The Truth About Towels

Here's what you need to know to set your towel game straight at a reasonable price point (and please, please, put that iron down).

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Bath towels, beach towels, hand towels. Cotton, pima, polyester. There are aisles and aisles of towels in the home section of brick and mortar stores, and pages and pages of towels online.

Before you get overwhelmed and opt for air drying after showers, remember this: There are two types of towels. The thick, thirsty ones that are as comforting as a hug and pull water off your skin as soon as they touch you. And the thin, sandpapery ones that leave you damp, cold and disappointed.

How do you make sure you’re getting the good ones? Understand two factors: The GSM and the fabric.

GSM: This stands for grams per square meter and it’s a measure of the density of the towel. GSM is to towels what thread count is to sheets. It varies from 300 to 900. The higher the number, the softer and more absorbent the towel. But. You do not always want a sky-high GSM. Sometimes you want a thin towel.

Towels with a low GSM (300 to 400) are thinner, coarser and faster-drying. They’re a good choice for kitchen towels because dishes don’t care if a towel is soft. Towels with a GSM of 400 to 600 make good beach towels. They’re soft and absorbent but will dry quickly. Thirty minutes in the sun and they’re good to go.

Towels with a high GSM (600 to 900) are a total luxury wallow. They’re soft, thick and super absorbent. These are the bath towels you dream about. The one drawback to high GSM towels: They take much longer to dry. So to review, high GSM = luxury. Low GSM = practical.

folded towelsFabric: Buy 100 percent cotton towels. Period. Leave the polyester blend towels to cheap motels. Egyptian and Turkish cotton towels are primo. Think spa quality. They have long fibers and make a soft, luxurious towel. They’re pricey, though. A good Turkish cotton bath towel costs $40 to $70. Pima (also called Supima) isn’t as dreamy but is strong and absorbent. It’s also more affordable, ranging from $25 to $40.

Now that you know how to buy towels, let’s talk about taking care of them. Here are some tips for making them last.

Don’t use fabric softeners. They’ll leave a residue on your towels, making them rough and eventually less absorbent. Your Turkish cotton towels will end up as crappy as polyester ones.

Add vinegar. Put a cup in the wash with your towels once a month. It will make your towels more absorbent by removing gunk like body oils and, if you ignored our first tip, fabric softener. It will also blast odors.

Hang them on a towel bar, not a hook. Towels dry more slowly on a hook than on a bar. And when towels dry slowly, they grow mold and bacteria.

Don’t iron them. There are people who iron their towels. Really. It’s bad because ironing crushes the loops in the fabric and makes towels less absorbent. It’s also bad because people who iron towels are, um, somewhat alarming. Towel ironers, go read a book. Take up yoga. Please. We’re worried about you.