How to Pick the Best Bath Towels

Picking towels that feel soft and fluffy is just the start. Follow these expert-approved tips to select the best and hardest-working bath towels.

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How to pick the best bath towels: stack of towels on stool
Photo: Bryan Gardner

Picking bath towels can be a drawn-out process if you want to do it right. Sure, anyone can pick up some cheap options at an online home goods store, but finding the best bath towels for ultimate durability, fluffiness, and drying ability takes time and effort. Turns out, the biggest, fluffiest, or most expensive towel isn't always the best and may not hold up after a few uses.

We gathered advice from the team at Micro Cotton, which has been making towels since 1932 and knows what makes a great towel. Follow our 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 in all the best ways.

Consider the Weight

Heavier, thicker towels tend to offer the softness and absorbency any sensible person wants from a bath towel. However, judging if one is heavy or thick enough can be tricky, especially if shopping online. This is where grams per square meter (GSM) comes in. A towel's GSM refers to its weight, and, typically, according to the Micro Cotton team, the higher a towel's GSM, the better performance you can expect. In most cases, a GSM of 500 or more is enough, but for a softer or more absorbent bath towel, search for one with a higher GSM.

Some retail websites state a bath towel's GSM, but if its GSM is not listed and you know the towel's weight in grams, use this handy GSM calculator to enter the towel's dimensions and weight to determine its GSM. (This is also handy for determining the GSM of a towel you already own.) While it's not a deal-breaker if a retailer doesn't share a towel's GSM, it may just 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 100 percent cotton. That means the towel's fibers are longer, which means the bath towel is softer, more durable, and more absorbent. Materials should be listed online or on the towel's care tag, along with laundry symbols.

Pick Your Weave

A towel's weave affects how absorbent it is and how fast it dries:

  • Incredibly fluffy - terry cloth. Its tiny loops of twisted threads 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 optimal absorbency, look for 100 percent cotton or a blend with at least 50 percent cotton, like Garnet Hill's plush Egyptian cotton and bamboo towels. ($22 to $79, garnethill.com)
  • Lightweight and quick-drying - a Turkish towel. This thin bath sheet has a tight weave, which tends to be less absorbent than other styles, but it's lightweight, durable, and 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 day at the beach. Look to Bon Ton Studio for a wide range of colors and styles. ($28, bonton-studio.com)
  • Luxe spa look - a honeycomb or waffle weave. Its variegated surface offers an invigorating after-shower rubdown, and they dry efficiently thanks to a puckered texture that accommodates airflow. That said, their gift is their curse: In the dryer, these towels are prone to shrinkage, which can cause the edges to ripple. Avoid washing in hot water and line-dry or machine-dry on low heat. ($29 to $156, parachutehome.com)

Determine its Location

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

  • By your tub - cotton. These towels, especially terry cloth, are sturdy, soft, absorbent, and easy to care for. Towels made of "long staple" cotton, like Egyptian and pima, are softer and have a longer lifespan than regular cotton. On the downside, cotton fibers may wear down, fray faster, and dry slower than synthetic varieties. ($55, wayfair.com)
  • In your gym bag - low-pile microfiber. Synthetic microfiber is usually made from nylon, rayon, or polyester. It's lightweight, quick-drying, and—drumroll—can be anti-microbial, which is ideal for sweaty locales. Take it to hot yoga or drape it over your bike's handles at spin class. While synthetic fibers aren't super absorbent, they often last longer than natural fibers.
  • A bathroom with limited ventilation - bamboo. These fibers can be anti-microbial, which helps prevent a musty smell. Bamboo fabric is technically considered rayon because of the way it's processed, so you may see that on the label instead, and bamboo towels are often a mix of linen or cotton. The bamboo plant 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.
  • In the powder room - linen. 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. This type, like Rough Linen's Orkney hand towel, feels a little rough when brand-new but softens the more it's washed. Linen wrinkles easily, but lean into it: Put away that iron and embrace its casual look. ($45; roughlinen.com)

Consider Density

Dense loops create greater absorbency, according to the Micro Cotton team, so keep an eye out for bath towels with bulky, textured, or tightly woven loops. If you can see a towel in person, look carefully: If it's decently dense, you shouldn't be able to see its innermost layer (or base).

Go Bigger

A standard bath towel measures 30 by 56 inches, and is large enough for a quick dry-off, the Micro Cotton team says. For taller or larger people (and those prone to take a post-shower stroll in a towel), a bath sheet—also called a body towel—is a better alternative for more coverage and warmth. These super-sized bath towels,­­ around 33 by 70 inches, offer a cozier experience, as well as an extra cost.

Don't Get Caught Up on Price

Luxury bath towels can run close to $100—but you don't have to spend that much. You can find quality bath towel options that tick all our boxes for $40 or less. The key is knowing the difference between a low-cost, low-quality option and an affordable, high-quality one, which you now know thanks to our handy tips. Of course, if you really want to buy a $100 bath towel, go for it; just don't store it in the bathroom.

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