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It’s something you use every day and probably don’t think twice about: your bath towel. But dry off with a thin and scratchy towel, and you’ll definitely notice. When shopping for a new towel, always keep comfort and durability in mind.
“A towel is a deeply personal decision,” said Emily Forrest, the director of communications and resident towel expert at wedding registry site Zola. “The main factors to consider are size, material or type of cotton (Egyptian, Pima, and Supima cotton are all very fluffy), and also GSM [a measurement of the towel’s weight], which will define how luxurious and also durable the towel is. Price and color are of course other factors to consider.”
For more on different materials and towel terms — including a deeper explanation of GSM — check out our FAQ slide.
Since not everyone wants a heavy, plush towel, our final selection represents a variety of textures, weights, and budgets. To test the best towels, we evaluated the durability, feel, and absorption of each of the 13 contenders in this guide. Read more about our methodology here.
Here are the best bath towels in 2021
- Best towel overall: Kassatex Atelier Bath Towel
- Best quick-dry towel: Pottery Barn Hydrocotton Organic Bath Towel
- Best waffle towel: Onsen Bath Towel
- Best Turkish towel: Coyuchi Mediterranean Organic Towel
SEE ALSO: The best bathroom cleaning products
Our testing methodology
Here’s how we tested the towels over a period of six months. Knowing that this is a fairly short amount of time, we’ll continue to follow these steps in the upcoming months and note any changes.
- Washed each towel three times and evaluated it for shrinkage, fraying, color loss, and roughness.
- Dried my entire body after a shower.
- Used each towel to wring out water from my wet hair (I have thick, medium-coarse hair).
- Timed how long each towel took to dry completely when hung normally on a towel bar.
- Noted softness, fluffiness, thickness, and how the towel clung to or wicked water off damp skin.
The best towel overall
Kassatex’s Atelier Towels are the most dense and absorbent of all the towels we tried. They remain soft after several washes, and the hanging loops are a thoughtful touch.
Pros: Soft, heavyweight, absorbent, durable, has a hanging loop, monogramming is available
Cons: Dries slowly, limited color selection
This thick towel made me look forward to getting out of a long, hot shower, and that’s not an easy feat. It’s heavy and absorbent, with an 800 GSM (a measurement of a towel’s weight), and takes a while to dry (about four to six hours in my experience) but it’s all worth it if you want to wrap yourself in the equivalent of a comforting hug.
Made from combed cotton, which is cotton that goes through an additional process that combs out shorter fibers and impurities, the towel feels soft and sumptuous. While other towels I tested tended to get rougher after multiple washes, the Kassatex towel remained as soft as it was at first use. Even though it wasn’t as plush as a close contender from Frontgate, I loved Kassatex’s towel the most because of its long-term softness potential.
It has an attractive dobby border — the decorative weave above the edge of the towel — that’s not too big or small. If you don’t like to hang your towels on a bar, you have options: each towel has a sturdy sewn-in hanging loop.
I tested the towel in the color Chalk, which was a little lighter in person than the photo on the brand’s website indicated, so if you’re choosing a specific shade to go with your bathroom style, keep this discrepancy in mind. The good news is that Kassatex offers 60-day free returns on non-monogrammed towels.
The best quick-dry towel
The Hydrocotton Organic Bath Towel from Pottery Barn has a soft, extra fluffy, and substantial feel and it dries surprisingly quickly despite its weight.
Pros: Fluffy, made from organic cotton, dries quickly, comes in many colors, monogramming is available
Cons: Loose threads may emerge after multiple washes
I usually associate quick-drying towels with thin or textured construction, but this towel from Pottery Barn proves you can enjoy a fluffy, moderately thick feel without compromising drying ability. The towel is not so heavy and plush as the Kassatex, but it has enough weight to convince you it won’t fall apart after a few uses.
It retains its softness after multiple washes because it’s made from 100% Turkish, GOTS-certified cotton and with untwisted yarns. Forrest said, “To make a towel, the yarns are twisted together, and the more the yarn is twisted the harder and less absorbent the towel becomes. But, if the towel is constructed with very little twist or with no twist, the outcome is a fluffier towel that will dry more efficiently because there is simply space between the yarn so each strand can dry.”
That being said, I did notice a few loose threads emerge after I took it out of the dryer. We’ll continue to do more washing and drying tests and monitor whether more threads come out.
On average, the towel took between 3 and 3.5 hours to air dry. Our picks for best waffle towel and best Turkish towel below actually dried faster. However, we’re designating the Pottery Barn our best quick-dry pick because it also has the traditionally soft and fluffy cotton terry feel that most people are looking for. Based on our testing, the towel was the most well-rounded quick-drying towel.
The best waffle towel
The Onsen Bath Towel is a lightweight and resilient waffle-weave option that absorbs water well but doesn’t drag or hang heavy like other waffle towels.
Pros: Light, dries quickly, comfortable texture, durable
Cons: Thinner and less soft than traditional towels
Fluffy, thick terry towels can sometimes feel stifling, especially if your body temperature naturally runs hot or you live in a warm climate. Onsen’s bath towel is a great alternative because it’s thin, light, and quick-drying, but still highly absorbent and comfortable.
It’s made from 100% Supima cotton, which is a fiber that’s strong yet soft. Adding to the towel’s durability is a relaxed waffle weave construction that seems to stretch and adapt to however you handle the towel. Though I could see the thin, individual fibers, I was impressed with how the towel never came out of the wash with frayed or loose threads. It also never snagged on my jewelry, which was a joyous revelation since I keep my earrings and nose ring on in the shower and they can catch even on terry towels. Meanwhile, the bonded 2-inch edges provide structure to the flexible fabric.
Though it has the measurements of an average-sized bath towel, it dries quickly and takes up much less space, making it a good travel towel. And unlike other waffle weave products we’ve tried, the Onsen towel doesn’t shrink in the wash.
The lattice texture can take some getting used to, but overall the material feels pleasant and springy. The towel also absorbed water off of my skin without clinging to it, a combination that’s especially welcome in humid weather.
The best Turkish towel
The Coyuchi Mediterranean Organic Towel is a lightweight, tightly woven towel made from organic Turkish cotton that not only looks great but also ticks all the boxes for comfort, absorption, and thoughtful production standards.
Pros: Lightweight, absorbent, durable, stylish, sustainably made, doubles as beach towel
Cons: Thin, fringed edges can tangle or unravel
Turkish (also known as Hammam or Fouta) towels are characterized by their traditional flat weave and knotted fringes. Coyuchi’s Mediterranean towel is a thoughtful and beautiful interpretation, made from Turkish-grown and woven organic cotton and available in five coastal-inspired colors. Its fringes are soft, thick, and hand-knotted.
While thin, the towel is tightly woven and sturdy. It’s not soft or fluffy like a cotton terry towel, which means it can also double as an effective beach towel, since sand slides right off the woven surface.
Turkish towels aren’t for everyone, but they dry quickly and are very lightweight and packable, making them ideal for vacations. I brought along this towel on many recent road trips, and it barely took up any space.
The main con I discovered is that the fringed edges, though eye-catching, can get tangled in the wash or unravel. Compared to other towels, this one may require a little more maintenance to keep its decorative appearance. It also seems to bleach more easily than the other towels I tested; if I could go back, I’d probably choose the white color to hide any potential bleach stains.
Coyuchi only uses GOTS-certified organic cotton, which certifies that every part of the supply chain is free of toxic chemicals and meets social standards for worker conditions. It also takes back products to be mended, cleaned, and resold, in order to reduce textile waste. Thanks to practices like this, the towel is sold at a premium price, but you’ll know exactly what your money is going towards.
What else we tested
What else we recommend and why
Revival Bath Towel: Revival started out as a rug company and it surprised us with its well-made, soft, and weighty towel. It’s made from long-staple organic Turkish cotton and has an attractive wavy pattern. The only problem we encountered is that the towel loops may snag on jewelry.
Boll & Branch Plush Bath Towel: This towel has all the certifications that matter: Fair Trade, GOTS, and Oeko-Tex. It’s on the more dense side at 700 GSM and comes in nine versatile, earthy colors. We also liked that it was quite fluffy for its weight. The only potential problem you may run into is loose threads after multiple washes and uses.
Brooklinen Ultralight Bath Towel: These super light 320-GSM towels only come in a set of two and are made from 100% Turkish cotton. Consistent with our experience with Brooklinen’s sheets, these towels delivered strong performance for great value. Unlike other thin and light towels, these are strong, durable, and very soft — a nice change from the usual scratchy, threadbare towels you’ll encounter at the same GSM.
Riley Spa Bath Towel: This 700-GSM towel is made with combed, long-staple cotton and has a hanging loop for convenient drying and storage. It can also be personalized for an extra $10. It’s heavy, thick, and durable; however, it’s pricier and less dense than the Kassatex, our top pick.
Frontgate Resort Cotton Bath Towel: This towel is soft, thick, and plush, with a luxurious and almost spongy feel. It’s absorbent and doesn’t cling to the skin, and there are a ton of colors to choose from. After a few washes, it started to feel less fluffy, although it was still comfortable. The dobby border may be too big for some people’s tastes.
Sand Cloud Towel: I’ve used this durable Turkish-style towel for a couple of years now, and I love its versatility as a regular bath towel or beach towel. Its price and GSM are pretty close to Coyuchi’s, it comes in various sizes, and it has a social initiative too, with 10% of profits going towards marine conservation efforts. Ultimately, Coyuchi’s towel and fringed edges felt a bit more substantial, though.
What we don’t recommend and why
Tombo Bath Towel: Tombo’s towel is a lot smaller than average (25 inches by 53 inches). Even though it has a pleasant gauzy and cushioned feel, it’s too small for the price.
Weezie Piped Edge Bath Towel: Weezie’s towel is soft and fluffy, but it’s expensive for what you get. However, it’s a nice option for gifts or special occasions because Weezie offers a large variety of custom embroidery styles.
Wamsutta Micro Cotton Bath Towel: Though the price and large color selection are tempting, these towels weren’t that soft or comfortable. However, they are absorbent. Note: This towel is no longer sold by Bed Bath & Beyond.
What we’re testing next
Room Essentials Everyday Bath Towel: For just $4, you can pick up this soft, mid-weight towel from Target. It’s 100% cotton terry, with a woven trim and eight color options.
Salt Quick Dry Bath Towel: This towel is a contender for either best budget or best quick-drying towel. It has zero-twist loops and looks to be highly absorbent. A potential concern that some reviewers point out is that it produces a lot of dryer lint.
What is GSM?
GSM stands for grams per square meter and is a measure of towel density. The higher the GSM, the heavier and more absorbent the towel is, and the longer it will take to dry. “Typically, the higher the GSM (900 is considered very high), the more luxe and plush the towel. A lower GSM (300 would be pretty low) indicates a lighter weight and more quick-drying towel,” said Emily Forrest, an expert on towels at the wedding registry site Zola. “A safe bet is a towel with a GSM that is between 400-600 for a towel that’s not on either end of the sumptuous to thin spectrum.”
Why do my towels smell?
If a wet towel is left bunched up in the hamper or on the ground, mildew starts to grow, and no one likes a germy, musty-smelling towel. To avoid mildew, hang your towel right after use so it has the space and time to dry completely. If it still smells, wash it in a hot cycle with a cup of white vinegar, and then run it in a second wash cycle with half a cup of baking soda. Dry it in a machine or hang it up to line-dry.
Why do my towels stain or become discolored?
There are a couple of possible culprits for stains and discoloration:
- Skincare products that contain benzoyl peroxide. People who regularly use benzoyl peroxide products may want to consider sticking to white or light-colored towels.
- Using fabric softener or bleach in the washing machine. Even if you don’t actively add bleach, leftover bleach in the dispenser can sometimes leak into the current load, so check that your dispenser is working properly.
Bath sheets vs. bath towels
The towels we test and review here are bath towels and typically measure around 28 to 31-inches wide and 54 to 58-inches long. Bath towels are designed to drape around your shoulders or wrap around your body comfortably, but if you find you want even more coverage, you’ll want the much larger bath sheet. Bath sheets typically measure around 35 to 40-inches wide and 68 to 72-inches long. Keep in mind that the increase in size also means bath sheets are more expensive and take longer to dry than bath towels.
Long-staple cotton: Cotton with longer-staple fibers that result in smoother and stronger yarn. Short-staple cotton, on the other hand, has fiber ends that stick out and cause the towel to be rougher and less abrasion-resistant.
Egyptian cotton: Cotton grown in Egypt. It’s often assumed that Egyptian cotton is long-staple, but it could also be lower-quality, short-staple cotton that just happens to be from Egypt, so be careful of this labeling, and look specifically for “long-staple cotton.”
Pima cotton: Also known by its trademark name, Supima cotton. Extra long-staple cotton that is grown only in the US and has a fiber length of at least 1.5 inches. Extra long-staple cotton is even smoother, more flexible, and more resistant to pilling than long-staple cotton.
Turkish cotton: Extra long-staple cotton that is grown in Turkey, usually in the Aegean region.
Combed cotton: Cotton that has been combed through to remove impurities and shorter fibers. The fibers left over are the longest, resulting in an ultra-soft yarn once woven.
Ringspun cotton: While regular cotton fibers are twisted together into yarn and then woven, ringspun cotton is continuously twisted and thinned to make a smoother yarn.
Zero twist cotton: Cotton made with yarns that are not twisted together and are instead held by a wrapping thread, which lets them be woven without breaking. The thread is removed after weaving and the final cotton is softer than twisted cotton.
Microfiber: A thin, synthetic fiber usually made from polyester. It’s gentle and highly absorbent.
Dobby border: The decorative weave near the edge of a towel.
Towel safety and standards
You may notice that some of our best picks have an Oeko Tex certification. This label means the final product has been independently tested for more than 100 harmful chemical substances and is safe for human use. While it’s not the only certification out there, it’s widely used and known in the textile industry. Our experts say you should look for the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification for basic safety, but if you also care about manufacturing, look for STeP by Oeko Tex. It checks for environmentally friendly, socially responsible, and safe practices all along the production process.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is another certification, used specifically for organic textiles. GOTS-certified sheets contain at least 95% certified organic fibers and meet environmental and social standards at every stage of processing and manufacturing.
Taking care of your towels
Wash your towels before you use them for the first time. Manufacturers often add finishes or softeners to the towel and this buildup can make the towel less effective and absorbent.
“Go easy on the detergent,” Forrest said. “Because too much can lead to residue buildup, which diminishes the fluff factor.”
Wash your towels frequently. “Think about when you dry yourself off with your towel — you are collecting oils and skin, and so you want to wash your towels every few uses. [That’s also] why it’s important to have a stocked linen closet,” Forrest said.
Check out our other bathroom accessory guides