Picking towels that feel soft and fluffy is a good start, but following these expert-approved tips will make sure you’re picking only the best and hardest-working bath towels wherever you shop.

By Leslie Corona and Lauren Phillips
Updated August 18, 2020
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How to pick the best bath towels: stack of towels on stool
Credit: Bryan Gardner

As with picking other household essentials, picking bath towels can be a drawn-out process when you take the time to do it right. Sure, anyone can pick up some cheap options at the nearest home goods store, but anyone seeking only the best bath towels for ultimate durability, fluffiness, and drying ability will need to put some time and effort into the search.

Figuring out what to look for and how to pick the best bath towels doesn’t have to complicate the process, though, thanks to a little help from some towel experts. The team at Micro Cotton, which has been making towels since 1932, clued us in to some great tips for figuring out if a towel is actually great or not—and whether a high-cost towel will be worth the investment. Believe it or not, the biggest, fluffiest towel isn’t always the best one, especially if it doesn’t hold up after a few uses. Instead of going by feel alone, follow these tips to pick the best bath towels for you and your budget.

Certain factors can make or break a great bath towel. Knowing what they are and whether the bath towel options you’re considering have them can mean a better towel purchase, especially if you put a little time and energy into doing your research. With any luck, you’ll be able to find a high-quality bath towel that is up to your standards and within your budget—and once you’re wrapped up in that fluffy, absorbent towel post-shower, the time and effort you put into finding the best bath towel will be 100 percent worth it.

Follow these fail-proof steps to pick a high-quality bath towel and prepare to be amazed by what a little knowledge can do. Your bathing ritual will never be the same again, in all the best ways.

Talk about weight

Heavier, thicker towels tend to offer the softness and absorbency any sensible person would want from a bath towel, but judging whether a towel is heavy or thick enough can be tricky, even more so if you’re shopping online. This is where grams per square meter, or GSM, comes in. A towel’s GSM refers to its weight, and, typically, the higher a towel’s GSM, the better performance you can expect from it, the Micro Cotton team says. In most cases, a GSM of 500 or more should be enough, though anyone wanting a softer or more absorbent towel can search for bath towels with higher GSMs.

Some home or linen websites will state a bath towel’s GSM as such. Other retailers will state the weight as 700-gram weight (the number will vary); this also refers to GSM. If the GSM is not shared and you happen to know the weight in grams, you can use this handy GSM calculator to use the towel’s dimensions and weight to determine the GSM. (This is also a handy trick if you want to check the GSM of a trusty towel you already own.) Many retailers don’t share the GSM, especially on more affordable towel options. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it may mean you want to feel the towel in-person to be sure it’s up to snuff.

Look at materials

The Micro Cotton team says the best bath towels are created with 100 percent cotton. Long-staple cotton means the towel’s fibers are longer, which means the bath towel will be softer, more durable, and more absorbent. Check the materials, which should be listed online or on the towel’s care tag, along with the laundry symbols.

Pick your weave, which affects how absorbent the towel is and how fast it dries.

Related Items

How to Pick the Best Bath Towels: Terry Cloth
Credit: Bryan Gardner

If you want something incredibly fluffy…

Plush Egyptian Cotton & Bamboo Bath Towel, $39; garnethill.com.

Try terry cloth.
This fabric is a weave of tiny loops of thread. These little twists are what makes terry towels so absorbent, because each one creates more surface area to drink up water. A fluffy towel like this, though, is slower to dry than thinner options. For the most absorbency, get ones that are 100 percent cotton, or opt for a blend with at least 50 percent cotton.

How to Pick the Best Bath Towels: Turkish Towel
Credit: Bryan Gardner

If you want something lightweight and quick-drying…

Thea Towel, $24; bonton-studio.com.

Try a Turkish towel.
This extremely thin bath sheet (a.k.a. fouta) has a tight weave, which means the fabric may be a little less absorbent than other styles. But it's lightweight and durable, and it dries quickly. These towels are perfect for vacation: They take up minimal space in bags, can double as blankets on chilly plane trips, and dry quickly when spread out in a hot car after a beach day.

How to Pick the Best Bath Towels: Waffle Weave
Credit: Bryan Gardner

If you want a luxe spa look…

Waffle Bath Towel, $39; parachutehome.com.

Try a honeycomb or waffle weave.
These towels have a variegated surface that offers an invigorating after-shower rubdown. They dry efficiently, thanks to a puckered texture allowing for airflow. That said, their gift is their curse: In the dryer, the towels are prone to shrinkage, which can cause the edges to ripple. Avoid washing in hot water, and line-dry or dry on low heat.

Where you plan to stash your towel should determine the material you choose.

Related Items

How to Pick the Best Bath Towels: Cotton
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Best to keep by your tub: Cotton

Air Weight Organic Cotton Bath Towel, $48; wayfair.com.

Cotton towels, especially if they're terry cloth, are sturdy, soft, and absorbent. Plus, they are incredibly easy to care for. Towels made of "long staple" cotton, like Egyptian and pima, are softer and have a longer lifespan than regular cotton.

Good to know:
Cotton fibers may wear down and fray more quickly and dry more slowly than synthetic varieties.

Best for the gym bag: Low-pile microfiber

Synthetic microfiber is usually made from nylon, rayon, or polyester. It is lightweight, quick-drying, and—drumroll—can sometimes be anti-microbial, making it ideal for sweaty locales. Bring it to hot yoga or drape it over your bike's handles at spin class.

Good to know:
Synthetic fibers aren't super absorbent, but they can last longer than natural fibers.

Best for bathrooms with limited ventilation: Bamboo

These fibers can be antimicrobial, which may help prevent them from smelling musty.

Good to know:
Bamboo fabric is technically considered rayon because of the way it's processed; you may see that on the label instead. Bamboo towels are often a mix of linen or cotton. Bamboo grows like a weed, so it has an eco-friendly halo, but turning it into fabric involves a lot of processing. Look for a certification like Oeko-Tex, GOTS, or C2C on the label.

How to Pick the Best Bath Towels: Linen
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Best for the powder room: Linen

Orkney Linen Hand Towel, $40; roughlinen.com.

Made from the flax plant, linen is more absorbent than cotton and often used for hand towels. Decorative embroidery and trim look especially nice on this thin fabric. Linen towels feel a little rough when brand-new, but they soften the more they're washed.

Good to know:
Linen wrinkles easily. Lean into it: Put away that iron and embrace the casual look.

Be dense

Dense loops create greater absorbency, the Micro Cotton team says, so keep an eye out for bath towels with bulky, textured, or tightly woven loops. If you’re able to see a towel in-person before purchasing it, look at it carefully: You shouldn’t be able to see the innermost layer, or base, of a decently dense towel.

Go big (or get back in the bath)

The standard bath towel measures 30” x 56” and is large enough for a quick dry-off, the Micro Cotton team says. For taller or larger people (or people who like to walk around in a towel post-shower), a bath sheet—sometimes called a body towel—may be the better alternative for more coverage and warmth. These bath towel­­ alternatives measure around 33” x 70” and offer a much cozier experience, though they will cost more than standard bath towels.

Don’t get caught up in prices

Some luxury bath towels can cost close to $100—but you don’t have to spend that much to get a decent bath towel. Decent options that fulfill all the requirements above can be purchased for $20 or $30. The key is knowing the difference between a low-cost, low-quality option and an affordable, high-quality one, which you should be able to do with these handy tips. And, of course, if you really want to buy a $100 bath towel, go for it; just don’t store it in the bathroom.