Trying to soften scratchy towels? Read my 'failure' try

CharterOpsJuly 5, 2012

Ok, so there has been a lot of talk about folks trying to soften their scratchy/harsh/stiff towels since about the time that the new HE FL's came on the market; coincidence? Maybe, maybe not; that can always be debated ;-)

However, I just wanted to post about my experience of what I tried this morning. I had a stack of clean white towels (nice to look at, but rough to the touch) which I thought I would try on the Sanitary cycle with white vinegar added to the wash. Keep in mind, that I did not add any detergent, so it was only hot water (157*) and vinegar and 1hr and 44min later; the load was done. The towels didn't really feel any different than when I put them in there; even though I did notice some detergent residue was eventually washing out during the wash cycle.

43-min later; done in the dryer on medium heat and surprise! They felt exactly like the other clean stack in the closet; still stiff, scratchy. It was pretty much just a waste of water, power and some time (I did manage to get my housework and vacuuming done during the whole experiment; so not a total loss)

Anyway, but I digress. I don't know if any of you folks have had luck getting your towels to soften up by using the Sanitary cycle. The worst part is that I recently bought some new towels from JCP; they were like the high-end premium ones. They were soft and fluffy when I first got them and I've followed the manufacture's care instructions and now a couple months later; they are now starting to get rough.

I don't think I ever had this much trouble with sheets/towels being like before I got my FL. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE my Electrolux washer; it does an excellent job but I just cant seem to get soft towels any more. Our water here in the Foothills of NC is 3.4GPG (on the border of slightly hard to moderately hard) at this moment- I have a water tester, so I get fairly accurate reading as compared to when I call the city and they tell me what they have currently.

Anyway, I just thought I would share my experience with you guys and gals out there in the laundry world who are obsessed with towel softness as I am ;-) Please feel free to post your thoughts, tips, tricks, etc...

Have a good one!!

Happy Homemaker in NC

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I once tried vinegar to soften towels, and found it didn't make any difference. Then I tried STPP, and it made a noticeable difference.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 6:01PM
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During my time with FL I had the same problem. Tried many different things, never got soft towels.

Went back to TL, towels were soft and fluffy again.

Not sure we've ever had a definitive answer to this. Some speculated that high speed spins compress the fibers and they don't spend as much time in the dryer to fluff back out.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 7:36PM
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@suburbanmd: I've tried numerous "cocktails" of products - vinegar, borax, washing soda, baking soda in different combinations and alone and never got a good result, just the same thing as what happened today. I have not tried STPP though as it's very hard to find it anymore. The Lowe's near me used to carry it but now it doesn't seem to be there any more. No offense to those who think the vinegar works for making their clothes soft and fluffy and such; it might work for you in your case but for me, the vinegar doesn't do anything and since I have a nose and can pick up scents like a bloodhound, I can still smell the vinegar after the drying cycle and that's only using about 1/4 cup in the softener dispenser.

@curiousshopper: I have suspected the high spin speeds as well but with the Electrolux IQ Touch, even the lowest spin speed is still way beyond what a traditional TL does, so it's kind of hard for me to test that one.

Oh well, we're planning on moving out west to New Mexico in the near future so maybe, I'll leave the new buyers a present here and possibly find myself a traditional TL out there; if I can. It's getting harder and harder to find machines without the Auto-Temp control and Auto-Water level.

P.S. Oh yeah, now from some other research, I've heard that a lot of hotels don't use any FS on their towels as some people might think and I was recently at the hotel (in question) and the towels were soft yet you can obviously tell when FS has been used. The theory behind this is that the machines the hotels use a LOT more water; what they call a high water-level wash which the water comes half way up the door and then several, as many as 4 or 5 rinses, the first rinse being HOT water, the consecutive rinses being warm and finally cold; then there is even about a 2-min spray rinse (Unimac) machines during the final spin or something. Let me see if I can find the link to a video I saw on the Unimac - totally out of curiosity. I know, I've gone wayyyy past the subject but I guess I got a little excited - lol I know the video is of a whole other beast and different from residential laundry but it might explain why some hotel linens and towels feel very different - enjoy!

Here is a link that might be useful: Unimac Commerical OPL washer

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 9:02PM
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I'm not sure why you are avoiding fabric softeners, but for me I found I could soften anything by putting a maximum dose of Downy in the washer and a dryer sheet in the dryer. I wouldn' t use dryer sheets all the time but just to see what happens once. After you have them soft, you can try the next wash with no dryer sheet and the third with less fabric softener. If they are still soft try no fabric softener. Use a strong detergent like Tide. Then report the results back in this thread.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 3:21AM
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I thought I read on here that hot water damaged the cotton fibres and once they are damaged it can't be undone. I could be wrong but I think washing towels in a sanitary cycle could be your problem.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 6:52AM
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@nerdyshopper: I only use P&G laundry products. I use Tide and I love Downy but was trying to avoid using it on towels because of the absorbency issues but honestly, I did use the Downy on another load of towels once and they did come out pretty soft with no absorbancy issues. I'm thinking that the problem is when the softener is not washed and rinsed out well enough and then more is added during ongoing cycles then you can have a buildup and residue issues; so I would tend to think that as long as you use the proper amount of detergent and the final rinse is clean, then there might not be issues. I can't really lose anything since the towels can't get much worse - lol

@caryscott: You did read that and most towels do say to wash on warm or even cold but these white towels I bought were high-end hotel/resort towels, which when I bought them were so soft and fluffy, it was like drying off at some super expensive resort ;-) but what I'm getting at is that the label on these says to wash in hot and can be heavily bleached - so, the more I washed them in hot and used the bleach to keep them white, the more stiff/scratchy they got but maybe I'll go back and add softener to them and see what kind of results I get. I've noted it before when others have asked what detergents everyone uses but here you can see the products I use for laundry.

Tide 2X HE Free & Gentle
Clorox - for whites
Clorox2 - for colored loads
Tide Professional Whiteness Enhancer - rinse aid for whites
Downy Free and Sensitive

P.S. I'm not really complaining, even though it sounds like I am ;-) because all my other laundry - clothes and sheets come out incredibly clean, fresh and very soft every time; of course I use the Downy on those and like I said, I'll go back and try my next load of white towels with the Downy FS and let ya know the results.

Ok, I've taken up enough of your time, thanks for all the replies and comments, etc... Have a great weekend!!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 8:52AM
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The towels for our guest room bath were always scratchy, even with the years of washing in of our conventional water-hog TL washer, and required a bit of fabric softener to feel nice.

I have stayed at pricey hotels and hated the scratchy towels, and for the price of the room ....(!)

Some of our towels have survived the FL very well once I got rid of detergent build-up residue from years of TL washing and reduced the detergent dose in the FL. Others, including brand-new Land's End Supima, are never as soft as when they were brand new and are ruined by HOT water.

I consider this issue one of the great mysteries of life.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 9:23AM
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Cavimum: This is definitely one of the great mysteries of life and I suppose there is no easy fix, which is really not a big deal, it's just one of those things which would be nice to enjoy - a fresh, soft towel as you step out of the shower. Yes, I have stayed at some pricey hotels as well and was shocked at how rough the towels were and what was even more of a shock was when I went to get in bed, the sheets were like so crinkly, every time I rolled over, it was like fireworks going off next to my ear. I was like "dang, did these come straight out of a package and not even washed yet?" That was an experience - lol

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 10:35AM
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I have not tried STPP though as it's very hard to find it anymore. The Lowe's near me used to carry it but now it doesn't seem to be there any more. Sounds like you're confusing TSP with STPP.

TSP (trisodium phosphate) is what you'd find at Lowe's, which is not the proper additive for laundry.

STPP (sodium tripolyphosphate) is the correct additive for laundry. It can be found at chemical suppliers, such as

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 11:42AM
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dadoes: Thanks for the info. I can see it wouldn't be hard to confuse the two; the name being very similar and all. If I decide to try that, I'll check out The Chemistry Store. Thanks for clearing that up for me, I probably was confusing the two and didn't even know it ;-)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 12:16PM
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In my humble opinion, Clorox (chlorine bleach) will make anything rough and scratchy. Try washing new, soft towels in "Tide With Bleach" (alternative), either powder or liquid. I cannot believe you have the kind of germs on your dirty bath towels that need to be cleaned with chlorine bleach.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 2:50PM
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patann: I truly respect your opinion because that's why I came here to this forum and posted this and I thank you for sharing it with me. However, the Tide w/bleach alt both liquid and powder both leave a scent that's not really to my family's liking and when I tried the liquid; oh boy it was disaster; everyone was itching and so on and I only used half the recommended amount. Imagine that, I can use strong Clorox and it doesn't bother anyone's skin but I use the Tide w/bleach alt liquid and you'd think everyone had fleas - ROFL.

I've got some more ideas up my sleeve so I'm going to try those and like I posted earlier, I'll reply back with my results here in about a week or so; so stay tuned.

Also, I thoroughly agree that chlorine bleach is strong and will ruin just about everything it comes in contact with but I've been using it for 30 years and probably will for another 30+, it's a bad habit to break but hey, at least I'm not sniffing it or drinking it ;-)

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 4:05PM
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Doesn't take much exposure time for chlorine bleach to do its work. 3 to 5 mins is plenty.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 4:26PM
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This is true and I read somewhere that it breaks down rather quickly as well so like after a certain amount of time, it's not effective any more.

Now before we get started on a whole other laundry subject of using Clorox, Oxi-Clean, etc... I'm outta here - LOL

I'm all for using less powerful cleaners because they all have a place and use as far as I'm concerned ;-)

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 4:46PM
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A great mystery, indeed! Just like "Why do glasses from the dishwasher sometimes smell and sometimes not?"

I'll be washing towels tomorrow on 203F rather than the usual 140F. Will see if it makes a difference.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 6:01PM
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I've added STPP to towels and it didn't seem to make them any softer. I did notice though that when I added it to a load of my husband's white underwear, the underwear was noticeably whiter.

Even with my old top loader, my towels never stayed as soft as when they were new. I don't use fabric softener.

I don't think we are getting the quality of towels we used to be able to buy.
I have some very old towels that are only used in my guest room and so they don't get washed that often. Those have stayed almost as soft as they were when they were new.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 6:42PM
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chloe45: I think you might have something there as well! That thought never occurred to me until you said that about some older towels. I have some myself from more than prob 15 years or more and they are really soft and I do wash them from time to time as I use them when guests come to visit and they actually are still as soft as the day they were purchased. Granted, they aren't washed that much but by now, you'd think they would be rough like the rest of them. A part of it might be the quality. My mother has some towels in her guest bath and they are always so nice to dry off with when I visit; of course when it comes to linens and towels, she tends to buy really, really expensive ones and they are not very old, super soft, super absorbent and she hangs them outside on the clothesline. She hates to use the dryer. I suppose I could break down and buy some like hers and see what happens ;-) LOL

Ahhhh well, the story continues....

Hey, whirlpool_trainee; let us know how yours turn out if you happen to think about it.

P.S. Have any of you tried the Bamboo and Pima towels?? I saw the included video and was just curious about them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bamboo and Pima towels

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 8:01PM
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I NEVER have scratchy towels, ever!!! I use Original Tide he Powder. I wash on warm (I believe it's 105F in my Miele W4842). Sensitive (3rd rinse) and Max Spin (1400 RPM). I also use a generous dose of Downy Fabric Softener (not the Max dose, but close). My towels are ALWAYS soft, fluffy and have 100% NO absorbency issues!!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:59AM
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larsi: Thanks. There was some talk awhile back about people only having issues with FS on towels with slower spin speeds and this new age of super high extraction might help with avoiding the problems of absorbency. I always use the extra rinse option for all loads.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 11:41AM
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Next to using fabric softener, there is only one other variable I've found that makes a big difference - detergent dose. If you want soft towels without using fabric softener, cut back on your detergent.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 1:08PM
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I use a very low-tech method to soften my line-dried, no-FS towels. I lay them on a flat surface and use a round hairbrush on each side. It works well for me -- not too soft, not too scratchy.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 1:09PM
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sshrivastava: I always enjoy reading your posts as you have gone into great detail about your own situations in the past and I've totally enjoyed reading about them and have taken some of your advice in the past, particularly about using less detergent; I have cut back but then went back up when things weren't coming out clean or smelling too fresh. I've been all over the scale as far as detergent dosage but it didn't seem to make much difference.

ArliVie: I read the post the other day about using a hairbrush to soften/fluff up the towels. I was curious about that one, so I got out a clean hairbrush that's I found had never been used and tried it on a hand towel which was rough and stiff and all and was shocked as how fluffy/soft it became. Very interesting idea and most unique. I don't know if I could do it for 8 full size towels as my arm might fall off - LOL

Anyway, it was a fun experience; I must have been bored or something ;-)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 1:52PM
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I don't have any trouble with scratchy towels. Washed in an HE toploader (Calypso). 125F to 135F input water temp. Full dose of HE detergent for a full load -- 5/8 to 3/4 measured cup of Gain HE powder (non-ultra) or line 2 or 3 on the cap of Era HE liquid. 1 to 2 tablespoons STPP. Two tablespoons Oxiclean. Sometimes a minimal dose of Snuggle softener, sometimes none.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 4:32PM
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Just want to throw in here that I too was terribly sensitive to Tide liquids and powders until I went to three rinses on my washes.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 11:59AM
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I've found that Tide usually doesn't rinse out unless you use the extra (3-rinse) option. This would suggest that it's so concentrated that you really don't need very much. I'm guessing there are more than a dozen combinations of laundry products/additives one could play around with but unless one writes down what they've done and the results; you could easily forget what you've tried and keep going in circles - lol

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Soooo true, CharterOps.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 2:28PM
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OP, I grew up in a mountainous area and, yes, the water was hard -- much harder than it is where I live now.

When I had problems with scratchy towels years ago, using baking soda (not washing soda) in the wash made the most difference.

If you use Clorox, you can use 1/2 the recommended amount when using baking soda, as the baking soda doubles Clorox's whitening power.

If you've ever used baking soda in dishwater or bath water, you know it really softens the water. Thus, the towels are softened.

I use Tide w/bleach (and some OxyClean if towels are really grungy by being used outside, as in washing vehicles, etc) and HOT water when I wash towels.

I use an extra rinse, and use white vinegar in the FS dispenser.

This gives me great results every time. HTH

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 11:44PM
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