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How to Keep White Towels White

How to make white towels white after white towels become dingy! Why white towels become dingy and gray or yellowed.

There is something so refreshing about a clean, white towel. But what should you do when white towels start to look a little less white? Whether they’re turning gray or yellow, here is how to keep white towels white. 

Tools for Whitening Towels:

Why do White Towels Become Dingy?

Wrong Amount of Detergent

If you regularly use too much detergent, your white towels will start to develop a dingy look due to excess detergent build-up. On the other hand, if you don’t use enough detergent, your towels won’t be cleaned properly and could turn gray over time because of dirt build-up. Make sure you read the instructions on your laundry detergent bottle and use the recommended amount when washing your white towels.

Washing in Hard Water

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. Not sure if you’re being affected by hard water stains? Here is a quick test:

  1. 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).
  2. Add a few drops of liquid soap, close the cap, then shake vigorously.
  3. Set your container down and check the water. Cloudy water with minimal bubbles is an indication of harder water. Clear water with lots of bubbles on top is an indication of softer water.

If you have hard water and you’re wondering how to keep white towels white, you might just need to use slightly more detergent in your wash. Check with your laundry detergent manufacturer for recommended usage.

Mixing Whites with Colors

If you tend to mix your white towels with colored towels or other items, the dye from your colored fabrics can subtly stain your white 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. 

Chlorine Bleach Overuse

Chlorine bleach (not to be confused with oxygen bleach, another great stain removal product) can be a great way to whiten most white fabrics. With that said, everything is great in moderation! Over-use of chlorine bleach can damage fabrics and actually cause yellowing. Natural fibers like cotton have a yellow core, so 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 you follow package instructions carefully!

How to Keep White Towels White

Now that you know the cause of your graying and yellowing towels, let’s talk about how to make them white again. Because we just talked about how over-use of chlorine bleach can actually cause yellowing, I recommend starting with a bleach-free fabric whitening solution.

What You’ll Need:

Step 1: Dissolve Baking Soda for a Pre-Soak

Dissolve 1 cup of baking soda for every 1 gallon of warm water used 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 into the water before soaking your towels. Add only as much detergent as you would use in a normal wash cycle, then soak for 1-2 hours.

Step 2: Launder with Vinegar

Launder the towels in the washing machine, as you normally would, but add a 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle. Just 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. 

Step 3: Dry in the Sun

If you really want those towels to be white, 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 leave a coating on the outside of towels and minimize their ability to absorb moisture over time. Try using wool dryer balls instead.

Nancy Cattelona

Friday 1st of July 2022

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!


Wednesday 6th of July 2022

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!


Monday 18th of October 2021

Silly question, but do you rinse after soaking or just go straight to the washer?

Elizabeth Dunne

Tuesday 30th of November 2021

@Kait, Do you mean you soak them and then throw them straight in the dryer, without washing them in the washer?


Friday 29th of October 2021

I toss mine straight into the dryer!


Tuesday 9th of February 2021

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?


Tuesday 24th of May 2022

@Kait, you can stop your machine for as long as you want your clothes to soak..


Sunday 4th of July 2021

Vinegar will help! But soaking is really going to get you the best results.


Friday 25th of September 2020

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”.


Tuesday 24th of November 2020

You can always add it to the basin as it fills with water!


Monday 31st of August 2020

My white towels have colorful stripes on the sides. Should I wash the same way?


Tuesday 24th of November 2020

The colors should not be negatively affected by the products I listed :)