How Often Should You Wash Your Towels?

Towels dried on the line seem fresher. (Photo: Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock).

If your first thought upon reading the title of this article was, "When they start to smell funky," you're not alone, because that's exactly when I change my towels. I figure it's a good way to go since it will tell you when the towel is actually "dirty." (I put that in quotes because I've always wondered how dirty something can be that's used to wipe water off a clean body — somehow dirty doesn't seem like the right word to use.)

I think most of what makes a towel "dirty" is just that it's sitting around being damp, which combined with the minimal stuff coming from your body when you dry off — mostly dead skin — can make an unpleasant odor.

How often do you change your towels?So the key is to dry towels effectively between uses, not to wash them more.

But here's the official answer: Experts say you should wash towels way more often than I do — after only being used three times.

That seems totally insane to me — that means two towels a week if you take a shower most days! For a family of four, that's eight towels a week or 32 towel-washings a month. Since the average washing machine holds about eight towels, that means that if you change your bath towels after three uses instead of once a week, you will end up doing four loads of towel-only laundry a month instead of two.

Over a year, that really adds up in terms of water, energy use and time.

I'm not adding to the expenses of my household — or sucking away any more of my valuable time with extra laundry — just because someone tells me I should. (Even if that someone is Good Housekeeping, dammit!)

But then again, I am the writer who has been featured on three different radio shows talking about why I don't shower every day. I will add to my defense and say that the evidence grows that being crazy clean is negatively affecting our health. While I do believe in basic cleanliness, I think the whole thing has gone too far — and this idea of washing a towel after three uses is part of the problem.

So, how can you get away with washing your towels less without being too grungy about it?

First of all, if you're responsible about your bath towels, hanging them up right after you dry off (not tossing them on the floor or leaving them in a pile somewhere where they won't be able to dry properly) will mean faster towel drying. Towels shouldn't be bunched up on the bath rail (spread them out), and you should leave the bathroom door open when you're not using it to let moisture out, which will dry towels more effectively. Effective drying between showers means you'll be able to use that towel a few more times. If you live someplace sunny, consider leaving towels outside to dry.

Squeeze water out of your hair before exiting the tub, so that if/when you wrap your head up in a towel (I do), it's not soaking up as much water from your hair. I have a lot of hair and it's long, so spending 10 seconds to squeeze water out in the tub saves my towels and saves on drying time for my hair.

Make your next set of towels Pastementals — these are thin, super-absorbent Turkish towels that I was first introduced to at the Urban Air market in San Francisco. They dry in just hours, look great, and also take a lot less time to dry in the dryer or out on the line.

I do agree with Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports on one part of this towel-change debate though; hand towels should be changed more frequently. I do it twice a week and there's only two people in my house. Your hands come into contact with actual dirt, real pathogens and germs that you definitely don't want marinating (and spreading) via a shared hand towel. When you wipe your hands off after washing them, you shouldn't be making them less clean in the process. So my verdict is to change bath towels less and change hand towels more.

What do you think? Is changing a bath towel after three uses crazy or clean?