Need help getting towels clean and soft

mfduffyDecember 14, 2011

I�ve been on a mission to get our towels cleaner, brighter, and softer -- without fabric softener.� It has been an interesting challenge, as plenty of detergent and some sort of booster seems in order for the cleaner, brighter part.� However, I�ve learned the softer part is particularly dependent on getting all that soap rinsed out.�

� Here�s my scenario:� Maytag Netpune FL (with the LCD), whole-house softener, Tide HE Powder, Tide Booster liquid, vinegar.� Warm water wash.� I�ve been using Extra Rinse and Pre-Wash with the Normal soil level.� Pre-wash on the Netpune does a long soak, short tumble pattern for about 10-15min and then drains much of water before refilling for the main wash.� The manual says to add 50% more detergent when using pre-soak.� So, I put in 2-3TB Tide powder and probably 2TB of booster � which I admit seems like an awful lot.� I put 3-4TB of vinegar into the Fabric Softener cup, which really seems to help.� However, while this setup seems to get things clean, I�ve had a terrible time getting all the detergent to rinse out.� The soap actually seems to foam-up � is the booster the cause?

� I tried Tide HE with Bleach Powder, but it is hard to find at a good price around here and didn�t do enough to whiten and brighten.�

� We were using the �action packs� of Tide Booster, but they are kind of a pain.� We have to be sure they are placed well into the drum or they can get stuck in the boot seal and makes a mess.� And of course, you can�t regulate the dosage.� I much prefer putting all the detergent into the detergent dispenser.� So, I went with the liquid Tide Booster, but it�s pretty expensive.�

� I�d like to avoid a hot water wash, but if that�s the issue, I�m willing to give it a try.

� In order to deal with the excess suds, I�m considering the following:

-- Switching to Clorox 2 instead of Tide Booster.� Clorox 2 is much cheaper than Tide Booster.� I noticed the powder version of Clorox 2 has a couple enzymes in it that the liquid seems to omit.� Any idea which might rinse better (powder vs liquid, Clorox vs Tide)?� Both supposedly have universal formulations for non-HE and HE machines.

-- Switching off the Presoak, extending the main wash to Heavy Soil, and cutting detergent dosing way back � maybe: 1TB Tide HE Powder with 1-2TB Tide Booster and, of course, the vinegar.

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mfduffy, here is what works for me (and believe me, I have suffered from stiff and smelly towels for years until I have tried this) in my LG FL:

1 scoop of Sears powder detergent (plus 1 scoop of oxygen bleach if washing white or light colored towels), a bit of liquid softener (I use about half of the lowest dose recommended, but I think you could easily skip that and still get soft towels). Sanitary (Extra Hot) cycle with Water Plus and Extra Rinse. My water is medium (1-2 gpg). Towels were dramatically improved after a couple of washes and I have kept it up for a year now. Towels are super fresh and soft. White towels are gleaming white.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 10:09AM
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@ mfduffy,

Why are you using so much detergent? Are these filthy towels that require a booster product? It sounds like you may be putting way too much detergent in there that is not necessary. I would cut your detergent dose in half or more, then try again.

If these are just bath towels, you don't need much detergent to get those clean. As far as whitening is concerned, no amount of Clorox 2 or any other "color safe bleach" is going to do much for you unless you can get your wash temp above 120 degrees. In my experience, these products will not whiten at cold or warm despite what they claim on the package.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 4:11PM
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"� However, while this setup seems to get things clean, I�ve had a terrible time getting all the detergent to rinse out.� "

(Are you on an International setting for your keyboard at the computer? I'm not sure what the umlauts, upside-down question marks and 1/2 symbols are about... or maybe it is my own computer screen that shows them? )

Towels. Ugh. The bane of my laundry life existence.

I know nothing about your particular model of washing machine, but it seems to me that you are putting a lot of cleaning products into the wash water.

Do you have any cycles that fill the drum up to the bottom of the glass on your washer's door, during a rinse cycle? If you do, run those towels without any detergent, on WARM, and watch the rinse cycle for any suds or foam around, on and in the towels during the rinse. Use a flashlight to peer into the rear of the drum. That test will tell you if you've got too much detergent residue from overdosing. Ask me how I learned that.

Some towels will never get soft. I ruined some Lands End "Supima" towels by washing them in HOT water when the label said WARM water, in an effort to remove some detergent overdosing. I never use liquid fabric softener, so there is no artificial component to change(improve) how they feel. I had to toss those towels, and they were fairly new. That was a painful lesson.

FWIW, in my Miele FL washer I have to use something like 1/10 to 1/8 the detergent label suggested dose for a small/medium load of terry towels, or there is sudsing - like mad- in my wash and rinse cycles. No softened water, either.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 5:56PM
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Cavimum, just curious - what specifically happened with your towels labeled Supima when you washed them on HOT? Were they 100% cotton? My towels also say to wash them on WARM but I totally ignore the label and wash them on EXTRA HOT (Sanitary cycle). They are super fresh and soft. Before my washer with an internal heater I had a FL washer without a heater. Because of a long connection between the washer and the water heater in my house, my hot washes were just warm. My towels were stiff and smelly all the time. When I got the LG FL with a heater last December I started washing my towels on Sanitary with an extra rinse and the improvement is just unbelievable. I love my towels now!

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 9:52PM
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@izeve - Are your towels from LE (Lands' End)? Mine were, purchased this summer. The LE Supima 100% cotton towels have a long loop to the terry. Apparently the fiber shrank, because after washing them on HOT, the loops looked shorter,compared to a matching washcloth that had not been used or washed yet.

They were definitely scratchy and rough after HOT wash. I tried everything -- liquid, powder, vinegar in the rinse, even Charlies Soap. Finally, my husband said something about the towels, and he very rarely complains about anything. Since I did not follow the manufacturer/LE's "CYA" washing instruction (WARM), I did not return them. I could not stand to touch them anymore, either, so I donated them to a local organization. Someone who uses fabric softener will probably do fine with them.

When I took a close look at my old 100% cotton towels to compare, the loop is much, much shorter. They are either Fieldcrest or Cannon, roughly twenty years old, and were purchased at an outlet store. Basically, these old ones were el-cheapo stuff, washed for twenty years on HOT, definitely not "Supima", and still are softer than the LandsEnd towels after being washed on temps hotter than WARM in my Miele.

I have some 25+ y/o Martex towels that have been washed on HOT for years, and they're softer than these Lands End towels after a HOT wash. Sheesh.......

This week, I found some Fieldcrest towels (the 'stripe' ones) at Target. Very soft, and loop is shorter than the LE brand, so I bought one hand towel with which to experiment. It will go thru a few HOT washes to see how it survives. After one wash, it is okay so far.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 10:32AM
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@cavimum - interesting about the LE towels. I still suspect it was something about the towels themselves and you probably would have ended up with the same result if you washed them on warm. But I may be wrong.

Mine are Vera Wang towels from Kohls that I've had for a couple of years now - the label definitely says wash on Warm. In my old washer with no on board heater that is effectively what they were washed on. But since last December, I've been washing them on Sanitary in my new washer and they come out really fresh and fluffy. I have also rewashed a whole bunch of old towels since getting the new washer and they are much improved after going through the Sanitary cycle - a lot less stiffness and musty smells are gone. I suspect I had quite a lot of residue in those old towels.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 11:25AM
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@izeve - I had a lot of residue in my old towels, which presented itself as "scratchy" towels syndrome after we got the Miele (our first FL). I did some Sanitary and HOT cycles without detergent and finally got all that stuff out of there.

I think you are right, there is something about the LE towels, themselves. Most likely the cotton fiber/thread was not pre-shrunk prior to weaving. Reviews there for the towels are something like 90% positive, so I guess the reviewer sare washing them in COLD or WARM.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 1:06PM
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Thanks all for the information and tips.

My number one change has been to reduce the detergent dose. When we switched to powder, we used the box instructions as a starting point -- you know the rest of the story. Cutting way back has helped get the bath towels softer. I can't say enough about vinegar in lieu of fabric softener -- 10x better. I'm still trying to get some kitchen washcloths to whiten -- might have to just get some new ones and take it from there. I've found the oxygen bleach and other whiteners in the Tide Booster really helps, but using a full dose requires running extra rinses after the cycle completes. As mentioned, it is not cheap stuff. I'm not willing to make that part of our routine and can't imagine it being routinely necessary. A bit of booster seems to make a difference without the crazy suds action.

Hot vs Warm -- I'm very interested in the points raised here. We used to use hot for undergarments, but stopped due to fabric wear (elastic in the waistbands seems especially affected by regular hot water washes) and energy use. It just didn't seem worth it. I've been hesitant to try hot with the towels more than just once-in-a-while, because I've read so much about it being hard on fabrics. And we actually own several of the aforementioned Lands End Supima towels!

(P.S. the crazy characters seems to have been from composing on one computer, emailing, and cut and pasting across operating systems and to a smart phone -- sorry about all that)

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 8:47AM
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You don't need to pay a premium for Tide Booster. Get some straight oxy bleach which is inexpensive (Ecover is best). I find that Chlorox Greenworks oxy bleach (powder) works well too. I have no problem with suds when using it. As to kitchen towels, before you toss them, wash them on Sanitary, detergent plus oxy bleach, extra rinse and see if you notice a difference. I bet you will!!!

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 9:32AM
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I recently switched to this version of oxygen bleach (Soapworks) and it seems so much stronger than my previous versions (BioVert and Ecover). I know the concentration can be different - not sure what the BioVert and Ecover are buy Soapworks says it's, "Active oxygen 13% minimum".

I puchase it online at (they ship for free in Canada no minimum but they do ship to the US too).

What I sometimes do is soak something prior to wash. Like my kids' white socks. I'll toss them in my laundry tub with straight hot water and oxygen bleach and soak for an hour or two then toss in the wash with good quality detergent for whites (ie. Persil Universal Megaperls or Miele Ultra White). I can tell you that the white socks in my house are WHITE.

While I tend to use powder more now, liquid will leave your fabric softer (or so they say). I would agree that certain liquid's I've used left them feeling softer.

I have always read that you should use a gentle detergent and I do that sometimes too (Vaska, Woolite, etc). Something without enzymes or optical brighteners.

Vinegar is great for good quality cotton. I've used it for years on my towels/sheets. It helps to strip away any residual detergent residue and leave you with very absorbent cotton.

I have always read that good quality cotton towels should not be washed in any temp above warm water (no higher than 40C), using a gentle detergent followed by a cold rinse. Do not use excessive amounts of washing detergent, as this can clog the fibres.

Drying is also important to how towels turn out. If you switch to a lower heat they will tumble longer which will fluff them up more and damage the fibre less. I read the following regarding Turkish cotton towels (Supima, Egyption are also good quality cotton).

While tumble drying will make the towel fluffy, do not overdo, as the heat from the dryer can damage the integrity of the cotton. We recommend using a lower heat setting occasionally or alternate between air and heat drying.

To maximize the absorbency of a towel, add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle, once a month, to restore the towel to full absorbency. The vinegar removes any excess detergent, which can affect the towels' absorbency."

Here is a link that might be useful: Soap Works - oxygen bleach

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 9:53AM
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90% or higher concentration of sodium percarbonate will give you 13%-14% oxygen. Ecover is 100% pure sodium percarbonate as is what is sold at The Chemistry Store, where I ordered a huge tub. Either of those products will give you 13%-14% oxygen.

I dry all of my towels - in fact, almost all of my laundry - using my dryer's GENTLE setting. This extends the tumble time and lowers the heat - a win/win for towels.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 12:15PM
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Tide HE, CLorox chlorine bleach, santizing cycle and vinegar in the rinse.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 2:13AM
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Is your Neptune FL with LCD model MAH7500? If so, it does have onboard water heating, but the heater activates (on all cycles) only on the maximum soil level. It'll help even when using warm water to maintain the target temperature. You can "trick" the machine into doing a profile wash of sorts by setting the water temp initially to warm then switching to hot after fill is finished, the onboard heater will boost the temp toward hot as far as it can get during the allotted wash time.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2011 at 9:25AM
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For those using vinegar, where are you adding it?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 9:33AM
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I add mine via the fabric softener dispenser. You want it in the rinse to help remove detergent residue.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 1:39PM
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dadoes - Yes, it is the MAH7500. I never heard that the heater only activates if set to max soil level. I've read that it works, as necessary, with all cycle, soil, and temp settings, as needed, so long as Energy
Saver is switched off. The max soil setting is soooo long, I rarely use it.

totsuka -- I add my vinegar to the softener dispenser.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 9:45PM
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You should experiment to be sure. I'm going by the behavior of a friend's MAH6500, which has pushbuttons instead of an LCD panel (MAH5500, the low-end model, has pushbuttons and no heater). Maybe MAH7500's operational characteristics are different, but I confirmed on the 6500 that the heater runs only on maximum soil level ... can hear the heater relay click off/on when switching away from and then back to the max soil level, and confirmed (with a Kill-a-Watt meter) that the wattage draw drops or increases accordingly when the heater shuts off or activates upon switching the soil level.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 11:21PM
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