Best Hand Towels of 2021
Sometimes, it can be disappointing to find out that the coolest-looking product falls short in performance, but we were happy to discover that this was not the case with the Smyrna Original Turkish set. Not only will these towels spruce up your bathroom's aesthetics, but they also ranked highest in our side-by-side tests. The Smyrna hand towel is absorbent, quick-drying, and soft. We loved the unique weave of these towels, which provides texture that dries hands quickly and soaks up water. They add a little flair to bathrooms and even kitchens while being soft, smooth, and durable. Right out of the box, we found them to be soft, without any strange smells or break-in period, which is an added plus.
It's hard to find any complaints about these stunners. From their design to their texture to their drying speed, the Smyrna Originals impressed. The only aspect of these towels that may be a concern is the durability of the tassels and the fact that they only come in a set of two. Some of the other options we compared are available in packs of up to 24. If you need a higher quantity, we'd look to one of the multi-pack options.
The Cleanbear towels are utilitarian products masked by a pastel color pallet. They are soft but thin. We found their feel to be sufficient for drying our hands, but perhaps not the first thing we'd reach for to soothe our skin after a facial. They are quick-drying and relatively absorbent. The thin material made these towels absorb water quickly, soaking whatever surface they were set on. In most situations, though, this basic product is entirely sufficient. They feel great and hold up after multiple washes. We were pleased to find that there was little to no pilling after their initial trip through the washing machine.
The Cleanbear's biggest downfalls are their lack of thickness and loft. Plus, their dimensions could seem a bit meager compared to some of these 30 x 40-inch behemoths that we tested. The Cleanbear towels are a bit diminutive at a mere 13 x 23 inches. Given their affordable price tag and durability, though, this set undoubtedly earns its place as a great budget option.
If softness is what you're after, the White Classic Luxury set is for you. This set is soft and plush, without feeling too thick and retaining water. If you have sensitive skin, or even if you prioritize texture, the White Classic is a good choice. Additionally, we found that they seemed to get softer with each wash, breaking in to have a supple, homey texture. They are a great size — not too big to seem bulky hanging on a hook, but small enough to be compact easy to store. We used these as both hand and face towels and found them to be great for both uses.
Though the White Classics are up there with some of the most absorbent products in this review, they fell a bit short in our drying time competition. The White Classic took much longer to dry than many other top-performing towels in this review, which surprised us considering their relatively thin feel. Even a full day after washing, we found that they still had a bit of lingering dampness to them.
The Wealuxe Cotton set excels as a basic, soft hand towel with no frills. Even after many trips through the wash, the product remains super soft and supple. Due to its light weave and thin nature, it dries quickly, and it also fared well in our absorbency tests.This set is fairly thin and flimsy, so some folks may be a bit disappointed by the size and overall feel. Many Turkish cotton options in this review faired better than this lightweight one since they tended to have a bit more loft and a better feel. The other major issue with the Wealuxe is that it sheds a ton in the wash. This is a significant durability issue, but it doesn't take away from the fact that these are super soft and perform well across all other metrics.
Perhaps you're used to stepping out of the shower and into a massive, plush bath towel that envelops you in warmth and coziness, and you can't imagine your hands going through the same transition without a similarly cozy experience. If so, check out the Superior Egyptian Cotton set — they are pure luxury for your hands. Soft, dense material encases your hands (or face) for an indulgent drying experience. Their thick, soft feel also means that this set is incredibly durable. During our test period, we saw no signs of wear. We imagine that the Superior set will last for years.
The downside to all this loft, fluff, and softness is that they seem to take forever to dry. Compared to some of the other towels we tested that dried completely in around 30 minutes, we were fairly surprised to find that roughly 24 hours after pulling them out of the wash, the Superior towels still felt damp. We also found that these towels had a hard time absorbing water — perhaps because their weave was so dense. If you have the patience to let the towels dry and use them for smaller drying tasks rather than wiping up counter-wide water spills, these cons may not be a big deal.
The plus side to the Utopia Salon set is that they are incredibly quick-drying. In our side-by-side air-drying tests, these towels were a few moments behind our fastest-drying towel. Additionally, even though these salon towels are thin, we found them to be very soft. One more thing to note is that they come in a massive pack of 24. Depending on what your use is, this can be both a pro and a con. For home use, we found this product to be a bit confusing in terms of its application. The towels are so small that they seem to fall somewhere between a hand towel and a washcloth, making them hard to hang up as you would a traditional hand towel.
A few more concerns popped up for us throughout our testing period. Most of these issues had to do with durability, as even after our first wash, they ended up shedding quite significantly and continued to leave black fuzzies all over the place.
Our biggest praise for the Qute Home 100% Turkish set is their absorbency skills. The weave of these towels was just right for maximum absorption — not too thin to have water go straight through, but not so thick that water just beads up on the surface. When we sprayed these towels with our official absorption testing spray bottle, we found the water to absorb right away. Additionally, their relatively thick material made the Qute towels quite durable overall. We noticed a few threads start to unravel around the edges, but this seems to be a common "thread" among most towels.
Though they absorbed water quickly, when drying out, they seemed to have a hard time. This meant that even if they felt relatively dry after being on the line for 30 minutes, the Qute had patchy wet spots that lingered for hours after their initial wash. The texture on these towels was its second major downside. Now, this metric is certainly subjective, but we have dried our hands on a lot of towels. We found the Qute set to feel rough and almost abrasive to the hand.
Why You Should Trust Us
Beginning with bath towels and now moving on to the more refined world of hand towels, our lead towel tester, Jane Jackson, has developed a keen eye and a keen feel for cotton towels of all shapes and sizes. Assessing the performance of fabrics is Jane's bread and butter. Though she typically can be found putting her skills to use in an outdoor setting, she has found that the indoor testing lab allows for serious attention to detail and testing protocols.
With this background, Jane took to the internet for some serious online research. After significant consideration and lots of reading, including learning how to perform an official absorbency test via YouTube, we honed in on the top 7 hand towel sets available online. Luckily, we were provided plenty of opportunities to test the performance of these models thoroughly since we live in a time of frequent hand washing. We dried our hands, face, and bathroom countertops to test these towels' ability to absorb water and air dry. We also kept meticulous notes of their overall texture and durability, both of which have been known to change over time. Through this, we present to you the top picks (and our least favorites) to help you narrow in on the best hand towels for your needs.
Analysis and Test Results
To kick things off, we first had to brainstorm. What are the make-or-break aspects of a hand towel, and what is its main function? Texture, of course, is the main (and most subjective) feature of a towel to assess. A hand towel is meant to absorb water, dry out, and feel soft, time after time throughout the day. That means our biggest categories to test were absorption speed, quality, drying time, and texture. We assessed their texture by asking our friends and housemates to get their hands on these products to get a wide range of impressions on their textures. Next, we tested drying time by throwing them in the wash and then hanging them out to dry with a timer going. To test each towel's absorbency, we sprayed them with a spray bottle and observed how the water reacted to the towel's surface. Finally, to assess durability, we considered the overall performance of each towel as they performed their daily duties of hanging, drying, and being washed.
Our findings here are more based on polling than hard, evidence-based facts. To help us rate these products in terms of their overall feel, we wrangled as many hand-washers as possible to help us get a feel for what makes one towel excel in this metric and what makes another fall short. We consider the weave and fabric thickness in this metric, as well as how each towel feels both when wet and when dry.
Our absolute favorite in this metric was the Smyrna Original Turkish set. These towels have a unique weave that adds texture where you want it while still providing softness. It felt like the cotton that made up the weave on this product was just softer than many of the more traditional towels we tested. Following the Smyrna towel is the White Classic Luxury set, which is soft, light, and fluffy. This towel just feels good in the hands. We also like using this one after washing our faces, since it feels so gentle. The Cleanbear set was close behind, providing a similar feel at an affordable price. The Superior Egyptian Cotton is certainly soft but is also very thick and luxurious, if that's more your speed.
To test drying time, we threw all the products into the wash, took them out wet, and immediately hung them on a drying line outside. Our current testing conditions of 100-degrees in Bishop, California, are about as dry as it gets. In general, these towels dried relatively quickly. We checked back in on their progress after 30 minutes and again after another 15 minutes had passed (at 45 minutes). We rated each towel on a scale of "basically dry" to "slightly damp" to "mostly damp." Most were nearly dry after 45 minutes, though when we brought them inside, a few continued to feel damp overnight.
The fastest-drying towel in our review was, again, a shining star of a hand towel, the Smyrna Original Turkish. After 30 minutes on the line, this towel was pretty much entirely dry. Shortly behind was the Utopia Salon, which dried after 40 minutes in the sun. This makes sense, as this was one of the smallest and thinnest options we tested. Following just behind were the Cleanbear and Wealuxe, which dried at similar speeds and also have very similar weaves. Not surprisingly, some of the softest towels, the Superior and the White Classic, took a while to dry, with a touch of dampness lingering well into the following day. These towels are bulky and thick, making for a soft feel but a slow drying time.
We refined our absorbency tests for this review and found through internet research that there is a standardized test for assessing a fabric's ability to absorb water. This involves taking a spray bottle and spraying the fabric with water while observing what happens to the water. Does it pool on top? Does it absorb right away? How much does the water spread after 30 seconds? From these questions, and trial and error, we learned that typically, towels with a looser weave absorb water better than those with a tight weave. Sometimes, though, towels that are too thin allow water to leak through to the surface beneath, which is not ideal either.
In general, it seemed like those with a medium-thickness weave absorbed water the best. Thick, luxurious towels like the Superior set saw water bead on the surface without absorbing into the material at all. Super thin towels, like the Utopia Salon set, saw water bead on the surface as well. We liked the performance of the Cleanbear, Wealuxe, and Smyrna since they all absorbed water quickly and didn't allow for much moisture to pass through to the surfaces beneath.
Our main durability test is to put the towels through the wash a few times. Through this, we can see how the fabric holds up, especially to see if there is any fuzziness that appears. This test can also be a good way to see if the seams hold up. We made notes of any unraveling or pilling that occurred with each wash. We also wanted to make sure that the fabric itself held up over time. The worst thing in the world of bath towels is a towel that gets stiffer with each wash. Overall, all the towels in this review held up very well to our various durability assessments. Most of the criticism here is fairly nitpicky.
The biggest disappointment with a new towel is discovering that it has scattered thousands of tiny colored pieces of fabric on all the other items in the laundry after its first wash. Luckily, this only happened with one of the products in this review — the Wealuxe Cotton set. We had fuzzy white towel balls all over the other towels after its initial wash. The Utopia Salon set also had a bit of fuzzy residue that spread around our testing station. In terms of unraveling, the only towel with any signs of a durability issue here was the Qute Home 100% Turkish. We noticed a few seams start to shed threads after its first wash.
As you can see, we have gotten into the weeds here in the world of towels. Hopefully, this review has directed you toward the perfect hand towel to fit your specific needs. The towels in this review cover a wide range of styles, textures, sizes, and colors. Each one excels in some departments while falling a bit short in others, but our top choices all have a great balance of attributes to keep you feeling fresh.
— Jane Jackson