Hand Towel Etiquette

Proper hand towel etiquette is an important detail that makes guests feel cared for in your home. While it may seem small, following standard guidelines around providing and handling towels shows hospitality.

Hand Towel Etiquette

We will overview the key rules hosts, and visitors should know, from where to place fresh hand towels to what to do with used ones. We’ll also tackle common questions about when and how to use ornamental versus functional guest towels.

The 7 Rules of Hand Towel Etiquette

Whether you’re a guest in someone’s home or hosting visitors yourself, following proper hand towel etiquette is important for putting others at ease and creating a welcoming environment.

Here are seven key rules regarding hand towels, from where to place them to how to handle used ones.

For Hosts: Provide Fresh Hand Towels in the Bathroom

As a host, one of the most basic acts of hospitality is to put out fresh, clean hand towels in the bathroom for your guests. Swapping in new hand towels shows you’ve paid attention to the details and removes any questions about which towels are meant for use by visitors.

Aim to use white or solid-colored hand towels in the bathroom to keep things simple. Fold them neatly and place them on the vanity near the sink or on a small towel rack next to it. Consider adding a decorative basket or plate underneath to collect used towels.

If possible, keep a separate stash of hand towels just for guests. Using the same ones day-to-day and simply refreshing them when company comes over to work too. Just be sure to remove any crumpled or soiled towels ahead of time.

Offer Guests a Dedicated Hand Towel, Not Shower Towels

Hang bath and shower towels in the bathroom, but do not expect guests to use these larger towels for drying their hands. Doing so means more laundry for you. Plus, shower towels hanging up generally signal they are for post-bathing use only.

Instead, provide guests with a dedicated hand towel for quick cleanups. Make it obvious the hand towel is there for their use by folding it neatly by the sink. Having a special spot for it, like a towel rack or wicker tray, leaves no question.

Avoid Decorative Hand Towels That Are Not Meant to Be Used

Some hosts like to display decorative hand towels folded in intricate shapes or perched in elegant holders atop the vanity. While visually appealing, these are not necessarily meant for guests to use.

Pay attention to context clues: Does the decorative towel seem ultra-stiff, heavily starched, have embellishments, or is it color-coordinated to the bathroom decor? Err on the side of not disturbing it. Check with your host to see if display towels can also be utilized.

After Use, Hang It Up or Place it in Towel Basket

Once you’ve dried your hands on a hand towel, proper etiquette is to leave it in a used state – just do so neatly. Refolding it perfectly defeats the purpose of signaling it should be washed.

Options for placing used hand towels:

  • Back on its rack or hook – Keep it draped over the rack rather than folded.
  • On the bathroom vanity – You can neatly lay it on the countertop or sink.
  • In a used towel basket – Check under the sink or vanity for a small basket designated for dirties.

Leaving the towel twisted or crumpled shows you followed towel etiquette. Just avoid balling it up haphazardly or tossing it on the floor.

For Sanitary Reasons, Opt for Paper Towels if Available

Use paper towels if your host has left paper towels and cloth hand towels in the bathroom. They are the more hygienic choice requiring no laundering between uses.

This is especially true when hosting larger gatherings where not every guest will get a fresh hand towel. Paper towels also eliminate any confusion about whether a cloth towel in the bathroom has already been used.

Follow Proper Etiquette with Fingertip Towels

Fingertip towels are small hand towels left folded in the bathroom or guest bedrooms. They go by many names – guest towels, face towels, and flannels. Look for a note indicating they are meant for use.

These mini towels allow you to dry your hands and freshen up without affecting the regular bath towels. Use them as needed and deposit them in a used towel basket after.

Unless Instructed, Avoid Moving Towels That Are Folded or Stacked

If towels are stacked or folded neatly on a bathroom shelf or basket, think twice before disturbing them. Your host likely intended for that arrangement to remain intact.

However, there may also be cases where the folded towels are fair game. Check for signs like a visible lower stack waiting to be unveiled as the top ones get used up. When in doubt, ask your host.

Following these standard rules of hand towel etiquette shows care and respect for your hosts and their homes. So whether you’re visiting or entertaining, pay attention to the small details that make guests feel comfortable and welcome.

FAQ on Hand Towel Etiquette

Should you put out hand towels when guests come over for just a quick visit?

Yes, fresh hand towels in the bathroom are expected even for quick drop-ins. It shows you prepared for guests by paying attention to small hosting details. You can place a couple of neatly folded hand towels near the sink for casual visits. Or just swap in fresh towels if you keep a dedicated guest stash.

If my bathroom has no hand towel, can I offer a paper towel instead?

In a pinch, paper towels work fine for guest hand-drying needs. Present them neatly, perhaps fanned out atop a plate. But for more formal hosting, do add proper hand towels in the bathroom if none are normally present.

What is the best way to display fancy guest hand towels?

If you own decorative hand towels, show them off neatly folded atop the vanity or in wall sconces. But also provide plainer hand towels for actual use. Make it obvious which ones are functional by placing them right by the sink.

Can I reuse a hand towel I dried my hands on as a guest?

No, used hand towels should be deposited in the designated towel basket or neatly draped back on their rack. Help keep things fresh for other guests by only using towels once before allowing your host to launder them.

Where should I put a used hand towel if no basket is present?

If there is no obvious soiled towel receptacle, place your used hand towel tidily on the bathroom vanity or counter. Refolding it perfectly defeats the purpose of signaling it’s ready for washing.


Whether hosting or visiting, attention to hand towel etiquette creates a welcoming environment.

Now that you know the basics around placement, usage, and disposal of guest towels, you can be confident hosting visitors or thoughtfully leaving used linens upon departure.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.