When testing washing machines, does gentleness equal fluffiness?

Question: When testing washing machines, does gentleness equal fluffiness? I recently bought a second-hand front loading washing machine, which has destroyed all my fluffy bath towels and made many of my cottons feel crunchy. I’ve reduced the spin cycle and only wash in cold water but it hasn’t helped. I’ve also tried vinegar as softener, to no avail. Is there any way I can reduce the damage to my towels? Is this a front loader characteristic?

Answer: No, gentleness does not equal fluffiness – rather, it’s a measure of how much a washing machine beats up and damages your clothes (or how little). We test gentleness by washing 100 x 100mm loose weave fabric swatches (it’s actually cross stitch fabric, as specified by the Australian standard). After washing, we trim all the frayed edges and measure how much smaller the swatch is than when we started the test – the more that has frayed off, the less gentle the machine. We find front loaders as a category to be more gentle on your clothes than top loaders.

The biggest reason your towels might be coming out of the wash without the desired level of
‘fluffiness’ is high spin speeds. Modern washing machines, particularly front loaders, can spin your laundry much faster than washers of yore. This is great if you’re using a clothes dryer as it extracts more water first, reducing the time and therefore energy required to dry your clothes, but high spin speeds can flatten the pile of fabrics (like your towels), and cause more creasing. If you’re line drying your laundry then you could dial down your spin speed.

Two other options are adding vinegar or fabric softener to the wash – vinegar you’ve already tried, and fabric softener, while it will get your towels soft and fluffy, is best avoided. Among other things, fabric softeners actually reduce the water absorbency of your towels, which makes them less effective as a towel. What we would recommend is line drying your laundry, but throwing your
towels in the dryer for the last little bit of the drying process – the hot air and tumbling will fluff your towels up nicely, but you still get the benefits of line drying.

I’d also suggest making sure you’re familiar with the various different programs on your washing machine and their intended purpose – you may find you’re happier with your towels if you use a gentle program, or possibly just something a little lighter than a full cottons wash.


The airing cycle of the dryer after towels are line dried fluffs them up nicely for us. No heat required on that cycle.


I just throw mine in the dryer anyway because there is no way I can manage to get fluffy (or at least soft-ish) towels if I don’t. The other benefit is the extracted H2O goes on pot plants (its a heat pump dryer)


Or you could learn to love the crunchiness? I love a freshly-washed towel, dried on the line, for its delicious raspiness (and sunny smell). It’s like getting a massage when you dry off. However, I realise I’m probably in the minority.


I’m the same - towels and sheets do come off the outdoor line quite crisp. Lovely for sheets, slightly less lovely for towels, but after a single use they soften up again anyway, so I regard that initial crispy towelling off as a free all-over exfoliation treatment.


It could be you are using too much washing powder. This would leave a residue which would stiffen when dried. Try reducing the amount of powder to about 1/8th of a scoop. Front-loaders are more economical on water which usually means they add only as much water as the load requires. This is fine but it also means that using too much washing powder results in it not being fully rinsed away during the cycle.


What if you like cardboard towels?

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Hi @DarvallB, welcome to the community.

We prefer a dry towel and it doesn’t matter if it is soft and fluffy or stiff and less soft.

Once one picks it up and uses a ‘stiff’ towel, it becomes soft very quickly, especially when moisture from the body softens the fibres.

We don’t use fabric softeners nor tumble dry our towels. We are more than happy the feel from airdrying.

Hardness of the water can affect the softness post drying. Also, how they are airdried (in windy weather, the action of the wind should make them less ‘stiff’.


I have tried everything to get my Airbnb towels soft again… they are expensive to buy again. I always line dry. I spoke to my washing machine manufacturer and they deny it could be the spinning problem that I suspected. I never had this problem with top loader! I now get it and can confirm that the spin is too powerful and flattens the material. I have tried less powders vinegar and baking powder, softeners. To some degree it helps to put the dial to “minimum iron” to lessen the harsh spin, but once the towels are hard they remain so. I don’t have a seperate tumble dryer… so I went to try one in a launderette. My towels became significantly softer the first time using a warm cycle. Problem solved. Now I have to decide whether to buy a tumble drier or just use the public one for my best towels.


Oh no, crunchy towels for me or my Airbnb guests bring complaints!

Hi @She, welcome to the community.

If you currently operate and operated post March 2022, it has been a standard Covid safety plan measure for accommodation businesses to ensure linen and towels are heated to at least 60°C during washing/drying. This is to ensure the virus is destroyed by heat.

Likewise pre-Covid, high risk accommodation laundry items (towels, washers etc) need to be sterilised to protect the health of future guests.

It is worth exploring your obligations to ensure something doesn’t come to bite you in the future.


Oh yes, hot water and detergent, several rinses, and line drying would deal with all of that I believe.


Line drying would probably deal with all of it, alone, if indeed it is necessary at all (for Hygiene, not drying). Reference “Hygiene Theatre” for some interesting reading.

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Unfortunately it doesn’t. UV from sunlight on impacts on those microbes which have direct contact with sunlight. Linen/towels etc only the surface of the material has the potential to be sterilised, while those surfaces which haven’t had direct contact with sunlight (inside the fabric or on the shaded side of the fibres) can still harbour microbes.

This isn’t relevant to high risk items such as towels, washers, bed linen etc which may have been in direct contact pathogens/body fluids. These can only be treated with heat, preferably with steam (and potentially chemically) to remove risks.

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I found a wide variety of view points on line. One would assume our state govt health depts would have clear guidelines for hospitality and separately for medical care.

The various recommendations include reading the care instructions provided with the product. The greater emphasis appears to be on washing and stain removal, rather than drying, IE wash temperature and detergent use.

Or perhaps for hospital grade?

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The first reference is to a linen supplier which provides information on how to best care for hotel type sheets so that they maximise sheet life etc. It isn’t a reliable reference to meet industry hygiene standards.

The second reference can also apply to accommodation/hotel industry.

The relevant standard in Australia is AS/NZS 4146:2000 Laundry practice which applies to Commercial, Industrial and Hospital environments (this website gives an overview of current thermal hygiene requirements for those who don’t have access AS/NZS 4146). This standard outlines what minimum measures are required to mitigate risks associated with laundering a range of products and materials.

It is also worth noting that the risks associated within a domestic (household) environment is very different to a commercial environment, where there are a number of persons using items (with the potential to come into contact with body fluids/pathogens) and the same items being laundered and passed onto the next user. One shouldn’t confuse (of think they are the same) domestic and commercial/industrial/hospital laundry hygiene requirements.

Edit: A simple example is head lice. These can easily be passed on through poor laundry hygiene. Placing towels or sheets in sunlight will have no effect on their eggs or live lice…and if not sterilised by heat, they have a high change of causing the next users of the towels to also be infected with the lice. For head lice, treatment is simple, 50° to 55° C for at least 5 minutes to desiccate louse and their eggs. The list continues with communicable diseases and pathogens. The challenge with a commercial environment, one does not know who as a readily communicable disease/pathogen and treatment needs to assume that every person has something to pass on to the next. This is the reason why there are standards to ensure minimum controls are put into place.

While sunlight may be suitable for a household/domestic environment (which we do for our own washing), it is unsuitable for a commercial, industrial or hospital environments.

It is also worth noting Choice’s clothes dryer reviews evaluate cloth drying and not whether the drier can achieve minimum requirements for sterilising items being dried. It would be interesting to see which dryers did meet AS/NZS 1416 in relation to temperature control. This is possibly more interest to commercial buyers, rather than domestic application.

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Indeed - which sometimes seem to extend to more ‘reputable’ organisations responsible for governance and standards. It is sometimes interesting to read the published research in conjunction with derivative papers commenting on the various testing parameters/etc including the risk factors associated with the various transmission vectors. It’s not surprising the term ‘hygiene theatre’ is being used … My view only: the biggest problem with ‘theatre’ is the ‘reassuring effect’ it has on people.


What was a question about rough towels after washing in front loader… how to solve this problem has turned into a discussion about what is a hygienic wash. I am interested if you can keep to the point … or open another discussion please. Thank you everyone

If you want hard scratchy towels, dry them on a clothes line.
If you want soft fluffy towels, dry them in a tumble dryer.
You have already solved your ‘problem’ in a previous post by saying you tumble dried them and the towels were fine.