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Some Actually Useful Information About Towels

Photo: Kristiana Pinne (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Let’s talk about this tweet.

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The nature of my job is that questions are asked of me. As a result, as sort of a secondary nature of the job, and also of my mind, I ask questions of others, and of reference books, and of some very strange corners of the internet (I once spent hours searching for the right products and methods for use on silicone lube-stained sheets, so let your imagination run wild with what I mean when I say “strange corners of the internet.”) Asking questions is good! But sometimes, asking questions is bad and futile and here is an example of such: I’ve sat here working myself into an absolute FURY asking myself, “CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING THE KIND OF ASSHOLE WHO TAKES TO TWITTER TO DICTATE THE NUMBER AND TYPE OF TOWELS EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD MUST OWN???”

Just … the insane amount of ignorance, and myopia, and privilege, and noblesse oblige and and and and and on display here is MIND BOGGLING. But me sitting here screaming about it isn’t going to do literally any of us any good, so instead I’m going to wash a Xanax down with a glass of chardonnay to calm my nerves that have been so frayed by the stunning lack of empathy and information on display. Then I’m going to answer some questions commonly asked about towels. Because there are no stupid questions, only stupid Yashar Alis.

How Often Should I Wash My Towels?

Bath towels should, ideally, be washed every three uses.

When we talk about how often to wash towels, as opposed to how often we wash sheets, we talk in terms of uses rather than the number of days and here’s why: some people shower more than once a day, whereas plenty of others don’t bathe every day.

I think, also, it’s important to state for the record that three uses is a guideline, and you should take it and apply it to your own life in the way you see fit. Do you prefer to use a fresh towel every day? By all means! Do you want to grab a new towel after two uses or after four uses? Sure, no problem! Do you, because of a lack of access to laundering facilities or money to pay for it or because you just don’t really care, want to use the same towel for a week regardless of how many uses that adds up to? You are an adult with free will!

You can also, armed with the information I just gave you, figure out the number of towels your household needs. If you’re in the market for new towels, I recently bought these and I’m quite liking them! Also you don’t need me to tell you this but I’m going to: Your towel preference is yours and you shouldn’t give a fig if someone tells you that you must own 10 bath sheets if, for example, you hate bath sheets because you’re 5'2" and a bath sheet is simply too much towel for you. For example.

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Jesus, I’m just furious over this! LET’S GET BACK TO USEFUL QUESTIONS AND THE ANSWERING THEREOF.

Wait. Why Do I Need to Wash Towels? I Only Use Them When I’m Clean!

Good question! So sure, you’re clean when you come out of the shower or the bath, but when you dry off you transfer two things onto the towel that will make them dirty. The first is water. “But Jolie! Water is not dirty!” Right-o (well … that’s not entirely true but I cannot get into a whole thing about access to clean water right now, I’m already in a full rage and I’ve got work left to do.) But water, when it is left to linger on a towel when it’s not in use, will encourage mildew growth and the more water you introduce by, say, using a towel 4, 5, 6 times in a row, the more likely you are to end up with a mildew-y smelling towel.

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The other thing is your body soils, which is a fancy term for the dead skin, sebum, hair, etc. that you rub off of yourself and onto your towel when you dry off. All of that stuff, too, encourages mildew development and also kind of destroys your whole “But I’m clean when I dry off” theory. Sorry about that!

Are There Special Towel Laundering Instructions I Should Know?

Yes, indeed there are! Towels, much like gym gear, have some special needs when it comes time to wash them. Here they are:

  • Water temperature isn’t much of a factor! Because of advances in detergent formulas, the use of hot or warm water is essentially not needed in almost every laundry situation. However, if using hot or warm water to wash your towels makes you feel better, by all means do so, as towels are more durable than other fabrics tend to be and can handle a less gentle laundry situation.
  • Speaking of detergent! Don’t overdo it — remember, more detergent does not equal more clean! — when it comes to the dosage. Would you like a detergent rec? Sure, why not! I’m partial to Tide Ultra Stain Release.
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  • Speaking of other fabrics! Ideally, wash towels separate of other fabrics — or, mix them only with heavy duty cottons like jeans, fleece, sweatshirts, or sheets. Towels are linty, and that lint can easily transfer onto more delicate and synthetic fabrics. Towels, also, are heavy and shouldn’t be washed alongside delicate fabrics.
  • Don’t overstuff your washing machine! This is true of all types of laundry, actually, but I have you here so I’m mentioning it.
  • NO FABRIC SOFTENER! We talked about The Problem With Fabric Softener when it comes to gym gear, but there’s also A Problem With Fabric Softener vis-a-vis towel washing and here’s what it is: Fabric softener leaves a coating on towels that makes them less absorbent. And, you know, being absorbent is kind of the whole point of towels! So, no fabric softener on your towels. Instead, use dryer balls (either the PVC kind or the wool kind, depending on your material preference), which won’t soften the towels as much as fabric softener does, but which will add extra fluffing power without leaving behind that unfortunate coating.
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A Note on Hand and Dish Towels

Hand and dish towels, much much much more so than bath towels, are a place where I’m going to take a bit of a harder line in terms of frequency of washing. THIS IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. IT HURTS ME MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU. ETC.

The reason to regularly launder hand and dish towels is really a health thing: Hand towels, because hands (even just-washed ones, yes!) are all over them all the time, pick up stuff like cold and flu germs that can spread illness. Over in the kitchen, dish towels can easily pick up bacteria from uncooked food that can lead to food poisoning and suchlike. So! Make a point of frequently washing the smaller towels in your life, using your judgement based on factors like the size of your household and how often you cook. That is to say, a single woman who never cooks won’t need to wash her hand and dish towels as often as a father of five who cures his own corn beef.

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So! That’s more or less the stuff you need to know about your towels. Maybe you still have some questions? Sure thing, email me with any and all follow-up questions and I’ll round them up for a future column.

In closing, fuck Yashar Ali and the towel swan he rode in on.


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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person