Welcome back to Bath Restyle 101, a design series where we work together to give your bath a spa-level restyle.
Our last lesson covered the very broad topic of accessorizing your bath for a spa-like feel. I discussed various accessory options to consider; talked about making the most of available surface space; and touched on the visual appeal of odd numbers of objects in groupings. The lesson was not meant to be overly comprehensive; its purpose was to offer ideas and guidelines for accessorizing your bath. At the end I briefly touched on the topic of towels, which are today’s featured subject and a personal passion for me. There’s a lot to learn about luxury spa towels, so prepare to absorb lots of information (see what I did there?).
If you’re like most people, when you imagine your favorite spa, soft, fluffy towels are among the first things that come to mind. And that’s with good reason: elegant spas know how to do towels right. A great spa towel is beautiful, thick, luxurious, and absorbent. It feels wonderful to touch and even better wrapped around your body.
But you don’t need to visit an expensive spa to get that indulgent feel. With a little knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the best spa-quality towel to use in your bathroom at home. Today’s lesson is really a primer in understanding the world of luxury bath towels. I’m here to provide a brief overview of important topics like towel material, weave, weight, size, and color. With this knowledge, you can confidently choose the best “spa style” towel for your needs. We’ll also cover a bit about towel care to help you get the most out of your investment in towels.
While beautiful towels are available in many materials, including bamboo and microfiber, I firmly believe that, when it comes to spa-level luxury, 100% cotton is the way to go. Cotton fiber is known for its softness, strength, and absorbency. To ensure you are purchasing a towel made of high-quality cotton, I recommend purchasing a towel made of Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton.
Egyptian cotton is grown to exacting specifications in a unique, fertile, climate. When ready for harvest, each “boll” is carefully picked by hand from the cotton plant to protect the integrity of the fiber. (Note: you may also see the term “Giza Cotton”, which is a superior strain of Egyptian cotton grown in the Giza valley of the Nile River).
Pima cotton is high-quality cotton, often sold under the brand name Supima, is grown in the American Southwest.
Egyptian and Pima cotton are known for having long- and extra-long-staples, which are the cotton fibers. This contributes to the softness and strength of the cotton and helps to resist pilling. I recommend carefully reading the label on any cotton towel you are considering purchasing, and paying close attention to the specific type of cotton used.
As you peruse labels, you may also see terms like “organic,” GOTS, and OEKO-TEX. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent third-party certification of the entire textile supply chain. The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification means that the product has been tested against a list of over 400 harmful substances. Both of these are independent certifications that give consumers confidence in textiles. Many luxury towels will carry one of these certifications.
While everyone’s budget varies, I strongly suggest investing in quality towels made from fine cotton. You will discover that many luxury towels are made in Portugal, which has a rich textile tradition, with Egyptian cotton. Higher-quality cotton such as Pima and Egyptian will be more costly, but will feel better and last longer than budget or big-box brands. It is better to purchase fewer, high-quality towels and add to your collection as your finances allow.
Featured Bath Towels - Left: Graccioza Bee Waffle Right: Abyss Twill
When it comes to spa-style towels, the most popular weave is loop or long-loop terry. While the term “terry” is often used synonymously with towel, terry is actually a style of weave with uncut loops (“pile”) that stand up off the base, or ground, on both sides of the fabric. This increases the towel’s surface area, enhances absorbency, and helps maintain a soft feel. Most terry cloth can absorb as much as 20x its weight in water.
With that in mind, terry is not the only option for spa-style towels. You can also find luxurious towels in textured weaves such as twill and waffle. These towels are invigorating to the touch and feel. Because they are lighter in weight, they are slightly less absorbent than terry or long loop terry, they will dry more quickly as well.
Towel weight is measured in GSM, or “grams per square meter.” Years ago, few manufacturers mentioned GSM. Today, it has become used in a similar way to thread count in luxury bedding. Like thread count, GSM is a number that correlates to a towel’s quality: absorbency, feel, and performance. The typical industry range for cotton bath towels is between 300 and 900 GSM -- with the higher GSM towels being heavier, softer, and typically more absorbent. I recommend choosing at least a 550 GSM towel, which is of medium weight and absorbency (for example, the twill or waffle weaves I talked about above). For a heavier luxury towel, choose between 700 and 900 GSM which will be soft, absorbent, and plush (for example, long loop terry).
Towel size is truly a matter of personal preference. You may opt to accessorize with a set of towels hung together on a bar; this would include a bath towel, hand towel, and wash cloth. In this case, look for a brand and style towel that has a wide range of size options. I would also suggest treating yourself to an oversized bath sheet in whatever towel style you choose; my clients often describe these as being wrapped in a hug after a bath or shower. No matter their size, towels can be hung, rolled or folded into an attractive display.
Featured Bath Towels - Left: Matouk Lotus Right: Peacock Alley Nantucket
You will never go wrong with high-quality white cotton towels, which provide a clean, pristine, and stylish look. In recent years, however, I’ve had many clients move into using neutral or darker colored towels in their spa baths. For example: khaki, wheat, gray, and even navy can all add to the spa look. You may even choose to accent with a deeper jewel-toned towel. These are all fine and will work beautifully. Your spa bathroom is not the place, however, for pastels, patterns, prints, or bold colors. Keep your palette neutral with minimal competing tones to achieve the relaxed spa look.
With proper care, high-quality bath towels will last a long time. Unless they are dirty, washing your bath towels every day is not necessary. Read and follow the care guidelines on your towels. Sort by color and weight, and launder towels with a gentle detergent made for luxury fabric. It may surprise you to read, but I recommend NEVER using fabric softener or dryer sheets on your bath towels; these products deposit a waxy layer onto the towel fibers that causes the towel to lay flat and lose absorbency. To soften towels and speed drying time, use a set of pure wool dryer balls. Also avoid using bleach, unless the care instructions specifically say it is okay. Dry towels on low heat to preserve the cotton fiber, and never iron them.
Over time, even the finest quality towels will lose a bit of their luster and absorbency and even begin to smell a bit musty -- it is time to revive your bath towels. This is typically caused by mineral build-up from hard water. You can strip your towels of this residue and leave them feeling soft, fluffy and smelling fresh with these simple steps:
I know we’ve covered a lot about towels today, but there is a lot to learn. You now have the expertise to choose the best spa-like towels for your bath! In our next lesson, we will wrap up with one of my other favorite topics: rugs and floor coverings!
Founder and Lead Designer, Fine Linen and Bath