How to soften towels – experts share essential tips to restore softness with every wash

Make stiff and starchy towels a thing of the past by following these expert tips to guarantee you always have soft towels

Wooden bench in bathroom with a stack of bathroom towels to support expert tips for how to soften towels for optimum fluffiness
(Image credit: Scooms)

Fluffy towels are one of life's simple pleasures, therefore knowing how to soften towels is an essential life skill to master to ensure you are only ever wrapped in an invitingly fluffy towel when you step out of the shower or bath. 

Whether your best bath towels have started to lose softness to the touch or you have the problem of drying laundry indoors which can often lead to stiff towels, our experts have a solution. 

From washing hacks using vinegar to sharing advice on washing techniques to avoid to prevent your bathroom essentials from feeling rough to the touch.

Given how often you should wash towels it's no surprise they can sometimes feel a little stiff, but by adopting these expert methods you can ensure softness with each cycle. 

How to soften towels: 4 expert tips

"Over time, towels can lose softness for various reasons including becoming worn and overused, as well as wash cycles and tumble driers causing them to stiffen and tuft," explains Olivia Young, product development scientist at Astonish

"Instead of calling it a day and parting with your favourite towels, there are some ways that you can give them some TLC and help restore that soft and fluffy feeling. "

Here are some top tips that will help you make your towels feel as good as new after every wash:

1. Ensure you are washing your towels correctly

Following the most efficient methods when washing your towels should prevent your towels from losing their soft and fluffy feeling, as well as preventing any loss of quality and colour.

  • Wash only towels together: "Wash towels with towels and separate towel colours," suggests Emily Attwood, co-founder of Scooms. "This will extend the life and quality of your towels."
  • Don’t add too much detergent: "Be careful to only use the recommended amount of detergent (or use less) as this can clog up your machine and towels," warns Emily. "It can also result in bright white towels becoming slightly grey."
  • Don’t overload the drum. "If you cram too much into your machine, the towels will clump together which is what creates the stiff, scratchy feeling once they have dried,' Olivia explains. To avoid this, wash your towels in light to medium loads. "Ideally only two/three medium-sized towels at once. This will make sure they can be sufficiently agitated and rinsed and will come out feeling soft."
  • Avoid hot temperatures. "Cotton is made from natural cellulose fibres, and these can be easily damaged in extreme conditions – which is what causes them to feel stiff," says Olivia. "Heat can play a big factor here, so to maintain the soft texture, opt for a lower heat."

laundry room with laundry baskets for separates to show how to soften towels when washing

(Image credit: Future)

Of course ensuring a clean washing machine will also help to make each clean more effective, by banishing product build-ups and traces of residual limescale.

2. Wash without fabric softener

Naturally, you might add fabric softener to restore softness however this can actually sometimes have the opposite effect. 

"This is because cotton is comprised of negatively charged fibres and softeners are comprised of positively charged conditioners," says Olivia. "When the two interact, the opposing charges make the cotton fibres flatter, resulting in a stiff and rough texture."

If you feel like it's counterintuitive not to fabric softener choose a 2-in-1 laundry liquid. "These contain alternative softening ingredients that won’t negatively interact with the fibres in your towel," Olivia explains.

3. Remove detergent build-up

"If you have a build-up of detergent or fabric softener that’s clogging up those lovely loops of cotton vinegar will do the trick," says Emily.

Cleaning with vinegar is hugely popular and according to every expert we spoke to it can also be the secret ingredient to restore and soften towels. To say I was dubious would be an understatement, therefore it was the one method I was most keen to try for myself and I can attest - it really does do the trick. And no, the towels don't smell of vinegar afterwards.

“White vinegar is the most effective way to soften towels because it makes them more absorbent,” states Fantastic Service's domestic cleaning expert and supervisor Petya Holevich. “This is because the minerals or buildup on towels that make them stiff can easily be broken down by it.” 

Emily shares her top tips for using vinegar to soften towels:

  • First, wash your towels on a normal wash with detergent - no softener.
  • Follow up by running a second wash cycle with 1 cup of white vinegar.
  • Repeat once every 6 weeks to remove any detergent and fabric softener residue that has built up.

washing machine with grey towels to show how to soften towels by washing with white vinegar

Tamara testing the method of washing with white vinegar to soften towels

(Image credit: Future)

4. Use a low tumble dryer setting

If you have the luxury of a tumble dryer use it to dry your towels for maximum softness, even if that's the only thing you use it to dry (to save on energy costs and make more sustainable living choices). 

"The best way to dry your towels so that they regain their cosy softness and fluffiness, is to use a tumble dryer on a low heat setting," advises Emily. "High heat can damage the cotton fibres."

"Once dried, don't leave your towels sitting in the dryer. Take them out straight away and give them a shake to fluff them up."

Emily helpfully suggests: "Adding wool dryer balls can also help. Wool dryer balls create air gaps between your towels as they dry which reduces the drying time. The natural lanolin in wool also helps soften your towels. We suggest using 4 Wool dryer balls each time."

Why are my towels hard and stiff after washing?

There are a number of reasons why your towels may be hard and stiff after washing. "The most likely is due to a build-up of residue and product during your wash cycle," says Olivia. "Or possibly because you are using too much fabric softener.'

"Essentially if your towels are cotton, which they most likely are, the fibres that make up your towel can become over-dried and build up a soapy residue that causes them to stick together. This is why they may feel hard to touch, as opposed to soft and fluffy."

Olivia adds: "Another factor could be that you are washing them too much and too intensely. If your towels are exposed to high temperatures and hard water for extended periods of time, they are likely to form a rough texture. Opt for a less intense cycle, that will still do the job but offer a more gentle clean."

Can you make hard towels soft again?

Yes, you can make hard towels soft again with a few easy tried and tested methods. "It can be hugely disappointing if your previously plush bath towel becomes stiff, limp or even scratchy," says Emily. "Don't despair, there are things you can try to make your towels soft again."

Emily's top tips are: "Wash only towels together; don’t overfill your washing machine; avoid adding too much detergent; Wash without fabric softener and only ever tumble dry at low/medium heat."

"However, if you have had your towels for a long time or your towels are poor quality, there probably won't be anything you can do to make your towels soft again," Emma adds. "And it's most likely about time you replaced them."

grey bathrooom with freestanding bath shown with a selection of soft fluffy towels

(Image credit: Scooms)

How do I make towels soft without a tumble dryer?

If you don’t have access to a tumble dryer, there are a number of ways you can try to get that soft and fluffy towel feeling. 

If you don't have or don't want to use a dryer, here are Emily's top tips for line-drying your towels and keeping them soft:

  • Remove your towels from the washing machine as soon as it is finished.
  • If it’s a warm or windy day, line-dry your towels in the fresh air.
  • If you are drying your towels indoors, make sure they are either laid flat over a drying rack or are hung out flat. This increases the drying surface area so that they dry faster.
  • Don’t overload your drying rack as your towels need space around them to dry.
  • Don’t dry towels on or near a radiator as this will make them feel stiffer and less soft.
  • When your towels are dry, shake them a few times before putting them away.”
Tamara Kelly
Lifestyle Editor

Tamara is a highly experienced homes and interiors journalist, with a career spanning 22 years. Now the Lifestyle Editor of, 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 styling and writing about every aspect of lifestyle and interiors.

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 trend forecasting events such as the Autumn Fair and Spring Fair.