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How To Exfoliate With A Washcloth (EXPLAINED)

You probably have one of the cheapest and most effective dead-skin-fighters in your bathroom right now – a washcloth! And once you figure out how to exfoliate with a washcloth properly, your battle for clear skin is an easy win.

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Can You Exfoliate With Just A Washcloth?

You can exfoliate with just a washcloth.

I recommend it most for guys with sensitive, frequently flaky, or eczema-prone skin. Lots of “normal” exfoliants (scrubs, loofahs, brushes) are just too abrasive for some skin types. But that doesn’t mean you should skip out on exfoliating. Washcloths provide the perfect gentle alternative.

As for guys with hardier, oily, or grimey skin, washcloths are still good, but they might not give you the grittiness you’re looking for in an exfoliant. If you find that your washcloth is too gentle, you can swap it out for a loofah, or try one of the best body scrubs for men. Or, if you’re feeling extra, you can use both a scrub and a washcloth together.

One thing to keep in mind – the more you use your washcloth, the grittier it will get as it ages. That means it’s going to turn into a better exfoliant the more you use it. For guys with sensitive skin, that can be a turn off; on the other hand, guys with tough skin probably want that hardened old washcloth. Use accordingly.

Is Exfoliating With A Washcloth Bad?

Exfoliating with a washcloth isn’t bad, but it can turn sour if you don’t keep up with a cleaning schedule.

Like loofahs, brushes, and poufs, washcloths are masters of bacteria-breeding and mold-growing. You definitely don’t want those harmful microorganisms on your skin and near your private parts.

Unlike loofahs, brushes, and poufs, there’s an easy solution: swap out the washcloth for a clean one every day. If you keep several on hand, you can put them through your laundry weekly and never worry about running out.

Usually, the guys who have bad experiences with washcloths are those who aren’t cleaning them correctly or often enough. 

Very few men experience irritation when using a washcloth to exfoliate. If you find yourself breaking out or feeling itchy, it could be that your washcloths are too old (too rough), haven’t been washed well enough, or you’re using it improperly. But just to be safe, if you do breakout, you should stop using the washcloth until you figure out what caused it.

How To Exfoliate With A Washcloth

You probably have a good guesstimate of what you need to do to exfoliate with a washcloth. Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science. But some tips to keep you on the right track:

  1. Run the washcloth under warm water. Wring it out so that it doesn’t drip when you hold it. Aim for damp, not sopping.
  2. Optional but encouraged: If you’re exfoliating your face, you can drape the warm washcloth over your face and let it sit for a few minutes to open up your pores. That will make it easier to exfoliate grime. (If you’re an avid pimple popper, this is a good way to prep your skin for that too.)
  3. Use circular motions to rub the washcloth over your skin. You can be gentle or firm depending on what feels good to you.
  4. Using the washcloth on your face should only take about 30 seconds. For your body, there’s no good rule of thumb. Stop before your skin gets that raw, tight feeling.
  5. Toss the washcloth in your laundry pile once you’re done.
  6. Moisturize your skin! Exfoliating can dry you out, so you need to use a lotion or an oil on your skin once you’re done with the washcloth.

If you’d like to mix it up, after step 2, you can lather your cleanser or scrub into the washcloth, exfoliate like normal, then rinse your face/body off at the end. 

You can either use a cleanser while you’re using the washcloth or before you use the washcloth. It’s always a good idea to cleanse your skin before you exfoliate it.

Only pair a scrub with the washcloth if you feel comfortable using some extra roughness to slough off dead skin. It’s a good technique for oily skin, or guys who tend to get dusty throughout the day. Don’t use the scrub more than 2-3 times per week.

Benefits of Exfoliating With A Washcloth

You already know that washcloths are great for sensitive skin, but beyond that, some of their other superpowers:

• Washcloths can help you get rid of ashy skin.

• Washcloths can supplement your usual exfoliation routine, if you feel like you have a lot of dead skin building up on the days you don’t use your scrub.

• Since regular exfoliation is great for your complexion, washcloths can help clear up your skin.

• If you lather a soap into your washcloth, then use it on your skin, you get all the benefits of both a scrub and a cleanser.

• Washcloths are environmentally friendly; they’re highly reusable, and you only need to keep a few on hand.

• Washcloths are one of the most cost-effective exfoliants out there.

Washcloths have a few downfalls that you should be aware of:

• It’s easy to feel like your washcloth is either doing too much or not enough for your skin, depending on your skin type and the roughness of the washcloth you’re using.

• If you don’t clean your washcloths frequently enough, they can actually cause your breakouts.

• Some guys just don’t have the time to maintain a functional washcloth stash.

How Often Can I Exfoliate With Just A Washcloth?

The cool thing about washcloths is that if you’re gentle with your skin, you can use a washcloth every day.

Most exfoliants are too rough to use more than 2-3 times per week. But a fresh washcloth is often soft enough that it just barely gets rid of the flakes and dead skin resting on the top-most layer of your body (pro tip: you can use washcloth to help reinvigorate your eye bags so it looks like you’ve tighten the skin under your eyes).

Now, there are exceptions. Be a little more careful if you’re using an old, stiff washcloth or anything made with a material that feels like it’s actually scrubbing your face. You might want to limit those to every other day.

On the other hand, if you find that you can still pick up some dead skin when you drag your fingernail across your skin, you probably need to pair your washcloth with a scrub to get a little more exfoliation. Or use an older washcloth.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.