Should You Put Out “Fancy” Hand Towels When Guests Come Over?

Swapping in fresh bath towels in your guest bathroom should be obvious, but here’s what etiquette experts have to say about opting for more luxury hand towels.

We’ve all been there: You’re over at a friend’s house for dinner and use the bathroom, but after you wash your hands, you realize you’re not sure where to dry them. There’s a shower towel hanging on the back of the door and a hand towel haphazardly draped on the towel bar, but neither of them look like they were placed there for you. In the end, you do a quick shake and walk out hoping your hands air dry quickly.

bathroom sink shelving blue white decor
Adam Albright

Putting out fresh towels for guests seems like a no-brainer (the trick may be remembering to do so for even quick visits)—but is it necessary to take it one step further and break out the fancier, luxury hand towels, to make it even more clear to short-term guests which towel is theirs to use? We spoke with a couple of experts to get their take on proper powder room etiquette.

Double sink with geometric wallpaper
Werner Straube

Why You Should Always Put Out Fresh Towels for Guests

While it might not be the most egregious hosting faux pas, not putting a freshly laundered hand towel in the bathroom can make things uncomfortable for visitors. Elaine Swann, a Los Angeles lifestyle and etiquette expert, agrees: “It’s proper protocol to put out fresh hand towels for your guests,” she says. “Number one, it means they’re nice and clean and have not been used in the everyday occurrence of the household. [Secondly], when people see you’ve taken an extra step to create a welcoming environment, it makes them feel good.”

The good news, though, is that not putting out a fresh guest towel is primarily a question of good etiquette—not so much cleanliness.

“In general, there should be little worry if other people use your personal towels if no guest towels are out,” says Emily Toth Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology. “People’s hands will be relatively clean after washing. Given all of the other ways we may spread infections, hand towels are likely not one of the most common modes.”

Still, if you want to be a good host, providing fresh hand towels for guests is definitely the way to go.

“Etiquette is about putting others at ease, and what a great way to put your guests at ease by letting them know you’ve paid attention to the finest details, like a hand towel,” Swann says.

baskets used on wall for bathroom storage
Adam Albright

How Fancy Do Your Guest Towels Need to Be?

As for how to pick and display your guest towels, there’s no need to do anything too fancy. They should look usable—that means not adorning them with ribbons, faux flowers, or any other distracting decorations—and be placed in direct proximity to the sink, Swann says. If you or other family members use the same bathroom guests would use on a day-to-day basis, be sure to also remove any personal towels or clutter from the room for the duration of your event. Then fill the bathroom with extra toilet paper rolls, pop a candle atop the vanity, and put out those clean guest hand towels. 

To make things extra simple when you’re getting ready to host, Swann recommends keeping laundered guest hand towels stored away at all times and only using them when visitors come over.

If you want to emulate the expert and add some hotel-like flair to your bathroom, you can also follow Swann’s go-to method to give every guest a fresh experience: “I purchase packs of white washcloths, roll them up, and stack them on a wicker tray on top of the sink so [visitors] get a new towel each time rather than having one towel for everyone to share. Then I leave a wicker basket for the used towels,” she says.

The hosting pro’s other trick? Throwing one of the hand towels in the basket before guests arrive to make it clear that’s where they should toss dirty linens when they’re done. Utter genius.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles