Introduction to Towels

Towels are thick, absorbent cloths used to rub or wipe one’s hands, face, or body dry. Although towels come in many shapes and sizes, and while it’s particularly true of bath and beach towels that the sizes vary quite a bit, there are, nevertheless, some basic dimensions that can help you distinguish towel types. Because they are often purchased as part of a towel set, we will include washcloths in this discussion.


One might imagine that the typical names of towels would specify not only a purpose but also a standard size. This is not the case. The chart below shows some of the dimensions manufacturers associate with each of the standard towel names, revealing the limits of the standard.

Name Dimensions
washcloth 12” x 12” or 13” x 13”
fingertip towel 11” x 18”
guest towel 16” x 24”
hand towel 15” x 24” or 16” x 30” or 18” x 28” or 19” x 30” or 24” x 41”
bath mat 22” x 34” or 22” x 36” or 24” x 35”
bath towel 27” x 50” or 27” x 52” or 27” x 55” or 30” x 45” or 30” x 54” or 30” x 56”
oversized bath towel 30” x 56”
bath sheet 30” x 64” or 30” x 66” or 33” x 66” or 35” x 60” or 35” x 70” or 36” x 70” or 40” x 70” or 47” x 59”

These measurements are important to consider both for functionality, as well as for fit in the bathroom—the variations in hand towels and bath towels could make it impossible to fit two side-by-side on an existing towel rack when doubled (and folding in thirds could increase drying time).


There is no accepted standard for towel quality, as there is for other linens, where the thread count is a telling factor. Some companies invite you to judge by the weight, whether that cotton is carded or combed (combed is softer and more absorbent), the size, and the fiber.

home institute 1 Fiber and Weave

Cotton and cotton/polyester blend bath towels are probably the most common, but the type of cotton is important and other blends are available. The most common types of cotton are:

  • Egyptian
  • Pima
  • Turkish
  • Organic

Blends include:

  • Cotton and bamboo
  • Cotton and modal
  • Cotton and linen

There are some newer proprietary blends that combine cotton with:

  • soy
  • silver
  • seaweed
  • milk fibre
  • mlange

The most common weave for towels is the one called terry cloth. Other common weaves include:

  • plain, a smooth weave used chiefly for linen hand towels.
  • plush velour, less absorbent, better for blotting than rubbing dry.
  • waffle, which creates a square pattern and is popular for kitchen towels.
  • jacquard, with creates a floral or geometric pattern.


Towel sets are available in a wide variety of solid colors. Towel offerings are often divided into two categories with names like solid and decorative. Stripes, is perhaps the most common pattern. Distinctive features include a dobby border—a distinctive weave that forms a band near the top and bottom of towels, embroidery, hemstitching, and monogramming.

Towels may be offered in colors and/or designs that coordinate with other bathroom products or product sets, including items such as shower curtains, toothbrush holders, tissue box, liquid soap dispenser, tumbler, soap dish, wastebasket, shower curtain hooks, and rugs.

Individual towels, particularly beach towels, are more likely to have illustrative art, including branding or advertising, sports insignia, or be a souvenir for a vacation spot, town, beach, etc. Some beach towels even double as game boards. There are many towel sets that include holiday and seasonal motifs such as Christmas and Halloween.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Introduction to Bathroom Sinks
  • Introduction to Table Linens