Best Hand Towels of 2020
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 hand towels. These towels will not only spruce up your bathroom but also ranked highest in our side-by-side tests. They 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 are soft, smooth, and durable, plus they add a little flair to bathrooms and even kitchens. We found them to be soft right out of the box, with no strange smell or break-in period, which is an added plus.
Honestly, it's hard for us to find anything wrong with these towels. From their design to their drying speed to their texture, 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. Compared to some of the other options we compared that are available in packs of 24, this could be a bit of a downside, if quantity is a concern for you.
The Cleanbear towel set are utilitarian towels 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 towel that we would reach for to soothe our skin after a facial. Quick-drying and relatively absorbent, considering their thickness. The thin-ness of these towels comes in to play concerning their absorption rate. Here, they absorbed water quickly but also allowed water to pass through them and soak the surface beneath — not a huge deal, but something to note. In most situations, though, these towels are entirely sufficient. They feel great and hold up after multiple washes. We were happy to find that there was little to no pilling after their initial trip through the washing machine.
The Cleanbear's biggest downfalls are the towels' thickness and lack of loft. Plus, the dimensions of these hand towels could seem a bit meager when compared to 30 x 40-inch behemoths that can also be found in this review. The Cleanbear towels are a bit diminutive at a mere 13 x 23 inches. Considering their affordable price tag and durability, though, these this set undoubtedly took the cake for our Best Buy winner.
If softness is what you're after, the White Classic Luxury hand towel 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 simply 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 for both hand towels and face towels, and found them to be great for both uses.
Though the White Classic's are up there with some of the most absorbent hand towels in this review, they fell a bit short in our drying time competition. The White Classic took much longer to dry than many of the other top-performing towels in this review, which surprised us considering their relatively thin feel. Even a full day after washing, we found that these towels still had a bit of lingering dampness to them.
Our Top Pick for lightweight comfort, the Wealuxe Cotton towel set excels as a basic, soft hand towel with no frills. This product is super soft and supple and remains so even after many trips through the wash. It dries quickly, due to its light weave and thin nature. It also did fairly well in our absorbency tests.
Some folks may be a bit disappointed by the size and overall feel of this set, since its fairly thin and flimsy. Many of the Turkish cotton options in this review faired better than this lightweight one. 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 overall high performing in all other metrics.
Perhaps you're used to stepping out of the shower and into a massive, plush, bath sheet that wraps you in warmth and coziness, and you can't imagine your hands going through the same transition without a similar, complimentarily cozy towel experience. If that's the case, then the Superior hand towel set is most certainly for you. These towels are luxury for your hands. Soft, dense material encases your hands, or face, for an indulgent drying experience. Their thick, soft feel also means that these towels are incredibly durable. The Superior set will surely last you years, as we saw no signs of wear at all during our test period.
The downside to all this loft, fluff, and softness is that these towels take forever to dry. Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but compared to some of the other towels we tested that dried completely in around 30 minutes, we were fairly surprised to find the Superior Towels still feel damp almost 24 hours past their time in the wash. We also found that these towels had a hard time absorbing water — perhaps because their weave was so dense. These cons are not a huge deal 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.
The plus side to the Utopia Salon towels is that they are incredibly quick-drying. These towels were a few moments behind our fastest-drying towel in our side-by-side air-drying tests. Additionally, we found these salon towels to be very soft, though they were thin. One more aspect of these towels is that they come in a massive pack of 24. This can be both a pro and a con, depending on what your use is. 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 over the course of our testing period. These issues mostly had to do with durability, as these towels ended up shedding quite a bit after the first wash, and continued to leave black fuzzies all over the place whenever we had them out.
Our biggest praise for the Qute Home 100% Turkish hand towel set is their absorbency skills. The weave of these towels was just right for maximum absorption — not too thin as 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 that the water absorbed 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 common among most towels.
Though they absorbed water quickly, they seemed to have a hard time actually drying out. This meant that though they felt relatively dry on the line after 30 minutes, the Qute towels had patchy wet spots that lingered for hours after their initial wash. The second major downside to these towels is their texture. Now, this metric is certainly subjective, but we have dried our hands on a lot towels. We found the Qute towels 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, or 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 serious 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 live in a time of frequent hand washing, which provided plenty of opportunities to test the performance of these models thoroughly. 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 a hand towel's main function? Well, texture, of course, is the main, and most subjective, feature of a towel to assess. So, a hand towel is meant to absorb water, dry out, and feel soft, time after time throughout the day, right? That means our biggest categories to test were absorption speed and quality, drying time, and texture. We assessed their texture by asking our friends and housemates to get their hands on these towels to get a wide range of impressions on their textures. Next, we tested drying time by throwing them in the wash, 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 surface of the towel. 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 that hard, evidence-based facts. To help us rate these hand towels in terms of their overall feel, we wrangled as many hand-washers as we could 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 also our Editors' Choice award winner, the Smyrna Original Turkish hand towels. These towels have a unique weave that adds texture where you want it, while still providing softness. It felt like the cotton used in these towels 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 towels were close behind, providing a similar feel at an affordable price. The Superior CL 900GSM is certainly soft, but is also very thick and luxurious, if that's more your speed.
To test drying time, we threw a handful of hand towels into the wash, took them out wet, and immediately hung them on a drying line outside. Now, remember that our current testing conditions mean that it's 100-degrees in Bishop, California, about as dry as it gets. These towels dried relatively quickly in general. 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 towels 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. This towel was pretty much fully dry after 30 minutes on the line. Shortly behind was the Utopia Salon towel, which dried after 40 minutes in the sun. This makes sense, as this was one of the smallest and thinnest hand towels we tested. Following short behind were the Cleanbear and Wealuxe towels, which dried at similar speeds and also have very similar weaves. Not surprisingly, some of the softest towels, both the Superior and the White Classic, took a while to dry, with a touch of dampness lingering well into the following day.
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.
Here, it seemed like the towels that had medium-thickness weaves 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 towels, 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. This way, 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 shed 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 towels 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 towels also had a bit of fuzzy residue that spread around our testing station. In terms of unraveling, the only towel that had 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 really 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 picks all have a great balance of attributes to keep you feeling fresh.
— Jane Jackson