How to Keep White Towels White
There is something so refreshing about a clean, white towel. But what should you do when white towels look a little less white? Over time, towels can become yellowed, dingy, and stained, which is both frustrating and unsightly.
Fortunately, with the proper washing techniques, you can keep your towels fresh, bright, and fluffy. Keep reading to learn about washing techniques to use, avoid, and stain removal tips for how to keep white towels white.
Tools for Whitening Towels:
Why do White Towels Become Dingy?
Before we talk about how to wash and maintain your white towels properly, it’s important first to understand how your white towels may have become dingy in the first place. Here are some of the most common reasons that white towels become dingy.
Wrong Amount of Detergent
If you regularly use too much detergent, your white towels will develop a dirty look due to excess detergent buildup. On the other hand, if you don’t use enough detergent, your towels won’t be adequately cleaned and could turn gray over time because of dirt buildup. Read the instructions on your laundry detergent bottle and use the recommended amount when washing your white towels.
Washing in Hard Water
Not sure if you’re being affected by hard water stains? Hard water is higher in minerals like calcium and magnesium. Over time, these minerals can take a toll on your laundry, leaving white fabrics looking gray, yellow, and stiff.
Test to See if You Have Hard Water
- Fill a clear, lidded container ⅔ of the way full with water from your tap (a glass water bottle or mason jar is perfect for this).
- Add a few drops of liquid soap, close the cap, then shake vigorously.
- Set your container down and check the water. Cloudy water with minimal bubbles is an indication of hard water. Clear water with lots of bubbles on top indicates softer water.
If you have hard water and you’re wondering how to keep white towels white, you might need to use slightly more detergent in your wash. Check with your laundry detergent manufacturer for recommended usage.
Mixing Whites with Colors
If you mix your white towels with colored towels or other items, the dye from your colored fabrics can subtly stain your towels. This is especially true if you like to wash your white towels with colors in a hot cycle!
If you choose to mix whites and colors, make sure you have already washed the colored items more than once (to remove most of the excess dye), and always opt for a cold cycle.
Fabric softener leaves a thin, chemical coating on the outside of fabrics, eliminating static and making them feel soft to the touch. The problem is, that thin chemical coating can build up over time and trap body oils (or other oils) in fabrics. This can take towels from white to dingy in no time.
Another reason to avoid using fabric softener on towels is how it affects their absorbency. The chemical coating left by the fabric softener minimizes that towel’s ability to absorb water (its primary purpose!). With all this in mind, you are best off replacing fabric softener with distilled white vinegar when washing your towels.
Chlorine Bleach Overuse
Chlorine bleach (not to be confused with oxygen bleach, another excellent stain removal product) can be a great way to whiten most white fabrics. Over-use of chlorine bleach can damage towels and cause yellowing. With that said, everything is great in moderation!
Natural fibers like cotton have a yellow core, and excessive bleaching will expose that core fiber material. The same goes for synthetic fibers made from yellow synthetic polymers. If you choose to use chlorine bleach, make sure to follow package instructions carefully!
How to Keep White Towels White
What You’ll Need:
Now that you know the cause of your graying and yellowing towels, let’s discuss how to make them white again. Because we just talked about how the overuse of chlorine bleach can cause yellowing, I recommend starting with a bleach-free fabric whitening solution.
- Dissolve Baking Soda for a Pre-Soak
Dissolve 1 cup of baking soda for every 1 gallon of warm water in a bathtub or other large basin. Pre-soak your towels in the tub for 1-8 hours, depending on their level of dinginess.
If you want extra whitening power, mix laundry detergent and/or oxygen bleach into the water before soaking your towels. Add as much detergent as you would use in a normal wash cycle, then soak for 1-2 hours.
- Launder with Vinegar
Launder the towels in the washing machine, as you usually would, but add a 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle. Put the vinegar in the fabric softener slot when you load your laundry detergent.
The traditional method for cleaning towels is to use warm water, but with today’s advances in laundry detergent formulas, your towels can get just as clean on a cold water setting. Cool water temperatures will also prevent shrinkage at the seams and help keep colors true.
- Dry in the Sun
If you want those towels to be white, line-dry them outside in the sun. The sun is like a natural bleaching solution for towels and other white fabrics (this technique also works well on stained baby onesies and yellow armpit stains).
Alternatively, you can dry your towel in the dryer. If you go this route, avoid dryer sheets. Dryer sheets (like liquid fabric softeners) leave a chemical coating on the outside of towels, minimizing their ability to absorb moisture over time. Try using wool dryer balls instead.
How to Remove Stains from White Towels
If you’re facing concentrated stains on your towels, you will want to pre-treat the stain before machine washing. Treat stains as soon as they occur for best results, then air dry the towel. Heat drying can set a stain, so it’s important to air dry and confirm that the stain has lifted before heat drying a stained towel.
Here are a few tricks for removing common stains from white towels.
How to Remove Makeup Stains from White Towels
Removing makeup stains from white towels can be tricky because makeup often contains oils and pigments that can penetrate the fabric and leave stubborn marks. However, there are several techniques you can try to eliminate these stains and restore your towels to their original brightness.
- LAUNDRY DETERGENT: Pre-treat with liquid laundry detergent. Rub the detergent into the stain and let it sit for 15-30 minutes before washing.
- WHITE VINEGAR: Soak the towel in water and distilled white vinegar for an hour or so, then wash regularly.
- SHAVING CREAM: It sounds unusual, but it works incredibly well. If you or your partner happen to have shaving cream on hand, apply some directly to the stain and work it in with your fingers. Rinse and repeat until the stain is completely gone, then wash the towel as you usually would.
How to Remove Blood Stains from White Towels
Hydrogen peroxide is the best way to remove blood stains from white towels (and nearly every other type of fabric). Spray or dab hydrogen peroxide directly onto the blood stain and allow the fizzing reaction to occur.
Rinse in cold water and repeat as necessary until the stain has lifted. Wash regularly.
How to Remove Rust Stains from White Towels
If you’re facing a rust stain on your white towel, treat it with lemon juice and salt. Lemon juice and salt effectively remove rust stains due to their chemical properties. Rust is a form of iron oxide, and when it comes into contact with lemon juice and salt, a chemical reaction occurs that helps break down the rust particles.
Lemon juice is acidic, containing citric acid that can help dissolve the rust, while salt acts as a mild abrasive, helping to loosen the particles and scrub them away. When combined, lemon juice and salt create a powerful rust-removing solution that can be particularly effective for treating minor rust stains on towels or other fabrics.
Vinegar can be a valuable tool in maintaining the appearance and quality of white towels. This is because vinegar is acidic, which can help to dissolve mineral buildup and remove dirt and stains from the fibers of the towels. When added to the wash cycle, vinegar can help to remove odors, soften the fabric, and brighten the whites.
Additionally, vinegar can help to balance the pH of the water in your washing machine, improving the effectiveness of your laundry detergent. To use vinegar effectively, add one cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine, or use it to pre-soak the towels for several hours before washing them.
Both bleach and vinegar can effectively maintain the brightness and cleanliness of white towels, but they have different properties and uses.
Bleach is a powerful whitening agent that can help to remove tough stains and restore the whiteness of your towels. It breaks down and eliminates pigments and proteins that can cause discoloration and yellowing. However, bleach can be harsh on fabrics, and using too much or too frequently can weaken the fibers and cause them to break down over time. Additionally, bleach should not be used on colored towels or towels with delicate trims or embellishments.
Vinegar, on the other hand, is a gentler and more natural alternative to bleach that can be used to maintain the brightness and softness of white towels. Vinegar removes mineral buildup and neutralizes odors, which can help brighten whites and prevent dinginess. Additionally, vinegar is safe for nearly all types of fabrics, including colored towels, and can be useful in softening fabrics and reducing static cling.
Yes, hydrogen peroxide can be an effective whitening agent for white towels. Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent that breaks down the chemical bonds that cause stains and discoloration. When applied to white towels, hydrogen peroxide can help to remove yellowing, dinginess, and stains, restoring the towels to their original brightness.
To use hydrogen peroxide as a whitening agent, mix it with water and soak the towels in the solution for several hours before washing them as usual.
Alternatively, you can add hydrogen peroxide to the wash cycle along with your regular detergent to boost the whitening power of your laundry routine.
Kait is the founder and editor of A Clean Bee. She is passionate about discovering natural, eco-friendly, and sustainable ways to clean and organize her home. Kait has been featured in online publications such as NBC News, Oprah Magazine, BuzzFeed and PopSugar for her expertise in natural cleaning techniques. She enjoys spending her off-time outside in her garden with her husband and their two small boys.
I was literally JUST *thinking of* looking for ways about how to make my white towels whiter and this popped up on pinterest! So helpful!
<3 Thanks Megan <3 I always appreciate your support!
It worked for me:) I’ve been wanting/needing to do this for a long time and now that we’re locked inside for days and days due to the coronavirus, I’l finally getting around to projects like this. Now, onto the next batch of towels…
Awesome, thanks for sharing Chrissy! I hope you’re staying healthy as well 🙂
cream color towels turned grey – how to return to cream?
Same process as described for white towels!
Can I soak in the washing machine?
Definitely! That’s the ideal place to soak if you have a top loader 🙂
My white towels have colorful stripes on the sides. Should I wash the same way?
The colors should not be negatively affected by the products I listed 🙂
How/where do you add the vinegar if I don’t have a fabric softener slot? It’s a top loader and only has a slot for “liquid chlorine bleach”.
You can always add it to the basin as it fills with water!
I have a front loading washer. It too difficult for me to do the soak in the bathtub a=(and wringing out).
Can I just do Step 2 with the vinegar and get good results?
Vinegar will help! But soaking is really going to get you the best results.
@Kait, you can stop your machine for as long as you want your clothes to soak..
I wish that was true! Many front load washers don’t have a soak cycle or even the ability to pause a cycle to “soak” wet laundry in the drum. In those cases a bucket or other basin is the only way to go.
Silly question, but do you rinse after soaking or just go straight to the washer?
I toss mine straight into the dryer!
Do you mean you soak them and then throw them straight in the dryer, without washing them in the washer?
I usually run them through a wash cycle after soaking, then dry 🙂
A cup of baking soda and a gallon of water doesn’t sound like enough liquid to soak more than a few towels. Is this the correct amount for any ‘pile’ of towels? I am anxious to try this method. Thanks!
You can always adjust measurements to suit your needs or volume of towels! Just increase the liquid maintaining similar proportions (with that said, measurements don’t have to be 100% perfect to still be effective). Let me know how it goes!