How to make towels white again: A Detailed Guide

Have you noticed your white towels looking dingy, gray, or yellow? Over time, they lose their bright white color from regular use, buildup of dirt, body oils, and residue from laundry detergent and fabric softener. Fortunately, there are ways to make them looking fresh and clean again with some simple cleaning methods.

In this article we will cover 8 different methods that you can try.

Why Towels Lose Their Bright Whiteness

There are a few key factors that cause white towels to become dull and discolored over time:

  • Body oils and dirt – When you dry off after a shower or bath, you transfer oils and dirt from your skin onto the towels. Over time, this buildup of dirt and oil can make the towel less effective at drying your skin.
  • Hard water – Minerals in hard water can leave a trail on fabrics that makes them look different in color.
  • Detergent buildup – Many detergents have special chemical that make clothes look whiter for a short while, but these chemicals can build up on the fabric over time.
  • Heat – Washing towels in hot water and machine drying can accelerate the yellowing process.

Making towels white again: 8 Methods

To restore that bright white color, you’ll need to remove the buildup of oils, minerals, and detergent residue. This means doing a more thorough cleaning than your usual laundry routine.

Here are the most effective methods to make dingy towels bright and white again:

Method 1: Clean Towels in Hot Water With Baking Soda

One of the simplest ways to make towel white again is to wash it in hot water with baking soda. Here’s how:

  • Sorting – Wash white towels separately from colored fabrics to prevent dye transfer. Check for stains pretreating if needed.
  • Wash in hot water – Set your washing machine to the hot water setting that is safe for the fabric. Hot water helps dissolve oils and residue.
  • Add baking soda – For a top-washing machine, pour 1/2 cup of baking powder directly into the washing tub before adding the towels. For a front-loading machine, put the baking powder in the soap dispenser.
  • Use detergent – Add the usual amount of detergent in machine.
  • Drying – For best results, dry towels in sunlight to naturally bleach and remove stains. Or tumble dry on low if needed.

The heat helps remove oils and residue, while the baking soda works as a natural bleaching agent to brighten the towels. For heavily soiled towels, repeat as needed.

A washing machine with white towels.

Method 2: Soak Towels in Vinegar Solution

White vinegar is another inexpensive item that works well for getting dingy towels white and bright again.

Here are the steps:

  • Fill tub with hot water – Close the sink or bathtub drain and fill it with hot water.
  • Add 2 cups white vinegar – Add approximately 2 cups of white distilled vinegar.
  • Add in Bathtub – Put the towels in the bathtub and make sure they are completely underwater. If the towels are very dirty, leave them to soak overnight. For regular cleaning, 1-2 hours is enough.
  • Rinse and wash – Once the towels have been soaked, rinse them in clean water. Then, wash them as you normally would, using detergent in the hot water.

The acidic vinegar helps dissolve mineral deposits, soap leftovers, and grime in the fabric to make it white again. Make sure to rinse well after soaking to get rid of the vinegar smell.

Picture of a bathtub filled with white towels submerged in a vinegar solution.

Method 3: Using Oxygen Bleach

Oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) is an effective chemical-free way to bleach and brighten laundry. Here’s how to use it:

  • Pre-treat stains – If your towels have stains or are very dirty, use laundry detergent or a stain remover stick on the affected areas before washing.
  • Add to wash – Add the oxygen bleach powder in the washing machine tub, as instructed on the package. Usually, you’ll need 1 to 2 scoops.
  • Wash in hot water – Wash towels in the hot water. Oxygen bleach requires hot water to activate.
  • Drying – For the best results, let the towels dry in the sunshine. The sun’s rays will make them even brighter and cleaner.
  • Repeat if needed – For very dingy towels, repeat process by soaking in an oxygen bleach solution before washing again.

The oxygen bleach removes stains, deodorizes, and whitens without using harsh chemicals. Be sure to check fabric care instructions first.

A before-and-after shot of a stained white towel, showcasing the effectiveness of a bleach.

Method 4: Drying Towels in Sunlight

One of the oldest and most effective method to naturally whiten and brighten laundry is by drying it in direct sunlight. Here’s how:

  • Wash towels – First, wash them as usual with detergent and hot water to remove surface dirt and oils.
  • Hang outside – Hang them over a clothesline, shower rod, or balcony/deck railing in direct sunlight.
  • Let dry completely – Leave them in sunlight for several hours until completely dry. The UV rays will naturally bleach and disinfect.
  • Repeat as needed – For severely discolored towels, you can repeat this process.

The sun’s UV radiation breaks down the bonds in the fabric that causes discoloring. This method is gentle but highly effective for restoring vibrancy. Just be sure to bring towels inside before nightfall to prevent re-soiling.

White towels hung on a clothesline in the sunlight.

Method 5: Using Hydrogen Peroxide

As a mild bleach, hydrogen peroxide can naturally whiten and brighten laundry. Here is how to use it:

  • Check towels – Inspect towels for stains and pre-treat if needed. Hydrogen peroxide may lighten some stains but not remove them fully.
  • Add to wash – Add 1 cup hydrogen peroxide in machine. Adjust amount based on towels.
  • Wash with hot water – Wash towels using the hot water as it activates the bleaching.
  • Dry and inspect – After drying, check whiteness. If needed, repeat wash process using hydrogen peroxide up to 3 times.

The bubbling oxygen reaction of hydrogen peroxide helps lift staining and brighten fibers. Take care not to over-apply or bleach may leave holes. Start with smaller amounts and perform spot tests.

Hydrogen peroxide used on stained towels.

Method 6: Use Color-Safe Bleach

For a powerful whitening boost, use an oxygen-based color-safe bleach made specifically for white fabrics. Here’s how to apply it:

  • Check care label – Check the label on your towels to make sure they are bleach-safe.
  • Pre-treat stains – Apply stain remover stick or spray to any visible stains.
  • Add bleach to wash – Add the recommended amount of bleach to the washing machine.
  • Wash with hot water – Wash them using the hot water recommended on the care label with your regular detergent.
  • Dry completely – Tumble dry on low or hang dry. Avoid over-drying which can cause yellowing.

Color-safe bleach uses sodium percarbonate to boost whiteness by bleaching away stains, oils, and residue. Use caution when handling and follow safety directions.

A bottle of color-safe bleach next to a washing machine, with white towels.

Method 7: Restore Whiteness by Ironing

Heat from ironing can also help restore brightness to dingy white laundry like towels. Here’s how:

  • Wash and dry towels – First, wash and dry them completely using other whitening methods on this list.
  • Fill iron with water – To use your steam iron, simply pour regular tap water into the water tank. There’s no need to add vinegar or any other special solutions.
  • Iron on medium steam – Iron them using the medium steam setting.
  • Check whiteness – Inspect towels. The heat and steam should have removed some of the yellowing. Repeat if needed.
  • Let air dry – After ironing, hang towels to fully air dry before using or returning to the linen closet.

The combination of concentrated heat and steam helps extract dinginess from the fabric for refreshed white towels. Just take care not to actually press down and crease the towels.

A steam iron hovering over a white towel, showing the ironing process.

Method 8: Use Lemons as a Natural Bleach

For a non-toxic whitening method, try using lemon juice as a natural bleach alternative. Here’s how:

  • Squeeze lemon juice – Cut lemons in half and squeeze to extract approximately 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice per bath towel.
  • Apply juice – Before you start, make sure the towel is slightly wet. Then, use a sponge or cloth to spread lemon juice on the whole towel.
  • Let soak – Allow towels to soak the lemon juice for at least 30 minutes. For heavy stains or yellowing, soak for 1-2 hours.
  • Wash as usual – Rinse towels under cool water until lemon smell is gone. Then wash in hot water.

The citric acid in lemons acts as a natural bleach to brighten and whiten fabrics. It’s a smart eco-friendly alternative to chlorine bleach for dingy towels.

Lemon mixture put onto a stained white towel, highlighting the natural bleaching properties.

Safety Tips

Be sure to take safety precautions when using chemical cleaners:

  • Carefully follow all instructions on any cleaning product.
  • Wear gloves and work in a ventilated area.
  • Before using bleach or other whitening products, test them on a small area of colored fabric first.
  • Never mix chemical solutions like bleach and vinegar – it creates toxic fumes.
  • Start with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide and do spot tests first to check for fabric damage.
  • Keep all chemical solutions out of reach of children and pets.

Common Issues users might face

If you are having trouble making your towels white, here are some tips:

  • Pre-treat stained areas before washing. Try rubbing lemon juice or soaking in oxygen bleach solution.
  • To remove yellow stains, soak the affected area in lemon juice or non-chlorine bleach. Repeat the soaking and rinsing process until the stain is gone.
  • Avoid methods like bleach or peroxide if your towels have colored trim that may fade.
  • Reduce bleach or peroxide amounts if towels makes holes or tears.

Tips for Keeping Towels White

Once you’ve restored your towels to a bright white shade, you’ll want to keep them looking their best by preventing future discoloration and dinginess. Here are some handy tips:

  • Wash white towels separately from colored fabrics to prevent dye transfer.
  • Use cool water and avoid over-drying which can accelerate yellowing.
  • Hang towels in sunlight regularly to naturally bleach and freshen.
  • Use fabric softener sparingly as residue can cause graying over time.
  • Pre-treat any new stains quickly with stain remover sticks or sprays.
  • Wash towels in hot water weekly to clean away body oil and dirt buildup.
  • Replace your oldest, most worn towels that resist getting fully white again.

With proper laundry care and the occasional deep cleaning, you can keep those plush white towels looking fresh and bright for years to come.

When to Replace Towels

No matter how well you care for them, towels wear out over time. Some signs it’s time to replace yours:

  • Excessive pilling, fraying or tearing.
  • Permanent stains that won’t lift.
  • Musty, sour odors.
  • Gray or yellow discoloration.
  • Weak, elongated fibers.


Old, grayish towels can make a bathroom seem old and unclean. Fortunately, you can restore their bright white color with a few simple laundry changes and whitening techniques. By using the right combination of hot water, whitening agents, and the sun’s power, you can even make the most worn and yellow towels look fluffy and white again. Following these tips will keep your bath towels fresh, hygienic, and welcoming for many years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best product to get stains out of white towels?

For white towels, bleach can be an effective stain remover. Be sure to follow the care instructions on the towel label and use bleach in the recommended amount.

How do hotels get white towels white?

Hotels use commercial grade washers and bleach to thoroughly clean towels. They wash towels separately from other linens at very high heat. Towels are replaced frequently.

How do you get brown stains out of white towels?

Pre-treat brown stains with stain remover stick or hydrogen peroxide. Soak in oxygen bleach before washing. Bleach may remove some brown stains but not all types fully. May need to replace towel if stain won’t lift.

How do I get my dish towels white again?

To clean kitchen towels, wash them in hot water with baking soda or bleach. You can also soak them in a vinegar solution. After washing, dry them in direct sunlight.

Learn More:


Leave a Reply