I’ve become obsessed with buying bath towels online — shopping is like a home décor treasure hunt.
Summer white sales are coming soon. Meanwhile I’m been trying to make sense of buying bath towels online given the huge number of brands, styles and sources that have cropped up since I bought towels five years ago. It’s a whole new world. I’m looking for towels because my current sets began to feel too heavy. For me, it’s time to lighten up.
My priorities are: comfort, style, size, price and durability.
Comfort to me means a soft “hand” or feel for washcloths and hand towels, plus an absorbent bath sheet that’s wraps easily around my body and stays put. Washcloth, hand towel, bath sheet: that’s my set.
Style gets personal. I’m giving up my heavy-weight 802 gram towels in favor of mid-weight terry towels like Coyuchi’s twill weave Air Weight collection [top] made from organic cotton. I find I like texture and a woven pattern.
I’m also sampling reversible towels with plain cotton or a waffle texture on one side and terry on the other. I was surprised to find these at Kassatex and Restoration Hardware, which has just introduced a collection of lightweight reversible cotton-linen blend “heathered” towels (above). I must be on trend. I also like double-sided terry cloth towels with a dobby — the woven decorative band — but since I have that style I’m looking for something different.
Because I buy bath sheets — not bath towels — price is an issue. Bath sheets are beach-towel size and command a premium. But I can do the full burrito with them when I get out of the shower and Mr. A.M. does the same. For better or worse, bath sheets start around $39 each. They are never a bargain. And sheets can vary as much 12 to 16 inches in length from brand to brand, though I haven’t found their cost necessarily corresponds to size.
Durability is important, too. My five-year-old Restoration Hardware 802 gsm towels have held up well because all four edges are bound and corners are double-sewn. Though I’ve abused them with hot water washes (more about that later) they haven’t faded although they have shrunk slightly.
Many people just go buy nice towels on sale. I’ve had numerous recommendations for stores and brands. But in figuring out how to get the best quality/price for the type of mid-weight towel I want, I’ve put myself through a little crash course.
7 helpful things to know about buying bath towels
♦ Virtually all the factual information I’ve encountered is provided by retailers. There appears to be little to no independent “consumer” based information for towel buyers. Macy’s Towel Buying Guide has the clearest, most concise information I found overall with important details on towel weights, fibers, construction, and sizes. Anyone interested in technical information might head to Towels by GUS, the only retailer that provides free swatches ahead of a purchase and one with a website designed to educate the buyer, not just make her drool. The GUS infographics and technical information on absorbency are also helpful.
♦ High end towels are mainly marketed by terry cloth weight — measured in grams per square meter (gsm). Grams and meters are used because, regardless of brand, most towels are manufactured outside the U.S, notably in Turkey. One pound = 453 grams. One meter = 39.” So, f.ex. a 39″ square, 425 gsm towel weighs approximately one pound. The same size 820 gsm towel would weigh nearly 2 pounds.
♦ “Luxury” is a relative term often applied to the heaviest towels, though overused I think. The thickest towels weigh between 600 and 900 gsm. Medium weight towels fall into the 400-600 gsm range and the benefit of these is thought to be lightness and quicker drying. The thinnest towels weigh in between 300 to 400 gsm according to Macy’s. However, many towels are sold without weight specification — you can only guess what you’re buying.
♦ Towel measurements vary from brand to brand. Approximate general measurements, according to Macy’s, are: washcloths 13” x 13”, hand towels 16” x 30”, bath towels 27” x 52”, bath sheets 35” x 60. Better brands give dimensions for each of their towel sizes. I’ve taken to measuring new samples I buy to verify size as well.
♦ Towels are made of 100% cotton or blends of cotton and other fibers such as linen, bamboo, or synthetics. Turkish (Aegean) cotton, Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton are often mentioned as is Indian MicroCotton, a trademarked product. Where cotton is grown may be important for marketing and perceived prestige. I don’t especially care whether the cotton is grown in Egypt or Turkey as long as towels feel soft and hold up well over time and repeated washing. GUS has the best explanation of how cotton yarn is spun for towels and how that affects absorbency. Long loops are said to be more absorbent but that also can depend on the cotton and the yarn it seems.
Anyone interested in organic cotton towels should check for Fair Trade Certified Factory and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) labels carried by well-established organic brands such as Coyuchi and others. One ultra high end retailer sells extremely expensive “organic” Turkish towels, but without GOTS labeling.
♦ Sometimes the country of origin is not stated. I’ve seen towels sold as “imported.” Only one company — the Pakistani-owned 1888 Mills in Griffin, Georgia — still manufacturers towels in the United States.
Other things I learned while shopping
♦ The heaviest, thickest towels on the market weigh in at 900 gsm at Hammacher Schlemmer.
♦ Pottery Barn has a wide variety of towel styles ranging from heavy weight classic 820 gsm towels to textured, patterned and banded hotel looks. But PB no longer sells bath sheets.
♦ Kassatex is a major wholesaler that supplies retailers such as the Horchow Collection, Macy’s and Serena & Lily. They also sell directly to consumers.
If specialty towels with embroidery, scalloped edges, fabric-banded edges, or other feminine decorative designs are to your taste, Schweitzer Linens offers an excellent selection at a premium, of course.
By far the most expensive towels I encountered come from D. Porthault. These hand-printed, Blue Carnation towels have the typical scalloped edges bound with fabric. The look is mainly floral. Porthault gives no information I could find about their towels aside from the fact they are cotton. A Porthault beach towel costs $450.
My shopping and testing methods
This is my first time buying towels online. In a way, it’s faster than going from store to store in New York City, which I always did in the past. But since I can’t know how towels will feel after washing, or how much they will shrink, or how securely they are sewn, I’m doing a little of my own consumer reporting. I’m buying sample hand towels from three sources with free shipping when possible. I measure when they arrive, check for pulls, and examine the corners and the edge stitching. Then I wash them in warm water and all-purpose Woolite (a mild detergent) with 1/2 cup vinegar, which is recommended to remove textile finishing agents. When the towel dries, I measure again for shrinkage and check to see how soft it feels.
A funny thing happened when I measured the first samples of one reversible towel. They were supposed to be 18″ x 30” out of the box. But they only measured 17-5/8″ x 27-1/4″. Corners were not double-stitched and the ends were loose. After washing once, the towel measured 16-1/2 by 26-1/4 — an overall loss of 1-1/2 inches in width and 3-3/4” in length. I like the style and the 630 gsm weight is impressive for the price. But I still have other samples on the way. Once Mr. AM and I decide which towels we like best overall, I’ll place my order.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to break my habit of washing towels in hot water. I’ve always felt hot water washes were important for sanitary reasons but they are the likely cause of excessive shrinkage I’ve found in one of my sets. These Formworks towels were the most beautiful and softest I’ve ever seen or touched when new. They have a puffy specialty weave, long loops and they are wonderfully absorbent. But the “hand” changed significantly after washing — they no longer are soft, perhaps because I ignored the recommendation to wash them gently. One lesson learned.
(Source: Coyuchi, Restoration Hardware, Schweitzer Linens, D. Porthault )
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