How do you get soft towels and laundry in general?

myclementineJune 20, 2007

I was staying at my aunts house and she had the softest towels. I didn't ask her how because we had a debate about front load versus top load and I went against her advice purchasing a front load so we don't talk about laundry.

So what can I do to get soft fluffy laundry?

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Since we can't post our actual towels and laundry for everyone else to touch and comment on, whenever this subject of soft laundry comes up, I'm convinced that we're not all on the exact same page. I'm not convinced that everyone's "soft" is the same.

"Soft" can certainly come from fabric softener. Liquid fabric softener is usually made from very highly processed oil of some type. Beef tallow is the usual ingredient, but "vegetarian" or "animal friendly" versions must contain some other oil. The ingredient list on these products usually includes non-helpful ingredients such as "softening agents", which doesn't tell you much.

On towels, liquid fabric softener can, over time, build up a residue that interferes with the absorbency of the towels. It's like trying to dry off with waxed paper.

In other discussions on the board about soft towels, it has been suggested that not all towel brands are created the same. Some brands of towels never seem to feel soft, but other brands, laundered in the same household, with the same equipment and laundry products, are soft. So that's another factor to consider.

I suspect that at least some launderers who use liquid fabric softener have become accustomed to the way laundry feels when LFS is used, and anything else just feels "wrong".

I am not a LFS fan. Because I have an allergic family member, I'd rather not add another product to the laundry mix to which he might react. I do use Distilled White Vinegar in the LFS dispenser of my FL, which I think does help provide a cleaner rinse. I stopped using LFS years ago, even when I had a TL.

My laundry feels just fine to me, but it does not feel the same as laundry laundered with LFS. Granted, it's what I'm accustomed to and it works for me. I really don't like the slick feel of clothes washed with LFS.

My preference only. YMMV.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 4:05PM
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In my opinion you need to start with really good, soft towels. Beyond that, I use vinegar in the rinse cycle which helps get all of the residual soap out. I also dry the towels on extra-low to give them more time to tumble and I use tennis balls in the dryer which helps "fluff" the towels as they dry. They are not as soft as using fabric softener but they absorb well and feel good.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 4:22PM
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I suggest using Downy Free & Clear -- the scented products have an additional ingredient to maintain the scent which makes the laundry feel waxy. Also dry your towels on low heat, you want a tiny bit of residual moisture in the towels when you fold and put them away.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 6:01PM
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Liquid detergent
Dryer sheets

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 6:21PM
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Soft water in the machine. Plus Downy Free & Clear in the 1/3 -1/2 the recommended dose. Dryer sheets are fine but don't do quite as well. Any/all of the fabric softeners will reduce absorbancy of the towels, however.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 6:55PM
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Soft towels, as long as they go in the dryer but aren't overdried they should be good, though it does depend on the dryer. On the POS Hotpoint-Ariston we had for 2/3 months, the towels would be cardboard stiff still, though not as bad as if they'd been on the line, whereas our new Miele leaves them really fluffy without the need for fabric softener.

For all other laundry, a capful of fabric softener delivers the right amount of softness. I messed around using vinegarbefore but it doesn't work as well as softener and made everything stink of vinegar whereas fabric softener gives a nice, pleasant fragrance to the load and keeps laundry fresher.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 7:34PM
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Powder detergent
Liquid softener

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 4:04AM
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Any reason for another mind change of yours, kenmorewasher?

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 8:22AM
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I recently purchased a FLW, (used a TLW for years), and the one so far) drawback is that my whole laundry, towels et al, don't come close to the softness I got when I used a TLW and I only used laundry detergent and a little water softener. Now, I use the least amount of recommended detergent and a little Calgon in my FLW, and the softness level has been very disappointing. I even added an extra rinse but hasn't helped. Is this what I can expect from my new machine. Maybe I need to rethink my purchase.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 8:44AM
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Chipster, you are not the first person to talk about difference in clothing softness being less with a FL.

Which makes me wonder: exactly what DOES make clothes feel soft? If you eliminate LFS (which I havenÂt used in years) IÂm beginning to suspect that dryer temperature and, (perhaps more importantly) wet tumbling in the dryer has more effect than I suspected. Maybe it all comes down to steam in the dryer.

I have verified for myself that dryer temperature does makes a very noticeable difference in softness. A load of jeans dried on the very lowest dryer temperature (Delicate) comes out much, much softer than jeans dried on a higher temperature setting. Same goes for knit polo shirts and T-shirts, or just about any type of load.

When I first got my FL, I used the highest dryer temp settings because that's what I was used to doing with my old TL. However, the clothes come out of the FL so much drier to start with that the highest dryer temp dried the clothing so fast that wrinkles were set in.

When I reduced the temperature setting, the wrinkling was eliminated. My theory is that wrinkles are worked out of the clothing during the time in the dryer that the clothing is both warm and damp and being tumbled.

Now I suspect that the warm, damp tumbling period in the dryer has quite a lot to do with softness.

With a TL, the clothing comes out so wet (comparatively), that, even on the highest dryer temperature setting, the clothing is going to have a much longer period of warm, damp tumbling compared to FL-washed clothing, even when you dry the FL-washed clothing on the lowest dryer temp.

To think of it another way, TL-washed clothing has a longer steam bath in the dryer than FL-washed clothing.

Just a theory.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 11:49AM
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CMC - I think you're right there, especially when you consider the fact that line dried laundry is never as soft as tumble dried laundry regardless of the washer or presence of softener. So softness is probably attributed more to the method of drying than the washer itself.

Plus, with low temperatures, with the fast spin from frontloaders you wouldn't extend the drying time that much.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 11:54AM
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I realized after reading through these that I dry towels on medium high or high heat so I am going to cut that back to medium or delicate and see what happens.
All other loads I dry on delicate so I don't know why I am killing the towels.
I guess I figure the electric bill will be over the top of I do heavy towels on delicate and have the dryer going all day. But I am going to try it.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 12:20PM
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Powder detergent and liquid softener is the old fashioned alternative.
Liquid detergent and dryer sheets is the modern alternative.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 5:35PM
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Yo, kenmorewasher...seems to me you're all over the map.

"Liquid detergent; Dryer sheets"
"Powder detergent; Liquid softener"

May I ask for some clarity? What are you suggesting and why?

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 6:38PM
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I personally prefer liquid detergent and dryer sheets because they are easier to use and not as messy.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 9:08PM
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Would have appreciated more but accept brevity in lieu of clarity.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 10:06PM
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I use the clothes line to dry my clothes, except for towels, and as stated earlier, they are not as soft as when they were washed in a TL and I didn't use any fabric softener when washing in the TL. I know I am not the first to talk about it but I sure would like my clothes for feel as soft as they used to feel (minus getting a TL machine). I think there are a number of people who feel the same way. Any other theories about why there is such a difference? I would like to avoid using FS in the wash, if possible.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 10:00AM
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All laundry benefits if you get all the soap out. Try putting your towels into the washer with NO detergent. If you get are not rinsing adequately and/or are using too much detergent.

Rather than add something that sticks to the fibers, giving a pseudo-softness, try using a water softener in your rinse water (Calgon, for instance) to aid in removing soap scum.

Dry at medium-high heat. I only use a dryer sheet to prevent "clinging" in a mixed load.

My towels feel the same coming from my present FL as they did when I used a TL. I prefer the FL for superior cleaning and greater water removal via the spin.

I notice some difference with electric vs gas dryers. Electrics have "cooked" the laundry more frequently, but that may be due to the particular dryers I've used rather than more gentle heat via gas.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 11:37AM
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1. Purchase high-quality cotton towels, such as Egyptian Cotton, to begin with. Choose loop pile over cut pile. Combed cotton also makes it extra soft. Pima or Supima cotton is second best after Egyptian.

2. I never use softener on anything, but use white distilled vinegar in the rinse.

3. I use very little soap/detergent when laundering towels, and normally use homemade liquid soap (a combination of liquid Castile Soap, vinegar, soda, borax) and hot water for the wash.

4. SOFT is very subjective, as others have pointed out. I have soft towels hanging them to dry on a clothesline outdoors, especially if there is a breeze. They are "fluffier" if dried in the dryer, but not necessarily "softer". I don't use dryer softener sheets, but let those little dryer balls do their magic when I occasionally can't dry outdoors.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 3:43PM
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1/2 cup of borax in the wash
1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse
Dryer Max Dryer Balls in the dryer

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 3:57PM
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And a partridge in a pear tree?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 5:23PM
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Is it possible that many/most laundry detergents include some kind of softening agent to account for the fact that Top Loaders (still the dominant machine used in the US) do not usually provide a good rinse?

In other words, to cover up the detergent residue left on the laundry, the detergent formulas include a softener that doesn't get rinsed out completely in your standard TL rinse cycle?

If so, then when someone switches from a TL to a FL, the better rinsing capability of the FL will remove much more detergent, also removing the "left behind on purpose" fabric softener, and thus, the clothing doesn't feel as soft.

Just another wild theory.

I have no proof that this is the case, but it wouldn't suprise me, either.


    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 3:37AM
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It's all about the quality of the towels, higher end towels has a better hand than the MID or BOL towels. Quality detergent is the next step and your choice of fabric softener will do the trick.

If I want my towels to be extra soft, I use Downey scent free and one sheet of bounce scent free. This combo has solved the problem of static that Downey refuses to do away with and the clothes are very soft.

Keep in mind that detergent plays a major roll, Cheer's fit gives the best hand (feel) after clothes are dryed so keep this in mind too.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 3:54AM
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I believe the issue of detergent build-up is highly overblown. Prior to getting my Asko FL set, I washed in a cheap-o GE top loader and knew nothing about detergent dosing. I would regularly overdose. When I got my Asko, I followed the recommendation to wash in plain water first, and NOTHING came out of the clothes -- not a single bubble.

When folks experience rough or greying laundry, I'm amused by the fact that half the people recommend cutting back on detergent while the other half recommends increasing the detergent dose. In my mind, it's nearly a wash (pun intended). If anything, underdosing of detergent seems to be a problem more than overdosing because water hardness and overall quality has a tremendous impact on detergent efficacy, yet many people fall into the 1-2 tablespoon category without knowing their water hardness.

If you have very hard water, you will be battling soap scum in your laundry. If you soften that water with a whole house softener, you will be trading soap scum for sodium carbonate. In either case, you will still have something in your laundry because the extra hardness in your water isn't going to magically disappear -- it is merely transformed from one form to another. The ideal scenario is to have soft water from the get-go, with low mineral content, but that is not an option for many people.

I had softer laundry in Seattle than I do in Phoenix, all things being equal, simply because of the differences in the water's mineral content. Using a whole-house softener has allowed me to use less laundry detergent, but when the water evaporates it still leaves a white sodium carbonate residue -- no water softener can make that disappear, only an RO or similar water purification system can get rid of that, which is costly and impractical for laundry purposes.

The biggest impact on softness, for me anyway, is the amount of residual moisture left in the clothing. If I dry my clothes on LOW heat, they are much softer, fluffier, and more pleasing to the touch than if dried on NORMAL. I've found this to be true regardless of type or quantity of detergent. The only guidance I can give on detergents is to use something that does not have any kind of "fabric care" or other related claim on the box, as these products typically contain enzymes that attempt to reduce lint but in the process end up eating the cloth fibres and can also negatively impact towel softness. Tide is known to be an aggressive detergent, so you may wish to steer clear of that product. I would suggest trying a "gentle" product your towels, one that does not contain enzymes, and also wash in at least 120°F to ensure any mold or mildew is destroyed.

Sorry for the long post.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 5:21PM
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