The 9 Best Bath Towels, According to Our Lab Tests
Whether you prefer to wrap yourself up in a plush, spa-like towel or dry off quickly with a textured waffle option, choosing the right bath towel can make all the difference in your daily shower experience.
To find the best bath towels, we spent two days testing 31 towels in our Lab and assessed them based on their quality, texture, absorbency, durability, and overall value. For expert tips on buying and using bath towels, we turned to Whitney Thornburg, design director at Coyuchi, and Sarah Smith, product education and customer experience manager at Serena & Lily. We also received insights from Elana Frosk, account executive at Hohenstein Institute, the U.S. testing lab for Oeko-Tex.
"Given this is a product that touches your skin daily, [bath towels are] a great item to splurge on as it will be used and enjoyed often," says Thornburg. "Select a towel that you love—in both color and style—so it's enjoyable to use each day."
Our top pick is the Havly Classic Bath Towel because of its soft Turkish cotton that proved to be extremely absorbent in our testing, without being overly heavy or dense. Plus, it has a unique gradient weave that is one-third textured and two-thirds plush for the best of both worlds.
Keep scrolling for more of our bath towel recommendations, based on our Lab testing. You'll also find more information as to what to consider when shopping for bath towels, depending on your needs and preferences.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall Bath Towel: Havly Classic Bath Towel
- Best Budget Bath Towel: White Classic Luxury Cotton Bath Towels
- Best Splurge Bath Towel: Coyuchi Temescal Organic Bath Sheet
- Best Lightweight Bath Towel: Serena & Lily Fouta Bath Towel
- Best Plush Bath Towel: Frontgate Resort Collection Bath Towel
- Best Waffle Bath Towel: Casaluna Waffle Bath Towel
- Best Spa Bath Towel: Riley Spa Towel Collection Bath Towel
- Best Quick-Dry Bath Towel: Pottery Barn Hydrocotton Organic Quick-Dry Bath Towel
- Best Oversized Bath Towel: Simply Vera Vera Wang Signature Bath Towel
Our top pick is the Havly Classic Bath Towel because its dual-textured surface is thick and absorbent without being heavy or cumbersome. Its size falls somewhere between a bath towel and a bath sheet, making it well-suited for most people.
For a more budget-friendly option, the White Classic Luxury Cotton Bath Towels come in a set of four for less than the cost of our best overall pick. These towels remind us of what you would find in a resort or spa, and they proved to be very absorbent in our testing.
Our Testing Process
To curate this list, we spent two days testing 31 bath towels and bath sheets in our Lab. First, our testers did a visual inspection of each bath towel to assess the quality, looking at the stitching, color vibrancy (when applicable), softness, and more. Next, testers ran their hands over each towel to evaluate its texture, noting whether it feels soft to the touch, how tight the weave is, etc.
Then came the real test of each towel: absorbency. To determine how well the towel absorbs water from the skin, our testers used one end of the towel to dry off their hands. Testers then placed the dry end of the towel in a shallow bowl with 1/4 cup of water, leaving the towel to absorb for one minute. We then took note of how much water each towel soaked up and how long it took to dry afterward.
The next day, our testers washed and dried each towel, and then repeated the tests above, taking note of any change in the towel's ability to absorb water. We also took this opportunity to evaluate the durability of each towel, based on how well it held up after washing and drying—considering the texture and size of each towel before and after washing, and whether there was any fading, piling, or loose threading. Finally, our testers received the price of each towel. They were asked to score its overall value based on how well it performed and whether they would pay the listed price or wait for it to go on sale.
How to Shop for Bath Towels Like a Pro
When it comes to bath towels, cotton is king. You can find towels made from synthetic materials, such as polyester or rayon, but experts tend to agree that cotton is best for absorbency: "Choosing a towel that is made from high-quality materials, such as premium cotton that has extra-long staple fibers to enhance strength, softness, and absorbency, is the way to go," says Smith.
However, there are several different types of cotton to choose from, with varying degrees of absorbency and durability:
Egyptian and Turkish cotton are the most highly sought-after types of cotton for bath towels. Both are made from long-staple fibers, which produce a smoother, softer, and more durable towel, and become even softer after washing. Egyptian cotton tends to be more thick and absorbent to begin with, while Turkish cotton becomes more absorbent with use. And Turkish cotton is quicker to dry and more lightweight, while Egyptian cotton has a more fluffed-up, luxurious feel. Another type of long-staple cotton, Pima cotton, is similar to Egyptian and Turkish cotton but made with cotton sourced from the U.S.
You can also find organic cotton towels, which are made from 100 percent organic cotton. They tend to be very soft and plush, but they can take longer to dry than other cotton towels.
The standard bath towel size is about 28 x 54 inches, give or take a few inches. This size is designed to wrap around your entire body without being overly heavy or cumbersome. If you prefer to bundle up in a bath towel while you get ready in the morning, or if you want a spa-like experience at home, a bath sheet can provide more coverage—around 40 x 70 inches—but usually at a higher price point. Take into consideration your body size and intended use when determining what size towel you need. For example, if you plan to use your bath towel to wrap your hair, you might consider picking a smaller, more lightweight towel.
The weight of a towel is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). The higher the GSM, the thicker, heavier, softer, and more absorbent the towel. Generally, a higher GSM is preferable for bath towels, while beach towels or microfiber towels may have a lower GSM to help them dry faster. In general, 400–600 GSM is considered a medium weight for a bath towel. Towels above 600 GSM are the most luxurious, plush, and absorbent, but keep in mind that they'll take some time to dry.
In addition to the material and weight of the towel, how the fibers are constructed can have a profound effect on the towel's texture and performance. Here's some bath towel terminology to know before you shop:
- Combed cotton: Combed cotton refers to cotton that has literally been "combed" to remove impurities from the yarn so that only the long-staple fibers remain to be woven into the bath towel. These towels tend to be very durable, but not as soft as ringspun.
- Ringspun cotton: Ringspun cotton is made by spinning long and short cotton fibers together for a smooth, plush finish.
- Zero-twist cotton: Unlike combed and ringspun cotton, zero-twist cotton fibers are woven without any twisting, creating a fluffy and absorbent towel.
Terry cloth is the weave most people associate with bath towels. The term refers to a style of weaving distinguished for its uncut loops that extend off the woven base. The resulting towel is plush, soft, and ultra-absorbent. Waffle- or lattice-weave towels, on the other hand, are lighter and quicker to dry than terry cloth, and they take up less space in your linen closet. Waffle-weave bath towels don't have the same luxurious feel as terry cloth, but their quick-drying ability makes them less prone to developing the dreaded musty smell that can develop on dense terry cloth towels.
There are several independent third-party tests that ensure textiles meet certain standards for product safety: "When textiles are made, there are chemicals used to process them and there can be a residual of a harmful substance on the textile that you can't see by looking at it," says Frosk. "The only way to know if a textile has some level of a harmful substance on it is to test it." The most common and widely-trusted product labels are the Oeko-Tex certifications, which include both Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex and Made In Green by Oeko-Tex labels.
According to Frosk, the Standard 100 label indicates that a product has been tested for harmful substances, while the Made In Green label ensures that the product is both safe from harmful substances and made in environmentally friendly facilities with safe and socially responsible work practices. All Made In Green-certified products are also Standard 100-certified.
For organic textiles, look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label—another independent third-party certification that defines requirements for organic textiles, from harvesting raw materials to manufacturing and labeling.
Color, patterns, embroidery, and stitching can all have an impact on the look and feel of your bath towel (and bathroom). Be sure whichever towel you choose is one you'll be proud to hang on your towel rack. "Bath towels are also a great opportunity to express favorite colors and to add in fun design details like macrame fringe and tassels," says Smith.
More Bath Towels to Consider
Better Homes & Gardens Signature Soft Rain Texture Bath Towel: This budget-friendly towel is waffle weave on one side and terry cloth on the other. While it doesn't have the luxurious feel of more expensive towels, it is a great choice for anyone looking to stock their bathrooms with inexpensive, quick-drying towels.
Calla Angel Luxe Chain Superior 1000 Gram Egyptian Cotton Bath Towel: This towel was the most luxe of all those we tested. Made from fluffy Egyptian cotton and weighing a whopping 1000 GSM, this pick will make every day feel like a spa day. However, it dries slowly and can take up a lot of space in a bathroom. And it should be noted that there are no matching hand towels or washcloths available. We'd recommend gifting this towel as a housewarming or wedding gift, but not for stocking your home with all new towels.
Questions You Might Ask
How should you wash bath towels?
So how often do you really need to wash your bath towels? Most bath towels can be used three to four times before they need to be washed in the washing machine. Even when you can't see it (or smell it), body oils, dirt, and sweat can all build up on your towels—and in a steamy bathroom, they'll be even more vulnerable to bacteria growth.
Be sure to always give your towels room to spread out when air drying (avoid leaving them in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor). To keep your towels from getting dingy, you should wash white towels and colored towels separately, using hot water for white and warm water for colors. Avoid using fabric softeners, as they can reduce the absorbency of your towels. Smith suggests using dryer balls to "keep bath towels feeling soft and fresh, wash after wash." And always make sure your towels are completely dry before putting them away.
How many bath towels do you need per person?
You should have at least two bath towels for each person in your household so that everyone always has at least one towel to use on laundry days. If you have long hair, you may want to have four towels, so you can always have at least one clean hair towel and one clean body towel. "Some people also change out towels by season—choosing a cozy, fluffy one in the winter and a lightweight one in the summer," says Thornburg.
How often should you replace bath towels?
This depends on the quality of your towel, but in general, you'll want to replace your bath towels every two years. If your bath towels no longer dry you effectively, have a funky smell even after washing, or have visible wear and tear, these are all signs it may be time to replace them. Thornburg suggests switching out towels seasonally to give your bathroom a refreshed feel and extend the lifespan of your towels.
Take Our Word for It
This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To compile this list, we tested 31 bath towels in our Lab, evaluating them based on their quality, texture, absorbency, durability, and overall value. For expert tips on buying and using bath towels, we consulted Whitney Thornburg, design director at Coyuchi, and Sarah Smith, product education and customer experience manager at Serena & Lily. We also received insights from Elana Frosk, account executive at Hohenstein Institute, the U.S. testing lab for the Oeko-Tex standard.
What Is Real Simple Selects?
Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn't an option. If that's the case, we test the product just like we test anything we buy, but we also disclose that we received it for free to be as transparent with you as possible.
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