This summer we all went off to a wedding. The church was several hours drive away so we decided to stay over in a local hotel. The hotel was very reasonably priced but despite that, the hotel room was of very high quality. One thing I noticed immediately was the gorgeous fluffy white towels in the bathroom. I would love to have towels like that at home, but the problem is my towels never seem to stay the way I bought them. How do hotels keep their towels so white and soft?
Hotels keep their towels so white and soft because they often have powerful washing machines and more effective detergents at their disposal than ordinary folks do. We can emulate their results by spot-treating stains, using oxygen-based bleaching agents, and using the correct amount of detergent so that towels don’t become rough and dull as they age.
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How do hotels keep their towels so white and soft?
If you don’t want to keep replacing your towels here’s how you can keep them white and fluffy without having to keep shelling out for new ones.
Start with high-quality towels
The towels you find in good hotels will have a high GSM which is grams per square meter. The higher the GSM the better the quality. Towels with a higher-end GSM of 400-700 will be thicker, softer, have greater absorbency and will last longer. Lower-quality towels of GSM 200-300 are thinner and lighter and are better suited for taking to the beach or the gym.
Egyptian cotton tends to be the preferred material for hotels because it is more durable, fluffier and absorbent than other types of cotton.
If you want to emulate hotel quality at home you can’t go wrong with this luxurious bale of high GSM Egyptian cotton bath towels from Amazon.
It’s worth noting that hotels will renew their towels much sooner than you or I would. The minute a towel looks a bit tired or beyond salvage due to a stain, it will be replaced.
White towels can’t stay white if you allow stains to take hold. Let’s take a look at what you can do to keep stains at bay.
How hotels do it
Hotels and laundries will have access to a chemical called Potassium Permanganate which is a very strong oxidizer that can kill everything and also remove stains. This chemical isn’t available to you and me, for good reason, because it can burn your skin plus it would damage domestic washing machines. So you wouldn’t want to use it even if you could get it at your local hardware store.
How you can do it at home
So if we have stains on our lovely white towels, what can we do to get them white again at home?
For an organic stain, such as food, use a stain remover that contains enzymes. An excellent stain remover is Vanish Stain Remover Bar. I find the bars work very well for getting deep into the stain. If you prefer a spray, make up a spray bottle of some biological laundry liquid and water or use Vanish Stain Remover Spray.
Another option is to soak your towels. Make sure you have only the towels in the soak.
For soaking, I find that Napisan or Oxiclean works well to get towels white but if you have some stubborn stains it is best to rub them with a Vanish Bar or ordinary white soap.
How hotels do it
Hotels and laundries usually have huge front-loading industrial washing machines. The sheer size of the machine increases the agitation making for a more intense clean.
Often hotels will use HTD (heavy-duty detergent) which contains stronger chemicals than ordinary detergent capable of removing the toughest of stains.
Hotels will use a hot temperature to clean their towels so that bacteria is killed.
How you can do it at home
- Don’t overfill. To increase the agitation and effectiveness of your washing machine. Don’t overfill the drum.
- Choose a hot temperature. Select a hot wash of 60c or 140f for your wash.
- Don’t wash your towels with anything else.
- Don’t use too much washing powder. Too many suds can decrease the effectiveness of the wash.
- Don’t use fabric conditioners. The chemicals in fabric conditioners can damage the fibers over time plus the absorbency of the towel is reduced.
- Use vinegar. Add vinegar to the conditioner compartment instead of your usual fabric conditioner. Vinegar is a natural softener, plus, vinegar can naturally kill bacteria.
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How the hotels do it
Hotels and laundries will use large tumble dryers on high heat to make sure that any bacteria left on the towel is finally killed in the dryer.
How you can do it at home
Use a low dryer temperature. Hotels tend to use high heat to dry their towels. Whilst heat can kill pathogens, it will wear out your towel over time because the heat can damage the fibers. Choose a low heat to keep your towel looking good for longer.
Use dryer balls. Hotels have huge tumble dryers. The greater agitation in larger drums will naturally soften fibers. You can do this at home with dryer balls. These wool dryer balls are great at reducing drying time, softening the fibers and removing static.
If you don’t have a tumble dryer, dry your towels outside on a washing line. A windy day is best for getting towels soft.
If you have to dry your towels inside, don’t put them directly on a radiator. The heat from a radiator can damage the fibers, plus you will block the heat going into your room which will increase your heating bill.
How to wash white towels with baking soda and vinegar
If your white towels have become hard, crusty or musty the best way to get them back to their original softness is with a baking soda wash followed by a vinegar rinse.
Simply add a cup of baking soda to your wash instead of detergent and replace the fabric conditioner with 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Then choose a hot wash with a high water level.
Don’t use this solution on dirty towels, they must have been cleaned first with your usual detergent.
If your towels are very dingy, wash them twice. Once with a cup of baking soda and then again with a cup of vinegar.
Using too much detergent combined with fabric conditioners causes a build-up of detergent on the towels. The baking soda and vinegar will help to strip your towels of detergent residue and naturally soften their fibres.
How to keep towels white without bleach
Hotel towels will go through rigorous washing to keep them looking white and sanitary, often using bleaching agents that we don’t have access to. These chemicals can be harsh on the fibers. Remember that hotels tend to switch out their towels for new ones regularly. Their priority is to get the towels white and free of bacteria rather than protect them from wear.
So how can you get your towels white again without using bleach?
Oxygen-based bleaching agents for whitening clothes
There are lots of laundry additives on the market that contain oxygen-based bleaching agents. Oxygen-based bleaches are much gentler on fabrics and kinder to the environment than chlorine-based bleaches. They also whiten your whites.
Here are a couple of my favourite laundry whiteners to help keep your towels white without bleach:
- Napisan. I have used Napisan for years. Don’t be influenced by the name. It’s not just for nappies, you can use it on regular washing too including colours. I primarily use it for whites.
- Oxiclean. Oxiclean is a great and effective alternative to Napisan. It contains similar ingredients to Napisan.
Bluing for whitening clothes
If your whites have become dingy, bluing them could be your answer. Bluing is a way to make your whites appear whiter by adding a tiny hint of blue colour.
Mrs Stewart’s Liquid Bluing is a popular product for bluing your white clothes.
The liquid must be diluted as it is very potent. Follow the label for precise directions, but in summary, what you would do is dilute 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid in 4 cups of water and then add it to the final rinse of your wash.
Frequently asked questions
HTD (heavy-duty detergent) is most commonly used in hotels and laundries because it has more intense cleaning power than the laundry detergents you can buy in the supermarket. HTD detergent has fewer fillers in it and isn’t required to conform to safety standards in the way that domestic detergents would. Domestic detergents have to be made safe for use around children, whereas HTD detergents do not and can therefore contain more powerful cleaning chemicals.
HTD detergents are more alkaline than regular detergents so that they are better at removing oil and grease.
Hotels choose white towels because they evoke a feeling of freshness for the guest. It’s hard to hide stains on a white towel. Guests can see that they are clean. They are practical because there is no issue with cleaning, everything can be washed together without fear of colours running together.