When asked to describe the perfect bath towel, most people would include the words “thick” and “thirsty.” Cotton Inc., a research and marketing company, agrees and goes on to say that the perfect towel can also stand up to constant use and laundering for at least a decade.
The secret to buying the perfect towel is in understanding fibers, loops, and dyes, because unlike sheets, towels don’t come with easy measures such as thread counts.
A towel’s main duty is to blot water. One hundred percent cotton does the best job, because cotton naturally attracts water. Synthetic fibers such as polyester repel water, making a cotton-polyester blend less absorbent and something to be avoided.
The quality of a towel is determined by where the cotton is grown and woven. Fabric weight is the outcome of how the fabric is woven. GSM, short for grams per square meter, is how much one square meter of fabric weighs. The higher the GSM number, the denser the fabric will be, which translates to higher quality and greater durability.
The highest quality towels are made of cotton grown and woven in Turkey, with 800 GSM.
Next come Egyptian cotton towels that have a weight of 300 to 600 GSM.
Pima cotton, grown in Arizona, California, and a few countries outside the United States, is exceptionally soft and absorbent and is typically woven at 300 to 700 GSM. Supima is a trade name for a particular type of pima cotton grown in the United States.
If you look closely at terry cloth, you will see it is made up of a series of loops. The length of the loop determines the fabric’s ability to absorb water. The longer the loop, the better the absorbency.
If those loops are shaved off or “cropped,” the result is velour. While velour makes the towel feel velvety, losing the loops dramatically reduces a towel’s ability to soak up water. A velour towel is pretty, but not so useful.
Short, dense loops result in a thinner towel, which some people prefer. Long, dense loops make the towel thicker, increasing its absorbency and durability.
Dark-colored towels will fade over time, and that cannot be avoided. If you want colored towels, opt for light colors. The best option, however, is always to go for white. You’ll simplify the laundering process and never have to worry about colors fading. Besides, white goes with everything. All the hand towels and face cloths match all the bath towels. White bath linens never go out of style.
The average price of a medium-weight cotton towel is around $7, but it can go as high as $30 or more for a high-end Turkish towel.
Bath linens are exposed to soil, oil, skin cells, and germs. For good health, towels should be laundered in hot water (at least 120 F) with detergent and a small amount of borax (I use 2 tablespoons per wash load). Only occasionally and as needed, use chlorine bleach. You cannot do that safely with colored towels, but high-quality white towels can take the most vigorous laundering and keep looking good year after year.
For bath linens, avoid using any fabric softeners in the washer or dryer as they contain silicones that will coat the loops and make the towels virtually water repellent.
Think of buying towels as a 10-year investment. Once you know how to determine the right towel for you, wait for those towels to go on sale. Then buy the most quality you can afford.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at Tips.EverydayCheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Copyright 2020 Creators.com