Can You Use Fabric Softener On Towels? A Detailed Guide

Using fabric softener on towels is a common question for many laundry doers. With their fluffy texture and thirst for absorbing water, towels seem like they could benefit from being softened. However, conventional fabric softeners may not be the best match for towels.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: It’s generally not recommended to use liquid fabric softener on towels. The waxy coating left behind can affect their absorbency over time.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using fabric softeners on towels. We’ll discuss how liquid softeners work, their impact on towel absorbency, and alternative softening options that are towel-friendly.

How Do Liquid Fabric Softeners Work?

Liquid fabric softeners are commonly used in laundry to make clothes, sheets, and towels feel softer and more comfortable against the skin. But how do they actually work their magic? Let’s take a closer look.

Leaves a lubricating coating

One of the key ways that liquid fabric softeners work is by leaving a lubricating coating on the fibers of the fabric. This coating helps to reduce friction between the fibers, making the fabric feel smoother and softer to the touch.

It also helps to prevent static cling, which can be especially annoying when it comes to towels.

Contains cationic surfactants

Liquid fabric softeners contain cationic surfactants, which are positively charged molecules. These molecules are attracted to the negatively charged fibers in the fabric, causing them to adhere to the fabric’s surface. This creates a layer of softness and helps to reduce stiffness in the fabric.

Can build up over time

While liquid fabric softeners can work wonders in making your towels feel luxurious, it’s important to be aware that they can build up over time. This buildup can lead to a decrease in absorbency, which is not ideal for towels that are meant to dry you off effectively.

To prevent this buildup, it’s recommended to use fabric softeners sparingly or consider alternative options such as dryer balls or vinegar rinses.

Why Fabric Softener Can Reduce Towel Absorbency

Towels are designed to absorb water efficiently, making them an essential item for drying off after a shower or bath. However, using fabric softener on towels can actually reduce their absorbency.

Towels are designed to absorb water

Towels are made from materials like cotton, bamboo, or microfiber, all of which have absorbent properties. The fibers in these materials are designed to trap moisture and hold it within their structure.

This is why towels feel soft and fluffy when they are dry, yet can quickly soak up water when needed.

Coating blocks water absorption

When fabric softener is used on towels, it leaves a thin coating on the fibers. This coating can inhibit the towel’s ability to absorb water effectively. The chemicals in fabric softener can create a barrier between the towel and the water, preventing the absorption process from occurring as it should.

As a result, the towel may feel less absorbent and take longer to dry after use.

Affects terry cloth loops

Towels with a terry cloth texture, which are popular for their softness and absorbency, can be particularly affected by fabric softener. The loops in terry cloth towels are what give them their excellent water absorption capabilities.

However, when fabric softener is used, these loops can become coated and compressed, reducing their ability to trap and hold water. This can lead to a less effective drying experience and leave the user feeling damp.

It is important to note that not all towels will be equally affected by fabric softener. Some towels may show more significant changes in absorbency than others, depending on the materials used and the frequency of fabric softener use.

If you want to maintain the maximum absorbency of your towels, it is recommended to avoid using fabric softener. Instead, opt for alternatives such as vinegar or baking soda, which can help soften the towels without compromising their absorbent qualities.

Additionally, washing towels in hot water and avoiding overloading the washing machine can also help preserve their absorbency.

For more information on towel care and maintenance, you can visit websites like The Spruce or Good Housekeeping.

When Is It Okay to Use Fabric Softener on Towels?

Fabric softeners are commonly used to make clothes feel soft, reduce static, and add a pleasant scent. However, when it comes to towels, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. While fabric softeners can provide some benefits to towels, it is important to use them sparingly and with caution.

Here are some guidelines to help you determine when it is okay to use fabric softener on towels.

Rare or light use won’t hurt

Using fabric softener on towels occasionally or in small amounts is generally safe. If you want to add a touch of softness and fragrance to your towels, go ahead and use fabric softener, but make sure you do so infrequently.

Overusing fabric softener can reduce the absorbency of towels and leave behind a residue that can make them less effective in drying.

Stick to mild or clear softeners

When choosing a fabric softener for your towels, opt for mild or clear formulations. Avoid using fabric softeners that contain dyes, perfumes, or harsh chemicals, as these can leave a film on the towels and make them less absorbent.

Look for fabric softeners that are specifically designed for sensitive skin or hypoallergenic options.

Use 1/4 to 1/2 of recommended amount

To minimize any potential negative effects of fabric softener on towels, use only a fraction of the recommended amount. Typically, a small capful or about 1/4 to 1/2 of the suggested dose is sufficient. Using too much fabric softener can leave a residue on the towels and reduce their absorbency.

Skip if towels seem less absorbent

If you notice that your towels are becoming less absorbent or are not drying as well as they used to, it may be time to skip the fabric softener altogether. Over time, fabric softener can build up on towels, making them less effective in absorbing moisture.

Instead, opt for drying your towels without fabric softener or using alternative methods, such as vinegar or baking soda, to soften and freshen them.

Remember, it is important to take care of your towels to ensure their longevity and functionality. While fabric softener can provide some benefits, using it sparingly and following these guidelines will help you maintain absorbent and soft towels for years to come.

Fabric Softener Alternatives for Towels

While fabric softeners may leave your clothes feeling soft and smelling fresh, they may not be the best option for your towels. Fabric softeners can leave a residue on towels, reducing their absorbency and making them less effective at drying.

Fortunately, there are several alternatives that can help keep your towels soft and fluffy without the use of fabric softeners.

Liquid softener alternatives (vinegar, hair conditioner)

If you’re looking for a liquid softener alternative, vinegar and hair conditioner can be great options. Vinegar, specifically white vinegar, can help soften towels without leaving behind any residue. Simply add half a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing your towels.

Not only will this help keep your towels soft, but it can also remove any odors and brighten the colors.

Hair conditioner is another surprising alternative to fabric softener. Just like it makes your hair smooth and silky, it can do the same for your towels. Use a small amount of hair conditioner in the rinse cycle to help soften the fibers.

However, make sure to choose a conditioner that is free of silicones and harsh chemicals, as these can leave a film on your towels.

Dryer balls and dryer sheets

Dryer balls are a popular alternative to fabric softeners and dryer sheets. These small, rubber or wool balls work by agitating the towels in the dryer, which helps to soften them and reduce static. They also help to improve airflow, which can lead to faster drying times.

Simply toss a few dryer balls into the dryer with your towels, and you’ll notice a difference in their softness.

Another option is to use dryer sheets specifically designed for towels. These sheets are formulated to reduce static and soften the fabric without leaving behind any residue. They are also great for removing lint and pet hair from your towels.

Just be sure to use them sparingly, as using too many can leave a waxy buildup on your towels.

Liquid-free detergents with softeners

If you prefer to skip the softener altogether, consider using a liquid detergent that contains built-in fabric softeners. These detergents are specifically formulated to clean and soften fabrics in one step, saving you time and money.

Look for detergents that are labeled as “fabric softener included” or “softens and freshens.”

Natural softening hacks (baking soda, epsom salts)

If you’re looking for natural ways to soften your towels, baking soda and Epsom salts can be effective options. Adding half a cup of baking soda to your wash cycle can help to break down any residue and leave your towels feeling softer.

Likewise, adding half a cup of Epsom salts can help to soften the water, making your towels fluffier and more absorbent.

It’s important to note that while these alternatives can help to soften your towels, they may not provide the same level of scent that fabric softeners do. If you miss the fresh scent, consider adding a few drops of essential oils to your dryer balls or using scented dryer sheets specifically designed for towels.

Remember, everyone’s preferences and needs are different, so feel free to experiment with different alternatives to find the one that works best for you. Your towels will thank you!

Caring for Towels Without Fabric Softener

Towels are an essential part of our daily lives, used for various purposes such as drying off after a shower or wrapping ourselves in warmth. However, many people wonder whether they can use fabric softener on towels to keep them soft and fluffy.

While fabric softener can indeed make towels feel softer, it may not be the best choice for maintaining their absorbency and durability. Here’s a detailed guide on how to care for your towels without using fabric softener:

Wash in hot water

One of the best ways to keep your towels clean and fresh is by washing them in hot water. Hot water helps to remove dirt, oils, and bacteria more effectively than cold water, ensuring that your towels remain hygienic.

Additionally, the heat from hot water can help to restore the fluffiness of your towels, making them feel soft and cozy.

Don’t overload washer/dryer

When it comes to washing and drying towels, it’s important not to overload your washer or dryer. Overloading can prevent the towels from getting properly cleaned and dried, leading to a decrease in their absorbency and overall quality.

Make sure to leave enough space for the towels to move around freely during the wash and dry cycles.

Fluff towels periodically

To maintain the softness and fluffiness of your towels, it’s a good idea to fluff them periodically. After washing and drying, give your towels a gentle shake to loosen any fibers that may have become compacted.

You can also toss them in the dryer on a no-heat or low-heat setting for a few minutes to help fluff them up.

Replace when worn out

Even with proper care, towels eventually wear out over time. When you notice that your towels have become thin, threadbare, or less absorbent, it’s a sign that they need to be replaced. Investing in new towels will not only improve your drying experience but also ensure that you’re using towels that are hygienic and effective.

Caring for your towels without fabric softener is not only beneficial for their longevity but also for your overall laundry routine. By following these tips, you can maintain the quality and performance of your towels, ensuring that they remain soft, absorbent, and ready for use whenever you need them.


While liquid fabric softeners are commonly used in laundry, they may not be the best pairing for towels. The waxy coating can gradually reduce their absorbency over time. If you want to keep your towels ultra-fluffy and thirsty, it’s generally best to skip the liquid softener.

However, occasional light use likely won’t cause major issues. There are also plenty of fabric softening alternatives to try that are towel-friendly, like dryer balls, natural solutions, and liquid-free detergents.

With some care and the right products, you can keep your towels soft and absorbent for years.

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