5 tell-tale signs you need to throw out your towels — and ways to repurpose them

Pile of towels
Pile of towels (Image credit: Shutterstock)

There’s nothing like jumping out of the shower or a relaxing bath into a soft and fluffy towel to wrap up in. But if your favorite, luxury towels look a little worn, not absorbing properly and no longer fit for purpose, you’ll need to know exactly when to throw it out and buy a new set!

Since we put our towels to good use everyday, we don’t always realise when it’s time that they need replacing — and even high-quality towels are not invincible. With that being said, here are some of the tell-tale signs you need to throw out your towels for new ones. Plus, a few clever ways you can repurpose old towels and put it to good use.  

1. Your towels don’t absorb well anymore 

Women holding pile of towels

Women holding pile of towels  (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The whole point of bath towels is to absorb moisture from your skin. So once it starts to become non-absorbent, and not drying your skin properly, that’s a sure sign to get rid of your towel, and buy a new one.

This can be avoided by not using too much detergent or fabric softener when washing towels. Generally, this leaves too much residue in the fibers, making it slippery — reducing its absorbency over time. In fact, this is a common laundry mistake we often make that could be ruining your towels.

2. Towels feel stiff or scratchy 

wet towels piled high in a laundry basket

wet towels piled high in a laundry basket (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your once soft, luxurious and fluffy towels now feel like sandpaper on your skin, you might want to ditch this for something more comfortable. 

Those stiff or rough textures can be caused by a build-up of oil residue, overwashing your towels or using too much detergent, which has damaged the soft fibers. Or it could be that you live in a hard water area that could affect even the best washing machines, and the outcome of your laundry in the long term. 

However, if you want to reduce the risk of scratchy towels in the future, check out how to make your towels feel soft and fluffy again for clever tips.  

3. Towels have smelly odors 

Woman smelling a white towel

Woman smelling a white towel (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your towel starts to smell musty, it can be unpleasant to use. And if you find lingering odors, even after you’ve washed it, this is a sign that you’ll probably need to throw it out!

Towels can hold onto odors for various reasons, but it could also mean that it hasn’t been properly ventilated. Always hang up your towel after use in a dry, well-ventilated area, so it can air out. In addition, crack open a bathroom window or leave the fan on, especially after a hot shower. 

Plus, stinky towels defeat the purpose of feeling clean and fresh! You may also be interested in 5 tips to freshen up your towels

4. There is mildew spotting 

Two towels drying outside on a clothesline

Two towels drying outside on a clothesline (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your bathroom lacks proper ventilation or windows, you could unknowingly be encouraging mold in your home. If this happens, this could cause mildew spots (a form of fungus), to appear on your towels or flannels — which would need to be thrown out right away. 

To avoid mildew spots, be sure to turn on the fan or open up a window in your bathroom to bring down moisture levels. In addition, leaving the door open after use, can help reduce humidity, which is a cause of mold and mildew. Better still, hang them outdoors on a clothes line on a dry, sunny day!

5. The color is fading or towel is frayed 

Frayed pink towel hanging on a rail

Frayed pink towel hanging on a rail (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If the bold, colorful set of towels that once brightened up your bathroom, now looks lacklustre and worn — it’s probably a good time to replace them. The same applies if there are any holes, rips or if towels generally look dated.

Essentially, faded or frayed towels means that they are in a state of disrepair, and no longer efficient. Although, these can be reused to mop up spillages, or to clean and dry off pets, if you’re an owner. 

Clever ways to upcycle old bath towels 

Piles of old towels

Piles of old towels (Image credit: Shutterstock)

   Use old bath towels as multi-purpose cleaning rags for large areas, the car or a faster way to mop up any spillages or leaks. You can always cut them into smaller pieces or strips to suit the task at hand. 

   If you’re a pet parent, why not use old towels to clean or dry up pets? Or you can even donate to your local animal shelter who are often in need of old towels and bedding. 

   Old bath towels can be used as an alternative to dust, floor coverings if you’re learning to paint a room like a pro. Or you can rest your paintbrushes down on them without making a mess on the surface. 

   When maintaining your car, you can use old towels to wipe up oily spills or to line the trunk to prevent any dirt or stains from items. 

—   Roll them up and use as headrests for when relaxing in the bath.

—  Depending on where you live, old towels can be recycled at textile banks or specific recycling schemes in stores. 

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Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!