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How to Pick the Best Towels - The Ultimate Guide

Written by Danielle Travali.

There’s nothing like a soft, fluffy towel to hug your body after a hot shower.

We use our towel daily; it’s one of the main rituals of the morning. So, a good towel should feel soft and luxurious on your skin. It should warm you up and make you feel like a million bucks when you use it. 

Here are a few tips on how to select the best cotton towels for your particular needs. Because not all towels are created equal.

When searching for the perfect towel, it’s important to consider the following factors:

Towel size and weight

Towels are measured in units known as GSM (grams per square meter). This is the towel’s density of fabric. Towels lower in GSM are lighter, thinner and usually less expensive because they tend to wear down more quickly.  These towels are good for gym bags or travel. Towels higher in GSM are of superior quality; the kind you find in world-class hotels and spas. These are much more expensive, but often worth the price because they will last many, many years. Keep in mind that the quality of your towels is important because you will use them every single day and you may use the same one for years.  This is why a good quality towel is a must. Why not make your shower ritual more satisfying?

Absorbency

Absorbency of the towel is one of the most important factors when selecting a towel. A good bath towel is one that is very thick, soft and absorbent--one that dries you completely when you step out of the bathtub or shower.

What affects absorbency?

Each cotton towel is composed of loops within the weave. These loops in the the fabric allow the towel to absorb water. The number of loops determines the drying ability. So, more loops means higher absorbency. And towels made with loops of thick yarns are more absorbent. How the loop is twisted also affects absorbency. “Zero twist” towels are very soft to the touch. “Soft twist” towels are more durable than “zero twist” towels.

NOTE: Fabric softeners contain silicon that will prevent the towels from absorbing water. In order to restore the absorbency of any towel, you should add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of your wash once a month in order to restore the towel to its full absorbency. The vinegar will help remove the excess detergent, which can affect the towels’ ability to absorb moisture. As a general rule, the heavier the towel, the more absorbent the towel. This also means that it takes longer to dry. However, absorbent towels are usually the most comfortable, soft and plush.

Most absorbent: Egyptian cotton towels

Egyptian cotton is extremely popular because its threads are very long and thick. This kind of cotton is hand-picked to assure its level of purity. It’s also very dense, so it produces a durable, absorbent and plush towel. Egyptian cotton towels can last for many years if you take proper care of them and wash them correctly (see below on how to do just that). These towels are commonly found in major luxury hotels around the world. Note to remember: Because Egyptian cotton towels are so heavy and have such a high GSM, they are best dried in a conventional dryer. But be sure not to cram them in your dryer or over-stuff your dryer, as these luxurious towels take longer to dry.

How fast the towel dries

Thinner towels dry faster and are more easily air-dried. Thicker, more plush towels take a longer time to completely dry. If you live in a humid area, take into consideration that thicker towels will remain wet for a longer period, if left to air dry.

For a fast-drying towel: Turkish cotton

Turkish cotton is highly durable and absorbent, but not quite as thick and high in GSM as Egyptian cotton. So, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to wait longer for your towels to dry, Turkish cotton may be for you. Turkish cotton also yields an extremely soft, comfortable towel. The more you wash a Turkish cotton towel, the fluffier and more absorbent it becomes. That’s why a number of world-class hotels choose to use Turkish cotton towels.

How much lint it gives off in laundry

New towels, despite their quality, can shed a great amount. And most towels become linty at some point. This is because cotton is a natural fiber that will inevitably shed when over-used and over-dried in the conventional dryer. In addition, due to shedding that often occurs with new towels, it’s best to wash and dry recently purchased towels in a load separate from the rest of your laundry.

Warm towels fresh out of the dryer can be heavenly, but it’s a good idea to dry your towels on the clothesline every once in a while or use a lower heat setting on your dryer. This will help preserve your towels, as they may become damaged and thin after too many high-heat cycles in the dryer. But whether you do or don’t decide to put your towels in the dryer, always shake the excess lint from the towels before folding.

How long the fibers are

When searching for towels, it’s important to look for the towels made from extra-long staple cotton, otherwise known as ELS cotton. According to the Organic Cotton Company, cotton is classified as ELS if it is an inch and ⅜ or longer. ELS cotton is popular because it yields a much softer fabric than other kinds of cotton. The highest quality type of ELS cotton is Egyptian cotton. 

Softness

Soft on Your Skin: Peruvian Cotton

Peruvian Pima cotton grows along the coast of Peru, where rich soil makes it perfectly moist, soft and smooth. The staple of the cotton is very long, so it is less likely to shed as much lint as some of the other types. It’s a great choice for people with sensitive skin. A Peruvian cotton towel makes a good gym towel for these reasons alone.

How to properly launder your towels:

1. Never over-stuff your washing machine. Your towels will not become clean, nor will the residue rinse out thoroughly. More soap doesn’t necessarily mean that the towels will be clean.

2. Always wash your white towels in very hot water. If they are colored towels, wash in warm water to prevent bleeding of the colors.

3. You should occasionally wash white towels with chlorine bleach to remove stains and kill bacteria. Do not bleach colored towels, as the obvious staining, spotting and bleeding of colors will result.

4. Never use fabric softener on towels. The fabric softener will add a silicon residue to the towels that will cause them to lose their absorbency. Many people think fabric softener will enhance the quality of their towels. Actually, it will only do the opposite!

5. When you first buy towels (and once a month thereafter), it’s a great idea to toss them into the washing machine and add a cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle. The white vinegar will actually help the towels to become more absorbent. The vinegar also removes any excess detergent, which can prevent the towels from absorbing water when you use them.

Everyone is different, so the “one towel fits all” idea is nonexistent. Remember that the larger the towel, the greater the absorbency. Having a great towel is one of life’s very simple luxuries.  Only you know what you prefer most, but find one that your body loves. You're the one who uses it every day!

Danielle Travali, MS
Danielle Travali, MS

Danielle Travali, also known to many as the Web and television personality "Holly Pinafore," is a journalist, entrepreneur, and food & wine enthusiast. She is a certified food coach, stress management coach and fitness trainer who studied mindful eating and food psychology. Danielle also holds a master's degree in Journalism from Quinnipiac Un.. Read more

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