Bath linens, including bath towels, hand towels, washcloths, and bath mats, are as much home fashion accessories as they are necessities. We have tips for choosing bath linens, styling your towels, and ensuring that linens last longer.

June 08, 2015

Anyone who has shopped for towels can tell you about the variety 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 linens.

It's also important to understand what makes up a good-quality towel. Softness alone is no longer the only barometer for measuring towel quality. Here are some ideas to consider when shopping for bath linens.

Color Choices

White and ivory coordinate with any bathroom color, and they have longevity of style. However, towels are a great place to start for bringing more color into a bath. If you are 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.


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 United States, are stronger and softer than shorter-staple versions. As the staple length increases, the individual loop gets softer and more supple—which means 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.

Both 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.

As a bottom line, the number of loops per square inch is the most important indicator of performance.

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.

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 tank or lid covers on the toilet, and don't use a rug around the base—they all trap moisture and catch dust and bacteria.

Shopping Guide

  • Towels are usually sold individually, but the sizes can coordinate with matching colors and styles.
  • 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, bath towels, hand and fingertip towels, and face cloths.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fingertip Towels: Standard size is 11 x 18 inches. Use these with decorative guest towels in powder rooms or place them by the sink when guests visit.
  • Face Cloths: Also called washcloths, the standard size is 12 inches square. Stock extras—especially when infants and young children are in your household.
  • To outfit a standard bathroom, stock two complete sets of towels (bath, hand, and face cloth) per person. This allows 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 coordinating colors.
  • 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 Care

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) each 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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