Why Do Towels Go Hard When Dried Outside

Why Do Towels Go Hard When Dried Outside?

Line drying laundry is an excellent way of saving money, and it’s also greener too.

Yet, while this traditional drying method may be great for a lot of laundry, towels don’t like being line dried at all. More often than not, they end up feeling rigid, scratchy and rough to touch after being on the washing line.

So, why do your towels feel stiff after being outside? Keep on reading to find out why your towels go hard when line dried and what you can do about it.


Why Do Towels Go Hard When Dried Outside?

These are the most common reasons why towels feel stiff after they’ve been dried on a line:

Reason 1: Too much detergent

Hard towels can be a sign that you’re using too much detergent in the washing machine.

If you clean your towels with too much detergent, the excess detergent can act as a microscopic binding agent, similar to how cement holds stones together to form concrete. In turn, this can make the towels feel tough and scratchy. 

Reason 2: Residual water

Why Do Towels Go Hard When Dried Outside - Residual water

Cotton naturally retains water, and it is this ‘residual water’ that binds the cotton fibres together. Hence towels often feel stiff after they have been washed.

Even when cotton feels dry to the touch, the individual microscopic cotton fibres still have a thin broken film of water covering them.

This thin film effectively acts as a natural glue to bind the cotton fibres to each other. This binding action stops the cotton fibres from sliding past each when flexed, so instead they hold each other in the position they get dried in.

Think of how multiple sheets of paper on top of each other bend easily, but if you glue all the sheets on top of each other, they become very stiff.

The reason why this occurs with air drying and not machine drying is because normal air has a relatively high humidity. This means that the air is already carrying a lot of water.

Although a lot of the water is evaporating away during the drying phase, some water is left behind on the towels because the water’s natural surface tension clings onto the cotton fibres.

Plus, the cotton fibres are not being agitated, so the film of water glues the cotton in place.

The reason why towels feel softer after being tumble dried is because the machine is constantly agitating the cotton fibres, so they never get a chance to ‘stick’ together. And because the inside of a dryer has zero humidity.

Reason 3: Dust particles combine with water

When air drying towels, small dust particles can land on the fabric. In turn, the dust mixes with the water and cotton fibres and creates a ‘cement’.

This dusty ‘cement’ binds the cotton fibres and makes towels feel rigid.


How to Stop Towels Going Hard When Dried Outside

How to Stop Towels Going Hard When Dried Outside

Towels that have been dried on a washing line often feel rough to touch, and they lack the soft texture that towels should have.

So, how do you stop towels from going hard on a line? Try the tips below. You may find a combination of the points below will work best! 

  • Finish them in the tumble dryer – Remove the towels from the line just before they’ve dried completely, and pop them in the tumble dryer to re-fluff them for the last 15 minutes.
  • Shake them – Shake your towels vigorously to encourage the fibres to loosen up! Then hang the towels on the line.
  • Use less laundry detergent – Only use half the amount of detergent in the wash when cleaning towels. Over-using detergent can leave a filmy residue on the fabric and can make it feel cardboard-like.
  • Dry your towels on a windy day – The constant blowing motion can help loosen and relax the bonded fibres.  
  • White vinegar – Add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle when you’re cleaning your towels one/twice a month to keep towels soft. The acetic acid found in vinegar breaks the bond between detergent residue and natural fibres, so towels feel softer.
  • Bicarbonate of soda – Add a cup of bicarbonate of soda to your towel load one/twice a month to keep towels soft and to remove pesky odours.
  • Use a water softening system – If you live in a hard water area, you could think about adding a water softening system to your home. This’ll help to reduce the amount of mineral deposits that are left behind on your towels by the hard water.
  • Extra rinse cycle – If you’ve added too much detergent to the wash, run an extra rinse cycle. The additional rinse will remove excess detergent.


How Do You Soften Stiff Towels That Have Been Dried Outside?

How Do You Soften Stiff Towels That Have Been Dried Outside

To soften towels that have gone stiff out on the line, here are a few options you can try:

Refresh in the tumble dryer

Pull your towels in off the line before they’re dry and pop them in a tumble dryer. Run a short cycle. By the end, your towels should feel softer because they’ve been agitated in the drum.

You can add some dryer balls to your dryer to help fluff your towels up as they complete a quick drying cycle.

Blot towels with a wet cloth

If your towels are excessively dry, bring them indoors. Then grab a small cotton cloth, soak it, wring it out, and start blotting one dry towel at a time with it.

Continue to do this until you’ve dampened the entire towel, and repeat the steps for the rest of the towels. When you’re done you can pop the towels into a tumble dryer.

Tip: While fabric softener has the ability to soften towels, it isn’t always a great idea to use this product when cleaning towels. Why? Sometimes when you use fabric softener it can leave a waxy film on the surface of the towel.

In turn, this can reduce the absorbency of the towel. This isn’t exactly ideal, considering a towel is there to dry you when you come out of the wash.

Also, fabric softener can in some cases make towels harder, rather than softer. So, if you’re going to go down the fabric softener route, make sure you choose a suitable product that suits your towels.