Help me understand towel terminology
June 10, 2013 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Towel buying noob here. I'm after new bath towels and the towel marketing world has moved on since I last bought towels when there was a choice of crappy, OK and expensive. Now there's all talk about combed cotton, Egyptian cotton, pile length, grams per square metre and I don't understand any of it. Please enlighten me you froody mefites who always know where their towel is. Requirements (not many! we're talking about towels here) inside.

I want new bath towels that (in the order of most important to least important):

1. Dry me
2. Feel nice
3. Dry (themselves) quickly
4. Last a while - but this is not too important as long as the lifespan of the towel is measured in years, not months.

When I run my hands over towels in store, some of the cheaper ones seem nice and fluffy and the expensive ones feel a bit stiff. But when I've used what look to me like expensive towels, the stiffness gave way to absorbency and they seemed nicer in a way I can't explain...but it was something to do with the weight of the towel being more comforting or something.

So, what do all these things (type of cotton, gsm etc) mean, and which are worth paying extra for and what is just marketing hype?

Related: how can I tell what will be a good towel based on the materials etc and feel? I'm not really looking for specific recommendations, unless it's readily available in Australia (ie either sold in store here or shipping fees are not exorbitant).

posted by pianissimo to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I learned everything I could possibly need to know about towels from reading this review.
posted by fontophilic at 6:07 AM on June 10, 2013 [20 favorites]

You know, I have found that I like kinda cheap towels from Target & Ikea. Something that feels stiff at first pretty much always has better absorbency than something that feels soft. And then, don't use dryer sheets on them.
posted by dame at 6:23 AM on June 10, 2013

Recently I clawed my way out from under the terrycloth tyranny and couldn't be happier about it. No more adding fifty pounds to the beach bag, no more hours in the dryer, no more neck strain from wrapping one about my head -- I bought something called "peshtemals." Reviews and comments here, here; Turkish eBay seller (highly recommended, best peshtemal value, friendly seller, speedy UPS delivery.

They dry you quickly, they feel great, they certainly dry themselves in a snap, and the general consensus is that the more they're washed the better they get.
posted by kmennie at 6:24 AM on June 10, 2013 [17 favorites]

Came here to link to The Sweethome's shockingly in-depth analysis as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2013

I recently acquired some bamboo fiber towels. At first they felt a little like a polyester-blend, which was not good, but I soon found that they were much more absorbant than cotton terry towels and that they dried much faster. Aditionally, the fibers are supposed to be more durable and the final bonus is that they are a "green" material, much better than cotton that is highly depleting to soils.

So to hit your criteria using the bamboo towels:

1. Extremely good drying.
2. Feels a little different, not bad, just different at first but they do get fluffier/more cotton-like over time.
3. Awesome dry time.
4. Have not tested this, but literature says they are stronger than cotton.

I should add, I'm a towel snob and was highly skeptical of the cheap-seeming bamboo towels, but now I like them.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:48 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing that Sweethome review; my qualifications are roughly the same as yours and I felt like I learned a lot about why my (in some cases rather expensive) towels weren't doing right by me.
posted by immlass at 7:03 AM on June 10, 2013

A couple of years ago I started buying fast dry towels from Target. I thought they would be perfect for the kids to bring to camp because they dry fast, aren't expensive, and the colors are great. Turns out that I love them more than the kids. They stay soft and absorbent, they wash and dry faster and easier than my expensive towels, and they are so pretty! I think Wal-Mart is also carrying them.
posted by myselfasme at 7:25 AM on June 10, 2013

are there products rating mags or websites in Oz similar to consumer reports or good housekeeping in the US? That's how I choose most of my household stuff.
posted by brujita at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2013

We've had the Macy's Hotel collection towels for over 5 years - maybe more. They're awesome.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:05 AM on June 10, 2013

I think the best compromise between normal white towels and the peshtemals is the thin white towels from IKEA. The IKEA towels are cheap; absorbent; dry quickly when hanging; dry quickly in the dryer (using less energy); more of them fit into a single wash load (using less water and energy); more of them fit on a shelf; and, importantly in my household, they're bleachable. They also have nice little loops sewn on them for hanging on a hook.
posted by HotToddy at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2013

I bought several pairs of towels about ten years ago, and the pair that have held up the best in terms of absorbancy, fabric integrity and all round excellence is the Canning Vale ones. I bought them on sale from Myers, and use them every day (one at a time, I alternate between washes), so that's a decent amount of use. They are a colour (a dark raspberry pink), and have a very wide self woven stripe; a pair of Sheridan, with a narrower woven stripe, with some different threads in it (shiny) is now pulled in at the stripe, as if the shiny threads shrunk (shrank?) and contracted the whole towel. I've been happy with IKEA towels, too.

I think I prefer ones that feel a little cottony and rough when they are new. The cheaper ones I've bought, with a very soft handle when new all seem to feel 'slimy' and cheap after a few years.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2013

I'm a huge fan of Ikea towels. They are pretty cheap, last a long time, and are quite absorbent. With super fluffy towels, I feel like the water just sits on the surface and is cold and sloppy as I dry myself. The Ikea towels dry pretty quickly. And they have a nice loop on them built in to hang on a hook!
posted by reddot at 3:55 PM on June 10, 2013

LOVE my Turkish peshtemals.
posted by barnone at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2013

I buy Sheridan bath sheets (bigger than regular towels) from Myer or David Jones when they go on sale. They have a range that is ribbed, I've had some of these for 6 years and they're still absorbent, fluffy, and very all round awesome.
posted by shazzam! at 12:32 AM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Never heard of peshtemals before, but they look great for taking to the gym.

All the shops are having sales right now, so I've got me some towel shopping to do!
posted by pianissimo at 1:00 AM on June 15, 2013

Buy white towels. You can bleach them without changing their color.

While bath towels normally get a bit funky after a few days of air-drying after a shower, *bleached* towels go quite a lot longer without starting to smell moldy.

Weird stain on the towel from cleaning up some random mess? Bleach it.

Color fading and looking rough because of it? No problems here. Bleach it.

The one exception are kitchen towels; if the towels are always cleaning up various colors of mess, white towels immediately look dirty; pick something random here, and just buy a bunch that match.
posted by talldean at 7:18 PM on June 16, 2013

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