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What Setting is Best for Washing Towels?

Collage photo of different kind of towels.

I know, I know. You already wash 14 different types of towels every Saturday. You aren’t really washing types of towels as much as you’re washing the family’s collection of towels though. Plus, if I know anything about laundry day, you jam them all in the washer, turn the water setting to hot, and let ‘er rip. 

The thing is, though, that towels are made from different textiles. They take special washing temperatures and agitation speeds. Put them in the wrong settings, and you could ruin expensive towels. For instance, would you knowingly damage bamboo or Egyptian cotton towels? Of course not.

It’s down to knowing the material making up your towels, what water temperature to use, and what agitation speed to use. Grab a coffee and pull up a comfortable chair because we’re going to learn about towels and what settings to use when washing them.

Related: What Temperature is Best to Dry Towels?

I Had No Idea There Were 14 Types Of Towels. What Are They And What Are They For?

Shot shows a young, black fitness enthusiast using her phone while exercising at home on an exercise bike.

I must confess that I only recognize bath towels and kitchen towels, myself. I have, however, seen finger towels in fancy restaurants, as well as tea towels. The types of towels include:

    • bath towels

    • bath sheets

    • washcloths

    • hand towels

    • gym towels

    • kitchen towels

    • beach towels

    • fingertip towels

    • hair and face towels

    • foot towels

    • spa towels

    • tea towels

    • pet towels

    • golf towels

You Mentioned Bamboo Towels. I Only Have Terrycloth Towels, Myself. Of What Materials Are Towels Made?

The young child resting on a knitted blanket while wearing a white bamboo towel with ears.

You might be surprised at the quite exotic-sounding fibers of which towels are made. Did you know, for example, that those soft, velvety bath and hand towel sets are made from 100 percent Turkish and Egyptian cotton? I have cleaning cloths made of microfiber, and I love them.

On the whole, though, towels are made of cotton, bamboo, linen, and ramie. Everybody is familiar with cotton towels, so let’s examine other types of towel textiles.

Can Towels Really Be Made From Bamboo?

They sure can. I have two soft, hypoallergenic bamboo pillows, and I wouldn’t part with them. So bamboo towels can be soft and velvety, too. They’re sustainable, hold more water than cotton, and wick moisture away from the body better. 

Isn’t Linen A Little Expensive To Be Made Into Towels?

Linen towels are made from flax, also sustainable, and yes, they are more expensive. Flax absorbs more water than cotton, but it evaporates quickly. Flax or linen towels age well, which means you don’t have to replace them like you do cotton towels. Linen is lightweight, too, which makes for a lighter suitcase when traveling.

I’ve Never Heard Of Ramie. What Is It?

Close-up of Korean Hansan Ramie fabric.

An Eastern Asian fiber, ramie is easily sustainable and can be harvested up to six times per year. Durable and soft, ramie doesn’t wrinkle and looks and feels silky smooth. How great is it that this pretty material soaks up lots of water and still keeps its shape?

Now You’re Going To Tell Me That Hemp Makes More Than Just Hemp Oil?

Yes, I am. I’m a huge believer in the many uses of hemp and other natural things like herbs and food as medicine. Hemp is a sustainable plant, tough, durable, and more absorbent than cotton. Hemp fibers are large, which lend themselves well to holding dyes and absorbing moisture.

Since hemp fibers are so rough, though, they’re often mixed with cotton fibers to make the textile for towels. Note that this mixture will shrink in the wash the first time.

Wood Fibers Are Also Sustainable, So What Can You Tell Me About Wood Fiber Towels?

The cellulose fibers from the wood are processed in a manner called the lyocell process. This produces a soft, smooth, anti-wrinkle textile that is comfortable and very absorbent. The textile is often mixed with cotton to give the towel a softer feel. Wood fiber towels alone are very expensive, so the mixture with cotton mitigates that somewhat.

I Get It. So, What Type Of Towel Is Made Of What Textile?

Flower-adorned towels roll.

You know instantly which towels in the bath department are made of cotton due to the nubby finish. Most velvet is made from cotton (the silk and satin velvet used for clothing is rare and expensive, and you wouldn’t make that into towels.) For other types of textiles, you’d have to look at the tag. 

Retailers make a big deal out of bamboo fabrics. If it’s eco-friendly, they’re all over that, making sure you feel guilty enough about the Earth to buy it. Add to that premise these eco-friendly and/or sustainable fibers: hemp, linen, microfiber, and expensive Egyptian cotton.

The fabric is woven into towels of all types, even pet towels and golf towels. The expensive textiles go into bath towels, bath sheets, and hand towel sets sold online and in upscale shoppes as gift sets for holidays and birthdays.

Now I’m Afraid To Wash My Towels. On What Settings Should They Be Washed?

No, no, don’t be afraid to wash your towels. You need to know what types of towels should be laundered and from what they’re made. Now you know these things, so let’s talk about cleaning them.

Best Practices For Washing Bamboo Towels

Beautiful woman's hand on a soft-nappled, silky fabric.

Wash bamboo towels on the gentlest cycle and in warm water. Do not use bleach or fabric softener because they will damage the fibers of the textile. Use a mild laundry soap. It is recommended that you wash your new bamboo towels in hot water on gentle when you bring them home. This tightens the weave of the textile and prevents snagging.

How To Wash Linen Towels

You should always separate dark colors from lighter colors and whites. Wash your linen towels in warm water on the gentlest cycle with mild laundry soap. Do not use bleach or fabric softener. Do not use hot water due to the fact that the linen fibers will stretch out of shape and weaken the fibers.

I’d Be Afraid To Wash A Ramie Towel. How Is It Done?

It is highly recommended to hand wash ramie items due to the danger of the item stretching and damaging the fibers. Hand wash in warm water with gentle laundry soap. Do not bleach or use fabric softeners because they will damage the fibers. Lay ramie items flat to dry.

How Shall I Wash Hemp Towels?

Grey dish towels stacked in a stack on a white wooden table in a close-up background.

Because hemp is often mixed with cotton to make a softer textile, it’s safe to wash hemp towels in the machine like you would other types of textiles. Wash hemp towels in warm or hot water on a normal cycle. Do not, though, bleach your hemp towels, or the bleach will destroy the fibers.

Water Temperature And Speed At Which To Wash Wood Fiber Towels

Even though wood fibers are mixed with cotton to form a softer textile, it’s still a little delicate and should be washed accordingly. Use cold water and the gentlest cycle. Use a gentle or mild laundry soap and no bleach or fabric softener. 

What Setting Is Best For Washing Towels FAQs

Should I Wash Towels At 40 Or 60?

Washing towels at 40 degrees is the equivalent of warm water. Washing them at 60 degrees is the equivalent of hot water. This is best for killing germs and bacteria, but it could damage the fibers in the textile. Read the label on the towel to learn how the manufacturer recommends washing them.

How Do You Wash Brand New Towels In The Washing Machine?

Cropped image of a lady hand-removing a white, clean towel from a modern washing machine.

Bath towels should be “broken in” just like new jeans. When they’re broken in, they are at their peak softness and absorbency. Wash brand-new towels in warm water.

Hot water will damage the fibers in the textile. Here’s the thing, though: do not use laundry soap. In the first wash, use one cup of distilled white vinegar. In the second wash, do not use detergent. Use one-half cup of baking soda. Toss them in the dryer, but do not use dryer sheets.

Can I Launder Towels At Home Like Hotels Do?

Absolutely. The secret is not to use fabric softeners or bleach (unless the towels are badly stained.) Hotels know that fabric softeners leave a film on fabrics that don’t wash out in the rinse cycle. They use baking soda to strip away any film left on the fabrics. That and white vinegar leave towels clean, soft and smelling nice.

How Often Should I Wash My Towels?

Towels should be washed every three to four days. The buildup of germs and bacteria is bad enough, but if you’ve been ill, then you don’t want all that nastiness back on your body.

When Should I Throw Away My Towels?

Experts tell us to toss our towels every two years. By then, the softness and absorbency are a thing of the past.

Instead Of Tossing Them, Can I Recycle My Old Towels?

Sure, you can. Use them to wash the car, wash the dog, use them as cleaning cloths, and dish towels, use them to line the dog’s bed, and use them in the car to clean up messes the kids make. There are dozens of uses for old towels, but these are just a few.