How to keep towels soft and fluffy

Pink, grey, blue, and beige towels stacked on top of one another: how to keep towels soft
(Image credit: Getty; snjewelry)

Life has few pleasures as great as getting out of a warm bath or shower and wrapping yourself in a soft, fluffy towel. 

Yet even if you have the best washer money can buy, hard water, hot temperatures, and how you store your towels can leave them feeling stiff, rough, and uncomfortable. 

Not to mention that your towels can fray and become thinner without adequate care, meaning you have to throw them out more regularly. This can be an expensive habit to get into. 

To save your hard-earned cash and leave your towels looking their best, we explain how to keep towels soft and fluffy - with the help of Vivien Fodor, Laundry Category Manager at Whirlpool - and share some top tips that you can use with one of the best washing machines, regardless of whether you tumble or line dry your clothes.   

Pile of dirty towels next to unbranded fabric softener bottle

(Image credit: Getty; Catherine Falls Commercial)

1. Ditch the fabric softener 

 “While softeners can help make most clothing soft, the super-absorbent cotton used in towels can have the opposite effect,” says Vivien Fodor, Laundry Category Manager at Whirlpool. “Softeners can leave a coating on towels that reduces their absorbency and makes them less soft over time.”

She recommends switching your fabric softener for a natural alternative every few washes to remove the excess residue and keep your towels looking and feeling their best. 

We’ve had great results from mixing half a cup of baking soda with your usual detergent. Fodor also suggests adding up to half a cup of equal parts white vinegar and water into a full load of towels and washing as normal. 

Don’t worry - your towels won’t smell like salad dressing! The odor is washed away with the residue and grime. Baking soda and white vinegar are also much cheaper than often expensive fabric softeners.  

2. Wash at lower temperatures 

It can be tempting to blast your towels with high temperatures to ensure you kill all the bacteria, but this is unnecessary, and it can cause your towels to become stiff and scratchy. 

“When it comes to washing, the hidden truth that everyone should be aware of is the effectiveness of lower temperatures,” adds Fodor. “While many washing cycles are set at an average of 60 degrees, choosing lower temperatures is equally safe and beneficial.”

Turning down your washer’s temperature to 30-40 degrees can significantly impact the softness of your towels, as well as on the planet, without sacrificing cleanliness. 

Plus, if you combine this with our first tip, the baking soda and vinegar also help get rid of dirt and bacteria. 

Towels and clothes being air dried on indoor rack

(Image credit: Getty; Kinga Krzeminska)

3. Line dry where possible  

In our experience, air-drying towels is the best way to keep them soft and fluffy because they dry more evenly and slowly. 

This isn’t always possible, so using a dryer is fine. Just make sure to use the lowest setting possible. 

4. Avoid over drying 

Following on from tip three, to achieve a softer feel and keep your towels feeling brand new, “remove them from the dryer as soon as they are dry or slightly damp,” explains Fodor. 

This means setting the dryer to Iron Dry or similar rather than Cupboard Dry. Then, invest in one of the best irons to complete the process.

Removing too much moisture not only makes them feel dry and stiff in the short term but also reduces their absorbency and makes them scratchy and thin in the long term. The same applies if you’re drying towels outside. Keep checking on the towels and remove them when they are slightly damp.

Close-up of a woman's hands with a washing machine and a yellow towel

(Image credit: Getty; Ekaterina Goncharova)

5. Avoid overloading 

Overloading your washer and dryer with towels stops them from being cleaned and dried evenly. 

This causes residue to gather in places or causes parts of the towels to dry quicker than others. All of which leaves them feeling rough and shortens their lifespan. 

6. Use dryer balls 

“To help fluff up the fibers, prevent clumping, and reduce drying time, popping dryer balls or clean tennis balls into the dryer along with your towels,” says Fodor.

This is because they stop the towels from clumping together, meaning they dry more evenly and faster without excess heat. Dryer balls (like these from Amazon) also absorb some of the heat from the dryer, which helps prevent high temperatures from damaging the towels. What’s more, rubbing up against the towels fluffs up the fibers, making them feel softer. 

You can buy dryer balls for this task, or a clean tennis ball has the same effect.

Linen Closet with folded seat cushions, blankets and towels

(Image credit: Getty; AdShooter)

7. Store towels properly 

When not using your towels, store them in a cool, dry place and avoid folding them too tightly. We loosely roll our towels and store them on the top of our wardrobe. 

This stops the fibers from being pulled and stretched, which can cause the towels to become thin and rough.

8. Invest in the best washer  

The best washers clean and dry your towels quickly, effectively, and evenly. Many come with a steam cycle to improve hygiene without subjecting the towels to excess temperatures, and some even measure out the correct amount of detergent to ensure you’re not using too much or too little.

We’ve picked what we consider to be the best top-load washers and the best washer-dryer combos for fluffy towels every time. 

These tips will help you keep your towels soft and fluffy for longer. So, next time you're doing laundry, give them some TLC.

Victoria Woollaston
Lifestyle and technology journalist

Victoria Woollaston is a freelance lifestyle and technology journalist with almost two decades of experience reviewing gadgets, beauty tech and household appliances for the likes of WIRED, TechRadar, Expert Reviews, Alphr and more.