Towel Buying Guide
As far as the simple pleasures in life go, there are few more enjoyable than wrapping a fluffy towel around yourself after soaking in the bath, taking a hot shower, or winning a battle to the death with an angry Melvillian whale. It may be a small portion of your day, but it can help get you off to a comfortable start, making the purchase of the right bathroom towels that much more important.
Shopping for towels can be a challenge, with myriad materials to choose from and plenty of towel terminology to traverse. Never fear; Groupon’s towel buying guide is here to break down what you need to know.
Know Your Fabrics
Among the first things you’ll want to know is what a towel is made of. The longstanding standard for towels has been cotton, but other materials have emerged in recent years that also offer high quality. Read on for pros and cons of each:
- Egyptian cotton: Generally considered the king of cottons, this premium cotton is prized for its balance of softness, durability, absorbency, and breathability. Grown under Egypt’s plentiful sunshine, this cotton produces extra-long staples that turn into thirsty, fibrous threads.
- Turkish cotton: Grown in Turkey, this premium cotton shares many qualities with Egyptian cotton. Though less absorbent than Egyptian cotton, Turkish cotton naturally has an attractive sheen, which gives towels a luxurious look.
- Pima cotton: Harvested from the same plant as Egyptian cotton but grown in countries such as Israel, Australia, and Peru, where growing conditions affect the cotton differently than in Egypt. It tends to lose some softness, but gains strength.
- Supima cotton: A portmanteau of “Superior” and “Pima”, Supima is the trademarked term for Pima cotton grown by certified farmers in the American Southwest, which is also where the term Pima comes from. The Pima, a Native American tribe in Arizona, began growing the cotton in the early 20th century.
- MicroCotton: The trademarked term for a cotton developed in India. The cotton produces long staples that turn into fluffy threads, giving towels a suede-like texture.
- Organic cotton: This doesn’t refer to a specific type of cotton; rather, it refers to how a cotton was grown. Organic cottons give you the peace of mind that farmers avoided harsh pesticides, used high-quality fertilizers, and read the cotton plants a bedtime story each night.
- Bamboo: Might be 100% bamboo, but usually a blend. Besides its absorbency, bamboo fabric often boasts a lush feel and silky sheen, and its colorfastness resists fading. However, bamboo’s environmental friendliness is a matter of perspective. It’s naturally renewable and is easier to grow than cotton, and every plant is certified panda-approved. However, it requires heavy processing to turn into fabric. Read about rayon in the next section to learn more.
- Rayon: Also referred to as viscose, rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric made by chemically treating natural material. Bamboo is perhaps the best-known example for towels. Modal, a rayon derived from beech trees, has been gaining popularity as well.
- Microfiber: This manmade fabric typically blends fine polyester and polyamide fibers. Though they don’t feel as luxurious as their cotton counterparts, microfiber towels are light, durable, and quick-drying. Microfiber is also great for washcloths, as it does a good job of grabbing makeup, trapping dirt, and exfoliating skin.
Know How It’s Made
The construction can give you an idea of how the towels function—softer, thirstier, more durable, faster-drying, better aerodynamics for use as a superhero cape, and so on. Here are some common constructions and what they mean for you:
- Combed: Refers to cotton being combed to remove the short and uneven fibers, leaving just the long central fibers. Results in a stronger, smoother fabric.
- Hollow: Also sometimes seen as hygro, this means that the cotton yarns have a hollow core, make them extra-thirsty. That hollowness also enhances airflow for faster drying. As an added bonus, hollow yarns make the fabric feel extra-fluffy after laundering.
- Ringspun: Means the fibers are twisted tightly together, creating smooth, strong, and fine yarns. Tends to feel more refined than combed cotton.
- Twist: Refers to the amount of twist per inch of yarn. The lower amount, such as low-twist and zero-twist, the plusher the towel. A higher amount results in a more durable, substantial-feeling towel.
- Loop: Different loop lengths offer different feels. Longer loops, such as those found in terry cloth, feel fluffy, dry quickly, and wick moisture more than they absorb it. Shorter loops feel denser and are more absorbent.
- Velour: Most towels are made with loops of yarn, but velour towels have no loops. Instead, the yarns stand straight out. This makes the towel less absorbent, but it creates a soft, velvety surface. Velour also creates a great surface for printing patterns.
- Jacquard: This refers to the method used to weave the towel fabric. It securely weaves patterns—sometimes even quite intricate ones—so the towel looks good, but can still stand up to frequent use.
- Yarn-dyed: Yarn-dyed towels are woven with dyed yarns, so the pattern saturates through the fabric. This offers several benefits over printed patterns, which can looker cheaper by comparison. Printed patterns are also prone to shifting over time from laundering.
- Gold dust: For the ultimate in luxury, buy towels saturated with particles of gold. Not only does it glimmer in your bathroom, it will also leave you dusted in golden sparkles after every use, leading some to mistake you for an ancient god.
- GSM: Stands for grams per square meter. The higher the number, the heavier the towel.
- Two-ply: Means the towel is made with double the amount of yarn. This makes the towel denser, more durable, and extra absorbent, but increases its drying time.
Know Your Towel Types
- Bath towel: The most basic of towels, used to dry off after a shower. Usually measures around 27”x52”.
- Bath sheet: A larger version of a bath towel, for those who prefer extra coverage. Usually measures around 35”x60”.
- Washcloth: Small square towel that can be used in or out the shower. It helps clean and exfoliate the hands, face, and body. Usually measures around 13”x13”.
- Hand towel: Smaller towel for drying your hands after washing them. Usually measures around 16”x30”.
- Fingertip towel: Smaller version of a hand towel, often used in guest bathrooms. Usually measures around 11”x18”.
- Tubmat: Dense towel for laying on the floor immediately outside a tub or shower. Sometimes called a bathmat, it helps catch dripping water. Usually measures around 27”x52”.
Know How Many You Need
Towels are sold individually, but they’re also sold in sets; for example, a set of towels might come with two bath towels, two hand towels, and two washcloths. Which is better for your home depends on which of these advantages means more to you.
Advantages of buying a towel set:
- It’s more economical. This is especially true for families. Sets usually present greater value than purchasing piece by piece.
- It makes buying decisions easier. If you know the core things you want in your towels, then looking at sets can simplify finding what you want, saving you time over comparing towels individually.
- It makes coordinating easier. Many towel sets have pieces with different colors or embellishments that are meant to complement each other, bringing visual enhancement to bath decor.
Advantages of buying towels individually:
- Focus on the pieces you want. Maybe you already own some hand towels and a memory-foam bathmat. Maybe you love a thick washcloth but need a quick-drying towel because you work out twice a day. Whatever the reason, buying a set might either overload you with pieces you won’t use, or it doesn’t supply you with the versatility you need.
- More design freedom. For some, even the most design-friendly sets aren’t design-friendly enough. Buying pieces individually gives you more freedom to choose colors, patterns, and textures to support the look of your bathroom.
Know What You Want
While you can choose towels a la carte using the information above, you can also do so by answering a simple question. What matters most to you: Utility, Luxury, or Design?
“I want a towel that dries me off—nothing too fancy.”
- Pima or Supima: Any cotton is going to do the job, but you don’t want to skimp on quality, or you may be shopping for a new towel again soon. Pima cotton is a great choice, as it shares many things in common with coveted Egyptian cotton at a lower price.
- Microfiber: Light, durable, and quick-drying. Ideal for active people.
- Combed or ringspun cottons enhance durability, helping your towels last longer.
- 400–600 GSM: This medium weight strikes a nice balance between durability, softness, and drying time.
- 300–400 GSM: A lightweight fabric will be lighter and thinner, so it will dry faster, take up less room in bags, and be less likely to harbor bacteria—all things that are great for traveling, going to the gym, or putting off laundry as long as possible.
“I want a towel that makes me feel like royalty.”
- Egyptian cotton: It consistently outperforms other cottons in almost every way, including softness.
- MicroCotton: It tends to produce a fluffy, comforting towel that almost feels like suede to the touch.
- Low-twist or no-twist yarns: These feel plusher than high-twist yarns.
- Long yarns: These amplify fluffiness.
- Two-ply construction: Creates a dense, substantial-feeling towel.
- 600–900 GSM: The heaviest available fabric weight creates a sumptuous towel.
- 400–600 GSM: Don’t disregard a medium-weight towel, though. A finer cotton at a middle weight may feel as luxurious as a lesser cotton at a higher weight.
“I want a towel that makes my bathroom look great.”
- Turkish cotton: Most premium cottons exude a luxurious look, but Turkish cotton has an edge with its natural sheen, which helps make colors and patterns pop.
- Bamboo: If color is your main concern, then consider bamboo, which boasts impressive colorfastness.
- Jacquard or yarn-dyed fabrics: These have a more refined look that towels with printed patterns.
- Decorative borders, contrast trim, embroidery, etc.: Think of these details like Clark Gable’s mustache. They’re small, understated touches that add a refined and luxurious air.
- 600–900 GSM: Heavier towels are more likely to have more natural dimension to them.
- 400–600 GSM: Midweight towels are worth considering, too. Where a denser fabric might swallow up some embellishments, a lighter fabric may give them more opportunity to stand out.
Once You’ve Bought ‘em, Make ‘em Last
If properly cared for, a high-quality towel can retain its softness, durability, and absorbency for years. If not properly cared for, even the most premium cottons can degrade rapidly. Above all else, read the care label on your towels. Beyond that, here are some care tips for getting the most out of your towels for as long as possible.
- Wash before using. Many towels have a coating that makes them look brighter and fluffier when they’re sitting on store shelves, but this coating can impede absorbency. An initial wash also helps set color and reduce lint.
- Use vinegar. Occasionally adding distilled white vinegar to the wash offers a number of benefits: it helps prevent fading and also gets rid of any musty odors that thicker towels can be prone to.
- Fluff them before and after drying. A small thing, but it helps the yarns stay full and flexible.
- Avoid fabric softeners. They may make your towels feel nicer, but fabric softeners can leave residues that inhibit absorption.
- Avoid bleach, even on bleach-safe towels. Bleach is great for getting out stains, but it can weaken fabrics.
- Go easy on the heat. Similar to avoiding bleach, excess heat can dry out your towels, making the yarns stiff and brittle. Consider alternating dryer cycles, hang-drying on a sunny day, or holding your towel out of the window while driving.
Learn about materials, special weaves, and thread count to make sure you have the comfiest sheets possible.