How To Keep Your Hotel & Spa Towels Looking New For Longer

Spa towels are often viewed as negative news by many launderers, and some may even avoid using them.

They are prone to stick to the aromas of essential oils in many spa products. This can lead to customers accusing them of not washing or even washing at all!

Worse, rancid odours can develop over time as towels age. This happens sometimes after just 20 washes. Many towels may then show signs of wear and tear, even though they are from the same batch.

These problems can be solved using the most recent technology, sometimes paired with an innovative machine design.

We will be looking at the skills required to produce spa towels that smell and feel fresh, and last for up to 200 washing and use cycles.

The problem source

Essential oils are the ones that provide the spa with the aromas that enhance the guest’s experience. These essential oils are plant-based and highly refined.

These molecules must be dissolved in the main and pre-wash by an emulsifying agents. It contains amphoteric compounds, which one ends dissolve in oil and the other takes the molecule to solution in water.

The emulsifying agents are designed to lock onto essential oils and then solubilise them in the wash liquor. The problem was that most laundry emulsifying agent used to target either mineral oils or food fats, but not spa oils.

This poor performance resulted in a towel that looked clean but smelled strongly of spa scents when it was removed from the tumbler.

The cotton loops were more attractive than the ability of the emulsifiers to remove them. The heat from drying the oils can cause them to become more volatile and stick to the textile. This can give the textile a yellow- or grey-tinge.

These degradation products continue to be produced over the next few cycles. They start to leave a rancid smell on towels that is more severe than the residual spa fragrance.

Acid radicals are one of the products that can be produced by the dryer. These chemicals attack and rot cotton.

After approximately 20 wash and reuse cycles (depending on the spa oils and dryer conditions), cotton begins to deteriorate and tears easily.

The link between laundry fires and spa oils

A potential fire risk is any fat, oil, or grease (FOG), that has not been completely removed from a textile.

Any FOG will oxidize in dryers due to the chemical reaction between oxygen in the air and heat in the drying air stream. This type of reaction is exothermic, meaning it emits more heat and causes the textile’s temperature to rise.

Sometimes this can cause spontaneous combustion in dryers (if the temperature of contaminated fabric rises just briefly above the auto-ignition threshold). Cotton contaminated by residual oil will ignite at a lower temperature than cotton that is clean.

Dryer fires are not uncommon (some sources cite a few thousand reported to UK Home Office each annual).

Fires that break out in clean textiles in the finished goods area are far more dangerous. If there are warm spa towels left unwashed and contaminated with oil, the heat can sometimes cause the chemical reaction between oil and oxygen to continue.

The reaction occurs in the dryer’s hot airstream, which creates the unpleasant smells. However, if the heat continues to rise in the finished goods area where there is no place for it to go, the temperature can soar exponentially.

This heat increases the temperature in the middle of the pile. After a while (often 4 to 5 hours or more), the whole pile will burst into flames, releasing blazing cotton fabric all over the laundry.

This is thought to be the main reason for mysterious laundry fires that start in the middle of the nights without warning and cause total loss as there is no one to respond or sound the alarm.

Each year, there are at least one or two large laundries in the UK that are destroyed. The average loss is around PS5m. Hotel and restaurant guests can also be at risk, particularly if they sleep on floors above the laundry.

Chemical solutions

Modern emulsifying agent are designed to target one or several groups of oils. These oils can be mineral oils, food fats, and essential oils that are used in spas.

Premium emulsifying agent will handle all types of oils, fats, and greases. These agents have been created by leading suppliers. They can handle spa oils as well as engineers’ oils and greases.

You can also improve the residual odours of spa towels with an additional dose of detergent. However, this is more risky, hard to control, and less reliable. The best way to go is to use the right emulsifier.

Machine solutions

Some machine suppliers and launderers believe that washer-extractors are the best solution for all spa towels. The necessary chemistry can’t be concentrated on one batch of spa towels in a tunnel washer.

This is logical thinking. However, at least one major chemical supplier has now been reported to have solved the tunnel problem.

The unique attraction , which is oleophilic or ‘oil-attracting”, is believed to aid in the final removal any trace of spa oil contamination from the towel’s surface.

These machines are highly recommended for use in laundry that is charged with cleaning spa towels. 

Quality control

Spa oil contamination can be eliminated completely, which reduces textile replacement costs and prolongs towel life. It has a significant impact on the wash’s perceived quality.

Customers can complain about towels that retain essential oils scents after washing. The customer can complain if the fragrance becomes a rancid stench. Inadequate washing can lead to laundry fires, which could have serious consequences for laundry finances.

How can a launderer who isn’t a professional manage this important aspect of product quality while they have a laundry to run? The exit from the tumbler dryer is a key control point that is easy to observe.

Warm spa towels that have been properly washed will smell fresh and clean to the human nose. This is a sensitive organ. Management, supervisors, and operatives can quickly and reliably detect any spa towel batch that may pose future problems if they are trained to do so.

This check was enthusiastically adopted by laundries that have had to deal with spontaneous combustion from poorly washed batches. This check must now be replicated in laundries that recognize the potential danger, understand the risks and want to avoid them!


It is not an easy task to wash spa towels.

This requires professional launderers’ craft skills and knowledge. However, success comes with its own rewards. It is also a valuable marketing tool.

A laundry that can successfully wash spa towels will be able to handle what is now known as a difficult class.

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