How to wash white towels - the best way to keep them bright, fresh and soft

Ensure, bright, fresh and soft towels with this step-by-step on how to wash white towels

white and beige towels
(Image credit: IKEA)

Knowing how to wash white towels the right way will protect them from stains, colour runs and bacteria-inducing odours. 

Many of us strive for a sparkling hotel-style bathroom. Knowing how to wash bath towels is a key part of this, but maintaining bright and fluffy white towels, worthy of a five-star resort, requires a slightly more refined approach. 

The reality is that after time bathroom towels can lose their lustre and start to become dull, scratchy and less absorbent. So, how do you maintain white towels to keep them luxurious and spa-like for as long as possible? 

We've asked industry experts for their top laundry tips and advice to compile the below step-by-step guide to washing white towels.

white and beige towels

(Image credit: B&M Stores)

How to wash white towels

According to a recent survey by Christy, 75% of respondents questioned would love their home to look and feel like a 5-star hotel. And, over 34% of those surveyed would like to replicate luxury hotels in their bathroom. 

Typically you will find 'white' towels in a luxury hotel. To get that top-quality look and feel not only do you have to invest in the best towels, but knowing how to look after them is also a key to their long-lasting brightness and softness.

Here's how to wash white towels like a professional.

white towels folded on a bench

(Image credit: Soak and Sleep)

What you will need

  • Washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • Stain remover
  • White vinegar 
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Laundry bleach (optional)
  • Tumble dryer / heated towel rail ( optional)

1. Separate towels

As with washing all laundry, first separate white towels from coloured versions. 

'Begin by sorting your towels based on colour to prevent any potential colour bleeding during the wash', explains Gwilym Snook, heated laundry at AO

'Also, sort your towels based on fabric type, as different fabrics may require specific care.'

towels in laundry basket

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

2. Pre-treat stains

If desired you can use a bleach to pre-treat stains. It is advised to use a non-chlorine oxygen bleach ( sodium per-carbonate and hydrogen peroxide) as it's considered gentler and more eco-friendly than chlorine bleach. 

Oxygen bleach also makes an effective pre-wash treatment to soak out discolouring from sweat, body oils and skin-care products. Oxygen bleach can also be added to the wash cycle. Read the product instructions and use sparingly.

'The occasional use of bleach is okay if you want to boost the brightness or get rid of stubborn stains, however, regular use is not recommended as it can weaken the towel’s fibres and decrease its longevity', says Victoria Bennion, Head of Category (MDA) at Currys.

Ideal Home Editor Molly Cleary swears-by Ecover's Laundry Bleach, available on Amazon, as her top hack to keep towels white

3. Add baking soda

Oxygen bleach can be harsh on fabrics and is not advised for every wash, so consider adding a natural food cupboard staple instead. 

Baking soda is a housekeeping secret that has been used for decades to brighten and deodorise white laundry. The gentler ingredient can be used in every wash.

'110 grams of baking soda to your usual detergent. This softens the water and helps to remove dirt and stains,' says Ashleigh Tosh from Healthy Shop

baking soda in storage jar

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

4. Replace laundry softener with white vinegar

Experts warn that when washing towels (of any colour), to keep fabrics soft fresh and fluffy, laundry softener is not to be used. This is because fabric softener leaves a residue on fibres that makes the towels rough, hard and less absorbent. Instead, you should learn how to wash towels with vinegar. It is really easy and simply involves switching your laundry softener for white vinegar.

'Add your towels to the washing machine drum as you usually would, with your detergent. Then simply add no more than half a cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener drawer,' says cleaning expert and Product Development Scientist at Astonish, Olivia Young.

'The combination of detergent and vinegar will not only help remove odours and stains, but it will also help stop your towels from stiffening.'

5. Wash on a gentle cycle

A hot wash will blast away any bacteria lingering in white towels. However, regular cycles at high temperatures will eventually damage fibres. It's more practical and economical to use a cooler wash.

'Towels don’t have to be washed at a high temperature so turning your machine down to 30 degrees will save you money, electricity and help protect the environment,' says Laura Harnett, founder of Seep Eco Tools.

'It’ll also help to extend the lifecycle of the towel as high temperatures can cause premature wear and tear as they’re too harsh for fabrics. 

Don’t overload the washing machine either as this can stop towels from being cleaned effectively and may mean they need to be washed twice.

 As a rule of thumb, aim to fill the washing machine two-thirds full and never up to three-quarters. This will also help to save your electricity and water usage.'

Fisher Paykel washing machine

(Image credit: Fisher Paykel)

6. Shake towels and dry

Once clean, white towels can be dried on a gentle setting in the tumble dryer, on heated airer or outside on a washing line if weather permits. 

The key is to give towels a good shake to loosen towel fibres so they fluff up as they dry. If using a tumble dryer, dryer balls or a tennis ball added to the load will help to trap air in between the fabrics to decrease drying time.

'Shaking excess water out of your towels before putting them in the dryer will help fluff the terry loops and keep them absorbent', says Jessica Hanley, Founder of Piglet in Bed.

'Allow your towels to complete a full cycle in the dryer and then finish by air drying if any dampness remains. Resist the urge to speed drying times by ironing your towels, as this will just reduce absorbency.'

7. Fold and store

Store clean white towels in drawers and cupboards preferably out of the bathroom.

'Folding your towels is a great way to save space and ensure they stay in good shape', advises Jessica Hanely.

Once in use ensure there are plenty of bathroom towel storage ideas to hang fabrics off the floor when there is plenty of ventilation in the room. Hooks, racks, towel ladders and heated radiators are practical options.

Experts recommend that towels should be washed every three to four uses

white towels folded in basket

(Image credit: Garden Trading)


What setting do I wash white towels on?

To ensure white towels are kept as clean and white as possible Persil Laundry recommends setting the washing machine programme to 'the hottest temperature allowed by the care instructions on the garments you’re washing.'

How do I get my white towels white again?

To remove discolouration on white towels from sweat, body odour or skin care products bleach can be used infrequently.

Soak towels in a non-chlorine oxygen bleach solution or add them directly to a washing machine cycle as per product instructions. Alternatively, baking soda is a natural and gentler alternative.

Always wash white towels separately.

Follow these tips and your white towels should be left gleaming and bright for years to come.


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.