Towel tips: What to know before you stock your linen closet

Sheets get a whole lot of publicity. Most people put a lot of thought, and a fair amount of research, into finding sheets with the right thread count, softness factor and durability.

But what of the lowly towel? Those absorbent, underappreciated rectangular wonders often even add a decorative, colorful touch to our homes, unlike those sheets hiding beneath comforters.

If threadbare and dingy are the words that come to mind when you consider your towels, it’s time to shop – but don’t head out before you figure out just what you want. An enormous, thick towel might be your idea of heaven, but keep in mind that it will take up some space in that washer, and it will take a long time to dry. So if you have three teenagers in the house, you might just want to aim a little smaller.

And if those white towels are looking a little dingy, it might be time to keep color in mind when towel shopping.

Ralph Snyder, vice president of home design for Kohl’s, says a pop of color will do a lot to brighten up the bathroom.

“If I were to recommend one update to a room this fall, it would be to add color,” he says. “Blues and greens are especially trend-right this season, and easy to incorporate into your interior with a colorful towel set. For those looking for something a little less overwhelming, mix neutrals like gray with a pop of bright yellow.”

Stephen Cardino, vice president and fashion director of Macy’s Home Store, suggests you learn a little about towels before heading out on a shopping spree.

First, cotton is great, but not all cotton is the same. Egyptian cotton has extra-long, absorbent fibers. Pima cotton, grown right here in the United States, is great for towels, as well.

“If you prefer a blended towel, microfiber towels are becoming very popular,” Cardino says. “This towel does a great job grabbing moisture, and has a much slicker hand-feel than a conventional cotton towel.”

Next up is the construction of the towel. The shortest threads have been removed in a combed cotton towel, leaving the longest and strongest fibers, Cardino says.

“Ringspun cotton towels are made by twisting both short and long yarns, which results in a smoother, finer hand-feel,” he says.

And if you don’t have time to read the fine print, the pros at Bed, Bath & Beyond offer a few practical tips. First, take note of the fabric and weight of the towel. If it’s heavy and dense, it will hold up and absorb well. If it’s velvety and light, it will be fast-drying. Avoid towels that feel thin or scratchy. Those won’t improve with age.

Savvy shoppers know that it’s wise to wait for a sale before stocking up. We listed the full price of our towel picks, but many were on sale the week we went shopping.

•  Martha Stewart Collection Bath Towels, Quick Dry Collection ($12 for a 27-by-52 inch towel, Pick from colors like coral and lemon in this collection, which is guaranteed to dry quickly.

• Nordstrom at Home Hydrocotton Bath Towel ($48 for two, This plush bath towel has a herringbone-patterned dobby border, and as its name indicates, it’s made for extra softness and absorbency.

• Apt. 9 Optica Bath Towel ($19.99, Tired of dull towels? Check out these artful bath towels, which feature a hint of yellow. For those with modern homes, this is worth a look.

• Threshold Performance Solid Bath Towels ($6.99, Trust Target to bring you a tough towel for a great price. Julie Guggemos, vice president of product design and development for home and hardlines, says the store’s signature towel combines four important attributes: resistance to fading, absorbency, softness and durability. The Target team “worked through innovation in dyes and fabric to achieve a palette of 23 beautiful hues,” she says. “To ensure durability, the towels were constructed with double stitching on the side hem to avoid fraying.”

• Martha Stewart Collection Bath Towels (bath sheet, $32, If you can’t resist a huge towel, this is a winner, at 33-by-64 inches. We also liked the line’s Plush Dobby Collection, for those who like the look of a pure white towel, but with a touch of color in striped piping ($18).

•  Turkish towels ($96.50 for two, Splurge, relax and know you’re being kind to the earth with these enormous, eco-friendly cotton towels. The organic towels use only eco-sensitive dyes, and the cotton is grown free of chemicals and pesticides.

•  Lasting Color Cotton Bath Towel by WestPoint Home, ($5.99, These towels won top honors by “Good Housekeeping” because they’re both fade resistant and inexpensive.

•  Textured, six-piece bath towels ($74.99, We found this set on sale for $33.75, which just drives home that important point: Be a bargain hunter when you go towel shopping. And full sets are often less expensive than purchasing individual bath towels, hand towels and washcloths. A textured weave creates air pockets for a fuller feel after each wash.

•  Hotel Collection Bath Towels, MicroCotton Collection ($12-$58 These ringspun towels are incredibly soft to the touch. Whether you’re looking for a subtle pastel, or a vivid splash, you’ll find it in this collection.

•  Frost Bath Towel Collection by Kenneth Cole Reaction Home ($9.99-$19.99, Try these out if you’re looking for a reasonably priced, plush towel that holds up well wash after wash.

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