One of the best things about staying with my parents is the promise of soft, fluffy towels when I arrive. Compared to the rough, frequently damp variety I have at home, my mum’s towels feel like I’m being wrapped in clouds. When I ask her how she keeps her towels so fluffy, she replies, only half-joking, “I buy expensive towels.”

First, I read that the leading cause of stiff towels is often leftover detergent residue. However, while cutting back on detergent will prevent towels from growing scratchy, it may not revive the softness. Choosing a hot water cycle and washing loads of only towels are also recommended for maintaining fluff, but again may not be enough to bring it back from the dead.

Undeterred, I continued to scrounge around the internet, and eventually came across a few interesting tricks—using items that I already have lying around at home—that I decided to try. Not at all of them worked out, but here is what I discovered.

Add Baking Soda
What the internet says: Mix half a cup of baking soda along with a normal detergent dose for fluffier and cleaner towels. Baking soda also naturally eliminates musty and mildew smells that come from towels remaining damp for too long.

How it worked: The towel felt thicker and bouncier, but the threads were sharper and spikier—kind of like a buzz cut texture. Not entirely ideal.

Throw Tennis Balls in The Dryer
What the internet says:
If you have a few clean, unused tennis balls lying around like I do, try throwing them in the dryer along with your towels. As the balls bounce around, they help remove lumps and increase softness.

How it worked: It didn’t. I noticed no difference in fluffiness from drying towels with tennis balls. My towels remained their same old scruffy selves.

Brush It Out
What the internet says:
Use a hairbrush to brush your towel once it’s clean and dry, which will help break down any dried detergent residue and separate the threads from each other, making the towel softer to the touch.

How it worked: Although I felt totally ridiculous brushing my towel out like a pet, there was a noticeable fluff increase when I did. The section of the towel that I brushed was softer and thicker than the untreated section, which felt flatter and more matted down in comparison. I used a paddle brush with plastic bristles, but I imagine most types of brushes would be effective. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll spend the time brushing every towel in the future, but I’m glad to know I can.

Use White Vinegar
What the internet says:
Fabric softeners actually have oils and other ingredients that make towels less absorbent. Instead, pour a cup of distilled white vinegar into the fabric softener compartment, which softens the towels and kills bacteria. Don’t use detergent for this load.

How it worked: The towel felt noticeably softer and significantly newer, like it had been washed fewer times than the other towels. It had a smooth, suede-like texture. The threads felt closer together. This was definitely the winning hack.

Thanks to FOOD52 for this testing these out.