One thing that can upgrade your bathing experience immediately? A new towel.
That’s why we set out to find the best bath towels on the market, settling on a pool of nine top-reviewed and editor-favorite options to test for ourselves. After taking too many showers and baths to count, plus washing and drying loads of towels again and again, we found four standouts. Note that our top three nonbudget towels scored equally high marks — and because we understand that towel preference is a very subjective matter, we’re calling out all of them as top picks, as each is a different style of towel but one that proved highly functional in absorption, drying time and durability.
If it’s a traditional, super-thick, super-fluffy towel experience you’re after — and being enveloped by the comfort of fluff definitely appeals right now — Frontgate’s Resort Cotton Towel is the one to truly embrace. Reminiscent of a fine hotel spa experience, these towels encase their user in a high-weight terry luxury that feels like you’re lounging in a bathrobe waiting for room service.
Those after a less fuzzy, snuggly experience in a towel are likely to love Boll & Branch’s chic Plush Bath Towels. They’re heavy-duty in absorbency yet magically lightweight and feel great to dry off with. They’re also produced cleanly and sustainably by this eco-forward company.
A combo of a terry and waffle-weave towel, Pact’s Waffle Bath Towel quickly rose to the top of the testing pile. Ecologically produced and aesthetically pleasing, the surface of Pact’s towel is highly absorbent and soft to the touch but offers textural friction that elevates its use to a daily exfoliation session — think of it as a mini spa trip in towel form.
At $8 apiece, Target’s Threshold Performance Bath Towels cost a literal fraction of the price of most other towels in our pool and felt relatively good against the skin and effectively absorbent. They’re OEKO-TEX certified to standard 100 (more on this below) and are available in a whopping 30 colors, more than any other towel brand we tested.
PHOTO: Elizabeth Wallace/CNN
Frontgate Resort Cotton Bath Towel
Fresh out of the box, Frontgate’s Resort Cotton Bath Towel was among the most luxurious-feeling in our testing pool. Thick, soft and snuggly, this product truly feels like a fine hotel bathing experience. At a generous 58 inches by 30 inches, it looks the part too, with a lush surface punctuated by a nice 2-inch-long trim near each towel end.
These towels, crafted from 100% pure long-staple Turkish cotton, are a heavier weight at 700 grams per square meter, or GSM. (Read more about GSM below.) While we found the towel to be substantial and comfortable to the touch, it also isn’t weigh-you-down heavy. This may be attributed to Frontgate’s “zero twist” manufacturing process, said to plump and stabilize the yarn while exposing more of the fiber, the result being a product both super soft yet still lightweight. Both children and adults who used this towel in our testing found it exceedingly plush, and very effective and absorbent, drying users completely in under a minute.
Given the towel’s high GSM, unsurprisingly it wasn’t completely dry after just an hour hanging, but it did seem to dry faster than some of its heavier-weight towels in this mix, feeling pretty well dried after three to four hours spread out across a towel rack. It launders beautifully, with no loose threads to speak of after the numerous washes.
Frontgate towels come in 22 colors (bested in our pool only by the number of colors available for Target’s and RH’s towels), with a bath sheet option of 70 inches by 42 inches as well. And a fun bonus: They’re monogrammable and would make a beautifully personalized gift. You can only buy the towels individually, but they’re about a quarter more affordable than our two other nonbudget winners, which adds even more to their value.
PHOTO: Elizabeth Wallace/CNN
Boll & Branch Plush Bath Towel
Already a fan of the Boll & Branch brand since we tested the company’s flannel sheets this past fall, we were excited to see this towel arrive in the mail, with the same modern stylish packaging and logo, tied up neatly with a white ribbon like a little gift.
Crafted from 100% organic cotton and made ethically in India, Boll & Branch’s Plush Towel is a bit bigger than most at 58 inches by 30 inches, so there’s a little more luxury to love. And they’re made from two-ply organic cotton, of a hefty 700 GSM weight like the Frontgate, so they feel substantial without seeming heavy; they’re constructed with low-twist yarns that fluff up, making them extra soft. Boll & Branch’s definition of plush, though, isn’t fluffy or cloying; it’s a rougher-hewn texture in a design that feels contemporary and chic — one that some may prefer to a more traditional, fluffier bath towel.
This towel dried us quickly and effectively, feeling utterly comfortable to the touch but much less fuzzy and pillowy than Frontgate’s plush version. We could imagine lying around in Boll & Branch’s offering long after we’ve gotten out of the shower, lounging like a guest at a 5-star hotel. It’s thicker than some of the super-thin brands we tested, so it didn’t dry as fast as every option in our pool, but it was about average in hang-drying time, falling in the three- to four-hour range.
Boll & Branch towels are Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified and OEKO-TEX certified to standard 100. (More below on what these certifications mean and what testing agencies do.) The brand is also committed to using only 100% organic cotton, reducing water usage in its production by 91% and to only producing its wares in factories that pay a fair wage with responsible working conditions.
Boll & Branch Plush Towels come in five different earth tones that any respectable interior designer would proudly order up for you. These are an excellent choice for anyone who prioritizes aesthetics and function and is willing to pay a little more to upgrade their bath experience.
PHOTO: Elizabeth Wallace/CNN
Pact Waffle Bath Towel
If you’ve never used a waffle towel, get ready to have your bath-arena worldview changed. We learned that in addition to the traditional terry cloth options many of us have grown accustomed to using, there are newer, thinner options out there, ones with different textures that make toweling off an entirely different experience. Waffle-weave towels, believed to be more absorbent because of their honeycomblike indentations, draw in moisture from the surface, thus arguably drying more quickly and effectively than a traditional woven terry.
We tested a couple of these unique waffle-weave towels (scroll down for our thoughts on the others), and while there’s a lot to like, they may not be for everyone — e.g., people who prefer the comfort of a thick and fluffy towel. For us, Pact’s Waffle Bath Towels were the perfect marriage of a traditional high-end cotton bath towel and a waffle-weave one.
With a raised hexagonal-patterned texture and a clean, modern hem, it looks minimalist and striking, and it feels equally pleasing. Lighter weight than both Frontgate and Boll & Branch’s offerings and still highly absorbent, it feels like it’s actively whisking away the water, but it’s still comfortable against the skin and not at all scratchy. It’s a more rough-hewn texture, so it’s not a snuggly, fluffy option like many of the other brands we tested — again, personal preference may come into play.
It feels durable but also refreshingly lightweight for a high-end towel. It’s also more compact than many of the other terry towels we tested, so it’s easier to handle in all ways, from tossing in the wash to storing, making it a great option for travel. And the waffle weave makes for a textured surface that feels fantastic — sort of an every-time-you-dry exfoliating cloth for both face and body, a particular treat during chapping winter months. After several washes, it held up perfectly, looking the same as it did fresh out of the box. At 55 inches by 27 inches for the bath towel size, it’s expansive without feeling overwhelming, weighty or overly long. The towel is offered also in a bath sheet size, and can be purchased individually or as a set in seven calming colors.
What’s more, Pact is a company we can get behind ecologically: The towels are crafted from 100% pure organic cotton terry and are fair trade certified (i.e., made in fair trade factories that ensure safe working conditions and support local communities). The company prides itself on its towels as well as its clothing, being fashioned from organic cotton, whose production saves water and uses no toxic chemicals. Towels and other products are shipped in 98% postconsumer recycled materials, and Pact has partnered with an eco-tech company to help offset the carbon footprint of its products. Overall, we found this to be an incredible towel whose sustainable creation was the icing on the cake.
Target Threshold Performance Bath Towel
We’ve long been fans of Target’s Threshold brand for all things wallet-friendly, and we found its bath towel to be no exception. OEKO-TEX certified to standard 100, it feels well made for a towel under $10, not to mention comfortable against the skin, falling into the more roughly textured category. A generously sized bath towel, at 54 inches by 30 inches, it dried us effectively after a bath, and hang-drying time was about average.
We saw a few loose threads after a wash and dry cycle, but this towel generally felt durable, particularly for its tiny price tag. One of our editors, in fact, has used hers for years and can attest to its ability to stand up to hundreds of wash cycles. While it does lose a bit of its softness over the years, that’s to be expected for a towel that’s just 8 bucks.
This towel is available in 30 colors (including two stripe patterns), the widest availability out of all the options we tested. It comes in both a bath towel and bath sheet size (the latter measuring a body-enveloping 33 inches by 63 inches), and you can also buy matching washcloths and hand towels à la carte. For all of these reasons, it’s truly a solid option for those on a tight budget.
Waffle weave: Waffle-weave towels have raised threads that form a 3D honeycomb-pattern surface. They are believed to be more absorbent because the honeycomb indentations draw in moisture from the surface, thus arguably drying you more quickly and effectively than a traditional woven terry. That greater surface area weave also means a faster-drying towel, especially helpful in smaller or less well-ventilated bathrooms — so goodbye to musty, still-damp bath towels the next day. These towels are so different experientially than traditional terry cotton options; you’ll find they’re immediately absorbent without feeling heavy or fluffy in any way. Plus, their flat-weave structure results in a texture with a lot of benefits: It makes them lighter and less bulky than terry cotton, and thus easier to carry, store, transport and launder.
Grams per square meter (GSM): A measurement of the density of a towel, sort of like what thread count is for sheets, that ranges from 300 to 900, 700 being on the heavier-weight end.
GOTS certified: The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a worldwide textile processing standard for organic fibers that’s backed up by third-party certification throughout the entire supply chain.
OEKO-TEX certified to standard 100: Every component of the article with this label has been tested for harmful substances by an independent partner.
Made Safe certified: Made Safe, billed as the United States’ first nontoxic seal for household products used every day, prohibits the use of 6,500 ingredients considered not safe.
Turkish cotton: Grown exclusively in the Aegean region of Turkey, Turkish cotton is a premium cotton with extra-long fibers, which results in stronger, smoother threads, which makes for softer, fluffier, more absorbent towels over time.
PHOTO: Elizabeth Wallace/CNN
Best bath towels
We researched the top bath towels on the market, prioritizing function, quality and value. After scouring the internet and mixing in some editor favorites, we settled on a final pool of nine to put to the test.
We opened each towel, noting our first impressions of how it looked, felt and even smelled. We took multiple showers and dried off with each towel at least three times. We also had family members try each towel and offer their second and third opinions. We machine-washed and dried each towel multiple times, and reused it after each fresh laundering. Our testing process was intensive, lasting nearly two months. We assessed each towel according to the following criteria:
- Texture: We took note of how the towel felt against the skin — if it was soft, rough, clingy, of high-quality feel, etc.
- Durability: We observed how each towel held up after machine-washing and drying, a minimum of five times. We assessed and recorded if it shrunk, shredded, created lint or loose threads, or faded. We noted if, after drying, each towel felt as soft and fluffy as it initially did, or if it had flattened or changed shape at all.
- Appearance: We took note of how aesthetically appealing the towel is — if the fabric looked high-end and if the design was appealing or noticeable at all.
- Material: We looked into how the towel was made, and if it was crafted using organic and/or ethically sourced material.
- Absorbency: We noted how well each towel dried our hair and skin, observing how effectively it absorbed water.
- Drying ability: After using each towel and spreading and hanging it on a towel rack, we noted how long it took to dry after use.
- Colors: We considered how many shades the towel is available in.
- Sizes: We noted whether it’s available in more than one size, and if it can be purchased as part of a set.
Based on the categories and testing procedures listed above, we gave all towels a score in each subcategory, combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category, then totaled those numbers for a final overall score. We broke down the scores as follows:
- Quality/feel had a total of 45 points: texture (15 points), durability (15 points), appearance (10 points) and material (5 points).
- Function had a maximum of 40 points: absorbency (20 points) and drying ability (20 points).
- Options had a maximum of 15 points: colors (10 points) and sizes (5 points).
Pottery Barn Hydrocotton Organic Quick-Dry Towel ($29.50; potterybarn.com)
PHOTO: Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn Hydrocotton Organic Quick-Dry Towel
Pottery Barn’s Hydrocotton Organic Quick-Dry Towel employs a weaving process that creates fine, untwisted loops said to be more absorbent than traditional terry — and we did indeed find this to be among the fastest drying of the towels we tested while also feeling super fluffy. Crafted from 100% organic cotton at 550 GSM, it’s also fantastically plush.
This thick, quick-drying towel didn’t ultimately snag a winning spot on our list, however, because it felt just slightly less luxurious than some of the other brands. We did appreciate its relatively midlevel price point considering the fact the towel is GOTS certified, feels well made and is available in 16 colors. This towel is noticeably less bulky than some of the other plush options we tested, so if quick-drying is at the top of your priority list in a towel and you’re willing to sacrifice a higher-quality feel, we think this is a fine option at a good price.
Parachute Waffle Towel ($39; parachute.com)
Parachute Waffle Towel
When we tested linen sheets, Parachute’s were our favorites, and we’ve long considered the brand synonymous with quality. So we were excited to try this waffle towel, loomed from 100% long-staple Turkish cotton at a featherweight 240 GSM (much lighter than most terry towels in the 300 to 900 range). Straight out of the box, the Parachute towel felt soft, luxurious and, dare we say, bouncy. It functioned well, drying as effectively as any other brand we tested, if not better and faster, and certainly felt high-quality to the touch. And because of the lightweight factor of the waffle weave, the Parachute did dry faster, within about two hours of use, after being hung on the towel rack.
A couple of factors we did not find ideal: The bath towel felt larger than standard size, even though it wasn’t. It measures 56 inches by 30 inches, but, possibly because it feels like it expands due to the springy texture of the fabric, it felt like there was almost too much length for a person who may be shorter than average. Wrapped around the head, there seemed to be a lot of excess towel hanging down during the drying and dressing stage. (The hand towel, for the record, also seems longer than standard, and while this wouldn’t be an issue we’d mention normally, it hung down on our towel ring longer than other towels we’ve used, and the slinkiness of the weave left it almost slippery — we repeatedly found the towel slipped off the ring and right onto the floor.)
A second issue is the apparent fragility of this fabric. While the honeycomb weave is a pleasure to touch and use, it felt more precarious than a standard terry cotton towel. The towel snagged after the first wash and dry cycle — we did follow the care directions, which did not specify washing on delicate — leaving a few loose threads or small nicks in the fabric. This may be customary and not a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning for those who live and bathe in more active homes (e.g., those with small children or pets who may get a hold of said snaggable fabrics with less cautious hands/paws).
Lastly, the Parachute Waffle Towels come in just three colors — white, gray and charcoal — and while that may be customary for a more minimalist bath decor line, the brand lost a few points for that limitation. It’s available only in bath towel size, no bath sheet (as we mentioned, though, the standard bath towel feels bigger than others). For those who love a more modern, European bathroom decor style and are willing to spend a teensy bit more care on laundering and towel storage, though? These may be a solid option for you.
Onsen Bath Towel ($50; onsen.com)
Onsen Bath Towel
Onsen was created by a half-Japanese founder inspired by his heritage, and by living and working in Japan, to make high-quality home goods. He was turned off by traditional terry towels that had stayed wet or grown musty and wanted to create a lighter, thinner, quicker-drying towel like the ones he’d used in Japan. From the likes of the bath towel we tested, he’s succeeded.
Our Onsen towel was gorgeous: Minimalist and chic, it’s made from 100% Supima cotton, a fine-grade cotton with extra-long fibers that can be spun into much softer products. The brand also notes that the Supima cotton (and thus, the towels) gets better over time as the waffle weave gets “deeper and thirstier,” aka softer and more absorbent. Supima is grown in select family farms that allow for supply chain traceability, and are farmed with less chemicals and coatings than traditional cotton, making Onsen towels, also OEKO-TEX certified, an ecologically sound choice.
They dried as thoroughly or better than any of the other towels we tested, and felt so absorbent and soft against the skin. The standard bath towel size is generous too, at 31 inches by 57 inches. As much as we loved the Onsen towel, like the Parachute Waffle Towel, it also needed some tender loving care in the most basic of ways. On our way to the shower for its first use, the towel snagged on our bathroom door and pulled a thread. It got tangled in something else we were carrying later, and again snagged. It was hard not to feel like any wrong move with this towel would damage it — and made us wonder if waffle-weave towels may be more prone to snagging in general, which is not ideal for every towel user. If you’re a bit more cautious, though, you’re likely to love these. They come in seven beautiful shades and are only sold individually, but we imagine you’ll want to invest (and they are an investment) in more than one.
RH 802-Gram Turkish Towel Collection ($46; rh.com)
RH 802-Gram Turkish Towel Collection
oomed from premium cotton to an 802-gram weight, this towel was among the heaviest in our testing pool. RH’s Turkish beauties are described on its site as “exceptionally dense and soft,” and especially suited for colder weather. In fact, on one recent frosty morning with temps dipping below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, RH’s 802-grammers felt like being wrapped fresh from the shower in a giant plush blanket. The towel dried quickly and thoroughly, and was so cozy we wouldn’t have minded climbing back into bed with it. Some might find the thick weight of the towel too thick, however — there’s a sense of being wrapped in a life-size plush toy in towel form — but if you like this style, this one’s pure luxury.
Upon first use, we did feel some of the towel’s fibers shedding onto our skin, which is apparently normal in thicker plush towels, and shedding reduces after subsequent washes and dries. This weight of towel also, fairly enough, takes longer to dry than the thinner options, naturally. Those two factors kept this one from being one of our very top winners, but it was a close finalist. The towel is also available in a whopping 25 color options, and in both bath towel and bath sheet sizes.
Brooklinen Super-Plush Bath Towels, Set of 2 ($69; brooklinen.com)
Brooklinen Super-Plush Bath Towels, Set of 2
There’s a level of quality you know you’re getting with Brooklinen (the brand’s linen sheets were also among our top picks when we tested those), and part of that is the thoughtful and appealing package — the towels, like the sheets, come with a very cute canvas Brooklinen logo tote. Gift aside, though, the towels are also a high-caliber product: Indeed super plush, and very thick, and of generous size (58 inches by 30 inches for a bath towel, with bath sheets obviously bigger).
They’re nice-looking on the towel rack and feel great against the skin, thanks to being crafted from 100% Turkish cotton and described as “spa quality” of extra thickness. We’ve established already that the level of plush a consumer wants in their towel is relative, and this one was closer to the Frontgate type. That is to say, one person in this household likened drying themselves with this to drying off with a stuffed animal. You can’t buy these individually, only for $69 for a set of two — that limitation, plus the heavy-plush factor, were two detractors that ratcheted this one down to just below our winner’s circle of bath towels. To that point, Brooklinen does offer classic, waffle and ultra-thin bath towel options, so if you’re already loyal to this brand, you’re likely to find one you’ll love, and at a pretty good price point for the quality.
Coyuchi Mediterranean Organic Towels ($58; coyuchi.com)
Coyuchi Mediterranean Organic Towels
Coyuchi’s site explains that in Turkey, “where bathing has been raised to an art,” flat-weave towels are the traditional choice. The brand’s Mediterranean Organic Towel is the response to that, and it’s a pretty incredible, if possibly polarizing, one. Woven from yarn-dyed 100% organic cotton from the Aegean region of Turkey in a high-low-style weave and edged with a hand-knotted fringe, the towels are ultra thin. They’re GOTS and Made Safe certified, and feel like a quality, sustainable product that you’d be happy to have hanging in your home.
They’re also quite nice-looking: clean, fresh, spare, but with a hand-done feel. And that high-low-weave texture promises excellent absorption — and delivers. We found ourselves thoroughly dry within a few moments. And then, because of that efficient weave and super-thin texture, the towel also dries nearly as quickly as a dish towel in your kitchen.
And here’s the part that not everyone might love: Drying yourself with a Coyuchi also feels like drying yourself with a giant dish towel (or maybe a kitchen table runner that’s 54 inches long). It’s a different and interesting sensation, and not one we’re sure we love for a cold winter morning in a chilly home. Off the Aegean coast on a beautiful summer night before a drink on a terrace somewhere, however, this might be entirely light and delightful.
The lightweight factor makes it terrific for travel and storage, and in theory, for laundering — it certainly takes less time to dry than a heavy terry towel. However, we found that the fringe once got caught in the lint screen, and when washed with other, heavier items, the Coyuchi towel got balled up like a thin T-shirt trapped inside a fitted sheet in the dryer, so it emerged all wrinkly. The brand recommends washing on delicate and hanging to dry, which is maybe more care than some people wish to give their towels. If you want a sustainable, minimal-gorgeous product that promises many years of use, you’re willing to pay upward of $50 for a bath towel and you like a lighter drying experience, though, this may very well meet all of your needs.
Amazon Basics Quick-Dry Towels, Set of 2 ($19.99; amazon.com)
Amazon Basics Quick-Dry Towels, Set of 2
The Amazon Basics Quick-Dry Towel is a lightweight product that achieves what it’s advertised to do: After being hung over a banister for a mere two hours, it felt nearly fully dry. Made in an OEKO-TEX Standard 100 factory to meet independent environmental standards, these towels were absorbent and effective enough at drying. They come in eight bright or more muted colors and can be purchased in three-piece or eight-piece sets, including washcloths and hand towels, as well as in bath sheet sizes (though the standard bath towel size of 54 inches by 30 inches felt plenty sizable to us). These didn’t rank higher in our testing, though, because they felt flimsy compared with the other towels we tested — something the price reflects, at less than $20 for a set of two. We also noted some loose threads in these towels after a few washes.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: