Thread Number: 73366  /  Tag: Detergents and Additives
Hard Towels
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Post# 969047   11/20/2017 at 06:33 (366 days old) by Liberatordeluxe (Chelmsford, United Kingdom)        

How can I make towels soft and fluffy? My towels currently feel like sandpaper and feels like your stripping your skin off. I wash them at 60C with bio bleaching agent powder currently using Tesco and spin at 1200. I line dry where possible otherwise airer when heating or log burner on in Autumn and winter. Failing that should buy new ones and wash in a 100% soap based powder or liquid?

Post# 969054 , Reply# 1   11/20/2017 at 07:28 (366 days old) by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

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I love my towels to be scratchy, they dry me so much better.  But, my grandmother used to always use Downy (Lenore? in the UK) and her towels were always so soft they just smeared water on skin.  Line drying will always make them quite a bit scratchier than in a tumble dryer.

Post# 969056 , Reply# 2   11/20/2017 at 07:36 (365 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        
Natural Softener

White vinegar is a natural fabric softener and will leave your towels smelling fresh also--definitely not like vinegar. Use instead of chemical softeners in the same amount.

As stated, your towels are going to be a lot scratchier when line dried as opposed to machine drying.

Post# 969061 , Reply# 3   11/20/2017 at 08:15 (365 days old) by vacbear58 (Sutton In Ashfield & London UK)        
Line Drying

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Your problem is the line drying, I have the same problem a bit further north from you - I never use any form of softener either - there have been comments too that softener reduces the absorbancy of towels too.

So mine always go in the dryer, everything else I will always line dry if possible - I love sheets and bedding that have been dried on the line. Soar panels and a heat pump dryer (Beko) keep the costs down.


Post# 969070 , Reply# 4   11/20/2017 at 08:49 (365 days old) by marky_mark (Sitges, Barcelona)        

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Tumble drying them will probably have the greatest effect on making them softer.  You should find that they are much softer but still just as absorbent.  It's important not to over dry them, as that would leave them less soft.  You want the dryer to terminate leaving just the right tiny amount of moisture in the towels.


I do use vinegar for my towels in place of regular fabric conditioner.  Tests have shown that vinegar doesn't soften towels nearly as well as fabric conditioner, but nor does it reduce absorbency.  Basically the more a fabric conditioner softens, the more it reduces absorbency.  You have to decide which is more important to you and what balance you're prepared to accept.


You might find that a gentle, cool wash with mild liquid detergent will leave them softer, but it obviously won't clean them as well.  I certainly would prefer clean towels over soft towels in this case!  You might be able to still wash them at 60 °C for hygiene but on a gentler/shorter cycle with a higher water level and/or less agitation.


If you live in a hard water area and don't have a water softener, then it's important to add enough detergent to soften the water but without overdosing.  Adding STPP (phosphate) may help -- it's readily available online.

Post# 969071 , Reply# 5   11/20/2017 at 08:58 (365 days old) by lakewebsterkid (Dayton, Ohio)        
Soft towels

A liquid detergent will make your towels softer because of the lack of Zeolites. I just stripped my towels using 4T of STPP yesterday and they feel great! I always use an extra rinse but residues still remain.

Post# 969072 , Reply# 6   11/20/2017 at 09:13 (365 days old) by vacerator (Macomb, Michigan)        

an extra rinse helps.

Post# 969087 , Reply# 7   11/20/2017 at 11:51 (365 days old) by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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always found when switching to cold rinses, line dried items did come out stiffer compared to when we used warm rinses....Mom was not big on using a softener...

so in exchange, toss the load in the dryer for about 10/15 minutes, then hang out to dry....

also, if possible, hang your clothes in the sunshine rather than a shaded area...

Post# 969114 , Reply# 8   11/20/2017 at 14:35 (365 days old) by hoovermatic (UK)        

Despite the fact that I have a tumble dryer I always line dry my towels and in the winter I have a spare room in which I can dry laundry on an airer. My towels are also a bit on the rough side when line dried unless it is windy and when dried indoors can be like sandpaper. I always bung them in the drier for 20 mins once they have dried and I have a couple of Dryer Balls (not sure what effect they really have) but they come out a LOT softer after that. I don't like my towels too soft so this method suits me. I don't know if you have a drier but if you do, try it. I do this for almost all of my laundry in winter.

Post# 969117 , Reply# 9   11/20/2017 at 15:01 (365 days old) by lotsosudz (Sacramento, CA)        
Air Tumble

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When i line dry items, after drying, toss them in the dryer for 15 minutes on air only. towels retain the line smell, but are much softer to the touch. You also don't use the 220/240.

Post# 969122 , Reply# 10   11/20/2017 at 15:59 (365 days old) by triumphdolomite (Staffs(UK))        
Extra Rinse

I also find that extra rinsing helps. If I wash towels in the twin tub and do four or five deep rinses in the sink they are noticeably softer after line drying than if they have been in the Miele, even with water plus selected to give three rinses with a spin between each.

Post# 969148 , Reply# 11   11/20/2017 at 19:40 (365 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
It's the line dryng luv!

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Back when bath linen was made from woven linen, cotton or hemp, ironing smoothed things down> That and such fabrics are less likely to be scratchy after laundering.

Terry cloth is another matter and wants something more...

Try tumble drying just until damp, then hanging to air dry. That or as suggest do the reverse; line dry then pop into dryer to soften things up a bit.

Post# 969150 , Reply# 12   11/20/2017 at 19:46 (365 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
Fabric softeners and absorbency of textiles

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While the fabric softeners of old that were heavy on tallow and other fats/oils may have caused problems with absorbency; today's modern concoctions that are "fabric conditioners" seem to have solved that problem.

Like using a very small amount of Vernel, Caldrea or Method fabric rinses more for the scent than anything else. Makes drying off after a bath a bit more of a pleasure.

Shouldn't use pure soap only for washing terry cloth toweling. Well suppose one could if had tons of soft/clean and *HOT* water for the washes and the two, three or more rinses that must follow. Even then a steady practice of laundering such items in soap would likely mean they'll need to be "stripped" now and then to keep their absorbency. Culprit is same thing in fabric softeners of old; tallow, fats and oils in soap.

Similarly if one uses a wash leather and soap for bathing, those cloths might need a good strong wash now and then to get out any soap residue.

Post# 969178 , Reply# 13   11/21/2017 at 00:09 (365 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        
If You Travel A Lot

on business, you'll find that the hotel trade is still using some kind of fabric softener that makes their towels almost waterproof! You can try to dry yourself with them and they're so slick from softener that they absorb very little. I've found the Marriott and Hyatt hotels to be the worst with that, and the Hilton Garden Inns are much better about it. It's almost like they treat some of these with Scotchgard or something similar.

Post# 969206 , Reply# 14   11/21/2017 at 04:14 (365 days old) by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

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Ben, how hard is the water in your area ? At 60° and above hard water minerals begin to cristallize, this can lead to incrustation resulting in sandpaper terrycotton.
Limescale deposits are only one option leading to hard towels, if you live in a soft water area plain mechanical action causing a disarangement of the fibers during the washcycle can be the culprit too but that is usually way less severe.

So if a mineral build up is the cause some sources suggest to soak the towels over night in water with lots of vinegar then wash as usual.
Others say the problem is terminal and recommend new towels and then either increase the detergent load or use an additional water softener as a preventive meassure.

If the problem is not hard water related the use of a tumble dryer will help considerably. If you don`t have one you could shake them out before hang drying like there`s no tomorrow. This helps to get the terry cotton back in order.

Fabric softeners will only cure the symptoms but not the cause. When used at moderation today`s softeners won`t mess with absorbancy as badly as they did in the past. I found a quarter of the recommended dose is plenty enough for a full load of towels to make them soft but still absorbant, but that`s just my personal preference.

Post# 969208 , Reply# 15   11/21/2017 at 04:32 (365 days old) by Liberatordeluxe (Chelmsford, United Kingdom)        

Thanks all for the helpful tips. I don't have a dryer yet but will try the vinegar rinse and using a liquid detergent. Currently using Seventh Generation. My water is classed as very hard the same as London's water!

Post# 969252 , Reply# 16   11/21/2017 at 12:19 (364 days old) by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

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Launderess, what kind of FS are you referring to when you mention tallow, fats and oils in soap ? I could only imagine pre war technologies once used by the textile industry to make processes like spinning or weaving easier.

AFAIK FS for houshold use as we know it today was invented in the 1960s and has always been based on cationic surfactants, at least on this side of the pond. I thought maybe there is a missunderstanding because it might have been different in the USA.
In the beginning the cationic surfactants were derived from mineral oil but biodegradability was bad so those surfactants fell out of favor in the 1990s. Today tallow and palm oil are the most common raw materials to produce those surfactants.

Cationic surfactants have a water friendly head and an oil friendly tail just like any other surfactant (e.g. soap), the difference is the electrical charge of their heads.
After washing and rinsing clothes are negatively charged from the anionic sufactants found in any laundry detergent. The positively charged heads of FS attach to the negatively charged clothes so their oil loving tails now stick out "and away" from the fibers. Those oil loving surfactant`s tails act like a lubricant and give clothes a softer touch, reduce static charge and of course reduce absorbancy.
Correct me if I`m wrong or missing something but I still see no oils in soap when thinking of FS.

One thing I don`t understand entirely is why the cationic surfactants in FS form vesciles instead of the usual mycelles. Technical literature also mentions emulsions. I thought bad water solubility of ester quats and similar surfactants might be the reason but honestly I don`t know.

Post# 969299 , Reply# 17   11/21/2017 at 19:35 (364 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
" mention tallow, fats and oils in soap ....&

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Post# 969303 , Reply# 18   11/21/2017 at 19:48 (364 days old) by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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From the Wired link Launderess provided right above:


There are a few other quats in Downy, with easily pronounceable names like 1-methyl-1-tallowamidoethyl-2 -tallowimidazolinium methylsulfate.


"Easily pronounceable names." LOL

Post# 969345 , Reply# 19   11/22/2017 at 02:54 (364 days old) by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

mrboilwash's profile picture
Thanks for providing the scources of your wisdom, now we`re finally on the same page.
Confirms most of what I wrote, except that I had no idea that the fatty tails of those cationic surfactants are so "strong" (or is it the water loving heads so weak ?) that emulsifers have to be added.
I knew about bad water solubility but couldn`t imagine it was so bad.
Now I can finally understand when you simplify things to "it`s just fats and soap".

Post# 969383 , Reply# 20   11/22/2017 at 11:29 (363 days old) by Maytagbear (N.E. Ohio)        
Alternating washloads

of my bath towels get Downy, that way they are soft AND absorbing.

Try it, it works.


Post# 969625 , Reply# 21   11/24/2017 at 03:13 (362 days old) by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

mrboilwash's profile picture
Now that we can hopefully agree that Tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride and similar compounds (other ester quats) are a different beast than Tallow dissolved in Sodium tallowate (superfatted soap) I`d like to point out the disadvantages of the latter.

-Just fats dissolved in soap would probably be extremly irritant to the skin because the soap (or detergent) content would remain in clothes.
-If natural soap was used as a solvent think of the mess (soapscum) you`d get when using this FS in hard water.
-Just think of how clothes would smell when pure tallow gets rancid in clothes.

But again I get your point, after all unlike most other surfactants those quats used in FS show nearly no detergency and are indeed of a rather greasy nature.

How is it going with your towels Ben ? Have you been successful with the vinegar treatment ?

This post was last edited 11/24/2017 at 11:54
Post# 969626 , Reply# 22   11/24/2017 at 04:32 (362 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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I confess to being a bit perplexed by the usage in the industry of fabric softener and fabric conditioner.

As far as I can tell, the manufacturers use these terms interchangeably, and products advertised as "fabric conditioner" can be labeled "fabric softener" and vice versa.

Often those labeled "fabric conditioner" may be loaded up with more exotic fragrances, and if you don't want your laundry smelling like a cheap whorehouse, you might opt for a "free and clear" product which I invariably find is labeled (and advertised) as a softener.

So the nub of this problem is which will leave one's towels both soft and absorbant?

Well, depends. My take on this is that they all have long chain fatty acids in them, so they all have the capability of rendering fabrics less water absorbent. Makes little difference if the fatty acids come from cows, chickens, soybeans, or avocados.

Previous suggestions to tumble rather than line dry, or a combination thereof, will leave a softer towel the absorbency of which is not compromised. Vinegar doesn't seem, in my experience, to influence softness or the lack thereof much, but it does seem to cut down on residual sudsing in the final rinse.

Hard water can result in harsh results and STPP is probably the best water softener one can add to one's wash water. I have however seen statements here that STPP can impart harshness by adhering to fabric fibers. I would think this runs counter to the way STPP works, by complexing with hard water minerals so that they no longer form sticky precipitates with detergents and don't stick to fabrics and do get rinsed away in the final rinse(s). Of course if one uses too much of anything it can not get rinsed away and cause problems related to that situation. And perhaps STPP is reactive enough that if it doesn't find hard water minerals to latch onto, it might try to latch onto fabric fibers. Just speculation there, but if that is the case, one should be careful not to add more STTP than is necessary to soften the water and break mineral laden dirt from the fabric. In any case, I've found it helpful to monitor the sudsing during the rinse cycle. If the suds don't go away it can indicate too much detergent for the level of water hardness and fabric soiling, which in turn can result in harsher results. For a while I had to resort to adding little or no detergent (powder or liquid) to loads of towels to keep residual sudsing down. The final results were softer than before, and the towels (for bath) were basically clean from the hot wash water and multiple cold rinses used. I was able then to gradually add much more limited amounts of detergent to maintain those desirable results.

In other words, more is not necessarily better.

Post# 969636 , Reply# 23   11/24/2017 at 07:43 (361 days old) by mrboilwash (Munich,Germany)        

mrboilwash's profile picture
From what I gather the term Fabric Conditioner can mean a lot but is usually a step above Fabric Softener. This could be the addition of polymeres, silicones or even quats based on silicones.
The clear products are usually called conditioners too. Apparently they use unsaturated fatty acids (wich are fluid at room temperature) for manufacturing the cationic surfactants and different solvents. This results in a more transparent product which can penetrate the fibers more deeply and doesn`t mess too much with absorbancy.
Traditional FS`s are milky emulsions because their fatty acid chains are solid at room temperature.

The more I read and learn about the stuff the less I am willing to use it. But I guess old habits die hard. Anyway it is an interesting topic !

Post# 969895 , Reply# 24   11/25/2017 at 14:35 (360 days old) by Liberatordeluxe (Chelmsford, United Kingdom)        

@mrboilwash the vinegar has helped. I have also bought Acdo soap powder from Home Bargains as found this good particularly for towels.

Post# 969915 , Reply# 25   11/25/2017 at 15:51 (360 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        
I'm So Glad

the vinegar helped! I just never could tolerate that waxy, slimy sensation of liquid fabric softener--rather like a combination of snot and semen.

I'm a real user of white vinegar around the house. It's so cheap and it does so many things well.

Post# 970215 , Reply# 26   11/27/2017 at 08:32 (358 days old) by dixan (Europe)        

you need a good rinse. Tesco powder contains quite a good ammount of zeolites, which are known for making fabrics rough, because they are rinsed out very hard. Good rinse will give you soft fabrics even without the evil softener.

Post# 970227 , Reply# 27   11/27/2017 at 09:30 (358 days old) by lakewebsterkid (Dayton, Ohio)        

I too hate the feeling of too much fabric softener! A lot of my relatives wash a lot in cold and warm with copious amounts of Downy. It makes the clothes feel even more unclean. Fortunately I wash my towels in hot all the time and it removes a lot of the residue before FS is dispensed.

Post# 970247 , Reply# 28   11/27/2017 at 12:09 (358 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        

Living in Texas, I have no idea about Tesco powder. Is there a reason that it would have more zeolites than other laundry detergents? I went looking on Wikipedia and was surprised to discover that my cat's litter is likely made from zeolites.

Post# 970248 , Reply# 29   11/27/2017 at 12:10 (358 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        

Living in Texas, I have no idea about Tesco powder. Is there a reason that it would have more zeolites than other laundry detergents? I went looking on Wikipedia and was surprised to discover that my cat's litter is likely made from zeolites.

Post# 970249 , Reply# 30   11/27/2017 at 12:20 (358 days old) by johnb300m (Chicago)        

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I've been enjoying the canola-based Method softeners for years now.

Post# 970267 , Reply# 31   11/27/2017 at 13:59 (358 days old) by liberatordeluxe (Chelmsford, United Kingdom)        

Which powder in the UK has the least zeolites?

Post# 970280 , Reply# 32   11/27/2017 at 16:38 (358 days old) by AquaCycle (West Yorkshire, UK)        

aquacycle's profile picture
I’m with Al on the dryer. Towels are the one thing that always go in the dryer. I could live on a breezy summer meadow for 365 days a year but would still put towels in the dryer

Post# 970303 , Reply# 33   11/27/2017 at 19:00 (358 days old) by toploader55 (Massachusetts Sand Bar, Cape Cod)        

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Just got back from my Dad's in NJ for the Holiday.

I always bring my own Towels. It is strictly a Cold Water Wash household. I was cooking one night and picked up a Dish Towel that smelled like what would imagine... "A Jock or Ass-ole in High School that never brought home his towel or Gym Clothes for the entire Year".

Well, back in the 60s and 70s we had to be responsible for out Gym Stuff.

I remember 4 years ago I went to stay there for 3 weeks. While no one was home, I ran the FL washer on a Sanitize with Bleach before I could wash my own.

I was ready to go to the "Coin O Mat" down the street. They should call them "Bill O Mats" these days

Post# 970306 , Reply# 34   11/27/2017 at 19:14 (358 days old) by johnrk (BP TX)        
Cold Water Wash

has always mystified me. I understand that there are some woolens and a very few other items that require cold, but I've never owned any of them.

Do people wash their damn dishes in cold water? I sure don't. Do these cold water fans think they don't put off sebum, that slime common to all of us? Are they just cheap? Do they take cold showers?

I'm fortunate; I only had one gf in the 80's who liked cold water washing. But we never lived together and I didn't mess with her clothes--for long.

Post# 971394 , Reply# 35   12/4/2017 at 01:26 (352 days old) by dixan (Europe)        
Which powder in the UK has the least zeolites?

liberatordeluxe, brands like Persil, Surf, Ariel, Daz, Bold contain <5% zeolites.
Even though I don't recommend them, the liquid detergents do not contain zeolites or other insoluble or precipitating ingredients.
However, all of the modern phosphate-free powder formulas contain high amounts of sodium carbonate which leads again to the need of good rinsing.

Post# 971419 , Reply# 36   12/4/2017 at 07:53 (351 days old) by Rolls_rapide (Scotland, UK)        
"Breezy summer meadow..."

rolls_rapide's profile picture
Oh, how I want to be there...! Lol

Try drastically reducing the amount of powder used when washing towels. I find that if I wash a half load of towels, I can get away with only one-half of a Tesco Bio tablet. Similarly, 25ml of Daz powder or 25 ml of Formil powder. But then, my towels are only lightly soiled. If I put in too much detergent it causes an overflow of foam.

Heavy soiling (dirt, medical ointments, massage oils) obviously needs a greater amount of detergent.

Post# 971467 , Reply# 37   12/4/2017 at 11:21 (351 days old) by henene4 (Germany)        
Hard towels

Towels always go in the dryer.

If line dried, sever things can help.

Proper rinsing is key then. However, if your water isn't particulary soft, you need some acidic additive in the final rinse. Preferably set a rinse hold and let them soak in that for an hour. That dissolves any hard water depositis.
Then spin. Shake well before line drying.
Don't let them dry for to long. 24h max.
Take of when dry or ever so slightly damp.
Then, steam iron. Highest temp, lots of steam.

Once in a while, a long boilwash without any detergent. That softened old used towels for me by removing ANY detergent residue.

Otherwise: Get a nice cheap heatpump tumble dryer. Cheap AEGs should be avaible for 400 bucks or there abouts.
AEGs heatpump system is known for fluffy, evenly dried loads.

Post# 971559 , Reply# 38   12/4/2017 at 19:42 (351 days old) by iej (Ireland)        

I’d say the problem could be the Tesco detergent. (To those of you in the USA and elsewhere, Tesco is a major UK supermarket chain)

I haven’t tried them myself, but Lidl and Aldi’s store brand detergents are usually rated much better than the main stream supermarket brands. As far as I know Tesco iuses Persan and McBride to produce own brands for household products. The formulas would vary quite a bit depending on the price point.

If you want to avoid Persil and Ariel, try Daz. Surf is still for some reason just single enzyme but it washes well and they’re both tier two for P&G and Unilever.

The other solution is use liquid and bleach. If you’re washing towels just throw in a scoop of peroxide based wash booster like Vanish (or a store brand) or Ace liquid bleach - does a great job. It’s basically just peroxide.

Try washing your towels with Ariel Liquid or a Persil S&M bio. If you want whiter - add bleach.

They’ll be much softer, even without conditioner.

Also Comfort Pure in my opinion is the best conditioner on the market here. I can’t stand Lenor (P&G)

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