I’m Camryn Rabideau, a freelance contributor here at Reviewed. Over the past few months, I’ve worked on several articles that put essential household linens to the test—including The Best Bed Sheets and The Best Comforters—and I was excited that my next task was to pit towels against each other.
I studied textile science in college, so I‘m well-versed the nuances of different fibers and construction methods. (I honestly never thought I would use this knowledge, but look at me now!) However, I was really interested to see if I could discern a difference in how certain manufacturing methods impacted performance.
For instance, Egyptian cotton is supposed to be the gold standard in terms of absorption and softness, but can your average consumer spot a noticeable difference? It’s a bit nerdy of me, but I was excited to find out!
How do you determine which towel is the best? Glad you asked. Naturally, we wanted to see how each towel performed when used after a shower, as well as how well it soaked up a puddle of water—after all, those are the two main uses for towels in everyday life.
To do this, I used each towel after my nightly shower for two days, seeing how well it dried me off, as well as evaluating its size, texture, and weight. I also tried each one out as a hair towel to see if it was comfortable or if it weighed down my head.
Next, I evaluated how effectively each towel soaked up a cup of water. I poured the water onto a hard surface, then placed the towel in the liquid, letting it sit for 10 seconds to soak up as much as possible. When I picked the towel up, I evaluated how much water, if any, was left behind.
We also ran more technical tests, weighing the towels when dry and then while completely saturated to determine just how much water they could absorb. After these tests, the towels were left to air dry, then I checked for any musty smell. (This happens if mold and mildew grow while the towel is drying—yuck.) I ran a stain test, too, spilling some soda on the towels and seeing if the spot came out in the wash. I didn’t use any type of stain remover here, just regular laundry detergent.
Finally, I logged my own thoughts about the overall experience of each towel. I weighed in on things like how comfortable each was, how easy they were to store, and if I’d want to use them again.
What You Should Know About Bath Towels
Most bath towels have a few things in common. For one, the majority of towels you see are made of cotton, as it’s one of the softest and most absorbent fibers. There are some specialty products made from bamboo and polyester, but they’re not widely sold.
Similarly, the vast majority of bath towels are made from a fabric called terrycloth, which is recognizable by all its little loops. Terrycloth is preferred for towels because the loops make it soft and create more surface area for the water to be absorbed into.
However, bath towels can be surprisingly complicated from a manufacturing standpoint. There are several kinds of cotton and yarn-construction techniques that can be used to make towels, and these nuances can result in a different look, feel, and performance.
For instance, there are several types of cotton, and while they’re all similar plants, the fibers they yield can be rather different. Egyptian and Turkish cotton plants, grown in Egypt and Turkey, respectively, are known for producing longer strands of the fiber—also called staples. As such, the fibers don’t need to be wound as tightly when they’re made into yarn, and this results in a softer, more plush fabric. By contrast, cotton grown in the U.S. is generally a shorter staple and must be wound tighter to stay in place. If you see a label that just says “100% cotton,” it’s probably made from this standard cotton, not any of the specialty varieties.
Additionally, “organic” cotton has been rising in popularity in recent years. This type of fiber is grown from non-genetically modified plants without the use of any pesticides or fertilizers. The appeal here is that the process is more eco-friendly. (The textile industry historically creates a whole lot of pollution, but that’s a story for a different day.)
As if the many faces of cotton aren’t confusing enough, there are also differences in how the yarn for towels is spun. Cotton can be combed or ringspun—essentially, these processes remove any short, rough fibers, creating long strands of yarn that are as soft and durable as can be. However, that’s not to say regular cotton yarn is rough or weak—ringspun yarn is just slightly more luxurious.
As you can see, there are many different combinations of fibers and construction methods that can go into making a bath towel. Certain decisions, such as using high-end Egyptian cotton or ringspun cotton yarn, result in significantly higher manufacturing costs, which explains the wide range of towel prices.