Beginner's Guide to Towels

From color to size, shape, texture, detail and consistency, this beginner’s guide covers towels from top to bottom so you can take the guesswork out of registering for the perfect set.

By Monica Mercuri

Coyuchi navy blue and white bath towel sold on next to a comb on a marble background
Photo by Zola

Towels are one of those registry items that are truly everyday essentials. Yet when it comes time to shop for them, the seemingly endless options of towels to choose from can be paralyzing if you don’t know where to start. From color to size, shape, texture, detail and consistency, this beginner’s guide covers towels from top to bottom. Read on to take the guesswork out of shopping for towels, then register for the perfect set that will make your everyday living just a bit more wonderful.

What Are Towels?

Towels are woven pieces of fabric that are used to absorb water. They’re most often used for drying off after bathing, or anytime you need to clean up spills or dry off surfaces.

Do I Need Towels?

Yes! Even if you already have towels (which you must), you should register for a new set of towels. From a practical standpoint, you and your partner both use them all the time—and since wear and tear is the nature of the product, it’s worth stocking up. Take this opportunity to ask for towels that bring a touch of luxury to your daily routine, or that come in materials and sizes you don’t already own to diversify your towel assortment.

What Types of Towels Are There?

Believe it or not, towels come in more than just “big” and “little” varieties. So that you’re fully versed in towel-shop lingo, here are the types of towels you can shop for and their sizes:

Bath Sheet

The largest of their kind, bath sheets are extra-luxe bathing towels sized for maximum coverage when stepping out of the tub or shower. They can transform your everyday bathing routine into spa-worthy experience.

  • Size: 35 x 60 inches to 40 x 70 inches

Bath Towel

Bath towels are the most standard type of towel; when you think “towel,” you’re probably thinking of this average-size bathing accompaniment. Their slightly reduced size make them easier to care for (both cleaning and hanging to dry) than bath sheets.

  • Size: 27 x 52 inches to 30 x 58 inches

Hand Towel

Used to dry off your hands and/or face, rather than your whole body, hand towels are very helpful in your private bathroom and absolutely necessary in guest bathrooms or powder rooms.

  • Size: 16 x 28 inches to 18 x 30 inches

Finger Towel

More formal and decorative than functional, finger towels are used primarily in bathrooms with high guest traffic, like powder rooms or hall baths. Beyond serving as accent decor, finger towels are used for drying hands post-washing.

  • Size: 11 x 18 inches


As their names describes, washcloths are meant to be used as personal bathing and scrubbing tools inside the tub or shower. Washcloths can also be used to wash or dry your face and hands, or for smaller cleaning tasks that require less surface area.

  • Size: 13 x 13 inches

Bath Mat

Protect your floors (and yourself from slipping) with bath mats. These thick, rectangular towels are placed outside the tub or shower to catch drips and to offer a dry, absorptive surface for you to step upon when exiting.

  • Size: 27 x 52 inches

How Many Towels Do I Need?

We suggest between 14-24 total towels per two-person household. A good rule of thumb is to always have two full sets of towels (including a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth)—one being used, one being laundered. Some couples choose to skip fingertip towels or bath sheets, as they are more of a “nice to have” item as opposed to being necessary for everyday functions. (Of course, we believe these sorts of add-ons make for the perfect registry additions—because if not now, when?) If makeup removal is part of your nightly ritual, we suggest adding more washcloths (potentially in a dark color).

Recommended Towels for a 2-Person Household:

  • 2-4 bath sheets (optional)
  • 4-6 bath towels
  • 4-6 hand towels
  • 4-6 washcloths
  • 2-4 finger towels (optional)
  • 2 bath mats

If you’re outfitting a guest bathroom in addition to your master bath, increase the number of bath towels, hand towels, washcloths, and add an additional bath mat.

What Are The Different Towel Constructions?

A towel’s construction can really impact its softness, absorption, and durability. Different production techniques can result in a higher quality towel—here are the differences between construction methods so you can forever be the wiser consumer.

Combed cotton

In this process, cotton fibers are literally combed to remove debris, fuzz, and shorter threads. The resulting cotton threads (i.e. the longest and strongest) are then woven into a towel.

Ringspun cotton

ringspun cotton is made by twisting longer and shorter fibers together, which creates a smoother yarn that’s overall silkier than combed cotton.

Terry cloth

Extra yarn plus extra-large fabric loops define the construction of terry cloth. The added surface area and density make terry cloth towels very absorbent.

What Are The Different Towel Materials?

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton towels are made from cotton yard that’s free from toxic pesticides and fertilizers, resulting in a more environmentally-conscious and potentially healthier towel.


  • Environmentally friendly


  • Can take longer to dry if very thick

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton is considered the gold standard of towel materials. It’s long-staple fibers are softer and more absorbent than regular cotton, which makes for long-lasting, plush, and absorbent towels of spa-quality luxury.


  • Luxurious, spa-quality feel
  • Thick, plush and absorbent
  • Very durable


  • More expensive ($20 more/towel)

Turkish Cotton

With its extra-long threads, Turkish cotton has both durability, thickness, and softness. It’s very similar to Egyptian cotton in its luxuriousness, but slightly less absorbent (and grown in Turkey).


  • Thick, soft, and fluffy
  • Absorbent
  • Very durable


  • More expensive ($15 more/towel)
  • Slightly less absorbent than Egyptian cotton

Pima Cotton

Like Turkish cotton, pima cotton is also similar to Egyptian cotton but grown in the United States. Branded as Supima, the same long-staple fiber is used here as with Egyptian and Turkish cotton, resulting in a similarly high quality towel.


  • Plush, thick, fluffy
  • Durable and absorbent
  • Sourced from U.S. materials
  • Slightly less expensive than other high-end towels


  • More expensive than standard cotton ($10 more/towel)


Bamboo naturally renewable material—it grows quicker than cotton and does not require pesticides—so bamboo towels are considered more eco-friendly. Most towels are made from a bamboo-cotton blend. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial and resists mildew, and its fibers create soft, silky, highly absorptive towels.


  • Antibacterial and mildew-resistant
  • Eco-friendly
  • Absorptive
  • Soft


  • Less durable
  • Pricier than regular cotton ($10 more/towel)


Microfiber towels are made from engineered materials (usually an 80/20 ratio of polyester and polyamide), which result in lighter and thinner towels that excel at absorbency.


  • Lightweight and thin (great for packing or gym bags)
  • Highly absorbent
  • Quick dry time
  • Naturally attracts dust, dirt, oil, makeup, and dry skin


  • Not plush or cozy
  • Less durable
  • Not environmentally friendly (synthetic fibers can pollute water supplies)

What Towel Material Is Right for Me?

Egyptian cotton, pima cotton, bamboo-cotton blend… if you’re unsure what kind of towels are right for your home, consider what you value most from your towels:

  • If you want a luxurious feel, choose towels made from Egyptian, Turkish, or pima cotton.
  • If you want something affordable, consider standard cotton towels.
  • If you’re looking for an eco-friendly choice, choose organic cotton or bamboo towels.
  • If you want something lightweight and absorptive, pick microfiber towels.

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