Understanding GSM in towels: Your guide to buying the best bath towel

GSM is one of the most important terms to understand when shopping for bath and beach towels. Here at Fine Linen and Bath, we regularly field calls from clients asking us to explain GSM, and we’re always happy to provide insight.

Used for both cotton and bamboo fabric, GSM is a measure of weight that means "grams per square meter" expressed as a number. GSM is directly aligned with a towel’s quality, 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.

Luxury spa and hotel towels, for example, are often made from the highest GSM cotton fabric; they are incredibly thick and soft, but can be challenging to wash at home because they are so heavy. Understanding the various qualities and benefits of GSM or grams per square meter can help you choose the perfect bathroom towels that feel great; perform well; and are easy to care for.

What GSM (grams per square meter) means for towels

GSM is a universal standard for calculating and comparing the weight of all fabric, including cotton towels. It is derived by precisely measuring the weight of one square meter of any fabric in grams.The typical range for cotton bath towels is between 300 to 900 GSM, with the upper end of the range feeling softer and more absorbent.

To put these numbers in perspective, the GSM of a lightweight cotton shirt or summer dress would fall in the low- to mid-100s. Denim fabric has a GSM somewhere around 400. A heavyweight wool coat or blanket would measure about 700 GSM. Cotton fabric with higher GSM is a denser with a greater concentration of fibers; this is why GSM correlates with quality when it comes to bath towels. A high GSM denotes luxury. The towel will be fluffy, soft, absorbent, and heavy.

The importance of high GSM in towels

High GSM is a mark of quality in cotton towels. In general, a cotton bath towel that weighs 400 GSM and above is considered to be good quality. The fabric in these soft 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, thinner, coarser
  • 400 to 600 GSM: Medium weight, soft and absorbent, good for bath or beach towels
  • 600 to 900 GSM: Heavy, soft and absorbent, high-priced, luxury bath towel

When shopping for cotton bath towels, begin by looking in the 400 to 600 GSM range. These towels are considered medium-weight, which makes them ideal for bath and beach. They should be soft and absorbent, and also easy to care for. Move on to higher GSM for towels that are thicker, plush, and even more absorbent.

As you’re evaluating GSM also consider whether you prefer a towel or a bath sheet. Bath towels are ideal for everyday use and offer the same absorbency as a bath sheet (assuming they are from the same brand and product line). Bath towels are often displayed in a set and can easily be folded, which makes them perfect for smaller bathrooms and guest bathrooms. A bath sheet is much larger than a bath towel; it’s designed to wrap around your entire body comfortably. Because of their size, bath sheets don’t fit on standard towel racks and usually require hooks for hanging.

GSM is directly aligned  with a towel's quality, feel, and performance

The benefit of higher GSM towels

The GSM number directly correlates to the quality of a cotton bath towel. Towels with a higher GSM are softer, more absorbent, and more luxurious. In most cases, they are also more expensive. A low GSM bath towel will be lightweight, coarse, and unabsorbent; using this type of towel is an unpleasant experience and not effective for drying off.

Here at Fine Linen and Bath, we typically recommend choosing a cotton bath towel of 400 GSM and above. A towel in the 400 to 600 GSM range is considered mid-weight, but still of high quality. These towels offer consistent, reliable performance and a wonderful feel; they are soft and absorbent without being too heavy. This means they can air dry relatively quickly, and can easily be washed and dried in a regular load.

A towel of 700 GSM and above is considered heavy weight. These towels have a sumptuous, extravagant, soft towel feel, and are an investment. They are hefty, highly absorbent, and rich in depth and feel. High GSM towels are better at absorbing dyes during the manufacturing process, so are often available in a wider or more interesting choice of colors along with traditional white and ivory. Because of their weight, towels with high GSM take longer to hang dry, and usually must be washed in a smaller load by themselves.

Characteristic of Different Weights of Towels

 

Weight

Absorbency

Feel

Dry Time

Cost

Under 300 GSM

Light, flimsy

Not absorbent

Coarse and uncomfortable

Quick

$

400 to GSM

Mid-weight, hefty

Very absorbent

Soft and fluffy

Average, relatively easy to wash and dry

$$

700 to 900 GSM

Heavy weight, spa-like

Super absorbent

Softest feel, plush and opulent

Longer dry time, takes up room in washer/dryer

$$$

 

In all cases, quality cotton bath towels should be laundered with care to keep them looking and feeling great. At Fine Linen and Bath, we offer a specific set of guidelines that include using a fabric wash specially formulated for fine linens; avoiding fabric softener; washing and drying carefully; and refreshing towels when needed with a regimen using one wash with white vinegar and a second wash of baking soda.

Where to find high GSM bath towels

At Fine Linen and Bath, we sell only the finest bath towels with mid-to high-GSM counts. Our best-selling product lines include Abyss, SFERRA, Matouk, Graciozza and Winter Park, each of which feature a range of towels in varying weights, patterns, styles and colors.

Beyond just GSM, another essential variable to consider is the quality of the cotton from which a towel is woven. The finest towels in the world—and many of the lines we carry -- are made from either Giza cotton (famous for it extra long staple cotton fibres) or Supima cotton (also referred to as pima cotton), specialty long-staple cottons that come from Egypt and the United States, respectively. Fabric woven from long-staple -- or long-fiber -- cotton is stronger, softer and more resistant to pilling and wear than other types of cotton.

Giza is a high-quality Egyptian cotton grown along the Nile River Delta, where nutrient-rich waters of the of the river and cool sea air serve to temper the otherwise hot Egyptian summer temperatures. High levels in this area create a unique environment that is perfect for growing cotton. To ensure its quality and preserve the strength of its long fibers, all Giza cotton is picked by hand rather than being machine harvested.

Supima cotton is a superior type of cotton grown only in the west and southwest states of California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. It is a superior type of cotton with an extra-long staple fiber that gives premium properties of strength, softness, and color retention.

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