Why Do Towels Turn Yellow?

There’s nothing better than stepping out of a hot shower into a soft, fluffy, white towel. White towels feel luxurious, this is why hotels choose to use them.

However, the luxury effect is somewhat ruined when you notice yellow discolouration on your towels, white or otherwise.

In this article, we find out why towels turn yellow, how to prevent this from happening and how to restore already-discoloured towels to their original lustre.


What Causes Discoloration to Towels?

Kitchen towels

kitchen towel

Cooking oil and other food stains can cause discolouration on kitchen towels. Even if we’re only using them to dry our hands, the residue from food can build up on kitchen towels and over time, cause yellow marks to develop.


Bathroom towels

woman using white bathroom towel on hair

Whether we’re talking hand towels in the bathroom, bath mats or bath towels, white towels in bathrooms are also susceptible to yellowing.

However, it’s not cooking oil or food getting onto your bathroom towels, so what’s the culprit?

Believe it or not, oil is still a cause of yellow marks, but it’s the oil from your skin and hair. As they come into contact with our hair and body, sebum is rubbed onto towels and can stain.

In addition to this, skin products, hair products and makeup can cause towels to become dingy.

Even though we rinse these products off before drying ourselves, small amounts can still be left on our bodies and get onto our towels.


Improper washing

Improper washing can cause towels to turn yellow for two different reasons.

Firstly, if a wash cycle fails to remove grime, this will lead to stains developing over time.

Secondly, the wash itself can cause discolouration to towels, either from washing lights and darks together, or build-up from fabric softener or detergent.

Hard water can unfortunately be a culprit in yellowing towels. The minerals from the water can be deposited on towels, leaving them looking dingy.


How Do You Prevent Towels from Turning Yellow?

Correct washing

white towels on washing machine

To prevent towels from turning yellow, they need to be washed adequately. Often, we think that we’re washing towels correctly, but they still become discoloured.

Here are some laundry tips to help prevent towels from turning yellow:

  • Be sure to use the right amount of detergent, both too much and too little can cause stains.
  • Wash towels at a warm to hot temperature.
  • Avoid fabric softener as this can leave stains on towels.
  • Don’t wash lighter coloured towels with darker items.
  • Be sure to thoroughly rinse as not doing so can lead to a build-up of soap scum.


Keep your washing machine clean

cleaning washing machine exterior

Although yellowing is mainly due to food, skin and oil, it can also be caused by staining from the washing machine. Fabric softener and soap scum build-up can cause towels to discolour.

This is why it’s important to clean your washing machine regularly. A clean washing machine will produce the cleanest towels!


Choose darker towels instead

dark colored towels

This isn’t exactly a way to stop towels from turning yellow, but it could be an alternative if you constantly find yourself with yellow towels.

If your towels always end up looking grubby, and you’re not sure why, try buying darker coloured towels so that yellow stains are less visible.


How to Remove Stains from White Towels

Prevention is, of course, the best way to keep towels from yellowing. However, if you’ve already noticed a yellow tinge, don’t throw your towels out just yet.

There are a few things you can try to make them look fresh again.


remove white towel stains with bleach

Hotels keep their towels white by using peroxide-based laundry detergent. Bleach can make grubby white towels look bright again.

Here’s how to bleach towels:

  1. Fill a container with hot water.
  2. Add bleach to the water according to the instructions on the label.
  3. Soak the towels for around 5 minutes.
  4. Launder as usual.

Alternatively, you can add the bleach to the bleach tray or detergent tray and launder with your normal detergent.

Bleach isn’t suitable for coloured towels as it works by lifting colour, this is how it removes yellow stains.



vinegar and towels

As bleach can’t be used for coloured towels, you can use vinegar instead:

  1. Fill up a container with hot water.
  2. Add one cup of white vinegar per gallon (4.5 litres) of water.
  3. Add towels to the water, making sure they’re submerged.
  4. Soak for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  5. Launder as usual.

You can also add a cup of vinegar to your laundry detergent and launder as usual.


Bicarbonate of soda

baking soda, vinegar, sponge and white towel

This method can also be used for towels of any colour:

  1. Add a quarter cup of bicarbonate of soda to hot water.
  2. Stir it around so that it dissolves in the water.
  3. Add your towels and soak for at least an hour.
  4. Launder as usual.

You can also add the bicarbonate of soda directly to your laundry load and wash as usual.