There are many types of towels out there that are made from all sorts of materials. Being such an essential daily item, it’s important to find a towel that fits your needs and personal preferences to a tee. To help out, we’ve created an overview of the most common towel materials along with some pointers to keep in mind when browsing. Whether it’s for yourself or someone special, putting a little time into researching the ideal towel will have instant rewards!
4 Points to Keep in Mind About the Towel Material
Since towels regularly come into direct contact with your skin, it's important to choose a towel material that feels pleasant to the touch. The softer and fluffier they are, the better they are for people with delicate skin like babies. Even if you don't have sensitive skin, everyone understands the joy of burying your face into a nice, fluffy towel!
There’s nothing more annoying than getting out of the bath or shower and trying to dry off with a towel that just doesn’t seem to absorb any water. If you long to know the joy of being dry as soon as you step out of the bathroom, then you’ll need a towel with high water absorbency. It’s not only good for your skin, but it will help you save time on drying your hair.
How fast a bath towel dries is just as important as its absorbency. A material that dries quickly will keep your towel fresh throughout multiple uses without that unpleasant wet laundry odor filling your house.
Durability is important for a bath towel you hope to stand the test of time. You’ll want a material that won’t lose its texture in the wash, which will save you a lot of money on new towels in the long run.
A towel’s durability is determined by the material and quality of the sewing. We particularly recommend towels for commercial use, as they can often withstand being washed over and over again without losing their texture.
Types of Bath Towel Materials
Cotton: The Most Popular Towel Material
Cotton is the towel material industry standard because of how much it has to offer - softness, high absorbency, and exceptional durability. Fluffy cotton towels feel amazing on the skin, and because they can also hold plenty of moisture, they have a wide range of uses.
Best of all, cotton is an all-natural material, making it perfect for people with delicate skin like babies and for products that come into frequent contact with your body, like towel bathrobes.
However, there is one downside to cotton: it takes a long time to dry. If you’re in need of a quick-drying towel, it’s best to avoid thick cotton.
Hemp (Linen, Ramie): Highly Absorbent and Dries Quickly
Hemp is highly absorbent and very quick-drying, making it the perfect material for kitchen hand towels, bath towels, and other products that your hands come into frequent contact with. If you’re worried about the smell while drying laundry indoors, then hemp products are the solution you’ve been waiting for! Additionally, hemp fibers are very durable, and actually get stronger when wet, allowing use for years to come.
That being said, hemp can easily shrink and wrinkle in the wash, and its durable fibers do have a kind of rough texture that doesn’t feel nearly as soft and fluffy as cotton towels. Then again, some people like the cool and refreshing feel of hemp products on their skin, and there are towels made from a cotton and hemp blend for the best of both worlds.
Microfiber: Soft, Fluffy, and Highly Versatile
Microfiber is a synthetic textile made from polyester, nylon, or similar materials. It’s incredibly fine, said to be about 1/100th of a human hair, which makes it soft to the touch as well as highly absorbent and quick-drying.
Microfiber is made up of numerous gaps between fibers, which allow it to absorb a lot of water at once. Due to this, it’s often used to make towels for drying hair. And because the water doesn’t get absorbed into the fibers themselves, they can be wrung out to dry off quickly. So, if you need a towel for the gym or pool that won’t double in weight when wet, you should consider microfiber fabric.
However, the tips of microfibers are pointed, which risk irritating the skin. The textile also easily accumulates static electricity, so although it feels nice to the touch, it’s not recommended for people with delicate skin or babies.
Diving Deeper Into Cotton
Consider the Weave
Although it’s the industry standard, not all cotton towels are the same, and finding one that’s perfect for you will require knowing more about the material. In short, you need to know about the "weave" - how the cotton threads are interlaced together to form fabric.
Pile: The Voluminous Industry Standard
The most common material used to make towels is pile fabric. Weaved in a way that creates loops, this type of cotton is exceptionally soft and fluffy due to the amount of air in it, which also gives it a voluminous look. Loop weaving also creates a fabric with a wider surface area, which increases its absorbency. No amount of water is a match for pile fabric!
Shirring: Soft to the Touch
Shirring involves uniformly cutting the edges off pile fabric loops to create a soft material and sublime texture. And because shirred pile fabric no longer contains loops, there’s no worries of it snagging and getting ruined.
However, when compared to looped pile fabric, shirred fabric is somewhat less absorbent and more likely to unravel.
Gauze: Soft and Quick-Drying
Gauze is a flat-woven fabric made from repeatedly crisscrossed threads. It’s a remarkably soft material, making it suitable for baby towels and such. The more the layers are increased, the more air is held within and the fluffier the texture becomes.
Gauze is highly breathable and dries quickly after washing, so if you’re after a large towel that’s easy to thoroughly clean, gauze is the way to go. And because it’s so light, the fabric doesn’t take up a lot of space, allowing you to purchase multiple without worrying about where to put them.
Waffle: Silky and Perfect for Everyday Use
Waffle fabric is characterized by raised threads in the weave. This reduces the area that actually comes into contact with the skin, resulting in a pleasantly silky towel that’s especially recommended in summer.
Besides being highly absorbent and quick-drying, waffle fabric is also much less likely to unravel than pile fabric, making it a popular choice for kitchen towels.
Zero-Twist and Soft-Twist Yarn: Perfect for Those With Sensitive Skin
Yarn is made up of a bundle of extremely delicate fibers that have been twisted together in a process known as "spinning." The more you twist yarn, the rougher the towel made from it will be. So, if you prefer super soft towels, search for ones made from zero-twist or soft-twist yarn.
However, zero-twist and soft-twist yarn towels are also prone to unraveling and fuzzing. If you require a heavy-duty towel that will last a long time, you should opt for thoroughly twisted yarn instead.
Organic or Non-Organic Cotton?
To be classified as organic, a crop of cotton must meet a set of very strict criteria, like having been grown without the use of artificial fertilizer or pesticides.
While organic cotton products are more expensive, the benefits are numerous - like not having to worry about the side effects of pesticides, providing a certifiably safe towel for people with delicate skin like babies, or helping both the environment and cotton growers.
So, if you care about any of the above, go organic.
Pay Attention to the Length of the Cotton Fibers
Fiber length is one of the most important elements determining the quality of a cotton towel. The longer they are, the softer the material will feel.
Cotton with fibers over 35 mm long is classified as “extra-long staple cotton,” which makes for an exceptionally high-quality towel material. It’s extremely rare, supposedly accounting for only 5% of global cotton production, and is characterized by a soft texture and silky sheen on a whole new level from regular cotton. If you have a taste for the height of luxury, opt for an extra-long staple cotton towel.
Extra-long staple cotton has different names depending on where it’s produced. In Egypt, it’s branded as "Giza Cotton," in the US, it’s known as "Supima Cotton," in China it’s "Xinjiang Cotton," while other places call it "Indian Extra-Long Staple Cotton" or "Sea Island Cotton."
Recommended Japanese Bath Towels and Brands for the Discerning Customer
To help narrow your choices down to the best of the best, we've selected a small collection of made-in-Japan towels produced using specially-selected cotton and advanced artisanal techniques. We’re certain you’ll find something you like!
sara-la: Producing Towels Made with Only the Best Fabric
Hailing from Imabari, a Japanese city famed for its high-quality towels, sara-la is a luxury towel brand produced by local artisans aiming to create the best Imabari towel possible. Their towels are made from fabric carefully chosen by a towel expert, and the production process includes rigid monitoring of the thread twisting, pile length, and other tiny details.
Thanks to the luxurious packaging, their towels are recommended for both personal use and as a present for someone dear.
SARA-LA "IRODORI" 1 BATH TOWEL AND 2 FACE TOWELS SET (PINK / WHITE)
The "irodori" series is made from high-quality Mexican cotton pile fabric that's often used as luxury bedding. Skilled artisans have employed advanced yarn untwisting techniques to create a towel material that’s fluffy and flexible, enveloping you in exquisite softness. The calming colors also add a little extra serenity to your life.
SARA-LA "EN" FACE TOWEL (2 PIECE SET)
Made from a generous helping of rare, top-class extra-long staple cotton, these towels use threads that have been soft-twisted by experienced artisans, ensuring an elegant and exceptionally soft finished product. No matter how much you use them, the towels will remain fluffy, cushy, and highly absorbent for years to come.
The edges of the towel, which are notoriously hard to dry, have been crafted from hemp to ensure they dry quickly. You can feel the genuine care and love that goes into making each one of these towels.
Foo Tokyo: Luxury High-Quality Towels Made by Pro Artisans
Foo Tokyo's towels are 100% made in Japan and produced from high-quality fabric by experienced artisans. The brand's goal is to deliver ultimate relaxation through their towels. While a little pricey, if you’re looking for a towel to help alleviate your stresses at the end of a long, hard day, then you’ll be fully satisfied with Foo Tokyo.
FOO TOKYO GIFT SET WITH 1 ORGANIC COTTON BATH TOWEL
This towel is made from organic, Indian extra-long staple cotton, which accounts for less than 0.001% of total cotton production. It is the epitome of splendor, painstakingly crafted through special techniques developed in Imabari to draw out the maximum potential hidden within its top-tier threads. The towel is so absorbent that if you drop it in water, it will start to sink within 5 seconds! Best of all, it will remain fluffy no matter how many times you wash it.
FOO TOKYO PREMIUM BATHROBE SUPIMA COTTON
This towel bathrobe is made from a type of rare American extra-long staple cotton known as "Supima Cotton." Only cotton that meets the high standards set by the North American Supima Trade Association can use the name “Supima,” which helps maintain the continued quality of the material.
The smooth, soft towel material is made with care in a Japanese factory using world-class sewing techniques that aim to minimize the number of seams to ensure pure comfort. This bathrobe will deliver a helping of opulence to the everyday, making it a great gift for someone you care about - yourself included!
Pick the Best Towel for You!
As we’ve seen, there is a world of towel materials to choose from, like cotton, hemp, or microfiber, each with various upsides and downsides. Even cotton itself isn’t the same, with lots of variety based on the weave along with deluxe iterations like organic cotton or extra-long staple cotton. Ultimately, even once you’ve learnt the fundamentals of towel materials, you should continue to do your towel shopping based on your own personal needs and preferences to ensure you find the right fit!