Everything You Need to Know About Buying Bath Towels

From material to absorbency these are the best options for your lifestyle

Mixed race woman carrying stack of clean towels
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Bath towels are an underappreciated household staple. An object that’s both decorative and practical, you probably don’t think twice about your towels until the day you get out of the shower only to realize you’ve forgotten to take one with you. As you stand there drip drying, you’ll wish you had a soft, plush towel to wrap yourself up in and help dry off your body. Not to mention that bath towels often add aesthetic appeal to the room, helping to tie together your decor!

While you may not have ever thought about how towels work, this information can be helpful when you’re on the hunt for the perfect new bath towel. Bath towels are typically made from a fabric called terrycloth—recognizable by its many small loops—which is usually made from a moisture-loving fiber like cotton. When the towel comes in direct contact with liquid, it absorbs the moisture into those loops, leaving behind a dry surface, whether it’s your body, the bathroom floor or a spill. When you hang your towel back up, the moisture evaporates out of it, leaving it dry the next time you need it.

You can spend as much or a little as you want on bath towels. Budget options are available for a few dollars a piece, or you can buy luxury towels for $50 or more. These prices are dictated by the type of fiber used, construction, weight, plushness and more—all of which we’ll explain in this article.

girl-wrapped in towel
 Getty Images/Peter Muller

What to Look for in Bath Towels?

There are several important factors to consider when shopping for new towels. These considerations can affect the towel’s feel, performance, and longevity, so it’s important to find the best options for your needs.

  • Material: As with any household linen, towels can be made from a variety of different fibers, so it’s always a good idea to check the care tag to see the fiber content. While many people don’t think about the fiber(s) their towels are made from, this is one of the most important considerations, as fibers perform differently in terms of absorbance, softness, color-fastness, durability. Further, certain fibers are also more or less environmentally friendly depending on how they’re made, and this information may impact your choice if you’re working to reduce your carbon footprint.
    You’ll most commonly see towels made from cotton, thanks to its impressive absorbance and softness. There are several types of cotton towels available, including Egyptian cotton, Turkish cotton, organic cotton, Pima cotton and more. (We’ll discuss the nuances of these cotton varieties below.) Plus, there are also towels made from bamboo, a more eco-friendly option, and microfiber, a type of inexpensive polyester.
  • Size: While perhaps not the most important consideration, you should always check the size of bath towels before you buy. There’s nothing worse than getting your towels home and realizing they’ll barely wrap around your body!
    Standard bath towels measure 27” to 30” wide and 52” to 58” long. Products that are 27” by 52” may be perfect for kids, but they likely won’t suffice for larger adults. Keep this in mind, especially if you’re shopping online and can’t see the towel in person before you buy.
    If you want to really bundle yourself up in a towel, look for products called “bath sheets,” which are larger, spa-like towels that measure 35” to 40” inches wide and 60” to 70” long. These products are typically thick and plush for a luxurious feel, and as you might expect, they generally cost more than standard towels.
  • Weight: All fabrics, including towels, have a weight that’s measured in GSM, or grams per square meter. In general, towels typically weigh between 300 and 900 GSM—the lower the number, the lighter the towel will be.
    There’s no “right” towel weight; it’s simply a matter of personal preference. Some people like lighter towels, while others prefer heavy, dense ones. As a general rule of thumb, towels with a GSM of 300-400 are usually too light for daily use, while products between 400-600 GSM are standard. Towels that weigh more than 600 GSM are often considered “luxury” products.
    There are some key performance differences associated with various towel weights that are important to factor into your purchasing decision. For instance, products with a low GSM typically dry faster but aren’t as absorbent. An example of this is a lightweight beach towel. On the other hand, heavy towels with a high GSM are the most absorbent and plush, but as such, they will take longer to dry. Many bath sheets have a high GSM.
  • Absorbency: Absorbency is another important considerations when purchasing towels, but this factor is often hard to discern when you’re shopping in-store or online. There’s no way to measure a towel’s absorbency without trying it, but you can look for a few indicators that a towel will soak up plenty of water.
    For one, thicker, heavier towels are generally more absorbent, as noted above. This means towels with a higher GSM will soak up more water—but remember, they take longer to dry out. Further, towels made from premium cotton varieties, such as Egyptian or Pima cotton, tend to be more absorbent, as are products made from a cotton-rayon blend.
  • Construction: While the construction of towels isn’t always labeled on the product, it can be helpful to understand the key differences in how towels are made.
    Products that use “combed cotton” have literally been combed to remove shorter fibers and any impurities from the yarn, resulting in a fabric made from only the longest fibers. Combed cotton towels are extremely strong and durable, though not as luxurious to the touch. Ringspun cotton, on the other hand, means both short and long fibers have been twisted together to create the yard, resulting in a fabric that’s smooth and soft to the touch.
    As you might guess, twisted yarns mean the fibers are twisted together, and different amounts of twist have different benefits. Low-twist yarns are often plush to the touch, while high-twist yarns create an extremely durable product. “No twist” means the fibers are not twisted, yielding a fluffy, absorbent towel.
  • Color Fastness: No one wants to splurge on towels, only to have the colors fade or become splotchy. Unfortunately, there’s no precise way to tell if a towel is colorfast, so it’s best to read the reviews on an item whenever possible to see what kind of experience other buyers have had.
    However, if you have someone in your home who use a skincare product with benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient in acne treatments, beware that this chemical can wreak havoc on colored towels, leaving them with bleached splotches. Some towels claim to be benzoyl-peroxide resistant, but the only guaranteed way to keep your towels safe is to stick to white ones.

What Is the Best Type of Bath Towel for Me?

The following are several types of towels you will likely come across as you shop. There are pros and cons to each type, as well as price differences that you should take into account.


Egyptian and Turkish Cotton Towels

egyptian-cotton-towel
Courtesy of Frontgate

Two of the most high-end towels you can buy are Egyptian and Turkish cotton towels. While there are subtle differences between these two products, they’re similar in their high quality and superior performance—and large price tag. Egyptian cotton towels are often regarded as the best towels you can buy. Their yarn is made from long-staple, highly fibrous cotton grown in Egypt, which results in towels that are extremely soft, plush, absorbent and durable. These towels will last for years when properly cared for, and they’re a staple in many hotels and spas. The major downside of Egyptian cotton towels is their price, which typically runs $20 or more per item.

Turkish cotton towels boast many of the same qualities as Egyptian cotton ones, except their fibers are grown in Turkey. Again, the premium cotton has long-staple fibers that make these towels super soft and highly absorbent. While they’re not quite as absorbent as Egyptian cotton towels, most people won’t be able to discern a noticeable difference. Thanks to their luxurious feel and top-notch performance, Turkish cotton towels are also quite expensive, costing $15 or more per item.

Pima Cotton Towels

wamsutta-pima-cotton-towel
Courtesy of Bed, Bath and Beyond

Pima cotton towels, sometimes called by their brand name Supima, get their fibers from the same plant as Egyptian cotton towels, except the fiber is grown in the U.S. These towels are another high-quality option, as their long-staple fibers make them super absorbent and oh-so-soft.

Pima cotton towels are typically in the same upper-tier price bracket at Egyptian and Turkish cotton, costing $10 or more per piece. Because their performance is comparable, Pima cotton towels are a popular alternative among consumers who want their towels to be domestically sourced.

Bamboo Towels

company-store-bamboo-towels
Courtesy of The Company Store

As more people seek to reduce their environmental impact, bamboo towels are becoming a more popular product. Bamboo is considered an eco-friendly fiber because it grows much faster than cotton and doesn’t require the use of pesticides. There are some products made from 100% bamboo, but most towels you’ll see are a bamboo-cotton blend.

These towels are soft and plush, and many claim they get softer over time as they’re washed. As an added bonus, bamboo fabrics are naturally anti-bacterial. The downside is that bamboo isn’t quite as absorbent as long-staple cotton. Plus, bamboo towels are often on the expensive side, costing $10 or more each.

Microfiber Towels

microfiber-bath-towel
Courtesy of Amazon

If you’ve ever used a special cloth to dry off your car, you’re familiar with microfiber towels. These fast-drying towels have long been used for cleaning purposes, and they’ve recently been introduced as bath towels.

Microfiber is made from finely spun synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, and they can absorb large amounts of water with ease. They’re typically quite soft, and new technology has made them more plush and luxurious than the thin towels you might use to dry off your car.

One of the biggest benefits of microfiber towels is that they dry much quicker than their cotton peers, preventing any mold or mildew from growing. This makes them a popular option for the beach, exercise, or travel towels. Plus, they’re typically much less expensive, costing just a few dollars per towel.

The downside of microfiber fabrics, however, is that they are a major source of ocean pollution. With each wash, small polyester fibers break off and end up in water supplies. Unlike natural fibers like cotton, these synthetic fibers do not break down—they’re plastic, after all—and they’re too fine to be filtered out in water treatment systems. Not only do these fibers pollute the ocean, but they’re often swallowed by fish, ending up in our food sources. But on the flip side since they don't take a long time to dry they aren't spending a lot of time in the dryer like plusher towels do, thus using less energy to dry.

Peshtemal, Hammam or Fouta Towels

turkish-towel
Courtesy of Amazon 

More commonly referred to as Turkish towels these towels have recently become very trendy because they look pretty and they dry quickly. Typically they are adorned with fringe on the end and work great as a hand towel, beach, travel towel, and blanket, or even a bath towel in warmer climates. If you get an authentic Turkish towel they should be made with 100% Turkish cotton which has extra-long fibers and makes them strong.

Organic Towels

pottery-barn-towels
Courtesy of Pottery Barn

If keeping your home organic is important to you, you might want to invest in organic bath towels that are generally made out of 100% cotton and are certified by a third party vendor. The cotton in these towels is made from cotton which is not treated by pesticides. If you like an extra plush towel just take note that these take longer to dry in the dryer so you are using more energy which is more harmful to the environment then a thinner towel.

Leading Manufacturers

Pretty much every home goods store and big-box retailer sells towels, as do a wide variety of online retailers. However, certain brands are known for their high-quality towels, including the following:

Pottery Barn: No matter what type of towel you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it at Pottery Barn, which is known to be a high-quality furniture and home goods store. They carry a wide array of towels, including standard cotton, quick drying, and patterned options. Plus, they have a large variety of organic towels that receive top marks from reviewers.

Boll & Branch: This retailer has a reputation for creating top-tier linens, and their towels are no exception. While they only carry one towel style and a few plain colors, the craftsmanship is unbeatable, and they buy their cotton from Fair Trade sources that ensure workers aren’t being exploited. These towels are fairly expensive, but their glowing reviews suggest they’re a worthwhile investment.

Cuddledown: While a lesser-known home goods store, Cuddledown offers a variety of towels, including different types of cotton and bamboo products. The retailer is included in several “Best of” towel roundups, especially for its high-quality, affordable bamboo towels.

Frontgate: You can’t go wrong with towels from this home goods retailer, as their products boast thousands of glowing reviews. They sell both Egyptian and Turkish cotton towels, both of which can be monogrammed for an added touch of luxury.

Parachute: Another retailer specializing in home linens, Parachute is often celebrated for its great waffle towels. However, it also sells Turkish cotton towels and heathered towels—for a premium price.

Target: While there are lots of tempting high-end towels from specialty retailers, don’t rule out products from big box retailers like Target. This store carries a number of towel brands, including its own brand Threshold, and Fieldcrest many of which are both affordable and high-quality. Plus, you’ll be able to choose from a wide array of styles to perfectly match your home.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Similarly, Bed Bath & Beyond carries a wide selection of bath linens, including many top-rated towels at low prices. If you’re looking for quality towels on a budget, check out this retailer—you might be surprised at what you find!

Macy's: Another big-box store that offers a variety of prices on bath towels—this store carries their own luxury brand The Hotel Collection that makes super plush towels, and the more decorative Martha Stewart collection that looks as good as it feels. Their online selection is broad and they also have a lot of options in store so you can see how they feel and look in person.

Care

Believe it or not, caring for your towels is not as simple as just throwing them in the wash. All bath towels should be washed before you first use them as this will wash off the finish they have and help with absorbency. Bath towels should never be laundered with fabric softener which will add a film onto the towel thus preventing the absorbency.
Your towels should be laundered more often then you think (ideally every three uses!) and should be washed with other towels at the highest temperature the label says they can handle.

Ready to Make a Purchase? Here Are Some of Our Favorite Towels: