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.

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April 10, 2019

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.

Gray Bathroom With Soaking Tub

Gray Bathroom With Soaking Tub

Turkish towels are a refined touch in this bathroom, where a large soaking tub and marble countertops complete the petite room's spa-like feel.

Photo by: Jessica Klewicki Glynn

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.

Master Bathroom With White Bath Towels

Master Bathroom With White Bath Towels

White beadboard walls give the entire HGTV Dream Home 2015 master bathroom a charming cottage feel by adding subtle texture in a bright hue.


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).

Supima Cotton

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.


OK, now you know how to buy good towels. Here’s how to care for them:

Skip fabric softeners. They’ll leave a residue on your towels that makes them less absorbent. Your Egyptian cotton towels could end up as crappy as $3 polyester ones.

Wash with vinegar. Put a cupful in the wash with your towels once a month. The vinegar will remove the body oils and soap residue that make towels less absorbent. It also blasts odors.

Say no to towel hooks. Towels hung on hooks dry more slowly than towels hung on bars. Slow-drying towels = mold and bacteria.

Don’t iron them. Yes, there are people who iron their towels. That’s bad, because ironing crushes the loops in the fabric, making them less absorbent. It’s also bad because ironing towels is a bit much. Really, towel ironers, get a hobby.

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