Bath Linens

Bath linens, including bath towels, hand towels, washcloths, and bath mats, are as much home fashion accessories as necessities. Bath linens can act as a makeover to the look and feel of your bathroom.

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Anyone who's shopped for towels lately can tell you about the vast array of fashion colors, trims, patterns, sizes, and quality to choose from.

Although the basic fluffy white towel is a classic and can give a clean, spa-like, feel to any bath, you may wish to experiment with color as you refresh or add to your stock of bath linen.

It's also important to understand what makes up a good quality towel. Softness alone is no longer the only barometer to measure towel quality.

Remember, as with bed linens, that towels are traditionally discounted during January white sales. Good buys can be found year-round at linen outlets and home discount stores.

Here are some ideas to consider when shopping for bath linen, including bath mats and rugs.

Color Choices: White and ivory coordinate with any bathroom color and have longevity. However, towels are a great way to get more color into a bath. When concerned about fading, choose light colors that don't show fading as much as dark colors. For color interest, combine two colors, mixing shades such as green with blue, or tan with cream.

Bath Mats: If you use two colors for towels, choose a bath mat in one of the colors. For a clean look, use only washable cotton bath mats. Avoid using top or seat covers on the toilet and don't use a rug around the base -- they all trap moisture and are dust and bacteria catchers.

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As previously mentioned, softer doesn't always mean better quality. Manufacturers sometimes add fabric softeners to towels to create a silky feel; these silicone-base additives coat the towel fibers so a soft towel can actually be less effective than its coarser cousin. When selecting towels, use weight as an indicator of durability.

Because of its absorbency and strength, cotton is the fabric of choice. Longer-staple varieties, such as those grown in the delta regions of the U.S., are stronger and softer than shorter-staple versions. As the staple length increases, the individual loop gets softer and more supple, for better wear and less lint. Combed cotton is considered a top-quality fiber for toweling because only the best grades of cotton can be combed.

Performance: The manufacturing process and the material affect towel absorbency. Although sheared towels are the most absorbent, they aren't necessarily the best dryers. Towels don't dry simply by absorbing moisture; the fiber loops also brush water off the body.

Bottom line: The number of loops per square inch is the most important indicator of performance.

  • Towels are usually sold individually but the sizes can coordinate with matching colors and style.
  • The minimum towel ensemble is a bath towel, hand towel, and face cloth or washcloth. However, fingertip towels are often added in powder rooms or bathrooms used by guests.
  • Typical bathroom towel sizes include bath sheets, towels, hand, face, and fingertip towels.
  • Bath Towels: Standard sizes start at 22 x 44 inches. Quality towels start at 27 x 50 inches. Luxury towels are sized 30 x 54 inches (also called French size).
  • Hand Towels: Sizes range from 16 x 26 inches to 18 x 32 inches. Buy extra to keep fresh ones out for family and guests. Freely mix colors and trims.
  • Face Cloths: Also called washcloths, the standard size is 12 inches square. Stock extras, especially when infants and young children are in your household.
  • Fingertip Towels: Standard size is 11 x 18 inches. Sometimes used with decorative guest towels in powder rooms or placed by the sink when guests visit.
  • Bath Sheets: Sizes from 30 x 60 inches to 40 x 72 inches add a luxurious touch to your bath. These are not included in standard bathroom towel sets.
  • To outfit a standard bathroom, stock two complete sets of towels (bath, hand, and face cloth) per person. This will allow for a set in the wash while another set is in use.
  • For a guest bath, stock at least two complete sets, with the addition of fingertip towels. When guests must share the family bath, allow for extra sets in a different, coordinating color.
  • Buy extra washcloths during January white sales or at outlets to have plenty for removing makeup and helping children to clean up before meals.
  • Bath mats and shower curtains are also considered part of the basic bath ensemble. Neutral colors and patterns are tasteful for both mats and curtains. Install a plastic liner to protect a fabric shower curtain.
  • Towel Styling: It's always fun to be creative when putting out fresh towels for a guest or even a family member. Try different folding and display techniques to update your towels. Fold bath towels to the same width as hand towels and layer both sizes for a tiered look. Or fold towels lengthwise; then roll them. Cluster the rolled towels in natural or wire baskets or crates, or stack them in pyramids.

Good quality bath towels can last for 10 years with proper care. To get the most from your towels, follow these laundering tips and suggestions:

  • Wash and dry new towels before use to remove finishes and excess dyes.
  • Launder on a normal wash cycle. Wash separately, not with clothes, for sanitary reasons. Use warm water (not hot) to wash towels and do not overdry: overdrying destroys the integrity of the individual cotton fibers.
  • Don't overuse softeners; use according to directions. Do not use softeners (liquid or softener sheets) every time towels are laundered. To prevent waxy softener buildup, use once every three or four washings.
  • Wash dark-color towels separately for the first few washings because colors may bleed. Then wash similar colors together.
  • Use color-safe bleach for colored towels. Wash white towels separately or with other white items to avoid subtle discoloration over time. Occasionally bleach white towels if needed.
  • If you hang-dry towels, shake them while wet and again when dry to fluff the terry loops.
  • Don't iron terry towels; this will reduce absorbency. Linen hand towels should be ironed, however.
  • To maximize the absorbency of your towels, add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse water once a month when washing a load of towels. When the cycle is complete, dry as usual. The vinegar removes excess detergent that can decrease absorbency.
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