WHAT MAKES A GOOD TOWEL?

The Kellogg’s “not too heavy not too light” Just Right television advertisement just about sums it up. Like many well-made and durable products the “what makes a good anything” comes down to balance.

In the world of hospitality, your choice of towel is typically influenced by the tugs and pulls of guest expectations, the property image that management has chosen to convey, and how much money you have to spend to indulge the guests staying with you (this is inevitably high on the agenda).

Clearly these criteria are beyond the supplier however they do impact on what makes a good towel. Other factors such as value for money, reliability, lifespan, quality of materials and suitability for intended use comes within the supplier’s influence. It is these “other factors” which are the benchmarks of this review.

How is a Towel Made?

It is useful to know how a towel is put together. Unlike flat fabrics, which have cotton fibres running in two directions (at right angles to each other), toweling products have a third fibre which forms a pile or loop on the towel.

During the weaving process these three threads are combined according to a given pattern. By varying the types of cotton for each thread type and by changing the weaving pattern it is possible to produce different towels. For example, a bath towel will be woven with a longer pile than say a bath mat, and a bath mat will be constructed with a denser weave in the base of the product. Similarly, changing the types of yarn used in the different parts of the fabric can alter the look and feel of a towel. Yarns come in all sorts of thickness and qualities and can be changed depending upon what is required of the end product.

How a Towel Works.

The prime function of the towel is to take moisture away from your body. Whilst performing this task it should remain absorbent for the duration of the drying process and should not become too damp or too wet.

Fundamentally, towels can be viewed in two parts. Those parts are the base and the pile.

The role of the pile (loops) is to carry moisture utilising capillary action (similar to how a tree draws water from the ground into its upper branches). To do this best, the loops are made from long-stapled top grade cotton. The narrower the loops, the faster and more efficient is the transfer of moisture along the loops.

The base of the towel works in conjunction with the pile (loops) by acting as a storage area. The narrow loops have limited storage capacity and will dump moisture at the first opportunity. This occurs where the loops touch the thicker base yarns. To perform this function well, the base yarns should be thicker than the loop yarn. Good quality base yarns absorb and store moisture.

Important Characteristics

So what should you be looking for when you go shopping for new towels?

Construction

A tell tale sign that a towel has been constructed with the right combination of fine loops and thicker base is that it has a firm, full bodied and self supporting feel. In contrast, a towel at the other end of the spectrum will lack body, having a limp almost lifeless feel. Looking closely at the loops will also give you a clue that the best yarns have been used. Better quality towels constructed of fine combed cottons in the pile are less “hairy” than inferior alternatives.

Absorbency

A simple test to check the absorbency qualities of a towel is to tip a small quantity of water, say a capful, directly onto the towel. If it disappears into the towel immediately and the towel has an almost dry feel around the region tested, the towel has good absorbency characteristics. Very often a towel will feel extra soft but when tested for absorbency the water will bead on the surface of the fabric and not be absorbed. This occurs when excessive softener has been applied to the towel during the manufacturing process which often masks the true inferior characteristics of the towel.

Density

For any given size, the heavier the towel the more cotton there is in the towel. The density of the towel (grams per square metre) can be easily checked by weighing the towel and expressing this as a proportion of the measured towel area. Visually you will see the yarns grouped closer together without gaps or holes appearing between them. There is also balance between the length of the loops and the density of the base of the towel. Generally, the denser the towel the better the towel, but there is a trade off. Excessively heavy towels will cost more to launder.

Shrinkage

All towels shrink when they are first washed. The extent of the shrinkage is influenced by the sizes of the different yarns used in the towel, the density of the weave, differences in the weave pattern from one part of the towel to another, and importantly the laundering temperatures used when cleaning the towels. Excessive shrinkage is undesirable and will cause towels to be smaller than their specified size, or worse, differential shrinkage will cause one part of a towel to shrink disproportionately to other parts of the towel. Manufacturer’s pre-shrinking of towels, before they leave the factory, can overcome this to a large extent.

Finish

Clearly the design characteristics and standard of workmanship are important. Aesthetic and fashion qualities can be measured against the corporate image being sought while good quality workmanship such as reinforced stitching, folded hems, softness, vibrancy in colour, precision of shape, and definition of design features can be checked visually and by handling.

Durability

The rough and tumble of constant use provides the ultimate test of a towel’s durability. Extraneous factors such as heat (from laundering), chemicals, and physical treatment all contribute to the wearing process. Importantly, however, to have the best chance of providing a long and commercially useful life, a towel should be constructed of high quality materials and show the positive elements of each of the characteristics noted above. Ultimately the best way to prove the towel is to trial it under normal usage and laundering conditions.

Value for Money

The final test is to check that the purchase of the towel represents value for money. Value for money is not necessarily the cheapest price; instead it is a measure of the cost of the towel spread over its useful life. If, for example, one towel costs say 10% more than its competitor but the towel has an expected longer life (as measured by washes) by say 20%, then based on the value for money formula it represents a better buy.

THE FINAL ANALYSIS

There are many factors to consider. Some, such as aesthetic features, may not be so critical depending on the user requirements. In the end however if you want a very good towel it should be built from the highest quality materials, feel soft, be thick, readily absorb moisture, not shrink excessively, present well, last for a reasonable time, and represent good value for money.

Both “Cottonfield” and “TARA – Plus” Toweling Products fall into the “GOOD TOWEL” and “GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY” categories.

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