How to wash towels with vinegar - the natural hack to keep towels clean and soft

Vinegar is the natural way to soft and clean towels

Christy towels
(Image credit: B&M Stores)

When it comes to cleaning towels, using white vinegar has long been a clever hack for keep them soft and clean. However, if you'r familiar with the strong scent you might be wondering how to clean towels with vinegar, and avoid that lingering odour. Fortunately, we have the answer.

Cleaning with white vinegar is a housekeeper's secret weapon and has been part of cleaning caddies for centuries. Distilled white vinegar is also a go-to ingredient when it comes to washing laundry. If you already know how to clean bath towels the right way, then you'll know that too much laundry detergent can hinder towel absorbency and quality. For the same reason, it is advised that laundry softeners should be avoided altogether.

This is where white vinegar comes in. The gentle acidity in distilled white vinegar breaks down laundry detergent build-up and acts as a natural fabric softener. Once dry, towels are left as fluffy as the day they were purchased, or near on. 

Christy towels

(Image credit: Christy)

How to wash towels with vinegar

We've asked the experts to share their tips on how to wash towels with vinegar so that you can give your best bath towels a well-deserved deep clean to rid them of any soap residue and bacteria build-up that may have accumulated. 

Here's how to wash towels with white vinegar, leaving them soft, bouncy and smelling fresh. 

White vinegar bottle with a measuring jug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Phil Barker)

You will need

  • Towels
  • A washing machine
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Laundry detergent (optional)
  • Dryer balls or a tennis ball (optional)
  • Bucket (optional)

Select and separate towels

As with all laundry, the best practice is to separate the items into light and dark to avoid colour runs.  Towels are big and bulky so wash only towels together.

'Separating your lights, darks, and colours is a well-known laundering rule and is equally important when washing towels. Washing similar coloured towels together will ensure they  won’t succumb to discolouration,' says Rachael Shah, Head of Sustainability, at Linen Connect

How to wash towels with vinegar in the washing machine

Fill the washing machine drum with towels in small loads. Overloading may hinder the cleaning process and can lead to soap-residue build-up and musty odours.

Lydia Lloyd, Homeware Textile Designer and Insider at M&S Home explains, 'To achieve soft, fluffy towels at home, pay attention to how many items you place in the washing machine. If the load is too full, this can put a strain on the washer and cause bathroom towels to smell less fresh.'

Add detergent as normal, and then pour around 250ml of white distilled vinegar into the softener drawer.

Set the cycle temperature or program as per the towel label instructions. 

'You may want to opt for an extra rinse to ensure all detergent and vinegar are removed', advises, Victoria Bennion, Head of Category (MDA) at white goods and tech retailer Currys

'Don’t worry if the towels still have a vinegar smell when coming out of the washing machine, this will dissipate during drying.'

Once the washing machine cycle has finished, remove the towels from the drum and shake to fluff up the fibres.

How to hand wash towels with vinegar

The majority of our experts advise washing towels with vinegar in a washing machine along with the recommended amount of laundry detergent to fully banish bacteria.

However, white vinegar can be used to clean towels with a soak and hand wash.

'White vinegar can even be used to clean towels without the need of putting them through the washing machine. It is naturally anti-bacterial and acidic meaning it will remove sweat, oils, other stains and also residue from shower gels and shampoo,' explains Laura Harnett, founder of Seep Eco Tools.

'Fill a sink, bucket or bath with enough warm water to cover your towels and add one cup of white vinegar for every bucket of water used.

Simply soak your towels for 30 minutes in the solution and then rub them between your hands to remove any marks or stains and ensure the liquid has fully penetrated the fabric,' continues Laura.

After 30 minutes, rinse, squeeze, shake and hang out to dry.

Top tip: Dry spin towels in the washing machine after soaking and rinsing to remove access water.

Should you include baking soda?

As well as white vinegar, consider adding a sprinkling of baking soda to your laundry rinse wash. Vinegar and baking soda together become a real powerhouse for laundry cleaning as the addition of baking soda helps to deodorise and brighten fabrics. 

'Replace fabric softener with baking soda to loosen the fibres of your towel. Baking soda not only helps to brighten up your towels and keep them soft, but it also keeps odours at bay. Half a cup of baking soda per load will do the trick, along with your normal detergent,' says, Nancy Emery.

baking soda and flour in glass jar

(Image credit: Future PLC/Andrew Woods)

Dry towels

Dry on a gentle setting in the tumble dryer to protect the fibres. Dryer balls will trap air inbetween the fabrics and decrease drying time. Or, shake and hang on a line in natural daylight.

'Avoid overfilling the drying machine to allow the warm heat to circulate. Towels are best when they aren’t overdried, so consider stopping the cycle early and allowing the towels to breathe on an air dryer,' says  Emily Barron at  Property Rescue.

laundry detergent in glass storage jars

(Image credit: B&M Stores)

What are the benefits of cleaning towels with vinegar?

The acidic yet gentle product acts as a natural fabric softener as its components break down any soap-residue left in fibres after washing.

Other benefits include maintaining the colour of towels and acting as a mild disinfectant.

How often to wash towels with vinegar

'Washing towels with vinegar once every few weeks will be enough to keep your towels soft for the foreseeable future. The vinegar will also help to clean your washing machine,' says Nancy Emery, cleaning expert at Drench.

folded towels on stall in bathroom

(Image credit: Marks & Spencer)


Can I use vinegar and laundry detergent together?

It is advised to use detergent when washing towels with vinegar to ensure bacteria is eliminated. The key is to NOT mix the components in the cycle as this can alter PH levels and lower the effectiveness of both cleaners. 

Pour the white vinegar into the fabric softener section of the washing machine so it rinses through towels at the end of the cycle once the laundry detergent has done its job and has thoroughly rinsed away.

Should you wash new towels with vinegar?

'Most new towels are coated with softeners that are often used during the finishing process, which can hinder absorbency. This coating gives them that extra-fluffy look and feel at the store' says Jessica Hanley, founder of Piglet in Bed.

'Washing your new towels removes these finishes and allows for maximum absorbency.' 

This is definitely not one of those old wives tales, this is a cleaning hack that really works.


Rachel Homer has been in the interiors publishing industry for over 15 years. Starting as a Style Assistant on Inspirations Magazine, she has since worked for some of the UK’s leading interiors magazines and websites. After starting a family, she moved from being a content editor at to be a digital freelancer and hasn’t looked back.