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A Basic Guide to Bath Towels
There are aisles and aisles of towels out there, so picking the right ones can be overwhelming. Here’s how to get good towels and care for them so that they actually last.Keep in mind: Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money from these links.April 10, 2019
By: Leanne Potts
Bath towels may be the hardest working members of your household. After all, we expect our towels and washcloths to keep us clean, dry us off, add to the look of our bathroom and, occasionally, wipe up after Fluffy tracks mud into the house. However, despite their versatility, towels are often underappreciated, with many people putting little thought into which type of towel they buy and bring home. But with a little knowledge, your towels will look, last and perform better in their many roles.
Jessica Klewicki Glynn
GSM stands for grams per square meter; it’s a measure of the density of a towel. GSM is to towels what thread count is to sheets. The higher the GSM, the heavier the towel, and the softer and more absorbent. And the higher the GSM, the more expensive the towel. GSM ranges from 300 to 900. Here’s what each weight is good for:
300 to 400 GSM
These towels are lightweight. They’re thinner and coarser than higher GSM towels, so not the plush stuff of boutique hotels – Or even the middle-grade stuff of chain hotels. They can feel like sandpaper on your skin and aren’t very absorbent, so they’re not good bath towels. But, low GSM towels dry quickly, which means they’re a great choice for a gym towel or a kitchen towel. Hang them on a rack, and in 15 minutes or so they’re good to go.
400 to 620 GSM
These are medium weight towels. They’re a good choice for beach towels and bath towels. They’re soft and absorbent but don’t take forever to dry. You can hang them on a rack or over a balcony in the sun, and they’ll dry before you need them again.
620 to 900 GSM
These are heavy, high-priced towels that are a total luxury wallow. These are the sort of towels you dream about, the towels at five-star hotels and spas in Santa Fe, and they feel like a hug when they touch your skin. The downside? These towels take forever to dry. You can use one after your morning shower, hang it on the rack, and it may still be damp when you brush your teeth before bed.
Here’s a quick primer on everything from sad polyester to luxury Turkish cotton:
Leave polyester bath towels to cheap motels. Polyester isn’t absorbent or soft, but it dries fast, so, it’s OK for kitchen, gym or guest bath towels (if you don’t want the company to stay very long).
Also called pima cotton, this material makes a high-quality bath towel. Pima cotton has long fibers that make a soft, durable and absorbent towel.
Egyptian or Turkish Cotton
This is primo fabric, the stuff of towel fantasies. These materials have long fibers that draw water off your body and make a soft, luxurious towel. They get softer, fluffier and more absorbent with each washing. They’re pricey, though. A set of Turkish or Egyptian cotton bath towels costs around $150.
Want to be kind to the earth and have a good bath towel, too? Go with bamboo. It grows faster and needs fewer pesticides and fertilizer to thrive than cotton. Bamboo fabric is super-absorbent and it dries quickly, so it’s the best of both worlds. Bamboo also resists germs and fungus, so it’s less likely to get nasty. Bamboo’s one downside: It’s not thick. If you crave plush, you’ll be disappointed.
Less-common, though gaining popularity, Modal is made of cellulose from beech trees. It’s about 50 percent more absorbent than cotton, and that it won’t fade over time, making it an excellent choice for bath towels.
5 Ways to Find the Best Bath Towels
Our textile experts swear by these shopping tips.
BY LEXIE SACHS, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING INSTITUTEJan 19, 2018
With an endless option of towels boasting a variety of features, it’s difficult to know which will live up to their claims. These tips and tricks from the Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab will have you shopping like a pro. Be sure to check out our top-tested bath towels to find the right pick for you.
1. Check the Fiber Content
100% cotton is the softest and most absorbent. Don’t focus too much on premium cottons like Egyptian and Supima; they’re normally considered top-notch, but didn’t have much of an affect on softness, absorbency, or durability in our towel tests. Another option is a cotton/polyester blend: It’s often less expensive, quick-drying, and more durable.
2. Look for Production Highlights
Towel lingo can be tricky, but here are some keywords to look for:
- Combed cotton: the cotton is brushed to remove short fibers, making the fabric softer and more durable.
- Ring spun cotton: long and short fibers are tightly twisted, making the towel loops strong and smooth.
- Twist: a description of how much the loop’s yarn is twisted. A high twist is more durable, but a low (or zero) twist increases surface area to make the towel plusher and more absorbent.
- Hydrocotton, Microcotton, Aerocotton, etc.: brand names of manufacturing processes (not to be confused with actual types of cotton) to help increase softness and absorbency.
3. Visually Inspect the Towel
This doesn’t mean you should feel the towel for softness in store. In fact, manufacturers may put finishes on the towels to make them feel softer, but the coating will come off in the wash. Rather, make sure the edges are neatly folded and secured with close, secure stitching — it’s a sign of good quality craftsmanship. This prevents fraying and can help extend the towel’s life.
4. Consider the Weight
Towel weight is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). Generally, the higher the weight, the denser the towel and the more absorbent and plush it will be. 300-400 GSM is considered lightweight, 400-600 GSM is medium weight, and 600-900 GSM is the heaviest. The top performers in our test were in the 500-700 GSM range.
5. Know What You’re Looking For
It’s a matter of personal preference, but makes a big difference. If you want a super soft, ultra-absorbent towel, look for 100% cotton with dense, plush loops of yarn on the surface. If you want one that’s quick-drying and more durable, consider a cotton-poly blend or a lighter fabric with a low pile (short loops). Fluffy loops help the towel feel soft and absorb water, but they can take longer to dry and may show more wear from laundering.
Towel Buying Guide
Your guide to buying the best towels, from shopping advice and product reviews, to tips on how to care for your new towel. Be sure to check out our top towel picks!
BY THE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING INSTITUTEAug 13, 2007
- Don’t judge a towel by its in-store softness. Most manufacturers add softeners to the finish so towels will feel nice and velvety in the store. After a few washings, you may end up with a rougher towel than you had bargained for.
- For enduring coziness, check the tag for 100% combed cotton. Cotton fibers naturally attract water, and can hold almost 25 times its weight in the liquid. Combed cotton ensures that the shorter threads have been removed, keeping the towel strong and preventing pilling.
- Inspect the stitch for thick, tightly packed loops. The denser the loops, the more absorbent your towel will be. If you can see the base of the towel, it’s bunk.
- Don’t just twiddle the towel on the shelf — pick it up! A high-quality towel will feel heavier than it looks, proving that it’s packing more volume for absorbency.
- Double-turned edges with double stitching are the key to durability. This reinforcement reduces fraying, which will give your towels a long, thirsty life.
- Read the care label before you wash. Machine wash on the hottest temperature-setting recommended, with similar colors.
- If it says no chlorine bleach, don’t use it! Even some white towels have a finish that should not be bleached. Bleach may weaken the fibers over time and make towels less absorbent.
- Forget the fabric softener. Although everyone loves snuggly towels, dryer sheets and liquid softener add a coating that inhibits absorption.
- Maintain fullness organically by fluffing, or shaking out, washed towels before placing in the dryer and fluffing again upon removal.
- If your towels are pilling, try a lint roller or wrap tape around your hand (sticky side up) and press over the towels to lift the balls. Also be sure to clean the lint filter in your dryer after every use. Heloise’s hint: Place a large piece of nylon netting in the dryer along with the towels. The netting will tumble against them, causing the fuzz balls to fall off.