Front loader = stiff towels?

stbonnerDecember 15, 2009

I'm hoping that someone here has already tackled my stiff towel problem and will have some advice. I have a Bosch Nexxt 500 washer and matching dryer. I use Charlie's Soap powder, and have not been using any fabric softener. Most of my towels are white, so I am adding sodium percarbonate to most washes.

Anyway, my towels are really stiff and scratchy. I have three different brands of towels, and none of them feel good anymore. The worst, by far, are some microfiber towels I bought. My daughter has the same towels, and hers still feel soft, but she has a TL and she uses Bounce in the dryer. The other two brands of towels are both Egyptian cotton, and while they aren't as bad as the microfiber, they aren't winning any prizes for silky softness either.

Suggestions, anyone? I do wash my towels in hot water - could it be too hot? I do wonder if I have "fried" the microfiber towels, as they are sort of clumpy looking. Should I lower the spin speed of the washer? Dry on lower heat? Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks in advance.

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Stbonner, I have a bosch nexxt 500 plus and my towels are no where near as soft as with my old TL.I have washed them on hot cotton, PP,sanitary and kids care, no matter they are just not as soft and fluffy as before, chose the gentle spin speed, nothing seems to help. Just for kicks and giggles one time i ran the quick wash cycle after it had finished and that seemed to help a bit.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 7:52PM
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A few things to think about.
Towels tend to pick up soap remaining on your body when you towel off so whenever you wash towels cut your detergent and oxiclean in half.

Spinning at high speed can extract so much water that the towels are almost too dry when they go into the dryer. Then they spend too little time in the dryer tumbling and evaporating out the water
Try running the towels through the Perm Press cycle for a lower spin speed to see if it makes a difference.

Many people will tell you not to use fab softner since it actually is putting a coating on your towels but you might try just a table spoon or two to see if it helps. SOme people have had good luck with vinegar as a softener.

Hard or soft water will also make a difference.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 8:00PM
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Drying at too high a temperature will make them rough.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2009 at 11:10PM
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My personal experience, using couple of extra rinses after each wash. Our towels are very fluffy and pretty soft- not as soft as if you would use softener but they are not scratchy.
I use washing temp either 145 or 194, medium high spin and medium high temp in drying.
Got LG, using mostly Persil and mexican detergents, not all of them are HE, have no problem.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 2:07AM
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I have had this exact same problem. It happened 6 months ago. I also use Charlie's, and was using Charlie's exclusively when this happened.

I have to ask, so please do not be offended. Did you read the care labels of the towels? Assuming you are in the USA, most towels sold here must be washed in cold water.

Okay, now to the troubleshooting of actually determining what has caused the problem. Is it build up or shrinkage?

First, wash the towels in nothing but vinegar (1 cup) and water. Continue to do this until there are no suds on the window during the final spin. Next put them in the dryer with a couple dryer balls on a low heat setting.

If the towels are soft again, it was just build up the detergent, oxi clean and possibly hard water. If they have not softened up you have most likely shrunk the fibers in the towels. When most cottons shrink they become stiffer. It is a nature of the textile. Those loosely woven, soft feeling loops when shrunk can bunch up like little tiny ropes. Once that happens, they will no longer feel soft.

I have actually tested this at home. I had washed all of our towels in hot water in an effort to disenfect them when we had colds. My once fluffy towels became very hard and scratchy. I ended up buying new towels. Those towels washed in temps between 70 and 80 degrees F have stayed soft and clean. I went out, bought a hand towel, and washed it ten times the way I wash my others. Then I washed it once in hot and it got hard.

I have microfiber cleaning towels here that didn't get hard till they were washed in hot.

Now some may have really expensive towels that stay soft no matter what they do and use, but that is not everyone. I for one am the mother in a working class family. We can't afford $20 towels so mine are the $6 Canopy type from Walmart. They are not going to hold up to hot water washes and high heat dries, so I don't do that. My towels do not stink now, even after stripping them from my mom fiasco (read my other posts here), and they are still soft after stripping the liq fab soft out of them.

My usual routine for my towels are 1/2 the little green scoop of Charlie's and vinegar in the rinse in water that is between 70 and 80 degrees F.


    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 8:05AM
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Pretty much all my towels say to wash in warm, tumble dry medium, no bleach. Except the ones that say to wash in cool the first time and warm thereafter.

Anyway, I agree with washing them alone with no soap to see if they are inpregnated with too much soap, and to use a lower temperature.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 8:24AM
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Happymom - of course I didn't look at the tags:) I just figured since they were white towels they could handle hot water. Obviously, I was wrong. I did check today to make sure that the towels didn't have detergent build-up, and they didn't. I think Happymom is right and I have fried my towels. The towels that are in the worst shape are the microfiber ones, which would make sense to me. I guess I need to treat myself to some new towels and start over. Bummer. I have always washed white towels in hot water, but until I got my front loader I think my "hot" wash was really a warm wash (I had an old TL).

Thanks everyone for the responses. I appreciate it.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 5:53PM
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I have bath towels with long loops that feel rough and kitchen towels with very short loops that feel soft. I don't think it has anything to do with the size or length of the loops, but rather the quality of the underlying threads and fabrics. Charlie's Soap is not especially good at cleaning in my experience, so it's possible that the scratchy towels are simply due to insufficient cleaning. Stiff and scratchy towels/clothes doesn't necessarily mean you have detergent residue - it could just as easily be indicative of insufficient cleaning.

According to Miele's W4842 user manual, symptoms of too little detergent are ineffective cleaning of laundry and that fabrics may become gray and stiff over time. Symptoms of using too much detergent do not include stiffness according to Miele. I would suggest you switch to something other than Charlie's, something that cleans better, and see if things change. I would also use 1-2 TBS of liquid fabric softener. That may be just enough to restore some fluffiness to your towels without negatively impacting their absorbency.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 11:29PM
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So much discussion about "hot" and "cold" but they're relative terms. I have cheap towels. I buy at Target, Kmart and the like. I used to use "warm" setting on the washer but about a year ago I started using the hot setting for most of my laundry. I also turned up the water heater to 130°+ and am close to the washer so that's about the temp I get in the washer set on hot. I use Tide Free/Sensitive Skin mostly with no softener. I'm very careful about measuring and if I have to use more then I'll often give an extra rinse or two. Couple year old dryer so the temps are probably lower than some from years ago but I use the highest heat setting and 5-6 dryer balls. My towels are soft and fluffy. All my clothes are soft and clean.

Many hotels use white linens, towels, sheets, etc and wash at near boiling temperatures and I'd guess the dryer temps are rather high with no adverse effects. Possibly there's quality issues but I'm not sure it's that much different.

Another thought is whether the machine is overloaded. Part of the softening effect, I suspect, comes from the tumbling in the dryer. If there's not sufficient room, that would limit the "beating" to loosen things up.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2009 at 8:14AM
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Microfiber is a synthetic fabric that cannot take any prolonged heat. The towels will 'melt'. They should be washed in warmish to cold water and line dried if possible. Very greasy or dirty ones can be washed in hotter water, but not in a 2-3 hour cycle that uses the heater. If you put them in the dryer use the lowest heat or no heat. See the link below for more details.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ehow

    Bookmark   December 17, 2009 at 5:50PM
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My (cotton) towels are noticeably softer when I use STPP. They're washed at 158degF. Vinegar didn't do a thing for me.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2009 at 6:40PM
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Wow, I didn't know washing towels is such a challenge.
I had to laugh, I never read the labels on towels and can't imagine washing towels in cold or warm water! But I would not buy microfiber towels for drying my body,only 100 percent cotton. I do have microfiber dusting and cleaning rugs and I do wash them w/ my towels on 145-194 and they didn't melt or whatever, they are soft too- bought them in Walmart.
Too little or too much detergent causes problems!!!!!
We have very hard water and I need to use more detergents (but not any bleach or additives)b/c of it and extra rinses too but the laundry is clean and soft.
I know from experience, water chemistry makes difference in how detergent works.Not every detergent will work in your water. And that's why I use Persil and mexican detergents- they have phosphates.Many detergents in past would cause whites to turn grey and dingy, etc.-including CS. Our septic or yard has no problem either w/using phosphates.
I mentioned here somewhere before, If you use full loads in FL, they will not rinse properly. It needs extra rinses, specially if you do load of towels. Mixed load 3/4 size work the best. My small fl does better job rinsing than the big one, that's why ( I think) Miele works so good too. I think there is some drum size/water ratio that works better than in the big machines. When it comes to washers, bigger is not better IMO. Big machine takes in big pieces but it is a pain to rinse them good.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2009 at 9:58PM
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Washing your towels in "cold" or "warm" (under 120°F) water is going to give you smelly towels. There have been many threads on here about smelly towels, and that comes from insufficient heat. No amount of detergent is going to help you there. I can't imagine toweling off in anything that hasn't been washed at the highest temperatures. Towels are a perfect breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

I wash my towels in 160°F+ temps. Now don't laugh, but I find the key to "fluffing" your towels is to give them a good shake before putting into the dryer. This ensures all the loops are standing up. Front loaders spin at very high speeds which tends to flatten the loops. Hold the towel in front of you on the long axis. Grip the corners with your hands and give it a vigorous shake left and right until the loops pop back out. This should help.

Also to clarify Suburbanmd's post, STPP is not something that is going to necessarily make your towels soft and fluffy. STPP is sodium tripolyphosphate. It is useful if you have extremely hard water, as it is a sequestering agent that will bind up the calcium ions in your wash water and make detergent more effective. Again, the key here is detergent effectiveness, not some other magic ingredient. If you have soft or medium soft water, STPP won't do anything but dump more harmful phosphates into the ecosystem. Given the cost of obtaining STPP and the harm phosphates have on wastewater (there's a reason it was banned in most US states from use in laundry detergents), you may be better off installing a whole house water softener if you suffer from hard water. That will not only give you clean clothing, but will also benefit every other aspect of your health, cleaning, and preserve the plumbing in your home.

Try switching to a better detergent, remove the sodium percarbonate since it tends to remain gritty and is difficult to dissolve in anything but very hot water, add 1-2 TBS of softener to your rinse, and give the towels a good shake before putting into the dryer. Such small amount of fabric softener will not impact the absorbency of the towels. Also dry on low heat. It will take longer, but you'll notice a difference.

Let us know if you make any progress.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2009 at 12:44PM
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"Phosphates are bad" is a gross oversimplification. Depending on how your wastewater is treated and discharged, your use of phosphates may or may not be harmful to the environment. The article below is worth reading if you want to understand the issue better.

STPP does give me softer towels (compared to Sears powdered detergent alone), and I have only slightly hard water.

Yes, there's a reason phosphate laundry detergents are banned in many states, but there's also a reason phosphates were so widely used (and are still used in dishwasher detergents)...because they do work very well.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 12:52AM
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Well, I follow the care label on my laundry articles here. I figure if the manufacturer is going to go through the trouble to put them on something then maybe there is a good reason for it.

I have been washing my new towels in nothing but Charlie's since I bought them, in cool water. No stink..... no greying...... no stiffness..... just clean cotton. Then again I don't use a towel a multitude of times before I wash it either. A towel gets automatically goes in the hamper and is washed the same day.

For clarification...My water hardness ranges between 8 to 10 grains. My water is also from Lake Michigan and goes through a processing plant. It is chlorinated water which is still safe for drinking directly out of the tap. I do not use liq fab softener or sheets on towels, as they can make towels smell rancid and reduce absorbency.

It may not work for some here. They may even find it funny, but it works for me and it may work for others. That is why I made my original post up above. I was actually trying to help someone, not make them feel bad like others here have a habit of doing.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 8:58AM
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Thanks to everyone for your ideas. I've tried several different things, and thought you might be interested in my results so far. First, I was wrong when I said that my worst towels were microfiber - they were microterry and were 100% cotton. I still think I fried them, though, as they have not improved no matter what I have tried. So far, I've tried using a different detergent (Gain) with no softness difference. I've lowered the spin speed on my washer, again, no change really. I've lowered the dryer heat, which brought a little bit of improvement. And, finally, I dried the towels with a Bounce dryer sheet, which brought the most noticeable difference in softness.

I did order some new towels, and I received them today. They have been washed and dried (washed in warm water) and they are really, really soft. I hope they stay that way. The new towels are a dark color, and the tag on them does say to wash in warm water, so I guess I'll try washing in warm for a while and see how that works for me. I have always washed my towels in hot water, but I've never had any towels this dark, either.

Again, thanks for all of the ideas. I appreciate everyone's input. Merry Christmas!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 5:46PM
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The edges of some of our towels are a little puckered. Maybe there are synthetic fibers in the edging, and they shrank from washing hotter than the care label says. Not a concern for us. It might be in some circumstances, like in a guest bathroom where the towels are mainly decorative. Now that we've seen how much cleaner they are when washed at 158degF, it would be unpleasant to consider going back. We don't have any problem, though, with using a towel a few times before washing it. It might well be cleaner, going into the hamper, than it would be coming out of the washer after a cold wash.

I have some colored cotton T-shirts/undershirts labeled for cold wash, and similar ones labeled for warm. They're both tagless, so the care instructions are printed on the fabric. I haven't seen any ill effects from washing them at 120degF (called "Very Warm" on Miele, but closer to the nominal temperature for "Hot"), except that the tagless info (including, ironically, the care label) on the cold-wash ones has smeared to the point of unreadability. Printing the care label in such temperature-sensitive material is probably enough cause to label them for cold wash. But I don't consider it enough reason to actually wash undershirts in too-cold water.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 9:47PM
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First, a disclaimer: I don't own a FL washer. However, I do own an HE washer.

I wash white towels in HOT water, Tide HE or Sears HE detergent, a little Clorox, and baking soda, which doubles the whitening action of the Clorox. I use white vinegar in the final rinse to ensure there is no residue.

I wash colored towels in warm water, same detergent, and vinegar in the final rinse.

I dry all on HI heat in the dryer.

They all come out soft and fluffy.

Our wash water is not hard or soft, but medium.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 8:35AM
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I meant to mention, baking soda in the wash softens water and also softens towels. It also gives them a very fresh scent. I've used it for years on towels and also other laundry from time to time, especially when it needs deodorizing. I put the baking soda right in the washer's drum, then I add the laundry.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2009 at 8:29AM
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I too have never had soft towels after switching to a front loader, from a top loader. I've tried it all (different wash temps, vinegar, more detergent, less detergent, extra rinses) to no avail.

I'm going to try buying a few new towels and seeing if they remain soft after some front-load washes... But I have my doubts :(

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:03PM
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Also, it's annoying because I never did anything special when I had a top loader (I just did a regular hot wash with detergent, no fabric softener or anything else added) and towels always came out soft and fluffy like a hotel!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:05PM
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FWIW....Duet for five years....wash my cotton towels on "hot"...which yields actual 100-105 in the tub. Soft water. 1/3 cup Tide HE powder for a full load. Downy fabric softener. They come out clean, no residue, and soft....just as they did in previous TL's.

My machine is essentially the same as Bosch's so I don't know what to suspect as the differences you've described....except first suspicion would be soap residue.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:47PM
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I too have soft towels. My water is hard and very alkline out of the faucet. One thing I found that helps is do not over dry them in a dryer. I love stuff hung outside, but towels are not one of them. Unless your towels have a stain on them, do not go overboard with detergent. I do seperate my bath towels from Dish towels as they usually need more cleaning help

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 3:53PM
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Baking soda in the wash water will soften the water and towels. I use 1/2 cup for a full load of towels. They also come out smelling very fresh.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 8:33PM
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I have been having the same problem but now my towels seem to be getting softer. I have reduced the amount of detergent and give it a extra rinse.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 10:00PM
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I agree that they key is to not over-dry the towels in the dryer. Since I spin at max speed, I give the towels a good shake before putting them into the dryer to revive the loops from their flat state. Fabric softener is no good for towels, as it impedes the towel's absorbency.

Try drying a load of towels on low or "gentle" heat setting.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 3:09AM
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I don't know if I just don't pay attention, or what, but I've never noticed my towels being stiff. I have hard water (Lexington KY city water)....I use Sears HE powder and vinegar in the fab soft dispenser and I have never ever seen the first sud in the washer since I got it (I use a full level scoop).......I can't remember what the towels were like when I had a TL it has been so long........It did take me a while to figure out how to get the clothes from coming out of the dryer wrinkled but I've solved that with just not drying everything bone dry. Good luck

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 4:28AM
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It may not be the washing. It may be the towels. There are many different grades of cotton used in towels. If towels are made from low quality, short-fiber cotton they will get as scratchy as the 12 y.o. towels I just dumped. They never changed no matter how they were washed.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 8:30AM
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What's really funny/odd is that I have bought towels at Walmart which are really soft and fluffy, and I've bought towels (on sale) at much higher-end stores which aren't nearly as soft and fluffy. So it seems the 'better/best' towels aren't always made from the best cotton.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 11:39AM
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The general advice from linen resellers for washing Egyptian Cotton towels is to wash on WARM (100F-105F) with a reduced amount of gentle or mild detergent. Shake the towels before drying, then dry on LOW HEAT setting. The consensus among resellers online is to not use fabric softener, however I add about a half dose to take the edge off.

I believe one of the issues may be that your towel fibers have shrunken due to the hot water washing, which has changed the feel of the towel. I recently purchased a set of Matouk Milagro bath towels ($35 each OMG) which are purportedly one of the softest, fluffiest towels available. I've been diligently following the care instructions, washing in warm and spinning on slow or medium to prevent the fibers from being damaged. After drying on low heat, these towels practically float out of the dryer!

In the end, it's a combination of laundering practice and the quality of the fabric involved. The higher the quality of cotton used in the towel, the more forgiving the towel will be to shortcomings in your laundering procedures.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 2:04PM
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My towels are labeled to wash in warm water, which I do. I bought this set two years ago and to this date they are not smelly or stiff. Sometimes I use FS in them and other times I dont. They are spun at the highes spin speed my washer can do 1100rpms. When they go in the dryer, I give them a shake and they are dried on the auto setting on med heat. I have no issues with them being hard, stinky, or anything else. Towels will hold soap and body oils, so it is essential to wash them in the right combo of detergent and add extra risnses to them. Think of them as a sponge, and it is hard to get soap out of one of those. Charlies soap is known to turn whites donkey gray from reviews on here. I just used good name brand detergents, no oxyclean and all that other crap, set the washer on my towel cycle for the longest times, extra rinse, and no problems. Cotton doesnt like high temps, especially for drying, and micro fiber towels HATE it, says so on the label which apparently most people dont read

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 11:16AM
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Charlie's Soap left my towels feeling scratchy, and you definitely will need fabric softener after washing towels in Charlie's Soap despite what the folks at CS say. I avoid using detergents w/ enzymes on towels, as the cellulase may end up degrading the fine "fluffy" material along the cotton loops which will reduce softness. I use a gentle detergent like Vaska.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 11:39AM
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I started out using a Tide powdered detergent when I got my Samsung FL at the beginning of the year - my towels turned horribly stiff and scratchy. I read about Vaska on these postings, and after several washings with Vaska I have soft towels again. I gave away the Tide, and now use either Sears powder or Vaska. I have a water softener, and I just could not get the Tide (I only used 1 tablespoon) washed out of my clothing and towels. No more Tide for me!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 1:16AM
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I've found Tide HE in all of its various forms to be pure evil when it comes to clothing softness, especially with towels. The ingredients in Tide are harsh and the scent and OBAs in Tide are designed to stick to your clothes.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 4:11PM
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I had the same problem. Hubby complained about his socks feeling "crunchy" and starchy.

Stop using Charlies Soap. I've read all the hype, tried the product, not a fan.

Went back to my usual liquid detergent in my front loader, and my clothes feel normal again.

It's not the temp or the cycle or the mailman or the wash machine. It's the soap. If "they" try to tell you otherwise, do the math.

That's my honest review of the product.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 12:06AM
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