The Best Bath Towel for Your Wet, Naked Body

If you find shopping for towels as miserable as most folks do, you’re in luck. After researching more than 30 towels and testing 10, I can tell you with certainty to buy 1888 Mills Luxury Cotton Made in Africa bath towels. Of all of the towels I tested, they are the best intersection of soft, absorbent, durable, and affordable, unlike much of the competition.

WAIT: August 5, 2014
We’re setting this to wait status while we investigate issues related to 1888 Mills' quality and whether anything has changed in their process recently.
Expand Previous Updates
May 22, 2014: Added a link to a cheaper peshtemal towel on Amazon.
May 12, 2014: For this update, we revisited our initial research and decided to consider a wider variety of towel types. We polled Sweethome readers to find out what they were looking for in a towel. Armed with that criteria, we then tested seven additional towels to see if our initial pick really is the best choice. And according to our tests, it is.
February 12, 2014: It's getting hard to find our pick in stock in colors other than white, so we are looking around at other models and will update this guide in the coming weeks.
January 13, 2014: Removed wait status because Amazon has our pick back in stock. We also removed the Costco buy link because they don't appear to be carrying the 1888 Mills anymore.
January 6, 2014: The 1888 Made in Africa towels aren't currently available anywhere at a reasonable price so we are putting this piece on Wait Status and plan on revisiting it soon. In the meantime, if you can't wait, we recommend Amazon's Pinzon. I would't regret ordering the Pinzon towel if I needed a towel right now (they're really quite good and well-made), but they are a bit on the heavier, fluffier side and can take a while to dry, so be aware of that.
July 24, 2013: The 1888 Mills, our top pick, is currently only in stock at Costco, but not in white, which we recognize is a problem for a lot of people. (A representative from 1888 Mills told us that they underestimated the popularity of their towel, and that their domestic mill is hard at work to get the towels back on the market as soon as possible, hopefully within a month). In the meantime, if you must have white towels, or would rather not have to spend $60 on 4 towels when you only need 1, we recommend Amazon's Pinzon. But before you pull the trigger, it's worth noting that the 1888 Mills is a better long term investment due to its fast selvedge hems and for other reasons mentioned below. I would't regret ordering the Pinzon towel if I needed a towel right now, but for my money, I would wait a few weeks for the 1888 Mills if I was planning on buying a whole set and didn't just love big fluffy towels.
June 4, 2013: Added a short clarification regarding a discrepancy in length between the Amazon and Costco version of these towels. (Both are identical.)

When this guide first came out, these towels were perpetually out of stock, so we wanted to see if we could find something to top them. In addition to the four towels we tested the first time around, we tested an additional six this year. Our top pick still can’t be beat. Fortunately, they are back in stock and have been steadily available at Amazon ($20).

But in the event that our main pick disappears from the shelves again, our runner-up is the Pottery Barn Hydrocotton. At $25 apiece, they’re more expensive than our main pick, but they are incredibly soft and fluffy and can hold many times their weight in water saturation while drying fairly quickly.

For those on a budget, we like the $6 Lasting Color by WestPoint Home, which are a great deal for what you get but are not as durable as our other choices.

How we picked

There are thousands of towels out there. A short trip to the bath linens section of any home store can prove overwhelming, not to mention online shopping, which multiplies your options exponentially. Luckily, our strict set of criteria narrows the playing field enough, with the help of user reviews, to select a handful of towels for testing. Most simply distilled, we’re looking for undecorated, 100-percent cotton towels under $40 with a GSM of 500-850, twisted ringspun yarns, selvedge edges, and a dense, even pile. This rules out all “bamboo,” microfiber, zero-twist, jacquard, piped, and embroidered towels, but still leaves hundreds of options.

Diving into online user reviews and existing articles on towel performance shows a few consistent leaders in the game. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute has tested a number of  leading department store brands, and, years after publication, is still the most comprehensive set of towel testing I found online. User reviews and ratings on Amazon point toward popular picks by online shoppers and provide the kind of feedback on long-term use that simply can’t be recreated faithfully in a matter of weeks (which is what I had to work with).

For this update, we polled Sweethome readers to find out what they considered the most important qualities in a good towel:

Price: Most of us aren’t willing to spend more than $20 on a towel.

Absorbency: We want a towel that gets us dry more than anything else.

Drying time: By a landslide, the biggest collective pet peeve that people have is musty towels.

Durability: We’d like a towel that lasts at least a year, although most of us would prefer to replace them only about every five years.

 In the end, the towels I tested spanned all the most important points between value, density, softness, and construction:

Budget (under $10):

Mid-range price ($10-25)

Luxury ($25-$40)

  • Macy’s Hotel Collection (12 colors, 30 by 56 inches, $30) Soft hand and GHRI “Best Towel” rating

  • Pottery Barn’s Hydrocotton (five colors, 28 by 55 inches, $24.50) Brand is popular and claims that this towel is ten times more absorbent than other terry cloth towels (spoiler: not true)

  • L.L.Bean’s Premium Cotton (eight colors, 30 by 58 inches, $27.50) Great online reviews, brand has solid track record with textiles, backed by L.L.Bean’s excellent customer satisfaction guarantee

  • Turkish Towel Co.’s peshtemal (four colors, 40 by 70 inches, $36 each or two for $49 at Costco) A flat-woven variety from the most reliable source we could find online.

In the end, what we tested for was not the cheapest, softest, or densest, but the best bath towel for 99 percent of us, 99 percent of the time.

The test

Not far into the research process, it became clear that I would have to test the top picks myself in order to really separate the wheat from the chaff. I coordinated with Richard Baguley, our testing guru who set up’s testing labs and procedures, to set up a methodology for testing maximum water absorption as well as release, which I monitored over a six-hour period. Each towel was also subjected to five wash cycles to obtain a more accurate idea of its hand and durability.

Not far into the research process, it became clear that I would have to test the top picks myself in order to really separate the wheat from the chaff.
Before any testing could begin, the samples had to be washed. This is actually where a lot of bad reviews of good towels originate. The soft hand we feel on a towel in the store is intentionally created with the help of chemical finishers that actually reduce absorbency. These fabric softeners aren’t so different from the kinds many of us use at home. Why is your soft, fluffy towel repelling water like wax paper? It could be your fabric softener. Contrary to pretty much every ad for fabric softener and dryer sheets ever, you should never use either on your towels. I mean, if you want them to work and all, instead of just smelling good on the shelf. If you want to reduce static cling, try dryer balls instead of traditional waxy-softener-laden dryer sheets.

I never use fabric softener on anything for this reason. The existing softeners need to be broken down and washed away, though, for which white vinegar works wonders. (White vinegar can also be used as an alternative fabric softener after the initial wash, as it is a safe, natural antibacterial that kills mildew in towels and washing machines. It also softens fibers without degradation and leaves behind no smell. Add ¼-½ a cup of plain white vinegar to the softener compartment of any washing machine, front-loading or top-loading.) I washed and dried the samples twice with no synthetic softeners on the lowest heat settings. This is the best way to care for your towels in general. Once completely dried and cooled, I weighed each sample to confirm its GSM.

Every single towel succeeded in drying my arm completely in one pass, as any good 100-percent cotton towel should.
After washing and drying each towel, I saturated them in water to determine their holding capacity as a percentage of dry weight. I placed each towel in the same container and saturated it with water to see how much each towel could hold without dripping when the container was tilted at a 45-degree angle for 15 seconds. A good terry towel (everything we tested except for the peshtemal) will hold at least four times its weight in water. By comparison, the amount of water your towel absorbs when you dry off after a shower is less than a tenth of that. After saturation, the towels were all washed and dried again.

I also tested for water pickup off of the body by submerging my forearm in the bathtub and drying it by both patting and passing the towel over my arm. Synthetic fibers or towels treated with chemical finishers often fail to absorb water from skin, instead rubbing it around in a big linty mess, but all of the towels I tested passed with flying colors. Every single towel succeeded in drying my arm completely in one pass, as any good 100-percent cotton towel should.

With water pickup accounted for through the first two tests, I tested release by dampening each towel and timing the drying process. On a digital scale in a plastic container, I sprayed water onto each towel until it had absorbed 40 percent of its dry weight. The towels were hung evenly in dry bathrooms and weighed every two hours over a six-hour period. While no one towel dried completely in six hours, with the exception of the peshtemal, clear data definitely emerged with regard to each sample’s drying speed. Thinner towels definitely do dry more quickly, even when saturation is measured as a percentage of their own dry weight.

Our pick

Also Great
While our pick isn't superiorly soft or extremely fast-drying, it fell right in the sweet spot on all of our tests and its cut selvedge hems make it sturdy enough to last for years.
After testing six additional towels, including much more expensive models, the 1888 Mills Luxury is still the winner. It wasn’t the fastest drying or the highest in GSM or water pickup, but my pick is the most balanced of all tested and most likely to meet the criteria established by our poll. And the 1888 Mills Luxury bath towel is Amazon’s best seller in bath towels.

With a GSM of 666, it feels plush without being too dense and dries well enough for everyday use without mildewing. In testing it performed in line with other luxury towels, but its moderate GSM and superior construction are really what set it apart in my book. It’s not as soft or dense as Macy’s or Pinzon’s towels, which actually works to its advantage. It’s dense enough to dry your body quickly without feeling heavy and light enough to dry out by the next use. Many reviews cite its excellent durability and that the towel softens over time, which makes sense from a textile science perspective. Most people I’ve spoken to actually prefer a less fluffy towel and, beyond getting dry, are looking for durability and value. This towel is a great intersection of performance and value, not to mention its simple design and minimal shrinkage, which can leave the edges of many other towels with “rollercoaster” hems—the puckering and unevenness that results from one part of the towel (the hem) shrinking more rapidly than the rest of the towel (the terry cloth).

So, 1888 Mills Luxury towel is a solid investment and a good performer, but how do you measure the feel?

It’s definitely not as soft as the Macy’s or Pottery Barn towels, which didn’t feel as absorbent—almost like trying to dry myself with a sheet of cotton balls. It also wasn’t as dense as the Pinzon or L.L.Bean Premium towels, which, at 820 and 700 GSM respectively, felt like drying myself with a plush cotton rug. The 1888 Mills Luxury bath towel felt like a towel should feel: It felt like most nice hotel towels I’ve used. It’s neither too fluffy nor too dense, but still soft. And it dries well enough that everyday use isn’t a problem. Even better, it didn’t lint up my dryer or my skin, which is a sign that the yarns are well-plied and spun and not likely to fall apart anytime soon.

…The way most towels are woven changed when production left domestic mills as a result of global outsourcing.
User reviews seem to agree, with a lot of folks mentioning how sturdy and lint-free they are. I was fairly amazed at how little lint this towel left in my dryer, even in the first two washes.

Another testament to durability is the number of reviews reporting how well they’ve held up after up to three years and in clinic use (presumably in some sort of massage or bodywork office). One reviewer even mentioned using them to wipe down the insides of her shower every morning, which, uh… I personally wouldn’t do, but assuming she goes through a towel a day that way, they’re holding up through a ton of washes (literally, that’s a little less than five and a half years of daily washing, although I’d wager most of us average folk only go through a load or two a week).

A surprising number of gripes I read about towels online had to do with how towels these days just don’t seem to stand up to regular use as well as they used to, you know, back in the day. At first I chalked this up to the eternal posturing of “they used to be better,” which I’ve seen applied to everything from bath linens to bands, but it seems to be a good point in this case: The way most towels are woven changed when production left domestic mills as a result of global outsourcing. The towel that research showed to be the sturdiest is also the only one made in the United States.

This particular towel is incredibly structurally sound with its ringspun two-ply yarns evenly woven into a highly absorbent, low-pile terry.
The towel company has a good reputation and heritage. 1888 Mills isn’t a recognizable department store name because before they began offering up their 100-percent cotton towels through Amazon and Costco they sold mainly to hotels. (A reader reported that Costco listed their version of the towel as being 2 inches shorter on their website, but we have confirmed with 1888 Mills that the towels are identical and the discrepancy in listed length was a data entry error.) It is the oldest towel mill still in operation in the United States, where they still produce towels with fast selvedge hems as opposed to the cut selvedge hems on most internationally produced (read: cheaper) towels. Cut selvedge hems, like the hems of many garments, must be pressed and stitched to secure the loose threads along the cut edge. This particular towel is incredibly structurally sound with its ringspun two-ply yarns evenly woven into a highly absorbent, low-pile terry. In layman’s terms, this towel washes excellently with minimal shrinkage, it gets you dry, is still soft, and will pretty much never fall apart. Really. And, as a part of the Cotton Made in Africa program, it’s made in the U.S. with sustainably sourced cotton from Africa that supports growing economies by ensuring that farmers receive market rates for their crops, which many otherwise don’t. It’s like the cherry on top, and at a respectable $20 on Amazon or four for $60 from Costco, it’s a sound investment in personal warm-fuzzy-dryness.

A close-up of the towel edges: Top is Pottery Barn hydrocotton with stitched edge, middle is 1888 Mills' selvedge edge, bottom is Peshtemal selvedge edge.

A close-up of the towel edges: Top is Pottery Barn hydrocotton with stitched edge, middle is 1888 Mills’ selvedge edge, bottom is Peshtemal selvedge edge.

Flaws, but not dealbreakers

If you’re dead set on matching your towels to the accents in your bathroom or some existing set of linens, our pick unfortunately doesn’t come in a wide range of colors. That being said, it is available in four neutral colors—white, ivory, clay, and moss—and you can get matching sets of bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths in each of those colors. Furthermore, I suggest buying white towels as a rule of thumb unless you have particularly messy children. White can be cleaned easily with oxidizing stain remover and won’t suffer discoloration from contact with beauty products containing benzoyl peroxide as many colored fabrics will.

Also, while this towel will get softer over time, it isn’t as soft as Macy’s Hotel Collection or Pottery Barn’s Hydrocotton towels. This is a boon, though, since the 1888 Mills’ ringspun two-ply long staple cotton threads aren’t prone to fraying or pulling the way our ultra-soft samples were. Plus, according to our poll, most people prefer a towel with a little more texture anyway.


Also Great
Pottery Barn's Hydrocotton towel can get pricier than our pick and might fray in a shorter amount of time, but it is decadently soft.
Our research shows fairly definitively that most folks don’t like towels that are too soft, but if you’re in the minority that would prefer to dry off each morning with bunny-soft fluffy cotton, Pottery Barn’s Hydrocotton towel is for you. At $25 a piece, they’re 25 percent more expensive than our main pick and considerably more costly than a good budget towel, but they are softer than an angora rabbit wearing a cashmere sweater. This towel may not be ten times more absorbent than traditional terry cloth, as Pottery Barn claims, but it did hold five times its weight in water at full saturation (compared to our budget pick, which can hold three and a half times its weight in water) and dried surprisingly well—as quickly as our $6 budget pick.

At $25 a piece, they’re 25 percent more expensive than our main pick and considerably more costly than a good budget towel, but they are softer than an angora rabbit wearing a cashmere sweater.
The reason this towel absorbs and releases water so well is that despite being fluffy, it’s not actually all that dense. This towel feels plush and boasts a long loop pile, but it’s actually only 9 percent denser than our WestPoint Home budget pick and 15 percent less dense than our main pick.

The downside to such a soft fluffy towel is that it’s not as sturdy as either of our other picks. No matter how diligently you care for these towels, expect them to fray over time. (We saw evidence of loose loops at the end of the five test washes.) You can cut stray threads and treat them ever so nicely, but they’ll probably still need to be replaced every couple of years. If super fluffy soft towels are your priority, though, these are definitely your best bet.

Also greats

Also Great
Waaaaay cheaper than our top pick and ultra durable. Definitely not as thick or soft, though.
I was very impressed with the dollar to performance ratio of the $6 WestPoint Home’s Lasting Color towel. For the cost of a sandwich, you get a 100-percent cotton towel that boasts colorfastness through up to 50 washings in non-chlorine bleach. How is that even possible? It’s no five-star hotel spa Egyptian cotton wonder, but a decent performer and a great deal. It held nearly 450 percent of its weight in water, stacking up formidably against the fluffier luxury towels I tested, and was the second-fastest-drying towel I tested. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute dubbed it the Best Value in their extensive testing, which I totally agree with. That said, I do think that taking another step up in cost and buying something softer and sturdier is worth the money in the long run. Frankly, I don’t really understand how WestPoint Home can even turn a profit on such a cheap product.

Based on value alone, the Lasting Color towel would be the clear winner, but it’s not quite the best.
Based on value alone, the Lasting Color towel would be the clear winner, but it’s not quite the best. It is, however, a great choice for those on a super tight budget, families with kids who destroy everything in their path, or folks who just like a thinner, lighter towel. If you’re considering test driving the top two towels yourself, I recommend buying 1888 Mills Luxury towel for at home and WestPoint Home’s Lasting Color towel for your gym bag.

The main downside is that this towel is a little thin and on the rougher side. This is to be expected of less expensive shorter-staple cottons, though.

A quick-drying towel alternative

Also Great
This peshtemal holds up well in the wash and is incredibly fast-drying.
If you’re a space-saving minimalist with functionality in mind, a good peshtemal may be just the thing for you. Peshtemals are thin, flat-woven cotton towels from Turkey. Because they’re thin and dry out so quickly, you shouldn’t need to wash them as often as traditional towels or own as many of them.

As indicated in the graphs in our test results section, this peshtemal outperforms the competition by a wide margin when it comes to drying time. It dried 99 percent within four hours while no other towel I tested was able to dry to even 90 percent over six hours. The fact that it retained its final 1 percent moisture throughout the test is due to the humidity of my apartment more than anything else—if I were, say, lounging in Italy, peshtemal draped romantically across the balcony of my villa (as I like to imagine), my educated guess is that this textile would be bone dry in about an hour. After testing the peshtemal’s drying power from 40 percent saturation, like our other towels, I also tested it by saturating it with 40 percent of the weight of the 1888 Mills towel (94 percent of the peshtemal’s weight in water). Starting from nearly double its weight, this peshtemal dried out completely before the six hours was up. Our main pick, the 1888 Mills, was still holding 18 percent of its weight in water by the end of the same test. With a GSM of just more than a quarter of our main pick and a third of our budget pick, the peshtemal doesn’t hold as much water as a standard towel, but it absorbs more than enough for drying off after a shower or a dip in the ocean. In testing, it absorbed nearly double its weight in water.

Peshtemals are available all over the web, from ritzy home stores to Etsy. The one we chose is produced by the Turkish Towel Company, which has years of experience in the market. They’re also available at Costco, so we think they will be reliably available for the foreseeable future. Made in Turkey of extra long staple Turkish cotton with hand-knotted fringe, this peshtemal is made to last, and despite being flat woven, it is surprisingly soft.

Folded flat, one takes up about as much space as a dress shirt and it’s way more versatile.
In testing, the peshtemal washed up wonderfully. The fringe looked just as good out of the dryer as it did brand new, and because there’s no loop pile, there’s nothing to snag. If you’re aesthetically inclined, these textiles look beautiful folded or hanging and make a handsome addition to your bathroom or linen shelf.

While most of us probably aren’t willing to toss our traditional towels in favor of these lightweight wraps, they’re perfect for packing. Folded flat, one takes up about as much space as a dress shirt and it’s way more versatile. It’s great for swanky travelers who want a towel that doubles as an attractive wrap or swimsuit cover up. (Backpackers staying at hostels or campers on the move might be happier with a tiny towel made specifically for travel.) They even look nice folded at the foot of a bed, as a picnic blanket, or as a casual tablecloth.

There is no such thing as a budget peshtemal, and this one is admittedly a little pricy at $36, but a good peshtemal should last a long time. It isn’t prone to snags since there are no loops in the fabric. Likewise, it shouldn’t lose mass or thin out and become threadbare as easily because it’s made of extra long staple cotton tightly woven into a flat fabric. Unlike regular towels, which you can expect to replace after five years or so, a high-quality woven like this should last upwards of a decade based on the same logic that applies to buying a good percale sheet.

If you’re curious about this alternative to traditional towels and the price doesn’t turn you off, I suggest buying one and giving it a try. Even if you don’t want to replace your thicker terry towels with a peshtemal, it will come in handy when you travel. Overall, it’s a soft, durable, lightweight alternative and it dries like lightning. If you want more, they’re available at Costco in pairs for 30 percent off of MSRP. Or, if you want to try just one, there’s a colorful selection on Amazon for $23. I’ll be taking mine on all future travels to see how it holds up in the long run, but if its solid construction is any indication, it should hold up for years and years.

Top to bottom: peshtemal, Pottery Barn, 1888 Mills.

Top to bottom: peshtemal, Pottery Barn, 1888 Mills.

Just the peshtemal and Pottery Barn.

Just the peshtemal and Pottery Barn.

A close-up of the difference in thickness between the Pottery Barn and peshtemal. It also shows the difference between terry towels and the woven towel.

A close-up of the difference in thickness between the Pottery Barn and peshtemal. It also shows the difference between terry towels and the woven towel.

Test results

Our tests showed that most of the towels performed comparably, with a few notable exceptions.

The bar graph above illustrates how much water each towel was able to hold as a percentage of its dry weight. Fully soaked, all of the terry cloth towels we tested held at least 350 percent of their weight, which sets a benchmark for any good towel.

The super plush L.L.Bean Premium Cotton towel absorbed an astonishing six times its dry weight, though you probably won’t need it to do that very often.

Also, while it may look like the peshtemal failed where absorption is concerned, it did hold nearly twice its weight in water, which is more than enough to get you dry. 

While absorption matters, it’s also important to consider how long a more absorbent towel will take to dry. The above line graph shows the rate at which each towel dried, starting at a saturation of 40 percent of the towel’s weight in water. This puts the first graph’s findings into context—absorbency is important, but our most absorbent towel also retained 10 percent more of its weight in water than the quickest-drying terry towel.

Following the rapid-drying peshtemal, our budget picks dried most quickly, presumably because they are less dense (more on that in the third and final graph), followed admirably by the fluffy-but-not-dense Pottery Barn Hydrocotton towel, then our mid-priced towels, and finally our luxury towels. It doesn’t really matter how much you spend: Denser cotton towels will always dry more slowly.

This last graph shows two things: the GSM (grams per square meter) of each towel and, if applicable, what the manufacturer claimed the GSM would be (when available). With the exception of the L.L.Bean Premium, all the towels were less dense than claimed. This is because manufacturers list the GSM of their towels brand new, but that information isn’t nearly as pertinent as the GSM of the towels in use after at least a few washings.

What we’re concerned with is the density of the towels in use, not at the store. Here you can see that our budget picks are considerably lighter than our luxury picks, which correlates directly to how quickly they dried.

This says nothing about the hand, durability, or quality of the cotton in each towel, though. While our main pick is solidly in the middle of each of these three graphs, it is also the most durable, best made, and mostly likely to hold up to years of use at a decent price, which is what we’re all looking for at the end of the day.

Long-term test notes

Also, as a woman with a bad habit of staining towels with makeup, this towel’s ability to repel staining from nearly a year’s worth of waterproof mascara is damn near unbelievable.
As of this update, I’ve been using the towels we initially recommended in my own home for the past nine months. Our main pick, the 1888 Mills towel, has held up beautifully and only gotten softer with time. At this point, it leaves virtually no lint in the dryer, meaning that it’s not losing mass or falling apart. It hasn’t shrunk considerably or developed any frays, either. Also, as a woman with a bad habit of staining towels with makeup, this towel’s ability to repel staining from nearly a year’s worth of waterproof mascara is damn near unbelievable. Of course, in order to keep your towels in the best shape for as long as possible, it’s important to wash them in cold or warm water and dry them on the lowest setting. Chlorine bleach is also incredibly hard on fibers, so opt for an oxygen bleach, which is actually a solid form of hydrogen peroxide called sodium percarbonate that works well on organic stains.

Our budget pick, the Lasting Color towel by WestPoint Home, isn’t nearly as soft or substantial, but it has also held up well through regular use. No stains, snags, or unraveling as of yet, and reviewers claim to have used these towels for years on end. I have even used this durable towel as a bathmat in a pinch, and it’s no worse for the wear. It’s really quite impressive for a mere $6.


Target’s Threshold towel ($7) dried a hair faster than our budget pick, but it also costs $1 more. In the end, given user reviews, our original budget pick is better.

Amazon’s Pinzon Luxury towel ($21) is just too dense, too heavy, and takes too long to dry out. This is a surefire recipe for a musty towel.

JCPenney’s Royal Velvet ($18) is a decent towel, but has lower GSM than our pick and just doesn’t compare when it comes to performance for the price.

Neither the L.L.Bean Premium towel ($28) nor the L.L.Bean Textured Cotton towel ($20) cut it when it came to drying speed.

The Macy’s Hotel Collection towel ($30) has super soft and fluffy pile, but it began to pull and fray after only two washes.

Even within our towel criteria, there are tons of models to choose from. If you’re wondering why we didn’t test models from a certain brand or popular store, here’s a list of the competition that didn’t make it to testing.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Other than our budget pick, we didn’t test any other towels from this home linens giant. Most of their top-rated towels feature abysmal seasonal embroidery (who is rating these!?) and their higher-quality offerings just can’t compete with the prices of our picks.

Crate & Barrel: This home store has a small selection of towels with mid-range GSM, but their luxury prices aren’t worth it for the small selection of average items they offer.

Ikea: Ikea’s pricing just can’t beat our budget pick. I’m a former owner of Ikea towels, and I can tell you that they’re awful next to our picks.

Nordstrom: The only real contender here is Nordstrom’s Hydrocotton towel, which lists very little information available online. We passed on this one in favor of Pottery Barn’s Hydrocotton towel, which is slightly less expensive and made of 550 GSM Okeo-Tex certified Turkish cotton. For some reason, only seems interested in selling their bath towels in sets. Three, four, six, you name it. Unfortunately, what works for a family of four may not work for a single person, and none of their towels stood out as must-test options.

Restoration Hardware: Their towels, while certainly beautiful and available in a crazy array of colors, tend toward the ultra-dense side. Coupled with their higher price point, the fact that many models have embellished hems makes them impractical for the majority of shoppers.

Walmart: Regardless of how you feel about this budget behemoth, there are plenty of reasons we didn’t test any of their towels. Their website is useless for sourcing information. Few of their towels discuss what kind of cotton they use, and none of them discuss weight in terms of GSM, which is the industry standard. One potential contender from the Made Here Towel Collection seemed promising, but is only available in sets of two and there is no information about towel weight or construction. If Walmart’s website is to be believed, this set of two towels weighs in at a quarter pound, which is almost certainly wrong. Plus, these towels are only available online, so there’s no way to feel them before you buy them.

What makes a great towel

A number of factors contribute to towel greatness, and they all fall into two testing categories: performance and experience. Performance is the science-y stuff, and experience has more to do with how the towel feels.

There are some things that money can buy cutting-edge performance from, but towels are definitely not one of them.
There is a stupid number of towels available out there, so in order to establish criteria to choose test subjects, some basic questions had to be answered. What do we want most out of our towels? Absorbency, but also a decent drying rate so they stay fresher. Softness, but also durability, and a reasonable price. What fibers and fabric constructions will give us the best chance of meeting those goals? Ultimately, the best towels are 100-percent cotton with a GSM (grams per square meter) weight of 500-800.

Great 100-percent cotton towels of this weight shouldn’t run you more than $30 each. You can definitely find similar pieces out there for more (or less), but $30 is a reasonable spending cap. A single person probably wants at least three towels at home in regular rotation, and $100 should be more than enough to accomplish this. Even super plush Egyptian and Turkish cotton luxury towels with a GSM of more than 600 are readily available online for $30 or less, so there’s no need to go breaking the bank. The only towels consistently more expensive are luxury brand names of the variety sold at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. For the extra bucks, you do get a bit of bang— monogramming, jacquard designs, decorative embroidery, and brand-name pride, if that’s your thing—but know that you won’t get twice the quality for spending twice as much. If you’ve got a considerably lower budget in mind, there are still good cheap towels on the market (see our runner-up), but know that you will be sacrificing construction quality and softness. Consider the amortized cost of buying new cheap towels every year versus investing in more durable ones when worrying about cost.

GSM (grams per square meter) is to towels what thread count is to sheets. A higher GSM indicates a fluffier, more luxurious towel, but just as 1000 thread count sheets are so dense they feel stiff, towels with a GSM above 800 are overkill in the fluff department. In testing, heavier towels did not absorb a considerably higher percentage of their weight in water, although they definitely took longer to reach the same level of dryness.

After talking to experts and doing research about cotton molecules, bamboo fabrics, and what to look for when towel shopping (here and here), we settled on the parameters of 100-percent cotton towels with a GSM between 500 and 800.

Even so, there is an overwhelming number of options. Enough options that you shouldn’t be spending more than $25 per towel unless your credit card is really burning a hole in your pocket. There are some things that money can buy cutting-edge performance from, but towels are definitely not one of them. While there is a true and quantifiable difference between, say, Egyptian cotton and plain old short staple cottons, they are functionally quite similar for the purpose of absorbing and releasing water from your wet, naked body.

Textile science 101 (why cotton over bamboo)

Here’s why you want cotton towels:

“Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process,” – David C. Vladeck
The quality of a towel can be measured in many ways, but measurements fall into two basic categories: material and mechanical. Material qualities have to do with what the towel is made of: cotton, microfiber, rayon (often bamboo rayon), or a blend of fibers. Microfiber towels are a technological advancement of the late 20th century, and great for thin, absorbent, lightweight towels like those sold at camping and sporting goods stores, but they don’t possess the qualities of a great bath towel, which is why they’re not up for consideration here. Towels touted as being made of bamboo are almost always made of bamboo rayon, a fiber that releases a dangerous amount of pollution during the manufacturing process. Bamboo rayon towels are far less eco-friendly than marketing would have us believe and worse for the environment than cotton. The process of turning bamboo fibers into rayon utilizes the same chemical pulping processes as all rayons, leading the FTC to prohibit many retailers from even labeling these products as “bamboo.” “Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process,” explained David C. Vladeck, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“Bamboo and other cellulosic type fibers are becoming popular,” Academy of Art University Textiles professor Matthew Gerring told me, “but generally underperform in durability and absorbency.” When it comes to towels, 100-percent cotton is definitely still the way to go.

Pure cotton towels are most often hyped up for their exotic fiber origins and luxury properties, but that’s just marketing. Cotton’s real selling point is its incredible absorption capabilities. It’s capable of holding up to 25 times its weight in water! This is because it’s structured to the task of toweling at a molecular level. The polymer molecules that make up cotton form a chained structure known as pure cellulose. Not only is cellulose structurally sound for drawing in water, it’s also dipolar, just like water molecules, which results in a natural attraction between the two negatively charged molecules. Water and cotton just can’t keep themselves apart. Cotton’s hydrophilic properties, long staple fibers, and all-around durability make it the sensible choice for terry cloth, the fabric used in towels.

If you’ve done any shopping before for towels or sheets, chances are you’ve gotten an earful about all the different types of luxury cottons on the market. In essence, though, Egyptian, Turkish, Pima, Supima, and Sea Island cottons are all the same thing. That is, they’re all grown from the same plant species, Gossypium barbadense. There are four commercially grown species of cotton and more classifications of cotton based on the locations where they are grown. Turkish cotton is known for its softness and long, durable staple fibers, while Egyptian cotton also possesses long staple fibers but is hand picked instead of machine picked. Pima cotton is its regulated trade name when grown in the United States and is often highlighted for its use in high-end clothing, although it also appears in towels. Basically, luxury cotton advertising is yet another facet of the marketing machine that re-branded the Patagonian Toothfish as Chilean Sea Bass, and at its root, any 100-percent cotton yarn is suitable for great towels.

Okay, we’ve got the material, but how about the mechanical?  There are many camps of thought here, and they can be just as confusing as fiber choice. A fluffier, denser towel means more absorbency, right? Right! But it also means that your towel will stay wet longer and mildew fast, which means more washing, more drying, more shrinking, and more wear on your towels. The ideal towel is one with high absorbency and a decently high GSM—enough to be fluffy, but not so dense that it won’t dry out between uses.  Finding this ideal requires us to look deeper into terry cloth construction.

Terry cloth is woven on special looms, called dobby looms, that are programmed to weave uniform loops into both sides of the fabric. These loops can be longer or shorter, made of tightly or more loosely twisted yarns, all of which affect the fabric’s weight, hand, and durability. Higher pile (longer loops) results in a soft, shaggy towel, but is more prone to snagging and raveling. Low, even pile with a ring-spun two-ply yarn is what we’re looking for in optimal terry cloth construction because it will provide the best intersection of absorption and durability.

Great towels, like great sheets, can last up to a decade with proper care. What makes a towel more durable is mostly a matter of construction.
Durability is key to separating a good value from a great one. It’s especially disappointing to spend the extra on a luxury towel only to have it fall apart months later. Great towels, like great sheets, can last up to a decade with proper care. What makes a towel more durable is mostly a matter of construction. “Hotels often use towels with a blend of 86 percent cotton and 14 percent polyester for durability,” Lexi Schladenhauffen, a 12-year veteran of the towel business told me. Since we’re concerning ourselves with 100-percent cotton towels for home use, construction details are especially important to creating a durable towel. Fast edge or very well-hemmed selvedges are key. A towel with poorly finished sides will self-destruct within a matter of months of regular use and washing. No matter how nice the terry cloth is, it’s no good if it starts unraveling from the outside in. The other Achilles heel of towel construction is fraying loops. Because the loops of terry cloth are essentially a series of even snags, it is important that the fabric under the loops is especially strong. A great towel will have a dense, evenly woven fabric base, which should not be transparent when held up to the light. This base is the only thing holding the loops of the towel in place. Once a towel sustains a run, like a hole in a sweater, it will continue to unravel no matter how you might try to save it. For these reasons, we’re looking for a densely woven towel with a low, even pile made of ringspun yarns with a fast edge or securely stitched selvedge. No decorative borders or embroidery. Just solid terry cloth.

Care and maintenance

As we stated above, don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener with your towels. They make your towels repel water instead of absorbing it. To get rid of the softeners that new towels often come laden with, add ¼-½ a cup of plain white vinegar to the softener compartment of your washing machine. This will soften the fibers without adding odor. Dry them on the lowest heat setting.

So no matter how much it seems like extra detergent equals extra clean, resist the urge and only use as much as directed.
That musty smell used towels can get is often caused by too much detergent. Most of us are guilty of adding too much to our laundry, and it’s another culprit behind poor towel performance and mildew. “Everyone does this,” cleaning columnist Jolie Kerr told Fresh Air. Not only can that residual detergent affect the hand of your towels, but it also actually contributes to mildew. “Mildew loves two things,” Kerr said. “It needs a drink, and that’s the water, the water that you’ve given it by drying yourself off with the towel, and it needs food. And the food that it loves the most is soap.” So no matter how much it seems like extra detergent equals extra clean, resist the urge and only use as much as directed. And if you find yourself with smelly towels anyway? Kerr seconded the vinegar trick. It’s a tried and true method that’s harmless to your towels and hard on bacteria.

Wrapping up

There are certainly softer, fancier towels out there, but the 1888 Mills Luxury bath towel is the best intersection of performance, quality, and cost. I’m still pretty impressed with their construction, and they’ve held up beautifully in the wash. It’s been nearly a year since I first recommended them, and I happily stand by that recommendation after using them in my own home.

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  1. Terrific Bath Towels, Good Housekeeping, 2012
  2. Lasting Color Towels, Good Housekeeping
  3. Kim Norton, Why is Cotton Absorbent? , Ehow
  4. Katie Allison Granju, A Basic Guide to Bath Towels, HGTV
  5. Towel Buying Guide, Good Housekeeping
  • MrHaroHaro

    Personally I’m a huge fan of those WestPoint Home towels. Have had a couple white ones for the past 2 1/2 years. Still soft and have kept their shape and color really, really well. They dry fast and I’ve never had one stink up before the weekly wash.

  • Lee Fyock

    Someone needs to scrub this article for “its” and “it’s”, since both are used incorrectly.

    We bought a towel warmer a few years ago, and it’s great. A timer starts it warming about an hour before we get up and shower, so the towels are nice and toasty when you get out of the shower. Then it stays on for another hour or so, which helps dry the towels out and keeps them fresh.

    • Joel Johnson

      Looks like that slipped past copy-edit. It’s fixed…its fixed…it are fixed now.

    • James

      Which one?

      • Lee Fyock

        The towel warmers are by Myson, in the Avonmore style, purchased from efaucets. I use Insteon switches throughout the house, from smarthome. My house server uses Indigo software to control the towel warmer switches.

  • sokkles

    Personally I’d recommend 100% linen towels to anyone who wants to actually get dry… when it comes to absorbency, I’ve found that most cotton towels just suck (pun intended). Try linen – it may not be soft and fluffy, but you’ll dry fast, and the towel will dry much faster than a cotton towel.

  • drycappucino

    There are a few of us who really do NOT want soft towels. I have looked everywhere for “scratchy” towels that will give my back a good rub and scratch while drying. The best towel I have found for this purpose is the World Market (Cost Plus) White Chevron cotton towel (14.99 for the bath towel). I (and my boys) love it.

  • Melissa Tan

    We’ve noticed that Costco lists the towel as 30″X56″ rather than 30″X58″. I’ve double checked with 1888 Mills to ensure that the two towels are the same. They are the same towels — the difference is just a data entry error.

  • walls

    FYI, I looked for the Westpoint Home towels in my local Bed Bath & Beyond yesterday (not recommended: utter hellscape) and although they’re listed as in-stock on the website, the store manager said he’d never heard of the brand. So you may be better ordering online.

    • Melissa Tan

      I had the same issue when I went to my local Bed Bath and Beyond (you’re right, it is a hellscape), and just before giving up to go the online route I found an entire display of them right in front of me. I don’t think the employees know the brand names of all of their products, but if you asked for the $6 bath towel they might better know where to point you.

  • pbanta

    Your CostCo link is dead.

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for letting us know!

      • Aaron Kavlie

        Your Costco link is still dead.

        • tony kaye

          It’s not dead, the item is out of stock at the moment, but still, thanks!

          • Aaron Kavlie

            I thought that’s what pbanta meant. The page doesn’t make it look like it’s ever coming back… has anyone seen it in stock at Costco recently?

          • Paul Mulner

            Nope. And I check often.

          • Aaron Kavlie

            @paulmulner:disqus I know they were in stock at that Costco link a few weeks ago. Had a tab open meaning to buy some, but never got around to it.

          • tony kaye

            Amazon still has them in stock.

  • Jeremy Pepper

    I prefer bath sheets, as they’re longer and bigger. But they’re hard to find.

    • RonK13

      Espalma 700 Cotton Oversized Bath Sheet

      • Jeremy Pepper


        • RonK13

          I bought 2 for my mom 5 yrs ago, they are huge and heavy and hold up well (but may stay wet a little too long). You can use it as a blanket in a crunch :-)

  • John Walters

    I just bought some WestPoint Home towels and ran ‘em through the washing machine. (Permanent Press cycle, cold water.) They came out with a lot of loose cotton fuzzy bits and even a pulled thread or two. If they continue to degrade after a second wash, I’m taking them back.

    I can’t explain the difference between my experience and yours; just telling you what happened to me.

    • Melissa Tan

      I hope your towels fared better after the second wash! Fuzziness is definitely an issue with the first couple of washes, especially if your dryer has a small lint trap. If the trap fills up, all remaining fuzz will stay in the dryer with your towels.

  • John Miller

    I bought a couple of these towels to try, after reading this review. They’re pretty good, especially for the price. We were using some much more expensive towels, though, and I miss the heft of those.

  • Will Taylor

    It’s been more than a month, and the towels are still out of stock. Any follow-up from TheSweetHome?

    • tony kaye

      It looks like they’re still available through Costco. Have to tried the other link? Will let the crew know though thanks!

      • Will Taylor

        Didn’t try it. We usually stick with Amazon, as we’ve got a Prime membership. Also, we’re only interested in white. Thanks though!

      • Alvaro Gandara Astray

        It’s gone from Costco as well… Any updates on availability?

  • Sam

    1888 Mills towels are absolutely incredible. This towel does its job (absorbing moisture) better than most towels but it also is far and away the most soft, welcoming, mind-blowing towel I’ve ever put to my skin. It dominates Ritz Carlton towels; it literally was a transcendent experience when I first used it – head and shoulders above any towel I had ever used. I simply cannot believe how inferior every other towel is by comparison. I also bought a Pinzon, and the Pinzon is a slight improvement over most department store varieties, but eats the 1888 Mills’ dust in comfort.

  • Christina

    I got the 1888 Mills 2 bath, 2 hand, 2 wash towel set off of Costco for $45 about a month ago and am bummed to see it’s gone (I’d like another set).

    Just checked Amazon today though and you can get a bath towel for $19.99!

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for the tip!

  • Bif Skipman

    These towels are a terrible disappointment. They are not plush at all. I bought them on Amazon, two towels and two hand towels, and I am very displeased with this purchase. How in the world you recommended these is beyond me. Now I’ll have to take all your recommendations with a grain of salt.

    • Jacqui Cheng

      We’re sorry you don’t agree on the plushness of the towels we recommend. For the record, I also own those towels (as well as many others), and I find them to be the most plush of the entire collection.

      We spell out all the criteria that we consider when choosing a winner. That’s for transparency purposes, but also so readers can check out everything we did and choose for themselves whether those same criteria apply to their own buying choices.

  • Bif Skipman

    I am very disappointed with these towels. They are not plush at all. I don’t know why this is your recommendation. Now I will have to take your other recommendations with a grain of salt.
    I ordered from Amazon.

  • Russell Zager

    back in stock at Costco

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for the heads up!

      • Bill

        Are you going to update with links to Costco again?

        • tony kaye

          I think as long as Amazon remains steady & at a better price, we’ll stick it out. Thank you though!

          • Bill

            Amazon is out of stock (2-4 weeks) of all but the white towels and their price is 33% higher than CostCo. ($19.99 each vs. $59.99 for a set of 4).

          • tony kaye

            We put the links back up. Thanks!

  • Jonathan Weiss

    The Costco site is selling these again. 60$ for 4 towels, or 45 for 2 Bath Towels, 2 Washcloths, and 2 Hand Towels.

    • tony kaye

      Yep we have the Costco link above. Thanks!

  • lobster_johnson

    I got the 1888 Mills towels based on the recommendation of this article. Like @Bif Skipman I am distinctly unimpressed.

    It’s true that they are absorbent and dry fast, but they are very dense and thin. They feel cheap. They are not the lush, luxuriously thick, plush, soft kind of towel that you want to nestle in, the kind that you sometimes find in high-end hotels and wonder where you can buy. (That’s the kind of towel I am dreaming of, anyway.) They are not particularly pleasant to use, since they are so thin, although their thinness belies their ability to absorb water.

    In short, these are basic, utilitarian towels for getting dry after a shower, and that’s about it. I suspect you put a little too much effort into the science. For reference, my other towel set is this set from Natori: They are a lot nicer.

  • Joshua Kwan

    Any experience with the 802-Gram Turkish Towel Collection from Restoration Hardware ( )? I have a few of these and am loving them so far. Just curious as to how they stack up vs. your recommendation.

    • tony kaye

      I don’t believe so. There is a chart of what was tested above. Thanks!

      Pinzon Luxury
      Macy’s Hotel Collection
      1888 Mills Luxury
      WestPoint Home Lasting Color

    • Melissa Tan

      802-Gram is just too heavy for most people (we did test the 800+ gram Pinzon one which was similar, but less expensive), which is why it’s not included here.

  • deepak vonga

    very good information to read and its really feels good to Buy Bathroom Linen Products Online because we will be having lots of options in one platform so we can choose best one right one easily

  • elizablair

    Costco seems to be out of stock of the 1888 Mills. :(

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for the heads up!

  • favalora

    FWIW, we dislike the 1888 Mills towels. We found them not absorbent – they’re just expensive, albeit soft.

  • GC Clark

    So who makes the best beach towel? It’d be nice to have one with hidden pockets.

  • Jimmy Pautz

    My favorite towel is the JCPenny quick dry towel.

  • Max

    What happened to the sweet charts?
    I was using these charts as an example of why this is the best review site on the internet. My sales pitch went something like “Look at the level of detail the gave on bath towels, they even have CHARTS! Think about how much they’ll dig into everything else.”

    Now that they’ve been taken down, what can I say?

    • tony kaye

      I see the charts just fine. Maybe restart your browser or clear cache?

  • firstinflight

    Would it be possible for The Sweethome to check these again? Recently there’s been several negative reviews on Amazon for the 1888 Mills bath towels. Falling apart, etc. It’d be nice to know if the quality has changed since the original posting of this review.

    • tony kaye

      Will look into this, but can you link me to where you found these complaints? Currently these are #1 sellers on Amazon

      • firstinflight
        • tony kaye

          Yep we’re doing some additional testing on these to see if they’re no longer as great as they once were. Will update accordingly & thanks for the input!

          • firstinflight

            Great, thanks!

            Another quick suggestion: I noticed that Target launched a new towel line (FieldCrest Luxury) which is slightly more expensive (still cheaper than the 1888 pick) and has vastly better ratings than their Threshold line. Not sure if those are in the running, but I thought it might be worth examining. I’m currently considering a towel purchase in the coming months, so I await the results eagerly!

          • tony kaye

            We’re not actually re-testing/updating this completely (yet), we’re just making sure our top pick is still reliable. If not, expect to see our alt-pick moved up top the top & a new process of testing – likely including the FieldCrest.

          • Melissa Tan

            Tony’s right, I was mainly investigating the 1888 Mills towels for quality change (update coming really soon on that), but we did end up testing the Feildcrest as well. Thanks for the recommendation. I’m crunching the results right now!

          • firstinflight

            Awesome. Looking forward to the new results!

  • Nancy

    I’ve just tried the 1888 Mills towels and I was disappointed. They look and feel lovely and soft but they are very non-absorbent. So I’m still searching for a great (even scratchy like the old days) absorbent towel. I also tried the peshtemel towel and they’re also very pretty, absorbent but not as absorbent as a great towel. Absorbency and longevity are my only real criteria…..I have 20 year old towels that haven’t frayed and 2 month old towels that are on their last legs. The search continues……

  • Cat

    Any updates on the Aug. 5th hold you put on 1888 towel recommendation? I am looking for towels to give as a wedding gift, but not if the quality is not good anymore. Please let us know. Thanks for the detailed review.

    Btw, I got Charisma towels as a wedding gift 17 yrs. ago, and they have held up amazingly well until the last year or so. The bath towels are just beginning to fray along the edges, but otherwise they are still great, absorbent, still going strong. And the hand towels have been used so much that the loops are worn (not snagged ever) and just the fabric is showing in some places. Incredible towels, but recent reviews I’ve read say the quality is not anywhere near the same. Such a shame.

    • tony kaye

      We’re doing some testing on new samples. Please sit tight! Shouldn’t be too long!

      • Cat

        Thanks for the reply. I have been reading reviews of 1888 Mills Magnificence towels as well. They seem to get good reviews. I don’t know if you tested any of the other 1888 Mills towel products other than the Luxury Cotton Made in Africa and the Made Here.

        I’ll wait for the update!

  • Sammy Young

    The Nordstrom towels are 600 GSM and slightly cheaper than Pottery Barn when you buy two with free shipping. (And they have bath sheets for those who use them:

    Costco now carries 650 GSM Hydrocotton towels ( Wonder how they compare to the PB’s.

  • beachmama

    You’ve put in amazing effort and research into finding the best towel, thank you! I purchased Restoration Hardware 802-Gram Turkish Towel on sale for $22 early this year (the bath towel is $28 regularly). They are bar-none the best I’ve ever used.

  • eaadams

    I got something called a bath sheet off of woot. They are amazing and freaking huge. I’m 6’4″ so having a big towel makes a big difference.