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Is Hard Water Ruining Your Towels? Tips for Washing Your Expensive Towels When You Have Hard Water

  • by Erika Cellupica
  • 5 min read

Hard water -- household water that’s high mineral content -- has the potential to damage your luxury towels. This article explains what hard water does to fine bath textiles; how to prevent it, and what you can do to reverse the damage.

Hard water, which is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, is a common problem in many households. In fact, nearly 85 percent of US homes have some degree of hard water. While hard tap water is typically safe to drink, it causes a mineral build-up in pipes and appliances that reduces their efficiency and longevity; leaves stains and scale on dishes, glassware, and fixtures; irritates the skin and dries out hair; and raises energy bills because hard water takes longer to heat.

Hard water also reduces the effectiveness of laundry detergent, making it more difficult to get your wash clean. Over time, it can also cause build-up that dulls and damages bath linen, even high-quality luxury towels. At Fine Linen and Bath, we understand that luxury bath towels are an investment; we want to help you keep your bath towels soft, beautiful and absorbent and protect them from damage whenever possible. Read on to learn more about hard water and how to protect your luxury bath linen from its ravages.

What Causes Hard Water?

Hard water is water that contains a high concentration of minerals such calcium, magnesium, and sometimes iron. These minerals are naturally present in the earth's crust, and as rainwater falls and seeps into the ground, it picks up these minerals along the way. When this water is pumped into your home and comes into contact with your plumbing system, the minerals can build up and cause problems.

The degree of water hardness varies depending on your region, while the severity of the issue depends on the concentration of minerals in your water. Some signs that you may have hard water are feeling a “film” on your hands and skin after washing; spots on your glasses and silverware after they come out of the dishwasher; and mineral stains in the sink or tub. Hard water causes soap to lather less, leaves hard water stains or a white residue on surfaces, and generally feels "hard" or "heavy." You can contact your local water supplier or municipality to get the most recent water report for your region, or perform a home test. If you have a well, you are likely already softening your water, but contact your well maintenance company for more details.

Learn What Causes Hard Water

Telltale Signs of Hard Water Damage to Your Towels

Hard water is rough on home textiles, especially bath towels. Whether it comes from a well or a municipal supply, hard water does specific damage to luxury bath towels:

  • Dingy color
  • Dull look
  • Scratchy feel
  • Rough texture 
  • Loss of absorbency

This happens when the minerals in hard water -- specifically calcium and magnesium -- build up on the towel fibers. Over time hard water will cause the fibers of your bath towels to weaken and break down, which shortens their lifespan. As we noted earlier, hard water also makes it difficult for laundry detergent to properly dissolve and do its job; this can lead to soap scum and residue building up on towels for a scratchy, stiff feel. Extremely hard water can even leave mineral stains and deposits on your towels

How to Soften the Water in Your Home

There are a few options for treating the hard water problem in your home. 

Install a water softener, a device that is installed in your plumbing to remove minerals from the water as it enters your home. Water softeners use a process called ion exchange to swap the calcium and magnesium ions for sodium or potassium ions. This reduces the hardness of the water and prevents mineral buildup in your plumbing system and home textiles. Be aware, however, that many states -- including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Michigan, and Texas -- have placed restrictions on home water softening systems

Install a salt-free descaling system. This device doesn’t directly remove minerals from the water. Instead, a descaling system uses electromagnetic waves to alter the structure of the minerals in the water to prevent them from adhering to surfaces. While these are more environmentally friendly, descalers are generally not as effective as traditional water-softening systems.

Lower your water temperature. This is not a “fix” for hard water but will slow down the process of scale build up that happens in water heaters as a result of sped-up chemical reactions in hot water.

Use a rinse aid in the dishwasher. These contain surfactants that help water molecules thin out and dry more quickly and chelating agents that stop minerals from attaching to glasses, dishes, and flatware.

Sferra Bello Bath Towels

How to Wash Luxury Towels to Minimize Hard Water Damage

Of course, installing whole-home water softening systems isn’t always practical or even possible. Understanding that your ability to soften your household water may be limited, there are some best practices to follow when washing your towels that can help minimize hard water damage:

  1. Use a high-quality, pH-neutral, liquid detergent specifically made for cleaning fine fabric. We recommend Heritage Park All-Purpose Laundry Detergent, which is made with all-natural, plant-based ingredients and contains a proprietary enzyme blend for tackling tough stains. While most commercial detergents are more alkaline, Heritage Park is pH-neutral to minimize the effects of hard water. Heritage Park detergents also contain sodium citrate to naturally soften water! At the same time, the gentle formula won't damage the fine fibers of your towels.
  2. Sort your towels by color and weight, and don’t overload your washing machine.
  3. NEVER use bleach, which will cause colored towels to fade and white towels to turn yellow.
  4. NEVER use fabric softener (or any type of dryer sheet). Rather than “softening” the fabric, these products leave a waxy build-up on the surface that diminishes your towels’ absorbency.
  5. If you know your water is hard, add a half cup of white vinegar to your wash cycle along with your detergent. The acid in the vinegar will neutralize the minerals and prevent them from building up on your towels.
  6. Wash in lukewarm water.
  7. Shake towels to fluff before putting in the dryer on a medium setting.
  8. Use wool dryer balls like these to soften and speed drying time.

You can learn more about caring for your luxury towels here. And here’s some insight on how to keep your front-load washer clean and smelling fresh.

How to Revive and Refresh Your Hard-Water Damaged Towels

If you've been washing your towels in hard water for a while and notice they are stiff, scratchy, or maybe even smelly, don't worry! Fine Linen and Bath has an easy, time-tested remedy for restoring softness and absorbency to your favorite towels. This process requires two complete wash cycles and will strip residue from your towels; remove the musty smell; and leave them soft, fluffy, and smelling fresh. 

STEP 1: Wash your towels in hot/warm water (not scalding) with one cup of white distilled vinegar.

STEP 2: Run a second time with only a half-cup of baking soda. This will help freshen and remove any smells.

It’s that easy! Do NOT add laundry detergent to either wash. (And, of course, no fabric softener or softener sheets).

Revive and Refresh Your Hard-Water Damaged Towels

As always, the Fine Linen and Bath design team is here to answer your questions and concerns about caring for your towels and other luxury home linen. Contact us by phone or email–we’d love to hear from you!

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