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Luxury Towel Talk: The Ultimate Guide to Terry Cloth

  • by Mary Babinski
  • 7 min read

Terry or "terry cloth" is a special type of weave that makes bath towels softer and more absorbent. This article delivers an overview of the different styles of terry used in luxury bath towels, beach towels, bath mats, and robes.

Terry Cloth: Popular, Luxurious, and Absorbent

If you're like most people, you probably don't devote much thought to the specific weave of your luxury bath towel. Of course, you want your towel to look beautiful, feel great, and perform well, but the details of how it's made may fly below your radar. However, if you crave towels and robes that are luxurious, soft to the touch, and super absorbent -- and who doesn't? -- you're probably a lover of terry cloth (even if you didn't know it).

At Fine Linen and Bath, our designer bath towel collections include terry towels from the finest luxury linen makers on Earth. We think it's worth taking time to explore how terry cloth is made and why it's so popular.

Terry Cloth: A Special Weave

The term ‚Äúterry cloth‚ÄĚ is almost synonymous with the word ‚Äútowel,‚ÄĚ but terry is actually a specific style of weaving. First introduced in the 1840s, terry is made with uncut loops -- known as ‚Äúpile‚ÄĚ -- that stand up off the base, or ground, of the fabric. Most fabric is made weaving yarn in two directions: vertical (warp) and transverse horizontal (weft). Terry cloth is made using two warp beams: the ground warp, which helps form the base of the towel, and the pile warp, which creates the loops of thread. These loops stand off the base on both sides of the fabric to increase surface area, enhance absorbency, and maintain a soft feel.

What is Terry Cloth Made Of?

Traditional terry cloth is woven from cotton; however, it can also be made from silk, linen, polyester and other man-made fibers, or blends. (Fun fact: the very first terry weave was made from silk). Today, high-quality terry is typically made of cotton, because -- unlike other materials that weaken in water -- the absorbent fiber in cotton gets stronger when wet. In fact, cotton can absorb 20 to 30 times its own weight in water. The loop pile acts as a sponge while withstanding squeezing, pulling, rubbing, twisting and turning.

Thanks to its fantastic absorbency, cotton terry is a wonderful choice for towels, bath mats, bath robes, beach and pool towels. Terry towels can easily be dyed or printed, as well as decoratively embroidered. To help you navigate all the available options, Fine Linen and Bath is pleased to offer unlimited free fabric swatches so you can examine color, weight, and feel prior to ordering your luxury towels, robes, or bath mats.

Popular Styles of Terry Cloth Fabric

As we mentioned above, terry cloth is distinguished by uncut loops that extend up off the woven base of the fabric. These loops add extra surface to make the terry fluffy and extra absorbent. But not all terry is the same; along with variations in quality (more on that later) there are several different popular styles of terry:

Long Loop Terry: Maximum Absorbency

As the name says, long loop terry fabric has extra-long loops, which make it super luxurious and absorbent. A towel, bath mat, or bathrobe made of high quality long loop terry is a great investment and a top choice among our customers.

Long loop terry towel

Picture of the long loop terry Graccioza Egoist towel

Terry Velour: Great for Bath and Beach

While regular terry features loops on both sides of the fabric, terry velour has loops on just one side. The other side is cut short to make a velvety soft, smooth surface. This indulgent weave is often used in a textured pattern for luxury bath towels, but is also a popular style for luxury beach towels as well as bathrobes.

terry velour towel

Picture of the terry velour Abyss Montana towel

French Terry Cloth: A Sporty Weave

French terry is a knit fabric, also with loops only on one side. This style is used primarily for sweatshirts, casual clothing, and other knit sportswear as opposed to bath linen. This style terry is also seen sometimes on Turkish or Hamam beach towels where one side is woven with the other having a very short loop terry for added absorbency.

French terry beach towel

Picture of the french terry Matouk Amado beach towel

Low- and Zero-Twist Terry Towels: Fluffy and Light

‚ÄúLow twist‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúzero twist‚ÄĚ are two common terms you'll come across when shopping for luxury terry cloth bath linens. First let's talk about twist: in the spinning process, yarn is twisted to add strength and uniformity. A high twist yarn is very durable and substantial.

On the other hand, low- and zero-twist yarns are actually untwisted. These are made from long-staple cotton fibers, which are of the finest quality and inherently strong and durable. In other words, they don't require twisting for strength. Because they are twisted minimally or not at all much or at all, the fibers in these yarns have space between them and capture more air. This makes for a luxury towel that is super soft while being more light and fluffy. A low- or zero-twist towel feels wonderful to the touch and requires less drying time after use or washing.

Choosing a low- or zero-twist terry towel is a matter of personal preference. Our towel experts are happy to offer recommendations and insight, but we strongly suggest ordering swatch samples (or even purchasing washcloths or hand towels in a few styles) to get the specific ‚Äúfeel‚ÄĚ and color you want before investing in a full set of luxury terry towels.

Low or zero twist terry towel

Picture of a low or zero twist terry towel

Microcotton or Microfiber Towels: Super Light and Non-Abrasive

This terry is very lightweight and absorbent. Sometimes used for lightweight travel or high end hotel towels, microcotton is a non-abrasive fabric best suited for cleaning towels such as those you'd use to buff a car.

Understanding GSM in Terry Towels

The term GSM is often used while describing and differentiating terry cloth towels. Analogous to thread count for sheets, GSM is a measure of weight that means "grams per square meter" expressed as a number. GSM is aligned with a terry towel's quality, feel, and performance. In cotton bath towels the typical range is between 300 and 900 GSM -- with the higher GSM towels being heavier and more absorbent (as they contain more fabric).

However, GSM is only one variable and should not be considered in a vacuum. Heavier GSM towels may be soft and absorbent, but they can be challenging to wash and dry precisely because of their weight. The quality of fiber used, the weave, and the finishing also matter a great deal. A heavy GSM towel made from short-staple cotton that has been twisted will not be nearly as soft, fluffy, or absorbent as a lighter GSM towel made from extra-long-staple zero twist cotton. This is a particularly important distinction when you look at terry cloth towels from the big-box stores. These terry towels may advertise a high GSM, but the cotton and the workmanship are of low quality.

When purchasing a terry towel from Fine Linen and Bath, you can be certain that every brand we carry adheres to the strictest quality control through every phase of the manufacturing process, from sourcing only the finest quality cotton to weaving, finishing, and dyeing the towels. Again, this is why sampling the fabric is of the utmost importance.

How to Find Your Perfect Terry Towel

The towel experts at Fine Linen and Bath are available to discuss options for choosing your ideal terry cloth towel. You may find it helpful to consult our towel size guide, which outlines common terry towel sizes, describes their popular uses, and provides other general background. It's essential to remember that, along with size, your criteria in evaluating towels should include weight; feel; color preferences; and price range. If you call us, we'll discuss your preferences; make personalized recommendations; and send some complimentary swatch samples for your review. If you want to do more research, our includes many useful comparisons among various luxury towel brands such as Abyss and Graccioza, as well as features on the history and artistry of towel manufacturing such as this spotlight on the Towels of Portugal.

How to Care for Your Terry Towels

Fortunately, terry cloth towels are very easy to care for and can easily be laundered in your machine at home. With proper care, terry towels should last and retain their beauty and performance for years.

  • Use a laundry detergent specially made for fine linen.¬†We recommend Heritage Park All-Purpose Laundry Detergent. This is a pH-neutral formula that¬†contains a powerful blend of cleaning enzymes while being gentle on luxury fabric.
  • Wash towels before using. Sort your towels¬†¬†before washing by both color and weight. Wash towels separately from clothes and don't overload your machine.
  • Follow the care guidelines from your towel's manufacturer¬†(learn more about reading care labels here). Use bleach sparingly, if allowed, and only on a white towels or towel set. (Chlorine bleach should NEVER be used on any kind of colored towel. Use non-chlorine bleach if recommended on label).
  • Avoid fabric softener or any type of dryer sheet which can cause waxy build-up on towels. Dry towels using wool dryer balls instead.
  • Hang wet towels to dry between use to minimize mold and odor.¬†

Over time, even luxury towels can lose some of their softness and absorbency. This is usually due to the minerals in hard water. You can remove build-up and restore your towels to beauty and absorbency in two simple steps using baking soda and vinegar. Learn more about restoring and reviving towels here.

Fine Linen and Bath: 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. Browse our website to access an expansive collection of bedding, bath, table linens, and accessories from the world's premier brands.

When you need answers, consultation, or help to narrow your choices, our team of expert design consultants is here to assist you. 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'd love to get to know you!