Show your Tea Towels Some Love …

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Tea towels are one of those things that don’t really get much thought. However, because they are used in the kitchen for food preparation, they work pretty hard and really do need a little bit of tender loving care.

Tea towels sometimes sit scrunched up and wet on the kitchen bench (particularly when you’re cooking) or they sit damp amongst the washing in the laundry waiting to be washed. Unfortunately, either of those things will make your humble tea towel a breeding ground for bacteria because it never gets the chance to dry out properly.

So here’s a few things to consider and that I usually try to do:

  • I like to change my tea towels daily. I usually have two in use most of the time and, at the beginning of the day, I like to change them so I start each day with lovely fresh tea towels.

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  • I always try to hang my tea towels neatly when they are not being used. Your kitchen will look neater and your tea towel will completely dry out. It is possible to install hanging racks on the inside of cupboards but I find they don’t dry as well because, as soon as you close the cupboard door, there is no fresh air circulating. If you don’t have a suitable hanging rail, think about purchasing one that will hook over a cupboard door. There are some really stylish hangers available and the ones that I use were purchased from Big W recently for $12.00 each. I have mine over the cupboard doors under the sink. That’s the most practical place for them and it means I don’t have to run across the kitchen with wet hands to retrieve one. Hanging tea towels over the oven door is another popular choice but I prefer to keep mine away from the heat of the oven and stove in case they catch fire.
  • Because I change my tea towels daily, I like to have a good supply which also comes in handy if you have a party or loads of family or friends over for dinner. Having a good supply just might encourage volunteers to help with the dishes at the end of the night. It will also encourage you to change them more frequently.
  • I prefer 100% cotton tea towels as they wear well, are super absorbent and wash beautifully and easily. Do be careful if putting these in the dryer though, as they will shrink a little on a high heat. I simply hang mine on the line to air dry or use a medium to low heat if putting them in the dryer.

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  • I only use my tea towels for drying dishes. I have a separate hand towel for drying hands. I generally use paper towel for wiping up milk or greasy spills as I can throw it straight out. I use sponges or micro fibre cloths for wiping benches, sinks and other surfaces in the kitchen. It’s a good idea to choose one colour for your tea towels and a different colour for your hand towels so that everyone learns the difference and uses the correct towel for the correct purpose.
  • I never use a tea towel to wipe a surface where I have been preparing raw meat. Raw meats, if incorrectly handled, can be responsible for upset tummies and more serious conditions and surfaces used when preparing these have to be washed carefully.
  • I usually allow my tea towels to fully dry overnight before throwing into a wash basket so that they don’t sit damp amongst clothing becoming smelly and growing bacteria and mildew. I generally don’t wash my tea towels with clothing or other items. I usually wash them in a separate load (once I have a few) on a hot, heavy duty cycle so that it not only removes any greasy marks or food stains, but also has the best chance to kill any bacteria.
  • I avoid using fabric softener with tea towels as it will “coat” the cotton in the tea towel, reducing its absorbency and making it harder to kill bacteria.
  • If your tea towels do get a bit smelly, I’ve successfully used this method before: Half fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil. Add ½ cup of vinegar to the water and add your tea towels. Boil for 15 minutes. Allow the water to cool, wring out the tea towels and then hang on the line to dry. This should kill odour and any other nasties.
  • Alternatively, I like to replace my tea towels once they get a bit smelly or sad looking. They’re not that expensive if you buy them from places like Kmart, Target, Big W, etc. but make sure you wash them before using them for the first time. This will remove any germs or bacteria on the tea towels from frequent handling in the store.

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  • If you happen to renovate your kitchen, consider installing your handles horizontally (rather than vertically) so they can double as ready-made hanging rails.

So there you have it, my top tips for caring for your tea towels.

So tell me, do you have any other methods for removing smells from your tea towels?


  1. I tend to change my teatowels often too! They tend to be more absorbent too if you do that. I have a hanging rail for them as I’m a bit funny about scrunching them up :P

    • The poor old tea towel doesn’t always get much love but they really need to be kept dry and clean and changed often.

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