In Praise of Turkish Towels

turkish vs. terry towel

Turkish towel above a terry towel of the same size. I like to store them rolled, as on top.

I’m done with terry cloth towels. They’re too bulky, take up too much space in the cupboard, the laundry basket and the washer. And while a soft fluffy towel warm out of the dryer is indisputably a very pleasant thing, a stiff, scratchy towel off the laundry line is not–and we do all of our drying by line.

Furthermore, I think the quality of terry towels is dropping in general. I’ve been very disappointed with my towels for years. The most recent ones began fraying after their a couple of washings. (They were from Target, FYI.  Serves me right, really.). Meanwhile, I have as exhibits of quality textiles one baby blue towel Erik brought into our relationship and which was a hand-me-down from his mother’s house. I know it must date from the 60’s or 70’s, due to its un-ironic raised paisley pattern. It reminds me very much of my childhood. And while it is worn around the edges, it is still strong and whole. I also have the bath towel my mom bought me to take to college, and while that towel does not date to the Nixon administration, it is older than I’d like to consider and still holding strong. These two venerable old towels I will be keeping, out of respect more than anything else. All the crappy new towels have to go, and they will be replaced with Turkish towels.

I’ve been using a couple of Turkish towels as my bath towels for a year or so now and I really like them. Turkish towels are thick woven cotton sheets. Lacking the tiny, thirsty loops of the terry cloth towels, they are not as instantly absorbent as terry, but they work—it just feels different on your body. After a few disconcerting  mornings spent missing terry, I grew used to them, and then fell in love. I love them because:

  • The are not as bulky as terry, so wrap and tie around the body more more easily
  • They roll up into neat little bundles and take up very little space in my bathroom cupboard
  • They dry more quickly than terry towels
  • They don’t hog the washer
  • They’re not heavy when wet
  • They dry quickly on the line and feel soft afterward
  • They make good beach towels, yoga towels, chair covers, picnic blankets, etc.
  • After a year of hard use they are showing no signs of wear.

Where do you get them? Well, one of mine I purchased online and one was a gift. Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that. I have seen them in a hipster boutique around here, which means I may be disconcertingly surfing the edge of some new artisanal towel trend. They are fairly expensive, but I think I’d rather have 4 of these guys and nothing else than a cabinet stuffed full of low quality terry. I expect they’ll last a long time.

Incidentally, those big white bar towels used for drying glassware– also called flour sack towels–make good hair and hand towels. If you have lots of long hair they probably will not be absorbent enough for you, but I like them for the same reasons I like the Turkish towels: they take up little space, they dry fast, they are well suited to line drying. They are also quite inexpensive.




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  1. I switched to Turkish towels a couple years ago, as well. They’re highly practical in the damp Pacific Northwest, as they dry very quickly. My favorite thing about them is just how beautiful they are, I’ve had friends switch over after seeing them. They are more expensive, but we have just two and wash them weekly with no problems. I also love the simplicity of flour sack towels, I use them for everything in the kitchen.

  2. I have a towel (Fielding)bought in 1970 and a matching wash cloth. They were expensive but obviously worth every penny. Granted, they are frayed and thin, but they held up longer than all the other towels I have bought since then. The last ones I bought at Walmart have holes in them! While I did buy the cheaper ones, I had no idea they were of such poor quality. There were really cheap ones, but they are still in the store.

    Several years ago I decided thin towels were better because they dry faster. They do take up less room in my new, smaller washer. I like the scratchy terry towels on my body! But, giving towels a snap before hanging it up and not leaving it too long outdoors will help a towel not be so rough.

    • You know, I believe Erik’s old blue towel is a Fieldcrest. Good tips on the line drying of terry, too — thanks!

    • I, too, prefer to hang towels outside and do not mind the scratchiness, but I live with a man who does not like this. I tried a number of different techniques and have found a compromise: I take the bath towels out of the washer and put them into the dryer for 2 minutes on high heat then hang them outside. They aren’t quite as soft as fully dryer-dried towels, but they’re close. It does not work the other way around (hanging outside and finishing in the dryer). This solution may not appeal to anti-dryer purists, but it has created peace in our household and that’s a good thing.

  3. yes! my “aha!” moment with towels was remembering watching olympic diving several years ago and how they toweled themselves off with teeny, thin hand-towel sized clothes after each dive. so why was i using these huge, thick things that took forever to dry, and were space hogs in the cabinet and water/soap etc in the wash? i bought a set of linen “tea towels” for myself, and haven’t looked back. they are just enough to get the surface water off, have a very slightly “exfoliating” feel to them, dry lightning fast, and washing a week’s worth of those doesn’t even merit a small load in the washer. i figure their purpose is to dry me off. if i want to luxuriate in the ‘spa’ feeling, that’s what a lovely bathrobe is for *after* towelling off. 😉

  4. My husband did not believe in having huge, heavy towels. He was an X Marine and he believed in using the wash cloth to get off most of the water, constantly wringing it out until he was nearly dry and then using a small hand towel to complete drying. To this day I do not have any huge towels except for a couple of beach towels for the grand kids to lay down on at the pool.

  5. I was excited about the idea of towels that looked nice and took up less space. My house is small and my linen storage is quite limited. I bought one towel to try and was super excited when it arrived. It made it less than three hours. My older dog has taken up a penchant for ripping up anything linen that I leave laying around. Why linen, I’m not sure. I didn’t even think about the towel. I went out to run errands and came back to find it chewed in multiple places. (sob) I just accepted its fate and threw it in her crate as an extra blanket…

    • Oh no!!! The things we put up for love of our dogs. I still have a vivid vision of our late dog as a pup running laps around our backyard, joyous, with my well-chewed bonsai tree clamped in his jaw, roots on one side, twisted branches on the other. Now I laugh at the memory, mostly because he was so damn gleeful.

    • No–I get that. The same way I like the cheapest, scratchiest washcloths I can find.

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