A Guide to Buying Luxury Bath Towels: Fabric, GSM, and More

Here at Fine Linen and Bath, we think purchasing a high-quality bath towel is well worth the investment. Along with feeling fabulous and enhancing your décor, luxury bath towels will perform beautifully and last for years to come.

But choosing the right luxury towels comes down to weighing a number of important variables. Some of these -- such as color choice and size options -- are a matter of individual preference. Other criteria are more objective and thus require a deeper understanding of luxury linen. The Fine Linen and Bath design team has created this guide to show you what to look for when purchasing luxury bath towels, with specific information on choosing the best fabric and understanding how GSM -- the weight measure of a luxury towel -- affects quality. We’ll also touch on different styles of towel weave; discuss how to care for your towels to preserve look, feel, and absorbency; and suggest some brands to consider.

Read on to learn what you need to know before purchasing your new towel set.

How to choosing the best luxury bath towels

Picture of the long loop terry Graccioza Egoist towel

Choosing the Best Fabric for Luxury Bath Towels

At Fine Linen and Bath, we believe the very best luxury bath towels are made from natural fabrics: cotton, bamboo, other plant-based fibers, or even wool. Along with being naturally absorbent, these fabrics are generally sustainable and environmentally friendly. You can also purchase organic cotton or bamboo bath towels (more on organic cotton later). In contrast, a microfiber towel or cloth is made of polyester or petroleum based material.

For the purposes of this guide, we will be focusing on cotton, which is by far the most popular fabric used to make bath towels. Cotton is absorbent, strong, and holds dyes and colors beautifully. But not all cotton is created equal. When shopping for a quality towel, pay attention to where the cotton is grown; we recommend choosing a luxury bath towel made from either Egyptian or Supima cotton.

Egyptian Cotton

Many textile experts believe that Egyptian cotton is the finest on Earth, and with good reason. Egyptian cotton is grown under specific conditions of heat, sun, humidity, and a uniquely fertile soil. Egyptian cotton is always harvested by hand and its fiber, or “staple,” is longer, stronger, and more durable than cotton grown elsewhere. Egyptian cotton comes in long-staple (LS) or extra-long-staple (ELS) cotton, either of which make for a luxurious towel that is beautiful, soft and absorbent. There is a special type of Egyptian cotton known as Giza, which is grown only in the valley of the Nile River. Giza cotton fibers are extra fine, which makes them not just soft and absorbent, but also wonderful at holding deep, intense towel colors like these. You can learn more about Giza cotton here. Many of the world’s finest towel manufacturers -- including Abyss, Matouk, and Graccioza -- use Egyptian cotton in their towel and bath rug collections.

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton is another superior type of cotton that is used in luxury bath towels. Grown in the west and southwest United States, Pima cotton is sold under the brand name “Supima” and represents less than 1% of all cotton grown in the world. Supima cotton has extra-long-staple fiber that provides strength, softness, and wonderful color retention. Supima cotton resists pilling and grows softer over time.

Organic Cotton

Cotton can also be designated organic. Look for an independent certification such as GOTS, which stands for Global Organic Textile Standard. GOTS verifies that the cotton was grown and processed according to specific standards of ecological and social criteria. Look for the GOTS label or other independent certification on any organic cotton towels you are considering.

Bottom line: read the label to learn about the fabric used in a specific towel. Look for Egyptian or Pima cotton and, if you so desire, organic certification. Also, buyer beware: many big box and warehouse retailers claim that the cotton towels they sell are genuine Egyptian cotton; if the price seems too good to be true, they are likely misrepresenting the source of their cotton. Purchasing from a well-known manufacturer and a trusted retailer like Fine Linen and Bath is a way to ensure that you are buying genuine, high-quality cotton.

Understanding GSM: A Measurement of Towel Weight

Another essential element in assessing towel quality is weight, which is measured in GSM, or “grams per square meter.” Expressed as a numerical value (as is thread count for bed sheets) GSM correlates to a towel’s absorbency, feel, and performance. In cotton bath towels the typical range is between 300 and 900 GSM -- with the higher GSM towels will be heavier, softer, and more absorbent.

Understanding the GSM of towels is the measuring of the weight of the towel

How do you assess GSM numbers? In general, a cotton bath towel that weighs 400 GSM and above is considered to be good quality. The fabric in these heavier towels is woven more densely, and thus is softer and more absorbent than a lower GSM fabric (for example, that found in standard kitchen towels).

A general guideline to GSM ranges in cotton towels is as follows:

  • 300 to 400 GSM: Lightweight towel, thinner, coarser, dries quickly
  • 400 to 600 GSM: Medium weight, soft, absorbent good for bath or beach towel
  • 700 to 900 GSM: Heavyweight towels; very soft and absorbent, a luxurious plush towel

When shopping for cotton bath towels, start looking in the 400 to 600 GSM range. These towels are considered medium-weight, which is good for bath and beach. They are soft and absorbent, while still being easy to care for. Move on to higher GSM for a heavier towel that is thicker, plush, and more absorbent. Note that very high GSM towels take longer to air dry and take up more room in your washer and dryer, particularly if they are bath sheet size.

Towel Weave: Terry Cloth and More

The majority -- but not all -- luxury towels are some form of terry weave. In fact, the word “terry” is nearly synonymous with “cotton towel” because the weave is so widely used. In fact, terry is a specific style of weaving made with uncut loops -- known as “pile” -- that stand up off both sides of the fabric to increase surface area, boost absorbency, and maintain softness. The most common terry towel weaves are long loop terry, which has extra-long loops for a supremely absorbent and luxurious towel; terry velour, which has loops on just one side while the other is cut short for a velvety surface; and French terry, which can be found on Turkish Hammam beach towels as well as apparel. You will also see terry towels referred to as being made with “low twist” or “zero twist” yarn. This means that the towel is made with long-staple cotton that is strong and durable, and does not require added twisting to add strength during the manufacturing process. Low- and zero-twist terry towels are lighter and fluffier. You can learn more about terry cloth here.

Other terms to know are dobby, which is a decorative border or pattern woven into a towel, and waffle weave, which is a lightweight textured weave that is highly absorbent and dries quickly.

Terry cloth is a specific style of weaving made with uncut loops -- known as “pile” -- that stand up off both sides of the fabric to increase surface area, boost absorbency, and maintain softness

Caring for Your Luxury Bath Towels

With proper washing and care, your luxury bath towels should last a long time. Follow these simple steps to help your bath towel set stay beautiful and absorbent:

  1. Give your towels a first wash before using. New towels are sometimes treated with a coating for the showroom and can be linty. Read the care label and carefully remove any plastic tags with scissors.
  2. Sort towels by color (light, dark, and white towels separately) as well as by weight to ensure balanced laundry loads. Always wash heavier items like high GSM towels and bath mats separately so as not to overload your machine.
  3. Use a detergent specially made for luxury linen such as Heritage Park Luxury All-Purpose Detergent. Made with plant-based ingredients and a proprietary blend of cleaning enzymes, Heritage Park’s pH neutral formula will get your towels clean while protecting the integrity of your fine bath towels.
  4. Wash in cool water to preserve color and protect towel fibers (white towels can be washed in warm or hot as needed for cleaning). Shake towels out after washing and dry according to instructions; don’t overheat.
  5. Never use dryer sheets or fabric softener, which leave a waxy build up on towels and your machine. Instead, dry your towels with a set of wool dryer balls to restore softness and decrease drying time.

Over time, even luxury towels can lose a bit of their softness and smell a bit stale despite regular washing. This happens due to mineral build up from hard water. Happily, you can revive and restore your luxury towels to “like new” condition in two simple steps using just baking soda and vinegar in your washing machine.

Where to Find The Best Luxury Bath Towels

Fine Linen and Bath is your go-to source for luxury bath towels. Whether you’re looking to treat yourself to the spa-like feel of a single bath sheet, or you’re ready to upgrade to an entire new set of bath linen, we’ve got dozens of brands and styles to offer. We welcome you to browse our collection, beginning with these fine manufacturers:

This list is just a sampling of the luxurious towels you’ll find while browsing the Fine Linen and Bath collection of designer luxury bath towels. Along with their superior fabric and design, you may also notice that the majority of European luxury bath towels are made in Portugal. This is not a coincidence; Portugal is known for the artistry and craftsmanship of its bath towels. Read more about that proud history of the Portuguese textile industry here.

As you shop, please remember that the Fine Linen and Bath design team is here to answer any questions and provide personalized recommendations. We’ll also send you complementary swatch samples of towels to review at home before you purchase.

Luxury towels on a marble table in bathroom

An In-Store Shopping Experience Delivered to You Online

At Fine Linen and Bath, our mission is to deliver a concierge luxury linen shopping experience with online convenience. When you need answers, consultation, or help to narrow your choices, our team of expert design consultants is here to assist. We offer individualized recommendations, personal consultation, and even complimentary swatch samples for your review. We'll help you make the right buying decisions for your style, budget, and design goals. Please connect with us online or -- even better -- give us a call at (866) 352-4522. We would love to get to know you!