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The American Towel Buyer's Guide

Demystifying Bath Towels

Shopping for towels can be difficult, especially when you’re looking for something attractive but still reliable and long-lasting. A towel purchase is an investment in something that you will use, over and over and over again ~ hopefully for a really long time. We present our towel guide, not as a marketing tool, but as a tool that will help demystify the world of cotton and cotton towels

What are the Elements of the Great Towel?

Towel hanging on hookI shouldn't start this paragraph out with the following statement, but I will. There is no perfect towel. Please read on....A perfect towel means different things to different people. Some like
a soft, plush towel, that is substantial. Some like a thinner towel that has a loofa like quality that exfoliates your skin while drying off. The deal is, there is no perfect towel. However, all towels need to accomplish some core tasks and do them well. 

  • Wick water away from your body and unto itself without becoming excessively wet and heavy
  • Have a comfortable feel on your skin (whatever that means to you).
  • Dry quickly so it’s ready for the next time you need it.
  • Pack away easily without taking up too much room.
  • Fit well with your decor and last for years to come.
  • A fine quality towel should never dry so slowly that it develops a mildewy scent, unravel or snag, shrink in the wash, or tear at the edges.

American Towels 

American Long Staple and Ring-Spun towels are generally lightweight and thin, and because of their amazing absorbency, you’ll find you won’t need as much towel as you think you do. Each towel is gently woven on traditional, low-speed machines to maintain the integrity of the thread and achieve a level of softness that modern machines cannot produce. The result is a quick-drying, highly designed towel that is great for travel, daily use, and everyday living.

Towel Sizing (for the most part)

  • Washcloth - 13" x 13" - A small, typically square towel, used in and out of the shower for washing and drying hands, body, and face.
  • Hand Towel - 16" x 28" - An elongated everyday towel that is ideal for the kitchen or to dry hands and hair. 
  • Bath Towel - 27" x 54" - A universal all-purpose towel to dry the body after a shower or a bath. The compact construction of the towels is designed to dry the body and pair with a bathrobe.  
  • Bath Sheet - 35" x 78" - A large towel to dry and cover the body

Cotton on background of pink and blueCotton

Cotton is one of the most popular and versatile natural fibers in the world. It is esteemed for its comfortable softness, natural absorbency, and breathability. The best towels are made from long staple or extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, which produces smooth, strong threads that are both soft on the skin and resistant to tears. Long staple fibers range from 1⅛ to 1¼ inches, while ELS fibers are 1⅜ inches or longer, resulting in a flexible textile and a long-lasting towel.

How it is made: The highest quality towels are made from combed cotton, which is combed to remove impurities, short threads, and debris left over from manufacturing. This process ensures that only the strongest and longest threads are woven into the towel, and creates fine, long-lasting fibers that are softer and more compact than regular cotton. Because combing is an extra step that requires a careful eye for quality, combed cotton makes an ideal material for products that come into close contact with skin (such as towels and bedding). The leftover fibers are twisted together into a yarn, which is subsequently woven into cotton.

Best Suited For: Bath Towels, Washcloths, Face Towels

See also: Organic cotton, which is cotton that is grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers to minimize a textile’s carbon footprint. These fabrics are dyed with gentle, plant-based or ecologically-friendly dyes for minimal environmental impact. Though organic cotton towels have enjoyed a rise in popularity in recent years, the usage of organic cotton is not necessarily a marker of quality, but rather of environmental responsibility.

Terry

Terry cloth features many small loops of cotton yarn (known as pile) that extend from the weave to absorb extra moisture. Towels made from 100% cotton terry deliver a comprehensive combination of absorbency, softness, and durability all in one. Terry may not be suited for drying dishes or a countertop, as the looped yarn can sometimes produce a small amount of lint. After a few uses, the lint should dissipate, greatly. 

Lexicon

As with any industry, finding the best towels requires learning the language of its manufacturers. Here are the most important industry terms to keep in mind while you shop.

GSM

GSM

Many towels represent fabric weight with a GSM (grams per square meter) number. Towels with a high GSM are plush and thick, while towels with a lower GSM are thinner and more lightweight. A low GSM number does not necessarily reflect negatively on a towel’s absorbency, but rather serves as a marker that determines which kind of cotton was used in the manufacturing of the towel. Ultimately, it is the quality of the cotton, the brand’s individual manufacturing process, and the towel’s design that best determines its absorbency.

Ring-Spun Cotton

Commonly found in Western towels, cotton that is “ring spun” refers to a specific spinning process that creates finer, smoother yarns from long-staple fibers. Compared to regular cotton, ring-spun cotton fibers are spun rather than twisted, resulting in a tighter, strong yarn that feels heavier to the touch. Ring-spun fibers make excellent bath towels. 

Zero and Low-Twist Cotton

Unlike ring-spun cotton, zero-twist cotton fibers are not twisted at all before they’re woven. Cotton fibers are traditionally twisted to add strength, but long-staple cotton can afford to minimize or skip this step entirely because their fibers are naturally strong. A lower twist is a marker of high-quality cotton, signifying a towel that is fluffier, retains more surface area, and absorbs more moisture.

Tips for Shopping for the Perfect Towel

- A soft towel in the store does not necessarily equal a soft towel in the home. Most commercial manufacturers add softeners during finishing so towels will feel nice and velvety in the store. After a few washings, however, you may end up with a rougher towel than you had bargained for.

- Use your non-dominant hand to feel and touch towels, as it’s less rough and can pick up the softness and feel much better than a hand that is acclimated to touching many things.

- A dark towel is more representative of the towel’s softness than a lighter one, as they typically use fewer softeners and paint a realistic picture of what your towel will feel like after continuous use.

- Double-turned and stitched edges are a sign of craftsmanship. This reinforcement reduces fraying, which in turn increases longevity.

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