For anyone working or playing in hot conditions, cooling towels provide welcome relief. These specialty towels help lower body temperature through the power of evaporation.
Just a quick soak in water activates the cooling effect, which can last for hours depending on the towel material.
Read on to learn all about how cooling towels work and the different types available.
What Are Cooling Towels and How Do They Work?
A cooling towel is a specialty piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed for hot-weather work environments. The towel’s purpose is to help workers regulate their body temperature to a comfortable level so they can work longer hours without suffering from heat stress.
Cooling towels are typically made from polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) or microfiber materials. Both fabrics use the concept of “evaporative cooling” to provide relief in high heat. When the towel is wet, moisture spreads throughout the fabric. As the moisture evaporates, it draws heat away from your body, creating a cooling sensation.
To activate a cooling towel, simply wet it with cool water and wring out any excess. The wet towel will feel pleasantly cool against your skin. The temperature difference between your body and the towel helps transfer heat from your body to the towel. The towel then loses that heat through evaporation into the air.
The rate of evaporation depends on the humidity level. Cooling towels work best in low to medium-humidity environments. The drier the air, the faster moisture evaporates from the towel, creating a stronger cooling effect. In humid conditions, evaporation happens more slowly. You’ll need to re-wet the towel more often to maintain the cooling sensation.
In addition to evaporative cooling, the towel acts as a physical barrier against the sun’s rays. This prevents your skin from heating up. Light-colored towels work best, as they absorb less heat than dark colors.
Uses for Cooling Towels
Cooling towels are useful for many occupations that involve hot conditions, including:
- Construction workers in the sun
- Kitchen staff working over hot grills
- Manufacturing workers near sources of high heat
- Outdoor recreation like hiking, biking, and running
- Yardwork like mowing and gardening
- Warehouse workers moving boxes and packages
- Emergency responders
The towel is commonly worn around the neck and shoulders since those areas are often exposed to direct sunlight. You can also drape it over your head or place it on pulse points like the wrists and ankles to maximize cooling.
Construction workers may tuck a cooling towel under their hard hats for all-day relief. At outdoor work sites, towels are often stored in chilled coolers for easy access when workers need to re-wet them.
In addition to occupational uses, cooling towels can provide relief for everyday scenarios like:
- Outdoor events in the summer heat
- Living in a home without air conditioning
- Managing fever, headaches, or hot flashes
- Cooling down pets
Types of Cooling Towel Materials
There are three main materials used to make cooling towels:
- Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) – This spongy, absorbent material offers long-lasting cooling for up to 4 hours when wet. It quickly reactivates when soaked again. PVA towels become soft and flexible when damp.
- Microfiber – Made from fine synthetic fibers, microfiber dries quickly while feeling soft against the skin. It provides cooling for around 2 hours per soak.
- Polyester/spandex blend – Extremely lightweight and stretchy, this material is ideal for gear that wraps around the head or neck. It allows for ventilation.
PVA is considered the highest-grade cooling material due to its superior absorbency and duration of cooling relief. However, microfiber and polyester blends provide more affordable options.
Caring for Your Cooling Towel
Proper care is important for longevity and hygiene. Follow these tips:
- Wash frequently in gentle detergent to prevent bacterial growth
- Air dry thoroughly after each use
- For mildew smells, soak in diluted bleach then wash
- Store in a clean, dry bag or container when not in use
- Re-wet the towel whenever it starts to dry out
With proper washing, high-quality cooling towels can be reused for years. Having the right gear makes a big difference for anyone who works or plays in hot conditions. Investing in a good cooling towel helps your body regulate temperature, prevent overheating, and stay comfortable even in sweltering environments.
How long does the cooling last?
The cooling duration depends on the towel material. PVA towels provide cooling relief for up to 4 hours when wet. Microfiber towels maintain a cooling sensation for about 2 hours. Re-wetting the towel reactivates the chilling effect.
What temperatures do they work in?
Cooling towels work best in hot, dry conditions between 70-100 degrees Fahrenheit. They are less effective in extreme heat over 100 degrees or in very humid environments. However, they still provide some temperature regulation even in less ideal conditions.
Can you freeze them?
No, do not freeze cooling towels. Freezing can damage the material and make it brittle. For extra chilling power, you can refrigerate the towels for a short time before use. Just don’t leave them in the fridge for extended periods.
Do they come in different sizes?
Yes, cooling towels come in varying sizes from small wristbands to large full-body towels. Consider what body areas you want to cover when selecting a size. Most standard towels are about the size of a hand towel.
With the ability to lower body temperature by up to 30 degrees, cooling towels are a simple but powerful tool against heat exhaustion. They provide convenient, refreshing relief for everyone from construction workers to gardeners to athletes.
Just remember to start with a high-quality towel made of PVA or microfiber material.
Follow the proper care instructions, and your cooling towel will keep you comfortable year after year.