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Best towels 2022: The finest bathroom, beach and gym towels from just £7

Find your perfect mix of practicality and luxury with our buying guide and top picks

What could possibly be complicated about buying a towel? A fair bit, actually. That fluffy fabric sheet needs to work for you on several levels: it needs to dry you off quickly, not shed whilst doing so, offer softness and comfort, look good in your bathroom, wash well in the machine, and last for years.

All that before we even get to considering personal taste. Some people prefer a heavy, thick-piled bath sheet in which to envelope themselves (and/or their kids). Others favour a lightweight towel to stick in their gym bag, or a contemporary waffle-knit that looks stylish and dries quickly. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to towels.

So, for this review, we’ve picked six towels that fit those differing needs, from beach towels that make a statement to a more classic style for bathroom comfort. Before we reveal our favourites, here are our tips to ensure you make a top-notch towel purchase.

Best towels: At a glance

How to choose the best towel for you

Do I really need different towels for the bathroom, gym and beach?

Yes. A big, fluffy hotel-style towel will add a touch of luxury to your bathroom but will be too cumbersome to take to the gym; even more so to bring back home when it’s damp. So here’s a quick towel-type summary.

Bath towels need to be absorbent and comfortable. They should add a touch of style to your bathroom, but also need to be long-lasting and machine-wash well without taking an age to dry. Your best bet is a towel set that includes a sheet for bath time, plus a few smaller hand towels that offer a balance of softness, quick drying and durability.

Gym towels need to be light and superfast at drying. Go for a waffle knit, terry towel or microfibre towel that’s thin enough to wrap around your hair – and to bundle into your bag. Some towels even have antibacterial properties to help prevent odour, ensuring your drying-off experience is as un-smelly as it can be when you’re sharing a changing room with 50 stinky strangers.

Beach towels should be big enough to lie on and robust enough to machine-wash at high temperatures to remove all the gunk they accumulate. Avoid fluffy piles and go for a terry or mat-style jacquard (patterned) weave instead. Don’t skimp here – a cheap and colourful beach towel will shed bits all over your suncream. Machine-wash before you travel to be on the safe side.

READ NEXT: The best bags for your trip to the beach

What materials are best for towels?

Cotton is the default choice for a decent towel. Unless you’re buying a special travel towel for the gym or backpacking, go for 100% cotton. Cheap cotton-alternative synthetic fabrics won’t be as absorbent, comfortable or durable.

Nearly all the towels in our best buy list are made from standard cotton – rather than the traditionally luxurious Egyptian or Turkish cotton, or US Supima (“pima”) cotton, which have longer, stronger fibres than standard cotton. Modern, low-twist (or zero-twist) weaving techniques enable manufacturers to make standard cotton just as fluffy, absorbent and deep as Egyptian cotton, but at a more affordable price.

Microfibre and similar specialist synthetic mixes such as Hydrofiber and SoftFibre are designed for lightness and fast-drying practicality, making them perfect for backpackers. Microfibre is the closest in texture to cotton and can be woven in terry-style loops, just like a traditional towel.

Bamboo and other natural fibres, such as hemp and linen, also pop up in towels. Bamboo is especially suitable for towels because it’s very light and durable – and eco-friendly to boot.

READ NEXT: The best reusable coffee cups for the eco-conscious

Does it matter how the material is woven?

Yes – arguably more than the choice of material itself. Most towels have a pile weave (tufts), instead of terry (towelling, or the one with loops). Pile is softer, but it does shed fluff more than terry. Laundering pile towels a few times should help get rid of any bits. Washing also makes towels more absorbent because it gets rid of any leftover fabric softeners that manufacturers use to make towels feel soft in shops.

Terry towelling isn’t as soft as pile, but it’s more practical because it dries much faster. Some folk prefer its more textured feel, which gives you a more thorough wipedown than soft pile. “Luxury” towels tend to be pile rather than terry, but which you go for is largely a matter of taste.

Newer towel weaves, such as waffle, are becoming increasingly popular. Waffle weave looks great and gives you an even better massage than terry as you towel yourself down. The textured weave means a waffle towel can be quite lightweight without feeling “thin”, which is good for its eco-credentials, plus it means it dries out fast.

What does “gsm” mean and why does it matter?

The more densely woven a towel is, the softer and more absorbent it will be. That denseness is measured in “gsm”, which stands for grams per square metre. Manufacturers will make a big deal out of high gsm, but a well-made 400gsm waffle towel is more durable, practical and faster-drying than a 750gsm slab of fluffy pile.

If you want a thick, luxurious, blanket-style cosy bath sheet, go for 600gsm or even 700gsm-plus. At the top end, it will take some time to dry out, so bear that in mind if you share a busy bathroom. A gym or beach towel is best kept to 400gsm or lower.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best luxury bath products

The best towels you can buy

1. Dunelm Ultimate Towels: Best all-round bath towels

Price: £7 (hand) to £20 (sheet) | Buy now from Dunelm

Dunelm’s towels come in many colours and strike the perfect balance between sumptuous softness, absorbency and durability. At 600gsm, these towels are heavy enough to feel luxurious, but not so heavy that they’ll take all day to dry.

Ultimate Towels are made from standard cotton using “zero-twist” technology, where fibres aren’t twisted before they’re woven. This results in a larger surface area for more softness and absorbency. They also benefit from a reduced fibre-shedding design to ensure they last. Users say they’ve machine-washed them for years with no visible pulled threads and barely any colour loss.

Our main grumble is that there’s no option to save money by buying a set – you have to buy each size separately. There are three towel sizes, plus a face cloth, all available in 18 shades that cover rainbow colours, classy neutrals and bright white. Mix and match, if you dare!

Key specs – Material: 100% standard cotton (machine-washable); Weight: 600gsm; Sizes available: 3 (50 x 90cm, hand to 100 x 150cm, bath sheet); Colours available: 18

Buy now from Dunelm

2. The White Company Hydrocotton Towels: Best fast-drying towels

Price: £16 (hand) to £52 (super jumbo) | Buy now from The White Company

The White Company’s all-time bestsellers manage to be fast-drying and durable, while retaining their supreme fluffiness for years – which is no mean feat. They’re the most expensive towels in our best buy list, but cheaper than heavyweight Egyptian cotton towels and far more practical, thanks to their extra-quick dry time.

Like Dunelm’s Ultimate Towel, the Hydrocotton Towel is made from standard cotton with a zero-twist pile that stays amazingly soft and absorbent, even after years of machine-washing. The ribbed finish gives it a comforting feel and contemporary look, but it’s functional, too – the ribs enable the towel to be less weighty (a mid-weight 500gsm) and, therefore, faster-drying, without feeling thin. So, if you can afford it, this is the perfect towel for busy households.

Despite the company’s name, these towels are available in seven shades, including “Pearl Grey” (pictured), “Platinum” (light bluey-grey) and “Smoke” (brown) – and, of course, white. Again, there’s no option to buy a set.

Key specs – Material: 100% standard cotton (machine-washable); Weight: 500gsm; Sizes available: 4 (50 x 90cm, hand to 115 x 180cm, jumbo sheet); Colours available: 7

Buy now from The White Company

3. Soak&Sleep Supima Cotton Towels: Best super-soft towels

Price: £12 (hand) to £33 (bath sheet) | Buy now from Soak&Sleep

These indulgent towels are woven from Supima – “the cashmere of cottons” – and they’re so cosy you’ll want to sleep in them rather than chuck them on the bathroom floor. Indeed, their super-thick pile and whopping 750gsm weight makes them more like a throw – but with serious powers of absorbency.

The flip side of that extreme cosiness is a relatively slow drying time, so these aren’t the towels to choose if you need a fast turnaround on your laundry.

We love the choice of colours, which includes “Dark Teal” and “Aubergine”, as well as white and a handful of greys. For bonus points, Soak&Sleep lets you buy towels in a set (two hand and two bath), which will save you 5% on the price.

Key specs – Material: 100% Supima cotton (machine-washable); Weight: 750gsm; Sizes available: 3 (50 x 100cm, hand to 100 x 160cm, bath sheet); Colours available: 6

Buy now from Soak&Sleep

4. Blomus Caro waffle-knit cotton bath towel: Best contemporary waffle towels

Price: £38 | Buy now from Selfridges

“So waffly versatile” went the old advert for potato waffles and, without wishing to cast aspersions, we think the same applies to these fabulous contemporary towels from German designer Blomus. Their textured surface is a great way to add durability, good looks, absorbency and a great built-in massage to towels that are light enough to stick in your gym bag, drying in no time at all.

Key specs – Material: 100% standard cotton (machine-washable 40C); Weight: Not given; Size: 70 x 140cm; Colours available: 4

Buy now from Selfridges

5. Dock & Bay Beach Towel: Best for the beach

Price: £14 (Large) to £25.99 (Extra Large) | Buy now from Amazon

Made from 100% recycled materials – so good for the environment as well as your beach trip – Dock & Bay’s broad range of beautiful beach towels is your best choice for sunbathing on the sand or drying off after a dip in the drink. First seen on BBC’s Dragons’ Den (so yes, you are in the presence of royalty), these high quality towels are great at ensuring the sand stays at the beach – just give it a hearty shake and watch the rain of grains.

After efficiently drying you off, this towel will apparently dry 3x faster than its cotton compatriots, keeping it free from lingering damp smells. When you’re packing up and ready to head home, the towel conveniently folds away into a lightweight and compact bag, leaving plenty of room in the boot for your cooler and beach ball.

Key specs – Material: 83% polyester, 17% polyamide (machine-washable); Weight: 220gsm; Size: 160 x 90cm, L – 200 x 90cm, XL; Colours available: 37

6. Sea to Summit Tek Towel: Best gym and travel towel

Price: £9 (XS) to £25 (XL) | Buy now from Alpinetrek

Sea to Summit gives microfibre a comfort boost by weaving it into a terry cloth finish that feels super-comfy on your skin, while retaining the usual microfibre advantages. The clever Tek Towel also has a snap-on hang loop, allowing you to hang it from any available branch while out camping, and a zip-up mesh pouch to store it in once it’s dry.

Unlike most travel towels, the Tek Towel comes in a good range of sizes, right up to bath sheet size, and five striking colours including Cobalt Blue and Lime.

Key specs – Material: 70% polyester, 30% polyamide (machine-washable); Weight: 400gsm; Sizes available: 5 (30 x 60cm, XS – 75 x 150cm, XL); Colours available: 5

Buy now from Alpinetrek

7. My Panda Life Bamboo Towels: Best bamboo towels

Price: £16.50 (hand) to £45 (sheet) | Buy now from My Panda Life

My Panda has curated an incredibly soft towel, weighing in at a substantial 600 gsm, that uses a high percentage of bamboo compared to its competitors. There is so much that is great about Bamboo. Firstly, it’s naturally antibacterial, meaning it’s odour-repellent and ideal for regular washers. It’s also hypoallergenic making it perfect for those with sensitive skin and also grown organically so no need for pesticides, fertilisers or chemicals.

In fact, My Panda’s Bamboo Towels also meet the Oeko-Tex Made in Green standard, which guarantees that this product has been manufactured using sustainable processes under environmentally friendly and socially responsible working conditions. So, given bamboo requires a third less water than cotton plus the lack of harmful chemicals and dyes in production, you’re helping out the environment by moving away from purchasing solely cotton towels.

Key specs – Material: 65% combed long-staple cotton and 35% bamboo; Weight: 600gsm; Sizes available: 3 (50 x 90cm, hand to 100 x 150cm, bath sheet); Colours available: 2

Buy now from My Panda Life

8. Big Jim Microfibre Towel: Best towels for swimmers

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon

With all the travelling in and out of the water, swimmers need a highly absorbent, fast-drying and lightweight towel that they can take to wherever they swim, without having to carry a heavy or wet load. Thankfully, Big Jim has a microfibre towel that works just like that. Weighing just 320 grams with a 2mm thickness, the microfibre towel is highly compact despite its massive surface area and still dries quickly even when rolled tight. It’s also super soft despite its great absorbency, so you’ll be dry from your water-based workouts in no time.

Key specs – Material: 80% polyester and 20% polyamide; Weight: Not stated; Sizes available: XL (180 x 90cm); Colours available: 2

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