Why are my towels stiff & hard after washing?

Written by lisa parris
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Why are my towels stiff & hard after washing?
With proper laundering, even old towels can be refreshed and restored. (Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Occasionally your soft, snuggly bath towels may become scratchy and stiff after laundering. A number of factors can cause the towels' formerly fluffy fibres to take on a coarse, abrasive texture: the use of certain laundry aids, washing in hard water or air drying the towels. In most cases, you can restore the texture of your towels by applying a few basic corrective measures.

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Fabric Softener

Commercial softeners work by coating the fibres of fabric, thus plumping the filaments and reducing static electricity. Clothing laundered with fabric softeners tends to be fluffy, lightly scented and less wrinkled. Over time, however, the chemicals in fabric softeners can build up, reducing the absorbency of items such as towels and washcloths and creating a rough, scratchy surface. To remove this residue from towels, sheets and other linens, wash the items as usual but add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the final rinse. The acid in the vinegar softens the fibres while stripping away any excess or unwanted chemicals. You may need to repeat this treatment a number of times to remove all the residue.

Hard Water

In certain parts of the country, the water from the tap has a naturally high mineral content. While these minerals cause no harm to people, they do create a number of housekeeping challenges such as water stains, toilet rings, dingy clothing and stiff fabrics. To soften hard wash water, pour 1 cup of washing soda, 1/2 cup borax and 2 quarts of water in a large container, stir the solution briskly until all of the dry ingredients are dissolved, then add 1 cup of the mixture to each load of laundry along with the normal amount of detergent. Note: Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, is not the same thing as baking soda, so make sure you use the correct powder.

Line Drying

Hanging the wash in the open air is a low-cost, environmentally friendly way to dry the laundry, but making the switch from the dryer to the clothesline may require a bit of fine-tuning. The tumbling action of the automatic dryer has a softening effect on towels and other fabrics; line-dried clothes can feel abrasive and harsh by comparison. To keep line-dried clothes from developing a coarse, unpleasant texture, give each item a brisk shake before pinning it on the line. Give linens such as towels and sheets an extra shake just before folding them and putting them away. If the towels are still too rough for your likening, run them through the dryer for 3 to 5 minutes after they've dried on the line.


Like all items that receive consistent use, towels and linens wear out over time. Repeated exposure to harsh detergents, hot water and scorching dryers can cause fabric fibres to lose their elasticity and bounce. Rather than replacing them as soon as they being to show signs of wear and tear, refresh ageing fabrics by washing them in warm water, rather than hot; adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle; and hanging items out to dry or drying them on medium heat.

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