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Tips for Towel Shopping

For most people, shopping for bath linens typically involves trying to find the right colors to match the bathroom tile work. But learning a few tips and knowing the basics about terry cloth, gram weight, fiber-type and yes, even color - can help turn the casual consumer into a near expert on bath linens.

Terry cloth is by far the most common towel material. It is a pile fabric, meaning it consists of cut or looped fibers that stand up close to one another on the surface of the underlying woven (or knit) material.

Other examples of pile fabric include velvet, chenille and fleece. Most rugs and carpet are pile as well. Uncut loops make the thirstiest terry, because the looped part of the fiber is the most absorbent.

Typically, the longer the loops, the more absorbent the fabric. Sheared terry cloth, while incredibly soft, will not soak up as much moisture. Many bathrobes and some towels are looped terry on one side, sheared terry on the other.

Gram weight refers to how many grams per square meter a towel weighs. Towels made from densely woven loops will feel thirstier and have a higher gram weight. Longer loops make for fluffy towels.

Generally, a towel of 600 gram weight or more is considered plush - anything upwards of 700 and 800 gram weight is luxury hotel quality. Consumers should keep in mind, however, that a 600 gram weight towel made from exceptional cotton or microfiber may feel better than a heavier towel made with a cheaper cotton.

The type of material used in the towel fabric is also very important. Turkish and Egyptian cottons are the industry gold standard, as the long-stapled fibers result in softer, stronger and more lustrous material.

Occasionally "Turkish towel" is used synonymously with "terry cloth" and may not necessarily be made out of Turkish cotton, (terry cloth originated from Turkey). In recent years, microfiber has become a popular material for towels.

Microfiber is twice as fine as silk and both softer and more absorbent than regular cotton. Because of the lightweight and ultra absorbent nature of microfiber, gram weight is a less reliable indicator of quality.

Towels come in all sizes and colors, but it may surprise shoppers to learn that the lighter the color, the softer the towel will probably be. Cotton that has been dyed a deep, rich color must go through an involved process that can leave the cotton yarns slightly less soft than their less-extensively dyed counterparts.

Extra washings should help soften them up. Microfiber towels like those made from modal take dye readily and well, so even the darkest or brightest colors remain very soft. Care should be taken to wash these towels in warm, not hot, water.

Heather Young, Vice President and buyer for Linenplace.com, an online luxury online bedding store retailer, has a couple washing tips to offer customers:

  • Never use dryer sheets or fabric softener when washing towels - most of them are made with wax or silicones, which are water-repelling by nature. It might feel like you're trying to dry yourself off with a plastic bag.
  • Always wash your new towels before using them - this will remove extra dye, lint and other coatings left over from the manufacturing process.
  • My secret to fresh-smelling towels is a half or full cup of baking soda added to the wash cycle.
  • "And to keep towels extra fluffy, simply shake them when they come out of the dryer," Ms. Young adds.

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