How to Judge a Towel – Fiberologies 101 Lesson 4
Welcome to Fiberologies 101! This introductory course covers everything you need to know when shopping for towels.
Wondering about the difference between Egyptian and Turkish cotton? We've got you covered. What about the meaning of GSM or low twist? That's here too. By the end of the course, you'll be able to identify the main towel styles, constructions, and fibers like a pro!Fiberologies 101 course outline:
Lesson 1 – The parts of a towel
Lesson 2 – What are towels made of?
Lesson 3 – Types of towel fabric
Lesson 4 – How to judge a towel (this lesson)
Lesson 4 – How to judge a towel
If you’ve read the story of Fiberologies, you’ll know that it began when our founder, Josh, found himself overwhelmed by towel descriptions and the mass of bland and uniform towels on the market. Where do you start when it comes to choosing the perfect towel for your needs? Which towels are the softest or most durable?
Enter Lesson 4 in our Fiberologies 101 course in towel-speak! In this lesson, we’ll look at some of the terms you’ll often see when shopping for towels. We’ve chosen terms that are common in advertising or in towel descriptions, either on the label or on shopping sites. Knowing these key terms will help you understand what you’re getting when you’re looking at different lines and brands.
Let’s start with the basics.
GSM and towel weight
One word you'll see a lot when reading about towel quality is GSM.
GSM stands for grams per square meter, which is a standardized measure of fabric weight. GSM for towels typically ranges between 300 and 900, with 300 GSM towels being lighter and thinner, and 900 GSM towels being the thickest and heaviest. As a general rule, a higher GSM means a towel has higher absorbency.
GSM isn't just for towels: it’s a universal standard for describing the weight of any fabric. While towels are usually in the 300-900 range, a lightweight cotton shirt or a summer dress would fall in the 100’s while denim jeans may be in the 400-600 range.
Traditionally, towels are grouped into three GSM ranges:
- 300-400 GSM: These towels are lighter and thinner, which means they dry faster. This is a common weight for kitchen or gym towels.
- 400-600 GSM: Towels in this range are more absorbent and are considered medium weight. Most beach towels and bath towels fall in this range.
- 600-900 GSM: These are the heaviest and most absorbent towels. They take longer to dry out but have a luxurious, full feel. You’ll often find luxury bath towels sold in this GSM range.
GSM is helpful as a common standard when you’re looking at different towel options. Lots of other jargon is used to make a towel sound amazing, but comparing the GSM of similar towels across different brands will give you a basic idea of how they compare.
In Lesson 2, you learned about the most common types of cotton used in towel making. Once a cotton type has been chosen, it needs to be treated before it can be woven. These treatments have different names that you'll often see in towel descriptions and reviews.
Here are some of the most common terms you’ll see when shopping for towels and what they mean.
Low twist cotton
In Lesson 2, you also learned about the difference between short-staple and long-staple fibers. Most cotton yarns are made from short-staple fibers that have to be twisted many times to form thread. This twisting process makes the yarn harder and results in a stiffer and less absorbent final product.
In contrast, low twist cotton is made using long-staple fibers which don’t need to be twisted as much to form yarn. As a result, towels made with low twist threads are softer and more absorbent. You'll often see low twist cotton used in terry cloth bath towels. It's a good choice as the higher absorbency dries you off fast, while its low density means the towel doesn't stay damp for long.
Zero twist cotton
Zero twist yarns don’t go through typical twisting at all. In the zero twist process, the cotton fibers are held together with a special wrapping thread that allows them to be woven without breaking. The thread is removed after weaving, leaving the cotton staple in its naturally soft, thick state. Zero twist makes for extra plush and absorbent yarn. This is good for premium bath towels, but comes with additional cost.
Double yarns, also known as two-ply yarns, are the result of twisting two strands of yarn together to create a thicker, stronger yarn. Double yarns make terry towels more durable and give them better absorbency and a plusher look.
Ring spinning is an extra step in the yarn production process. It comes after staple cotton is twisted into yarn, and before it’s woven into fabric. Ring-spun cotton is spun rapidly around a specially shaped ring and then wound around a bobbin. This process makes the thread much finer and twists it all in the same direction, creating softer and more durable fibers. Ring-spun cotton is great for hand towels and washcloths, or any towels that need a soft feel.
Combed cotton is another extra step in cotton yarn processing. After the cotton is harvested, it’s put through fine brushes (combs) to remove any impurities and short fibers. This leaves only long, straight fibers, which are then spun into thread for creating a softer, more robust woven product. Because the combing process leaves cotton extra soft, you’ll often see combed cotton used in washcloths and hand towels. It’s also good for bed sheets and premium T-shirts.
All of the above treatments are used to try and improve cotton quality, sometimes in combination. The ultimate combination is combed, ringspun cotton with double yarns, which makes for super-soft and durable bath towels.
Quality towels are made all over the world, but the industry has a few labels that stand above the rest to ensure quality manufacturing practices. You’ll often see these labels featured prominently on a website when purchasing towels from a supplier.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100
OEKO-TEX is an international independent label that can be applied to towel products that meet specific criteria. Some towels are OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified, which means that all materials in the towel have been tested for harmful substances and are harmless to human health.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
When it comes to organic cotton, it can be difficult to know whether a product is really all organic or a blend of organic and non-organic fibers. The Global Textile Organic Standard (GOTS) is an internationally accepted standard for certifying that a fabric uses organic materials as it claims.
Textiles carrying the GOTS label must be made of 95% organic material and follow strict environmental criteria for processing and dyeing. GOTS also covers social standards for the way workers are treated by the certified manufacturer.
There are a host of other quality initiatives involved in textile and towel certification. Some focus on workplace standards, such as the Fairtrade Textile Standard that protects worker rights, while others certify a certain level of craftsmanship and product quality, such as Japan’s famous Imabari label.
Well done! That’s the end of Lesson 4, and you’ve now completed Fiberologies 101. You now know how to read a towel label like a pro, and how to judge a towel to find which towels are softest or best suited to your needs.
As a summary, or if you missed earlier lessons, here's what we covered in the course:
- Lesson 1 introduced you to the five parts of a towel. You learned about the pile area, selvage, beginning/end, border, and fringe.
- In Lesson 2, you learned about the most common types of cotton and non-cotton threads used in towel making.
- Lesson 3 covered some common towel fabric weaves, such as terry, waffle, damask, and herringbone.
- In this lesson, you learned how to judge a towel based on some common industry terms.
Towel buying can be overwhelming and stressful, but now that you’re an expert you can buy with confidence. All you need to do now is put your new knowledge into practice and go find some great towels!
You can also drop us a question in the comments if there's anything more you'd like to know. We'll be happy to help!
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A very interesting and complete website! I’m a hobby spinner and weaver and found all your details through and accurate. And the towels look lovely.
Excelente sus lecciones