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10 Frustrating Common Towel Problems and DIY Solutions


Towels are among the essential items for any bathroom, kitchen, sauna, gym, or poolside setting. Today, towels are available in a vast range of colors and sizes to suit various tastes and interior schemes. Care must be taken when washing towels for maximum freshness, absorbent quality, and lifespan.

Sometimes, the best way to wash towels is not as easy to figure out as one would think. Across the Internet, people often ask questions about how to clean bath towels, or how to wash towels, and even how to get smell out of towels. For the following list of towel problems, we offer a number of remedies and methods for washing bath towels.

1. Towel Odor

After a shower or swim, nothing puts a dampener on the act of face drying like a rancid towel. While the towel might be freshly clean, it could easily bear the smell of moldy water molecules from its last wash. People often ask about how to get mildew smell out of towels, and the solution is simple: run smelly towels through a spinning cycle with 1-2 cups of vinegar, then rewash with regular detergent.

Make sure that the towel is fully dry when you take it out of the dryer. If you don’t have a dryer, hang it high and fully spread so that it can dry as soon as naturally possible. When dampness lingers, you could have smelly towels on your hands.

2. Lingering Dampness

During the first few weeks of owning a towel, you might notice a relative lack of absorbency compared to older towels. Consequently, newer towels can feel unusually damp on the surface. This is typically due to the manufacturers using towel treatments to make the surfaces feel fluffy and fresh upon purchase. Certain towel dyes can also cause absorbency problems. Fortunately the problem goes away with repeated laundry cycles. To get past this issue sooner, wash and dry new towels up to five times before using.

3. Grayness

One of the most problematic outcomes of an unsatisfactory washing cycle is grayness, which especially shows on white fabrics. In most cases, grayness is caused when there's not enough detergent used in a cycle. Therefore, the most effective way to remedy this problem is to add more detergent to subsequent washing loads, and perhaps even use a detergent booster if the problem persists.


Low water temperatures during a washing cycle can also cause grayness. If the water is set to cold or warm, it might not have powerful enough agents for cutting through dirt and grime within a typical 24-40 minute wash. In many regards, it's the same with dirtied dishes and soiled hands — it takes a lot longer to rise off your lathered hands with cold water, whereas warm or hot water gets the job done much faster.

Thankfully, clothes can endure hotter temperatures for an overall faster and more thorough washing process. Likewise, the most surefire way to combat grayness via water temperature is by setting each load — especially those with lots of white garments — to the hottest water temperature possible.

The third leading cause of grayness is due to transference from one towel to another within a load. This could involve either the transfer of dirt soils or color. In the case of transferred soils, separate the heavily soiled garments from lighter ones and rewash both in separate loads. Preferably, both should be washed with hotter water and more detergent, but this is especially true for the more soiled load. Use color-safe bleach if it's safe for the fabrics in question.

In washes where colors transfer from one towel to others in the load, hold off on drying anything. Instead, separate the soiled towels from the others and rewash immediately — preferably with hot water, more detergent, and color-safe bleach. Wash whites and colored/darker towels in separate loads. Consider dividing loads into the following categories:

  • White and white-background prints, such as polka dots and checker boards
  • Pastels and light tints, such as pink, aqua, and mint
  • Bright and medium colors, such as red, green, orange, and gray
  • Black, browns, and dark colors, such as burgundy, navy blue, and olive green

4. Unevenness

Unevenness, where certain parts of the fabric appear clean and others are noticeably soiled, can also occur with bath towels and other washables during a cleaning cycle. Generally, an inadequate amount of detergent in a main load following the use of stain removers in a pre-wash causes unevenness. The remedy for unevenness involves a few steps:

  • Saturate the towel or garment entirely with pre-wash stain remover
  • Alternately, try soaking the item in a highly concentrated mix of water and detergent
  • With extra detergent, run the item through the spin machine at the hottest setting allowable for the fabric in question

If you evenly saturate stained towels and garments during a pre-wash, you can avoid unevenness. This ensures that every square inch is cleansed equally throughout the washing cycle.

5. Yellowing

One of the most annoying problems that can develop over the course of washings is the buildup of yellowish soil along a towel or garment. Yellowing is usually caused by one of two problems: an inadequate dose of detergent, or insufficiently low water temperatures. In order to remedy the latter cause, simply raise the water temperature in all future spins. If the yellowing seems to have resulted from frugal uses of detergent, up the dosage in future cycles and also consider adding color-safe bleach or a detergent booster.

Yellowing can also result when towels and garments are insufficiently washed. When pieces are assumed to be too delicate for a normal spinning cycle, some people opt to hand wash such items, or place them on a delicate cycle with less detergent, which is often the case with light synthetic fabrics. Consequently, such garments are often under-washed, causing the yellowish color.


The trick is to wash lighter fabrics with the same intensity as other garments, but with an added measure of safety. Place such items in hot spinning cycles with regular detergent, but choose a temperature setting that will cool the water by the second spin. For discolored light fabrics that cannot be bleached, soak them in a detergent booster or enzyme solution before running them through a spinning cycle.

Sodium hypochlorite bleach should never be applied to items made of silk, wool, or spandex — this is a surefire recipe for yellow discoloration.

6. Blue Stains

Did you ever notice how pretty most brands of detergent and fabric softener look as the contents pour from a container? That's the color of a clear sky and ocean: the color blue. Aside from the refreshing look of the sky-blue color, one might wonder why it's needed in detergent. The purpose of blue detergent dyes is to counteract yellowing. The trouble is that sometimes these dyes fail to dissolve and disperse properly and leave you with stained fabrics.

Fortunately, such stains are not permanent. If the blue dye of detergent marks a towel or garment, soak the item for one hour in a plastic container with one cup of white vinegar and one quart of water. If the dye of blue fabric softener marks an item, rub the spots in question with bar soap and rinse.

In future washing cycles, instead of pouring detergents on top of garments as the water starts, add detergents and fabric softeners to the water in advance of each load. When detergents are mixed with water in advance, the dilution renders blue dyes fabric-safe.

7. Rust Stains

When brown water comes out of the kitchen sink faucet, there's something wrong with the water supply. Whether you flush your toilet or turn on the shower and notice brown water, there’s a problem. The same is true for your washing machine. The brown is caused when iron and manganese corrupts a water supply, which renders the water unsuitable for drinking, cooking, bathing, or washing fabrics.


If a batch of towels or other garments become discolored from a rusty spinning cycle, wait for the rust to clear your water system and rewash the load with a fabric-safe rust remover. This might need to be done twice in order to fully remove the brownness.

Though it might seem counterintuitive, sodium hypochlorite bleach is neither a safe or effective remedy for rust stains on fabrics — it can actually make such stains worse. Instead, use a water softener during the wash and rinse cycles. If the problem stems from your water supply, have your system fixed with an iron filter. If it's an issue with rusty piping, allow water to run for several minutes. If the rust clears, proceed to wash clothes as normal. Now and then, the water heater should be drained to prevent the accumulation of rusty elements.

8. Soil Saturation

Sometimes laundry comes out of the dryer smelling fresh, but when you hold the towels and garments under a bright light, they don't look particularly clean. In fact, they might feel like a freshly dried version of the soiled items you put into the washing machine 90 minutes earlier. In most such cases, insufficient soil removal happens because of typical washing mistakes: too-small detergent doses and too-low washing temperatures.

In some cases of soil saturation, there's a third cause: overloaded washing cycles. This is common among people who don't own personal washer/dryer combos and instead pay by the load, either at a laundromat or in the washing facility of an apartment complex. It's understandable why people try to get the most from their quarters at these machines, but the money you save crunching loads is ultimately lost as soiling takes its toll on your clothing and towels.

It's crucial to divide garments into sensibly sized loads — preferably sorting by lightness and darkness — so each load can be adequately spun at an appropriate water level. If you want to save money, do so during the drying cycle. Many public laundry facilities have dryers large enough for two wash loads.

9. Powder Residue

Every now and then, a freshly washed piece of fabric will bear evidence of the kind of detergent that was used in the spinning cycle. For towels and garments that have been washed with powder detergent, the proof is in the powdery residue that occasionally forms on such items. The richer the color, the more noticeable the problem.

When this happens, it's usually because the detergent failed to dissolve, which means that the water temperature used in the cycle wasn't hot enough to break down the powders. This is prone to happen when clothes are added to the machine first, and detergent is poured on top as the water stops. To prevent this, reverse the order of operation: detergent first, then water, then clothes.

There's also the possibility of powder grains fusing with the hardening minerals of water to form a residue during a spin cycle. This residue can spread throughout the water and leave random marks on various items. To remove this residue, soak the items in question in a plastic container with a solution composed of one cup vinegar and one gallon of lukewarm water.

In order to prevent residue streaks from forming in subsequent cycles, wash everything at the hottest fabric-safe temperature and keep loads proportional to machine size and water level. Alternately, consider switching to liquid detergent, or use water softeners with your preferred powder product.

10. Tears and Snags

Not all problems that arise throughout a laundry cycle are reversible. In some cases, the problem started before you put the item into the washing machine. Perhaps there was a tiny tear, snag, or worn spot that you hadn't noticed, and a new wash-and-dry cycle simply exacerbated the problem. With certain garments you might try salvaging measures such as patches or stitches, but with a bath towel you have to either demote it to rag status or toss it altogether.

While torn towels are pretty much a lost cause, there are preventative steps you can take to keep your favorite towels intact for many years to come. For starters, bleach should never be poured directly onto towels. Apply bleach in a laundry cycle through the detergent dispenser, or add it to the water before any towels or other garments are added to the machine.

Secondly, the washer should never be overloaded, as this subjects fabrics to surface friction as tightly packed towels and garments are rubbed together in the spinning cycle. Lastly, check your washables on a periodic basis for signs of any snags or open seams. The sooner you stop loose threads from spreading, the longer you'll enjoy your favorite towels and garments.

Minor Problems With Towels


Every now and then, the following problems emerge with towels that have been subjected to under-washing, over-washing, or lack of care:

    • Fading Color. Towels lose their brightness after a certain amount of washings, though the process can be forestalled with the addition of vinegar during the first spinning cycle.
    • Shedding. Newer towels have their share of loose fibers, but this usually subsides after the first few laundry cycles.
    • Roughness. Soiled and grey towels need more detergent, but regular towels should be washed with normal detergent doses, otherwise they could be rendered rough on the surface.
    • Lack of Bounce. When towels lose their fluffiness, it's often due to too much scrunching. Therefore, towels should be shook out between washing and drying cycles, and always neatly folded or placed on racks once dry.

Towel Supercenter

If you're looking for new towels for your bathroom, Towel Supercenter offers a wide selections of colors and sizes. With colors ranging from Aqua Blue and Hunter Green to Hot Pink and Charcoal Grey, our bleach-safe towels come in more than 20 different sizes. All orders placed before 3pm are shipped the same day, so check out our site today to view our towels and place your order.

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