How to … keep towels soft and fluffy

Five steps to take the crunch out of your towels.

Nobody likes a rough, crunchy towel. We expect our towels to last a while, but continual washing and drying takes its toll. Follow these five tips to rejuvenate your tired towels.

Step one: Forget the fabric softener
Using fabric softener in your wash would seems like a no-brainer – it’s in the name, for goodness’ sakes. But did you know that fabric softener makes your clothes feel softer by coating the fibres in chemicals that make the fibres feel slippery? That’s fine for your shirts, but one of the side-effects of these chemicals is that they make the fabric water-resistant. If you use fabric softener with every wash, your towels will become less absorbent, which means they can’t do their job properly. So, when it comes to washing towels, forget the fabric softener and move on to step two.

Step two: Cut back on detergent 
One of the main causes of hard, crunchy towels is detergent residue. Most commercial detergents will work just as well if you use less than the recommended amount. What you’re aiming for is enough detergent to clean your towels properly, and not so much that the towels are stiffened with residue by the end of the wash. You could also consider switching to an eco-friendly detergent, to avoid your towels being stripped of their natural softness by harsh chemicals. And, as always, if you are using a top-loader be sure to let powder detergents dissolve in some water before adding them to the machine.

Step three: Soften your water
If you live in an area with hard water, the minerals in your water can react with your laundry detergent forming soap curd (or soap scum). This can build up on your towels over time, leaving them hard and giving them a grey colour. Most commercial laundries will use a water softener (not to be mistaken for a fabric softener) to avoid this happening. See below for a budget-friendly DIY water softener recipe to add to your wash.

Step four: Drying
No matter how you dry your towels, the key here is to do it gently and with a bit of movement. If you dry them outside, try moving them into the shade part way through drying, and then give them a good shake and scrunch to relax the fibres before you fold them and put them away. If you have a dryer, try drying your towels on the line, and then ‘finishing them off’ in the dryer on a low heat for about 10 minutes. The airflow and movement will help to soften them up nicely. Or, if you dry your towels in the dryer from start to finish, try turning the heat down and taking them out before they’ve been fried into coarseness.

Step five: Home remedies
To kickstart the softening process, we have two DIY recipes, one for a fabric softener and one for a water softener. Both are budget friendly, and neither one uses harsh chemicals, so they won’t harm your towels.

Fabric softener recipe:
This DIY fabric softener recipe was tested by CHOICE, and came in ahead of some commercial, heavy-duty chemical fabric softeners, so we know it’s a winner.

  • 5 cups hot water
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup hair conditioner

Method: Mix the hot water and hair conditioner together. Pour in the vinegar, and then store the mixture in a container. An old soda bottle will do. When you wash your towels, use about half a cup in the regular softener dispenser in your washing machine, or add it during the rinse cycle for top loaders.

Water softener recipe:

  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda (also called sodium carbonate or ‘lectric soda’)
  • 2 litre jug for mixing
  • 2 litre storage bottle (an old soda bottle will do)

Half fill the mixing jug with very hot water, and then add borax and washing soda. Mix until completely dissolved, then fill the rest of the way with cold water. Pour into your storage bottle. Add one cup to each load of laundry at the start of the wash (you can pour this directly into the body of your front loader before adding the clothes and starting the wash). For especially crunchy towels, try adding two cups to the load.

You can also soak your crunchy grey towels overnight in a solution of one tablespoon of borax to 2 tablespoons of washing soda to each litre of water, to kick start the process.

To fix the hard crunchy grey ones you already have at home, try soaking your towels overnight in a solution of 1 tablespoon of borax and 2 tablespoons of washing soda to each litre of water, just to kickstart it.


(If you get to the end of a couple of weeks and notice hard crunchy stones in the bottom of your bottle of homemade water softener, these are the minerals in the water ‘precipitating’, and which have been depositing themselves all over your washing. No wonder your towels are scratchy.)


How do you keep your towels soft and fresh?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    24th Jun 2018
    Before I hang out my towels, I give them a good "crack" ie hold the towel by the corners and then give it a good hard flick so that it makes a noise - not just a gentle shake. I learned this from when I was a kid and helping my mum hang out the nappies - the old fashioned towelling ones :-)
    24th Jun 2018
    I use rainwater to wash and rinse my towels and have not had any go hard and scratchy as yet. I can't say it has worked well for face washers though as they need replacing every few months even though they are washed with the towels.

    If you are using an old drink bottle to store the DIY softeners above please stick a label on it saying what is in the bottle and covering up enough of the name so it can't be seen. Kids will drink anything stored in drink bottles even if it doesn't look like the drink on the label.
    24th Jun 2018
    Good comment!
    24th Jun 2018
    Thank you. A lot of children ended up in hospital because people used soft drink bottles to store unsuitable liquids.
    We probably can probably blame the same practice for the current lot if plastic bottles that are starting to break down even before they are sold and can cause problems for many people.
    Glass bottles can be sterilized and reused, plastic is only suitable for one use unfortunately.
    24th Jun 2018
    Side effect of chemicals is that your body absorbs it all and accumulates in your system. I think if you are going to use hair conditioner that should be without chemicals too.
    24th Jun 2018
    Are these recipes non-poisonous? A Soda bottle may not be such a great idea to store your mixtures in. Many a child has been poisoned in this way.
    25th Jun 2018
    I would have expected that where there are small children about any household item that could cause them harm would be stored where they cannot easily access them. But the point about using soft drink (not soda) bottles is well taken as no system is 100% safe. Anyhow in our house it would more likely be wine bottles as we avoid sugary drinks.
    25th Jun 2018
    We use only rainwater and some phosphate free detergent in a front loader and the towels come out rock hard. The gentle breeze and sun / shade outdoor drying does nothing to help.
    Running a BnB, we have to put the towels in a tumble dryer to get them soft. Thank God for solar power which we have that can accommodate the power usage factor.
    25th Jun 2018
    I have used vinegar in the final rinse in the washing machine for years..... you can buy a 2 litre bottle of Cleaning Vinegar....sadly only available at Woolies. I just tip a good sloosh (technical term LOL) in the final rinse water.... towels always absorb well.
    29th Jul 2018
    I have only used White Vinegar with my rinse water for years. The "cleaning vinegar" seems to be the same, but more expensive. Can't help feeling this is just another way to increase profits on a good basic idea.
    I also use about a tablespoon of bi-carb soda with the detergent, it seems to help with the softening and so need less detergent.

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