After spending roughly 115 hours researching hundreds of towels and drying off with dozens of them over the past three years, we think the Frontgate Resort Cotton Towel is the best choice if you want to invest in soft, plush bath linens. It feels luxurious like a high-end hotel towel, it comes in an array of sumptuous colors, and after long-term testing, we’re impressed with its durability and longevity. We’ve found that it feels fuller and plusher with every wash.
In our testing, the Frontgate Resort Cotton Towel consistently ranked very high for softness and comfort. Thicker than our other picks, it feels luxe and substantial, like a high-quality hotel towel. It’s made with long-staple cotton, and with each wash it felt fuller and plusher. Though it pilled slightly after a year of consistent use, its fluffiness held up better than that of any of the other towels we tested. It’s still my favorite towel to use after a shower. It comes in a wide range of rich colors, with more choices than our other picks. It’s also available in a bath-sheet size, and it coordinates with a range of matching accessories. If a plush, luxurious towel is what you want, this is a great one.
This inexpensive towel doesn’t really dry faster as advertised, but it’s soft, has a pleasant ribbed texture, and holds up to wear.
We didn’t find that the Bed Bath & Beyond Dri-Soft Plus Bath Towel—advertised as a quick-dry towel—dried much faster than our other picks in testing, but it is a great value, and some of our testers really liked its texture and smaller size. When folded, it takes up less space than our other picks. And it comes in more than a dozen colors. It’s nice and soft, and a set of four costs around $35 at this writing, depending on what color you choose. We think these towels would be great for kids, college students, or anyone on a tight budget. But if you don’t like a very thin towel or if you prefer something with more coverage, this one probably isn’t for you.
Why you should trust us
We sifted through hundreds of towels online (the selection is dizzying and ever-changing) to whittle down the field. Sources included both big-box stores and large online retailers like Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Lands’ End, Target, and The Company Store, plus startups and smaller brands. We paid attention to user ratings and comments, blogs, reader comments, and the opinions of Apartment Therapy, Good Housekeeping, HGTV, and Into The Gloss.
I’m a bed and bath writer for Wirecutter, and I’ve written our guides to cotton sheets, flannel sheets, and duvet covers. To learn more about towels, I spoke with Rick Basinger, the director of manufacturing and innovation at 1888 Mills. This guide also builds on the work of Stephen Treffinger, who wrote the original version of this review. We spoke with Martin Bide, PhD, a professor in the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design at the University of Rhode Island; Sean Cormier, an assistant professor in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Textile Development and Marketing Department; and Angela Massengill, a fabric evaluation technologist at Cotton Incorporated. We also spoke with Ben Mead, a customer relations and technical specialist at Hohenstein Institute, the US testing lab for the Oeko-Tex standard, an environmental safety certification you’ll see on some towels.
Who should get this
A good towel should last five to 10 years—or longer, depending on how you wash and dry it. But even the best towels will eventually wear out after daily use: The seams can come undone, the base fabric can begin to shred, and the loops can degrade, resulting in a less fluffy feeling. If that’s the case with your bath towels, it’s time to invest in some new ones.
We surveyed 267 Wirecutter readers who mainly told us that their current towels dried too slowly, didn’t absorb enough, and didn’t feel nice. They wanted to purchase new towels in order to replace fraying ones and upgrade to something nicer. They were especially looking for the right combination of perfect feel and long-term durability.
Towel labels are often full of unfamiliar industry terms that will help you figure out how the towel was made and how it will feel to use. Each brand’s label may not include the same type of information, so comparison shopping can get tricky. Here are some terms you might see associated with towels.
Long staple/extra-long staple cotton: As with other home textiles, such as sheets, the best towels are made from long staple or extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, which produces smoother, stronger yarns. “The longer the staple length, the smoother the yarn is going to be,” Basinger told us. Generally long staple fibers range from 1⅛ to 1¼ inches, while ELS fibers are 1⅜ inches or longer. Basinger told us that long staple cotton is also the most flexible, which increases longevity.
Turkish/Egyptian/Pima/Supima cotton: Labels that say Turkish, Egyptian, Pima, or Supima (the brand name for American Pima) usually indicate long staple or ELS cotton. Be aware, though, that some manufacturers use terms like “Egyptian cotton” and “Turkish cotton” to sell inferior, shorter-staple cotton. Mark Bagby, a representative for Calcot (a cotton marketing organization), told us for our sheets review that those terms identify country of origin and don’t guarantee high-quality, long staple cotton. When you see Supima cotton on a label, it means the Supima council has verified the cotton as long staple Pima, grown in the United States. If a towel is made from long staple or ELS, it’s usually labeled as such. A towel labeled simply as “cotton” is likely made from a shorter-fiber cotton and is probably less durable and possibly less soft.
Combed and ring spun cotton: High-quality towels are often made from cotton that has been combed to remove impurities and linty fibers, or ring spun, a specific spinning process requiring long staple cotton that creates finer, smoother strands of yarn. Basinger told us that ring spun cotton is expensive, but is also the best process for making cotton yarn (which becomes cotton textiles) because it can produce the widest range of thicknesses and the softest yarns.
Zero twist: Unlike ring spun cotton, which is smooth and fine, the cotton fibers of zero-twist towels are not twisted at all before they’re woven. They stay fluffier, retain more surface area, and are therefore more absorbent. Low or zero-twist fabric can only be constructed from longer staple cotton. According to this towel buying guide from Dillard’s, a lower twist means a plusher feel, but a higher twist creates a stronger and more durable towel.
Oeko-Tex: The Oeko-Tex program certifies that fabric is free from certain substances and processes that are potentially harmful to people and the environment. A few of the substances listed on the organization’s site include formaldehyde, plasticisers, pentachlorophenol, and heavy metals. Oeko-Tex certifies only end products, so it doesn’t tell you anything about how the cotton was grown. But the certification may be important to you if you have sensitive skin.
Absorbency: You may see a lot of hyperbolic claims about absorbency; after a certain point, it’s overkill. After all, you don’t have several gallons of water on your skin when you step out of the bath or shower. A towel’s ability to soak up three or more times its weight in water might sound good on paper, but that’s mostly marketing hype. As long as a towel wicks water off your skin without spreading the moisture around or feeling unpleasantly wet, it has done its job.
GSM: The grams per square meter (GSM) measurement indicates fabric weight. A lower GSM translates to a lighter, thinner towel; a higher GSM equates to a denser, plusher towel. Most of the popular towels available online tend to be between 400 and 800 GSM, but we found that this measurement isn’t great for comparisons, as many of the towels at big box stores don’t list GSM.
How we picked
When you reach for a towel, it should first and foremost be effective at drying you off. It should wick water away from your body and into itself. The towel shouldn’t feel especially wet, or as if it’s just pushing the water around. It should also feel comfortable against your skin, whatever that means to you. Some people like super plush, soft towels, while others prefer thinner, pleasantly scratchy ones. Determining the kind of texture you prefer is one of the easiest ways to find a towel you’ll love. Beyond that, a good towel should dry quickly so that it’s ready for your next shower and not prone to developing a mildewy smell. Over the long term, it shouldn’t fall apart, shred, or unravel. Pilling, shrinkage, and fading—although normal with repeated use—should not occur to an annoying degree.
When we polled our readers, 88 percent said they wanted basic or extra-thick terry cloth towels. Terry cloth has loops of yarn (collectively called pile) that extend from the weave and absorb moisture well. Although you’ll find some fans of alternative fibers, the consensus from experts we’ve spoken to, for this guide and others, is that 100 percent cotton delivers the combination of absorbency, softness, and durability that most people want.
Towel-buying guides on Good Housekeeping and eBay say that a towel’s edge seams should be folded, with tight or double stitching to ensure maximum durability. Woven edges are more susceptible to fraying over time. We avoided ornamentation, embroidery, and pattern, looking for towels that would be appealing to most people.
We wanted to find towels made of high-quality cotton (preferably long staple or ELS), but that isn’t always clearly indicated on labels. Because both zero-twist and higher-twist towels have positive attributes, we considered both types. For this, our third update, we began by combing through user reviews on sites such as Amazon, Macy’s, Target, and Walmart. We considered startup brands we hadn’t looked at previously and towels we found through reader comments and suggestions from our own staffers.
I also visited Kohl’s, Macy’s, JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target to look at the color and quality of towels in person. Basinger suggested I use my non-dominant hand to touch towels because it’s less rough and can pick up the softness and feel better. He emphasized, though, that touching new towels can be an unreliable measure of long-term softness. Manufacturers often put softeners on their towels to make them feel nicer which wash out after a few cycles (something we confirmed in our own tests).
After touching dozens of towels, I noticed that bold and dark colors often felt rougher than whites and neutrals of the same towel. Basinger said this is common. Feeling the darker version of the towel you’re considering should be more representative of its long-term softness. Deeply saturated colors use so much dye that they don’t absorb the softeners. Once the softener washes out, the towels should all feel the same, regardless of color.
In 2017 we looked at 116 towels and eventually narrowed that selection for testing to 15 (which included our top picks from 2016). We’ve learned that towel quality can vary from year to year depending on production and materials. We purchased all our test towels brand-new in order to get the same quality towel you’d receive at a store.
How we tested
To avoid brand bias, we removed the labels from all of the towels and marked each with a number for identification. Before using or washing the towels, my husband and I felt the towels to see how appealing they were right out of the packaging. Then I washed and dried the towels once and looked at them again to see if any were noticeably fraying, linty, color faded, or rough. I eliminated three towels after this round.
Basinger said the industry average for washing towels to test for longevity and color endurance is five washes. Sometimes towels take many washings to become “themselves,” when the fabric finishes wash away and the true softness comes through—or doesn’t. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t swayed by qualities that didn’t hold up over time, so I washed the remaining towels nine times each, for a total of 10 washes, running the washer continuously and then drying them once. I considered drying the towels after each wash, but it felt like overkill for our testing. Instead, I prioritized removing all of the softeners and residual dyes and washing away anything else the manufacturers may have added to alter the towel’s texture.
After 10 washes, I rated the towels once again for softness, springiness, and color, and I noted any frayed hems or worn-thin sections. I took a shower with each of the remaining towels, noted how they felt to use and their absorbency, and timed how long they took to dry hanging on towel hooks. This allowed me to narrow the list down from 12 towels to seven. Over the course of the next week, my husband and I used the final seven towels at home for real-life testing—showering frequently, washing the towels again, and then swapping with each other. I took notes about the towels’ softness, how they felt to use, and how well they dried in my bathroom. I noted which towels ranked high for both of us. In all, we showered almost fifty times while testing. As a last step, I had Wirecutter staffers give their opinions on the feel and weight of the top contenders.
In previous versions of this guide, we weighed the towels to gauge how much lint they lost, and we soaked the towels with a spray bottle for our drying tests. But we didn’t have the tools to properly eliminate humidity, which affects weight and drying time. This year, we think that we learned everything we needed to know by focusing on regular, everyday use and assessing the real-life qualities we would actually care about if we were buying new towels.
Our pick: Frontgate Resort Cotton Towel
If you want a towel that’s thick and plush and feels sumptuous like a hotel towel, you’ll like the Frontgate Resort Cotton Towel. It’s the thickest of our picks and densely plush, but it still feels light. I spent far too much time just squishing it with my fingers during testing. It dried in the same amount of time as our runner-up, the Kohl’s Chaps Home, and our former top pick, the Fieldcrest—taking about 15 hours on a summer day in New Jersey—and it was very absorbent in all of our shower tests. If drape is important to you, note that this towel had less of a stick-to-the-body feeling than the other towels we tried. It also comes in the most extensive range of colors of all our picks.
In our tests, this towel consistently ranked as the top performer for springiness and plush softness. It’s made from long-staple Turkish cotton and woven with zero twists, so it’s very fluffy and absorbent. Its tight pile was the thickest of the group. It was my overall favorite towel, and it outperformed our previous upgrade pick, the Caro Home MicroCotton Towel, in softness and absorbency. After 10 washes, it looked almost new and actually felt better than it did out of the package, which is impressive. The Kohl’s towel retained its color and body equally well but didn’t improve with use.
The Frontgate colors are rich and saturated, and most of them look like they would mix and match well with each other. We didn’t notice any major difference in color saturation after washing. Frontgate also makes bath sheets and coordinating accessories.
This towel has over 3,000 mostly positive owner reviews spanning many years, so it seems to have a good track record with purchasers.
Long-term test notes
After a year of regular use, the color of my Frontgate towel still looks rich, and the towel is still soft, plush, and absorbent. It has pilled a bit, more so than the Kohl’s Chaps Home but less than the Target Fieldcrest, our former top pick. It has no snags or pulls, and the hems are still intact. It’s still my favorite towel overall.
Budget pick: Bed Bath & Beyond Dri-Soft Plus Bath Towel
If you like a soft towel but prefer thinner and lighter to thick and plush, you might like Bed Bath & Beyond’s Dri-Soft Plus Bath Towel. This is a nice-looking towel at a very budget-friendly price. We think it would be a great choice if you have young kids and want to buy a stack of towels for them without spending a lot of money. Although we haven’t long-term tested them, one of our editors has used these towels for years with no complaints about softness, wear, or clinginess.
This is the kind of towel that you’ll either love or hate. Although it wasn’t everyone’s favorite in our office, some of our staffers loved the texture, the lighter weight, the shorter length, and the thinner nap. Many of our testers found the buttery feel and ribbing so appealing that they reached out to feel and touch it repeatedly, and one of our staffers told us she preferred the efficiency and lightness of the Dri-Soft to larger, thicker terry cloth towels she’s tried. Another staffer also loved the thinness because, practically speaking, it was easier to manage and hang, but still plenty absorbent.
On the other hand, I found the Dri-Soft clung to my body a little unpleasantly. Some of our testers (including me) felt it was too small to wrap up in comfortably. It’s the smallest towel we tested, at 30 by 54 inches (2 to 4 inches shorter than our other picks). That size worked for several of our staffers, who thought the Dri-Soft would work well for kids, for a small bathroom (it rolls up compactly), or if you don’t like a long, thick towel. The Dri-Soft is also available as a bath sheet measuring 64 by 34 inches. However, the bath sheet can cost more than twice the price of the smaller version.
Bed Bath & Beyond claims the Dri-Soft towels “save you both time and energy with ultra fast drying.” We didn’t find this to be true. Basinger told us that manufacturers design towels with raised terry cloth stripes, as on the Dri-Soft, to achieve faster drying times. The theory is, if a towel has less terry in it to get wet, it will dry faster. In our timed tests, the Dri-soft dried a bit faster than most of our other towels, but that means it dried in 13 hours instead of 15 hours, a nominal difference. And we question whether its ribbed design helped at all, since it dried in the same amount of time as the fattest, fluffiest towel we tested, Macy’s Hotel Collection Premium Bath Towel.
Care and maintenance
Manufacturers typically treat towels with a variety of coatings and finishes, such as fabric softener, to make them feel fluffy and soft in the store. Like a peacock’s plumage, it’s there to entice you! However, such coatings make the towels less absorbent, so you want to get rid of them before using the towel. (And honestly, how many people groped those towels before you did?) To get rid of extra softeners, Better Homes and Gardens suggests washing your new towels with a cup of white vinegar together with half the normal amount of laundry detergent for the first few washes.
Using too much detergent can make your towels feel stiff and cause a buildup of residue. Likewise, fabric softener can leave a waxy buildup on towels that decreases the cotton’s natural absorbency. Using a softener every once in a while (if your towels feel scratchy) is fine. But by and large, try to avoid using softeners regularly.
Follow the laundering directions on your towel’s tag. Several articles about towel care, including those from Better Homes and Gardens and Real Simple, recommend cold or warm water. Hot water will fade colors more quickly and cause the material to lose softness. (The one exception is white towels, which can get dingy in cold water over time.) And you should wash your towels every three to four uses.
If your towels develop a mildewy odor, use the vinegar rinse described above to freshen them up. Half a cup of baking soda in the wash cycle also works wonders. (Of course, don’t use vinegar and baking soda at the same time, unless you want a science-fair volcano to erupt!)
Kohl’s Chaps Home Richmond Turkish Cotton Luxury Bath Towel: This was our runner-up, but it’s no longer available. It was a pleasantly rough, springy towel that was thinner than our top pick.
Fieldcrest Luxury Solid Towel: This was our top pick for a few years because it was soft and comfortable to use and absorbed water as well as far more expensive towels and dried quickly. It was also long-lasting. But unfortunately, Target discontinued the line.
Macy’s Hotel Collection MicroCotton Luxe Bath Towel: It was notably soft, with a nice fluffy pile, but it wasn’t as absorbent as our main picks. It’s also been discontinued since we did our testing.
Garnet Hill Signature Towel: This was a nice towel, and it comes in some great colors, but in softness and absorbency it didn’t compare to some of our picks.
Snowe Bath Towel: We looked at Snowe because the company’s bedding has performed so well in our tests, but its bath towel wasn’t terribly memorable. This towel survived only through one round of washing in our blind tests. It was a perfectly fine towel, but our picks were more absorbent.
Parachute Home Classic Towel: This was a nice, average towel, but we think it’s pricey.
Caro Home Micro-Cotton Luxury Bath Towel: This was a previous upgrade pick, but in 2017 it didn’t perform as well in testing as our upgrade pick for that year (now our top pick). It felt thin and wasn’t as absorbent as we’d like. Originally, we thought these towels were made by Towels by Gus, but the manufacturer is actually Caro Home. Towels by Gus is one retailer that sells them, but you can also get them from Caro Home’s site and from The Mine.
Lands’ End Supima Bath Towel. Although this was a runner-up pick previously, in follow-up tests it didn’t absorb as well as other towels, and we thought it clung to the body too much out of the shower.
Royal Velvet Signature Soft Solid Bath Towel: This towel was impressively soft in the store, but the softness didn’t last through 10 washes. And after the last wash, the towel was threadbare in spots.
L.L.Bean Premium Cotton Towel: This was actually the fastest drying towel in our first timed test—it dried in about 10 hours. But it was rough and uncomfortable to use.
Target Threshold Performance Bath Towel: This comes in some fun colors, and it costs less than our top pick, but it lost a lot of its softness and loft after the first wash. We didn’t shower with it.
IKEA Afjarden Bath Towel: This towel is very affordable, but the available colors aren’t great, and it was rough after one wash so we cut it after that round.
JCPenney Home Solid Bath Towels: The color options are excellent, but after one wash this towel was so rough we didn’t shower with it.
Chakir Turkish Linens Luxury Hotel & Spa Bath Towel: This towel had high ratings on Amazon at the time we checked, but it wasn’t particularly plush or cozy feeling in our tests. It was a bit scratchy and had a soapy, coated feel, even after several washings.
Nordstrom at Home Hydrocotton Bath Towel: Several readers wrote in to say that this towel was great, and it does have its merits. Unfortunately, although this towel was pleasantly plush in our tests (the second-heaviest in the group), its thickness proved to be its downfall. Its sponginess translated into slow drying times (in both our technical test and in my own bathroom), and that means a towel that is likely to still be damp in the morning.
Pottery Barn Hydrocotton Bath Towel: Following our selection of this towel as the winner in a previous version of this review, we received a lot of complaints about its shedding significantly in the dryer. When we tested this towel again, it didn’t shed all that much, but our staff testers said it felt rough and didn’t absorb water effectively. Testers also thought this towel looked cheap.
Restoration Hardware 802-Gram Turkish Bath Towel: This towel gets a lot of love online, so we decided to try it despite the high price. But our sample, with an uneven loop height, didn’t look luxurious. It was also not as soft as we would have liked for a long staple cotton towel.
Lasting Color Cotton Bath Towel Collection by WestPoint Home: We had high hopes for this bargain towel because of the fair number of high ratings online. (It was also our budget pick in the first version of this guide.) It comes in an appealing, if smallish, range of colors. In our tests, though, it didn’t have a nice look (inconsistent loop lengths, patchy appearance), and we could see pinholes of light through it when we held it up. It also felt rough and scratchy.
L.L.Bean Egyptian Cotton Towel: This towel dried slowly, remaining damp both in our office test and in my home. Some staff members found it scratchy and said that it didn’t wick water away as effectively as our top contenders. It was only medium-soft, too. For the price, we didn’t think it was worth an investment.
IKEA Fräjen Bath Towel: We always root for the underdog, but this towel didn’t quite make the grade. It had an unusual weave that wasn’t exactly terry cloth, so it didn’t seem right for this test group. On top of that, it was quite thin, and we could see light through it when we held it up. It was very low on the softness scale and a bit scratchy, too.
The Company Store Green Earth Quick-Dry Towel: We were intrigued by this towel, which looks a bit like chenille. But it turned out to be rather thin, with light showing through when we held it up. It also shrank more in length (by almost 2 inches) than the average, reducing by 5 inches in all. This shrinkage seemed like too much when paired with the thinness.
1888 Mills Made Here Bath Towel: This was our original pick in 2013, but readers complained about quality issues. When we retested it in 2014, we found that the quality had gone downhill, as the towel we tried that year was lighter and sloppily finished.
Amazon Pinzon Luxury 820-Gram Bath Towel: This towel was too dense and too heavy, and it took a long time to dry out—a surefire recipe for a musty towel.
Even using our criteria, you have tons of towels to choose from. If you’re wondering why we didn’t test towels from a certain brand or popular store, here’s a list of those that didn’t make it to the testing round.
Crate and Barrel: This home store has a small selection of towels with mid-range GSM, but these average items aren’t worth their luxury prices.
Overstock.com: For some reason, this site seems interested in selling bath towels exclusively in sets—three, four, six, you name it. Unfortunately, what works for a family of four may not work for a single person, and none of Overstock.com’s towels stood out as must-test options.
Walmart: We had plenty of reasons not to test any towels from Walmart. The retailer’s website is useless for sourcing information. Few of its towels have labeling that indicates what kind of cotton they use.
1. Bath Towel Buying Guide, Dillard’s
2. Bath Towel Buying Guide, Wayfair
3. Tanya Christian, 5 Ways You’re Ruining Your Bath Towels, Real Simple
4. Tanya Christian, 5 Ways You’re Ruining Your Bath Towels, Real Simple
5. Bath Towels, How Products Are Made
6. How to Wash Towels to Make Them Last Longer, Better Homes & Gardens
7. Martin Bide, PhD, professor, Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, The University of Rhode Island, interview
8. Sean Cormier, assistant professor, Textile Development and Marketing Department, Fashion Institute of Technology, interview
9. Ben Mead, customer relations and technical specialist at Hohenstein Institute, interview
10. Angela Massengill, fabric evaluation specialist, Cotton Incorporated, interview
11. Rick Basinger, Director of Manufacturing and Innovation, 1888 Mills, interview, July 12, 2017
Read the original article on The Best Towel.