5 On Your Side

In tests, Egyptian, Pima cotton towels soak up praise

Posted September 15

When it comes to towels, purchases can be hit or miss.

What we want in towels seems like it should be simple: look nice, feel soft, dry us off and last.

At the store they look and feel so nice. With so many options, though, here's what to look for to have great towels at home.

First, thick, heavy towels will dry you off better.

Consumer Reports says Egyptian or Pima cotton is the best quality. They have longer, stronger fibers and are less likely to pill, but they are more expensive, so shop carefully.

"There are a lot of towels out there that are labeled Pima or Egyptian but aren't," said Consumer Reports' Textile Engineer Pat Slaven. "If their price is too good to be true, they're probably not the real thing."

Another option: cotton-rayon blends. They absorb a little bit better, although they won't wear as well. But be aware that while they may feel soft in the store, they won't stay that way—they're treated with a special finish that washes out.  

"Using liquid fabric softener will make your towels feel soft, but we've found it decreases absorbency significantly," Slaven said.

So, instead Consumer Reports recommends using an occasional dryer sheet.

Over drying can shrink towels, which is a reason to ditch the machine's timer setting and use the moisture sensor.

Another caution, especially for those with teens at home, benzoyl peroxide in acne medication can cause bleach stains. Some manufactures claim their towels resist the stains, though.

After tests, Consumer Reports found the Real Simple and Sonoma towels from Kohl's came through the wash just fine.

L.L. Bean's showed some bleaching but when retested with a smaller amount of benzoyl peroxide, it was fine.

A sure bet, though, were white towels; they all came through the benzoyl peroxide test unscathed.

Consumer Reports suggests when you buy colored towels, buy a matching washcloth and store it away.

If your towels fade in a reasonable time frame, the washcloth will be good evidence when you ask for your money back.

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