How to … keep towels soft

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 seem like a no-brainer – it’s in the name, for goodness’ sake. 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)

Method: 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 crunchy grey towels you already have at home overnight in a solution of one tablespoon of borax to two tablespoons of washing soda to each litre of water, to kickstart the process.

(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? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Written by annapa



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