A towel isn’t exactly something that invokes deep contemplation. A linen closet or drawer is usually a necessity and not a luxury, and the towels stacked inside them are out of mind unless they’re needed for a few seconds each day. The only time towels really grab your attention is when they’re stained, stiff, or smelly. But they could probably use more thought.
At a time when self-care can be defined by long and involved routines, simply having a good quality towel is one easy way to treat yourself—after all, you do need to bathe. But how many do you actually need? An informal poll among friends yielded a wide range of numbers. If you’re anything like me, you probably have too many, leading to overstuffing, stress, and dwindling storage. On the other hand, if you're constantly rushing out to launder your towels, you probably have too few.
Three people who have given plenty of thought to the subject are here to put our minds at ease. We asked Katie Elks of Brooklinen, Liz Eichholz of Weezie, and Emilie Jajonie of Slowtide to share their tips on how many towels are truly necessary, how to care for them, and how to replace them responsibly.
The Number of Towels You Need
Cover the basics
"These days, towels come in a wide variety of weights and sizes. But if we’re talking absolute essentials, then every linen closet must have standard bath towels (30” x 58”) for after-shower use, hand towels (16” x 30”) for washing up, and washcloths (13” x 13”) for when you’re washing your face,” Elks, product development manager at Brooklinen, says.
“A good rule of thumb is two full sets of towels per person in your household,” Elks adds. “We recommend washing your towels every week, or after three or four uses, and refreshing your towels every two years.” If you tend to have guests staying over often, though, you might want to keep an extra two sets aside for them.
How to Ensure That a Towel Lasts
Keep your indoor towels separate from outdoor fun
“You don’t want to take your bath towels outside,” Jajonie, marketing and PR coordinator at Slowtide, says. “A home needs ‘outside towels,’ or those you can use at the pool, the beach, or the lake.”
Make sure that your towel is free of certain dyes and toxins
“Many towels use fabric dyes that quickly fade,” Jajonie continues. “If you are using a colorful or patterned towel that has significant fading, it will easily look more like a rag over time. Find products that use reactive dyes instead. Certain dyes also contain harmful chemicals, so it's always good to look for towels that meet the Oeko-Tex certification, which guarantees products are made free of damaging toxins.”
Wash them on the right setting
“It’s always smart to wash towels in cold water and tumble dry low, but different towel uses require different washing timelines,” Jajonie continues. “For instance, if you are going to the beach several days in a row, you can reuse the same towel. Otherwise, wash beach towels after each use. Bath towels should go no more than a week between washes. Fitness towels and yoga towels should be washed after each use. Fold towels to fit wherever they are stored. I recommend holding the towel by the edges so that you can match the corners. Then fold it in half, horizontally, and then in half, horizontally, again. Finally, fold it once more, in thirds.”
When and How to Replace Old Towels
When it’s no longer soft or absorbent
“A towel has hit the end of its lifespan when it no longer possesses qualities that led you to buy it in the first place,” Eichholz, co-founder and creative director of Weezie, says. “The true life cycle of a towel is one-to-two years. We always use this analogy: You wouldn’t wash a cotton t-shirt every day for a year and expect it to hold up. Towels have a life cycle for optimum performance as well.”
When it smells mildewy
“Some people will find that their towels will eventually start to smell a bit musty, even after the towel is freshly laundered," Eichholz continues. "Often, this smell results from towels not fully drying between uses, likely due to a lack of airflow. It’s best to hang towels on a hook between uses so they can dry quickly and have room to breathe. If you suspect mildew and the towel is on the newer side, I always suggest washing it with one cup of white vinegar and a half-cup of baking soda. The vinegar breaks down buildup while the baking soda neutralizes the odor. But if your towel smells mildewy and it’s been a couple of years since its purchase, it’s probably time to replace it.”
How to replace towels responsibly
“We never recommend throwing away towels, but instead donating or recycling them,” Eichholz continues. “Depending on the quality of your towels, you can donate to a local charity or animal shelter—they don’t mind stains and are always in need! Slowly but surely, more companies are popping up around the country that allow you to drop off textiles to be recycled, so your old towels can be turned into new fibers. For recycling textiles, we recommend Green Tree Textiles in New York City and TerraCycle nationally.”
How many sets of towels do you own? Tell us in the comments below!