it is dirtier than it ideally should be.
Should you wash towels at 40 or 60?
We should wash towels at 40 degrees rather than 60 to be more mindful of the environment, and make more sustainable living choices. A 40-degree wash is perfectly sufficient for washing towels, so there is no real need to wash at higher temperatures unless the towels are particularly dirtier than an average bath or hand towel would be.
Lucy adds, “You can remove oils and bacteria that can build up over time, by putting them through a 60-degree wash occasionally."
"Your towels will last longer if you dry them on low heat too, as high heat will damage the cotton fibres," Jessica adds. "Dry on a 40-degree heat, which will help achieve your desired softness, eliminating bacteria in the process. In the summer months, take advantage of the sun to let your towels air dry- the ultimate all-natural dryer that helps maintain the integrity of the fabric, and keeps your towels soft and fresh."
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Tamara is a highly experienced homes and interiors journalist, with a career spanning 20 years. Now the Lifestyle Editor of womanandhome.com, she has spent the last 17 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, and it’s with these award-winning interiors teams that she gained a wealth of knowledge and honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing about every aspect of lifestyle and interiors.
With a keen eye for the latest interior trends, there's not a lot she doesn't know about home decor – whether it’s what colour we should be painting our living rooms next season, or if the latest 'must-have' buys are actually worth investing in.
A true homes and interiors expert, Tamara has served as an ambassador for leading interior brands on multiple occasions, including appearing on Matalan’s The Show and presenting at top interior trends events such as the Autumn Fair and Spring Fair.
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