What causes wash cloths to become stiff and hard?

Inspired by this thread on shirt underarms, I’ve decided to create a thread to ask about the other laundry quagmire that’s been dogging me for years: stiff washcloths. I don’t remember this happening when I was growing up, but it’s possible my mother simply turned old washcloths into rags before they became stiff, or it’s possible she washed them more frequently than I wash mine and that makes the difference. Regardless, my wash cloths become hard and stiff over time, and laundering them, even with fabric softener, makes no difference.

Just as with the hard shirt underarms, I’ve tried every remedy out there on the internet, to no avail. I would think the stiffness is caused by soap scum and/or hard water deposits, so it should come out with an acidic cleaner, like vinegar, right? But I have given these wash cloths the deluxe treatment–we’re talking boiling in a mixture of vinegar and distilled water, then soaking in CLR, then washing with Borax added to the washing machine–and they come out of the dryer maybe slightly softened, but once they’ve air-dried after literally the first shower, they’re back to being rocks. What gives?


I think you’re taking “stiff and hard” the wrong way.

But I’ve been wondering about this myself.

So they become especially hard after being used with soap and such, and then drying? It seems obvious it’s the soap. Am I missing something?

What I meant was, a new washcloth won’t be hard after its first use, or its second, or its third. It takes a gradual buildup over months to years. It comes out of each laundering maybe slightly softer than when it went in, but after its first use post-laundering, it’s essential right back to where it was before laundering.

Is it true that washed soft towels never regain their softness after having been spermed?

Washcloths mentioned

It’s just the cotton fibres locking up. And they are originally soft because they are woven/knitted out of individual threads/yarns. And you can make them softer by beating/tumbling.

Idon’t think it has anything to do with soap (unless you are adding sizing/laudry starch)

More than that I do not know.

I think that if you use actual soap, it’s probably some kind of buildup of insoluble magnesium and calcium stearates (i.e. soap scum).

Hand washing in hot vinegar may help remove some of that.

I think bump has it. Fibers locking up explains why towels get rougher, but not why they get stiff.

That’s a good point, because I’ve noticed that while my towels get rougher over time, it’s only the washcloths that get stiff. So why is that, and what can I do about it?

ETA: And please don’t say vinegar, because as I said in the OP, I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.

Nothing works. They’ve had this problem since at least the 1960s. The OP’s mom just threw them away before it was kid-obvious.

I’d be curious to see this laundered, yet stiff washcloth as I’ve never encountered the phenomena.

Me either. I’ve seen the “air dried cloth turns stiff” phenomenon, but that’s not exclusive to washcloths. You’ll get it on all your clothes if you dry them on a line instead of the dryer.

You do use a drier, right?

We use a dryer, and that’s not when the rags come out stiff. It’s while we’re still using them pre-wash, have rinsed them and wrung them out, and then they dry that they become stiff. It’s not a question of soap, because we’re not wiping up soap.

Perhaps it’s the trace impurities in the water that dry and cake onto the fabric. It doesn’t happen when you machine dry, since the hot forced air + agitation is enough to dislodge and carry away the impurities.

It’s because you have rinsed them, wrung them out and *air-dried *them. Same thing will happen to towels- it’s just that people usually don’t wet the entire towel to the point of needing to wring it out, air-dry it and use it again. Towels generally only get that wet when they are being washed.

That definitely wouldn’t be the reason why my washcloths get stiff. :o

I think it’s some ingredient in shaving cream. I use one bathroom nearly exclusively, with white washcloths, while my husband uses the other, with blue washcloths. The blue ones get stiff, the white ones do not. Yet, most of them are of the 12 for $5 ilk, so it’s not a quality difference.

That wouldn’t be my reason, either, because I don’t use shaving cream.