Do you wash new towels in hot or cold water?

When it comes to washing new towels for the first time, people often wonder if they should use hot or cold water. The main factors to consider are cleaning power, energy efficiency, and preventing fabric damage. While there is no definitive right or wrong answer, below is a quick look at the pros and cons of washing new towels in hot versus cold water.

The Case for Hot Water

Hot water is generally considered better for cleaning. The hotter the water, the more effectively it can dissolve and rinse away dirt, oils, and other grime. This is especially important for brand new towels that may have residues from the manufacturing process that you want to wash away.

Washing in hot water helps sanitize the towels by killing more germs and bacteria. This can be beneficial if you want to eliminate any microbial contamination from the factory or store where you purchased them.

The heat helps relax natural fibers like cotton, which opens them up to release trapped dirt and fully saturate with water. This gives detergent and water better access to clean inside the material.

If you live in a region with hard water, the heat can help dissolve mineral deposits so they rinse away rather than sticking to the towels. Hard water residues can make towels less absorbent and rougher feeling over time.

The Case for Cold Water

While hot water cleans more powerfully, cold water is gentler on fabric fibers. Exposing materials like cotton, linen, or microfiber to high heat can degrade them and shorten the lifespan of your towels.

Washing in cold water is much more energy efficient, saving you money on your utility bills. It takes a lot of electricity or gas to heat water, which is wasted energy for routine laundry loads.

Cold water helps dyes, prints, and embellishments on decorated towels remain vivid. Hot water can cause them to fade or bleed more quickly with repeated washings.

Rinsing in cold water minimizes wrinkling and shrinkage issues. Hot water is more likely to damage the dimensional stability of the textiles as the fibers relax and expand from the heat.

Best Practices for Washing New Towels

After weighing the pros and cons, here are some best practices for washing new towels:

  • Wash towels separately – New towels may have loose dye or fibers that could bleed or transfer to other laundry items. Washing them separately prevents issues.
  • Shake towels out – Prior to washing, shake the towels vigorously to dislodge any loose fibers or particles trapped in the fabric.
  • Use a mild detergent – Avoid harsh bleaches or chemicals and use a gentle liquid detergent without dyes or fragrances that could cling to the towels.
  • Select the warm water setting – Warm water provides a good compromise between cleaning effectiveness and fabric care. Most warm cycles use water around 90-100°F.
  • Extra rinse cycle – Add an extra rinse cycle to fully clear away any soap residues or lose particles after washing the towels initially.
  • Avoid overloading – Load the washer loosely so the towels have room to move and soak properly. Overcrowding prevents good cleaning.
  • Line dry is best – Tumble drying new towels can damage or shrink them. Line drying minimizes roughness from dryer heat.

Water Temperature Considerations

Here are some additional tips on water temperature choices:

  • Heavily soiled towels may need hot water to fully cleanse them. Check care labels for the maximum recommended water temperature.
  • For decorated or dark colored towels, use cold water to prevent fading. Add white vinegar to boost cleaning in cold water.
  • Soft water allows using lower temps. With hard water, warmer temps help dissolve mineral deposits.
  • High efficiency washers use less water. Select warmer settings to enhance cleaning and rinsing with smaller water volumes.
  • Liquid detergent works better than powder in cold water. Make sure pods or liquid detergent fully dissolve.

Adding Vinegar to the Wash Cycle

White vinegar makes an excellent fabric softener and produces fluffier, more absorbent towels. The acetic acid in vinegar works similarly to liquid fabric softeners without leaving a chemical residue. It helps break up hard water mineral deposits, deodorizes, and kills germs in an all-natural way.

For best results, use 1⁄2 to 1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle when washing new towels. The vinegar smell dissipates as the towels dry. Vinegar is safe for all washing machine types.

You can pour vinegar directly into the detergent dispenser or add it to the wash drum before starting the rinse cycle. Avoid using vinegar at the same time as chlorine bleach.

Drying New Towels

Proper drying is just as important as washing. Here are some tips for drying new towels:

  • Line or flat drying is best to minimize shrinkage. Lay towels flat or hang to dry.
  • If machine drying, use the lowest heat setting. High heat can damage fibers.
  • Remove promptly from dryer to avoid over-drying. Overheating makes towels rough.
  • Smooth and straighten seams, hems, and edges while still slightly damp.
  • For fastest line drying, choose thin towels in lightweight fabrics like microfiber.
  • Thicker towels or those in looped fabrics take longer to line dry fully.

Caring for Towels Long-Term

Once you make it through the first few washes, continue caring for your new towels with these tips:

  • Wash towels separately from rougher items that could cause lint or pilling.
  • Use chlorine bleach sparingly. On whites, limit to once per month maximum.
  • Load the washer properly and loosely. Overcrowding leads to inadequate cleaning and lint.
  • If towels become musty or dingy, do a sanitizing cycle wash in hot water.
  • Avoid over-drying towels, which removes natural softening moisture and oils.
  • Use white vinegar as a fabric softener and lint remover in the rinse cycle.

Knowing When to Replace Towels

With proper care, high quality towels can last several years. However, normal wear will eventually degrade them. Signs that towels need replacing include:

  • Fraying hems or edges
  • Thinning fabric
  • Holes or tears
  • Loss of absorbency
  • Musty or dingy odor that does not wash out
  • Excessive linting or pilling
  • Stiff or scratchy feel

Rotating towel use evenly, washing with mild detergent, avoiding over-drying, and fabric softener can all extend their usable lifespan. But when towels become too threadbare or develop permanent odors, it’s time to replace them.


Washing new towels properly is important to maximize their lifespan and performance. While there is some flexibility in temperature choices, warm water provides the best combination of cleaning and fabric care. Proper loading, detergent use, and drying also help new towels stay soft and absorbent. With the right initial wash process, high quality towels can continue looking and feeling great for years of regular use.

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