Why Towels Go Hard When Drying Outside (& what to do about it)

There’s something pleasing about seeing washing drying on a clothesline. And there’s several good reasons why you should dry your washing on a line outdoors. However there’s one question that gets asked on a regular basis which is, why do towels go hard on a washing line?

In this article we look into this and explain why towels go hard when line dried and ways to stop this from happening.

What Is The Main Reason Towels Go Hard On An Outdoor Clothesline?

The main reason towels go hard when you dry them on an outdoor clothesline is because of water that gets trapped on the surface of the towels.

As the water dries, it takes on physical attributes similar to hair spray, and it sticks the cotton fibres together in a similar way that hair spray sticks your hair together.

As a result of this you end up with stiff, scratchy towels that aren’t very pleasant to use!

With that being said, there are other things that could be causing your towels to go hard, which we will now take a look at.

What Else Causes Towels To Dry Hard & Scratchy?

Some of the other reasons include;

A Build Up Of Detergent Residue

If you use too much detergent when washing your laundry, not all of the detergent gets rinsed away. The residue dries into the fabric of the towels and acts like a glue. Sticking the fibres together and making the towel feel harsh against your skin.

Using Too Much Fabric Softener (or using it too often)

It’s natural to want your towels to feel soft and cuddly against your skin and the most logical way to achieve this is by using fabric softener. However, using fabric softener too often or using too much fabric softener can have the opposite effect on towels.

The fabric softener builds up on the fibres of the towel and eventually makes the towel feel hard and scratchy. Not only that, but fabric softener buildup will also eventually make the fibres of the towel waterproof.

Which means it won’t absorb water, and that also means it won’t be much good as a towel any more.

Trapped Dust Particles

That surface water that gets trapped in towels as they dry also attract dust particles that are floating about in the air. These dust particles can mix with the water to make a cement-like substance which makes towels feel harsh.

Ways To Help Prevent Towels From Becoming Hard When Outdoor Line Drying


It’s always better to dry your laundry outdoors because the laundry smells fresher, you save on electricity bills and your home doesn’t get damp through having wet washing laying around. However, if the results include hard, scratchy towels you could be put off.

But there’s no need because there are several ways to help prevent towels becoming so hard and uncomfortable to the touch. These include;

Reducing Detergent Usage

As we saw earlier, using too much detergent can be one of the main causes of hard towels. By reducing the amount of detergent you use when washing your towels, you can help prevent any residue from drying on your towels.

It’ll also save you money in the long run too!

Run An Extra Rinse Cycle

If you have used too much detergent, it’s a good idea to run an extra rinse cycle to help remove the excess. Even if you haven’t used too much detergent, an extra rinse won’t hurt the towels at all.

Don’t Use Fabric Softener

Fabric softener can also play a big part in making towels feel harsh against the skin. Residue fabric softener coats the fibres of the towels and dries on making the towel hard and scratchy.

Added to which fabric softener buildup can make towels lose their absorbency. So not using fabric softener when washing towels will also help prevent them becoming useless.

Put Tennis Balls/Laundry Balls In The Washing Machine

This tip is often quoted for tumble drying towels as it breaks up clumps of hardness as the towels rotate in the drum. However, it does exactly the same job in the washing machine as well!

The tennis balls or laundry balls bounce around in the drum colliding with the towels and softening the fibres.

Add White Vinegar

white vinegar going into washing machine

Instead of reaching for the fabric softener, add white vinegar to the rinse cycle to naturally soften the fabric. This will also help to remove any damp, musty smells from towels that have been left damp for some time before washing.

Just add ½ a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle with the towels every time you wash them.

SEE ALSO: How To Use White Vinegar In The Washing Machine (and why!)

Add Bicarbonate Of Soda

Adding ½ a cup of bicarbonate of soda in with every wash will soften the water. This also softens the fibres of the towels as well. Remember that once the water is softer, you will need to use less detergent too.

Shake The Towels Before Hanging On The Line

Giving the towels a really good, hard shake can help to loosen the fibres and disperse those trapped water molecules. Not just a gentle shake, it needs to be pretty violent, you should almost hear the towel fibres crack.

Then hang them on the line as normal and they will dry softer.

Choose A Breezy Day

The wind blowing the towels around can help to relax the fibres and break the bonds that cement them together. This helps to fully dry the towels and prevents the water drying hard on the towels.

Pop Them In A Tumble Dryer

Before the towels are completely dry, they should be put into a tumble dryer for around 15 to 20 minutes. This will remove the last of those water molecules and ensure the towels are soft and fluffy. This works really well if you add some wool dryer balls or tennis balls as well.

Ways To Soften Line Dried Towels

If the towels come off the line stiff, hard and scratchy there are ways to make them soft again. These include;

Tumble Drying

As we saw earlier, all you need to do is place the towels in a tumble dryer for around 15 to 20 minutes to remove any remaining water molecules and break those hydrogen bonds.

Adding a few wool dryer balls or tennis balls will also help soften the towels by forcing those water molecules out of the fibres.

Dampen With A Wet Cloth

If the towels are too dry already, you can make them just wet enough to soften in the tumble dryer by dabbing with a damp cloth. All you need to do is soak a cloth with water and then wring most of the water out of it.

Dab this now damp cloth over every part of the excessively dry towel and once dampened, place the towel in the tumble dryer as above.

Can I Dry Towels On A Radiator?

Drying towels on a radiator on a cold, wet day can be very tempting. Surely the heat will get the towel dry faster right? Well, yes the towel will dry quicker on a radiator if indoor drying without a tumble dryer is your only option.

However, as the fibres of the towel will dry so quickly, they will become harsh and scratchy. Similar to how they do on the line. But in this instance it works in much the same way as toasting bread.

The outside gets cooked hard which causes the surface of the towel to feel hard and stiff. It is never a good idea to dry towels on a radiator unless you like the feel of hard, stiff scratchy towels to exfoliate your skin.

How To Make Towels Last Longer

A person putting laundry detergent into a washing machine

If you want to make your towels last longer, you should;

  • Only Ever Use Good Quality Detergents 

Poor quality detergents are likely to damage the fibres of your towels. Better quality detergents are less harsh and therefore less likely to cause any damage.

  • Use Less Detergent Than Is Recommended
    You should use less detergent than is recommended. This will allow the detergent to get washed away and not coat the fibres with dried detergent
  • Keep Away From Fabric Softeners
    Fabric softener can build up on the fibres of the towels and eventually prevent them from absorbing moisture. This is because the softeners are made from silicone oil-based substances that dry onto the fibres and make them effectively waterproof.
  • Don’t Overload The Drum
    Overloading the drum of your washing machine or tumble dryer is always a bad thing. Apart from the fact that some items won’t get washed properly, you run the risk of damaging your towels etc.
  • Treat Them To A Hot Wash Every So Often
  • To help remove germs, bacteria as well as detergent build up, it is recommended to wash towels at the highest temperature that is safe. Which is 60 degrees C for white towels and 40 degrees C for patterned or coloured towels.

SEE ALSO: Is Fabric Softener Bad For Towels? (& what’s better!)

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep towels soft when drying outside?

To keep towels soft when drying outside, you should choose breezy days, use less detergent, never use fabric softener, add white vinegar to the rinse cycle, or finish the drying process in a tumble dryer.

Can you make hard towels soft again?

You can make hard towels soft again by dampening them slightly and tumble drying them for around 15 to 20 minutes, washing with ½ a cup of bicarbonate of soda or rinsing with ½ a cup of white vinegar.

Should you dry towels outside?

Drying towels outside is a great way to get them dry, keep white towels white and remove harmful bacteria. The sunlight helps white towels stay white whilst the UV rays kill bacteria.

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