Kitchen Towel vs. Tea Towel

Kitchen towels and tea towels – two types of towels that are commonly used in the kitchen. But are they really the same thing?

Kitchen Towel vs. Tea Towel

While they may seem interchangeable, kitchen towels and tea towels actually have some key differences.

What is a Kitchen Towel?

A kitchen towel refers to any towel that is meant to be used in the kitchen. Kitchen towels are designed to be more durable and absorbent than regular towels. The fabric is thickly woven and reinforced with strong stitching around the edges. This allows them to withstand frequent use and laundering.

There are a few common materials used to make kitchen towels:

  • Cotton – Cotton kitchen towels are very popular because cotton is soft yet durable. The fibers absorb moisture well. High-quality cotton towels can last for years with proper care.
  • Linen – Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant. It is smooth, lint-free, and dries quickly. Linen kitchen towels gently polish delicate surfaces.
  • Terry cloth – Terry cloth towels have loops of thread that create a soft, absorbent pile. However, the loops tend to leave lint behind on surfaces.

Kitchen towels have many uses around the kitchen:

  • Drying dishes, utensils, and glassware
  • Wiping up spills and messes
  • Covering rising dough or baked goods
  • Protecting countertops from hot pots and pans
  • Drying hands
  • Wiping down appliances and surfaces

Key Takeaway: Kitchen towels refer to any towel meant for kitchen use. They are made of durable, absorbent materials like cotton, linen, or terry cloth. Kitchen towels can be used for drying, cleaning, and protecting.

What is a Tea Towel?

A tea towel is a specific type of lightweight cotton or linen towel traditionally used in the kitchen. Tea towels are thinner and smaller than standard kitchen towels.

The term “tea towel” comes from 18th century England. Wealthy families used these special towels during afternoon tea service to protect fine china and stemware. The soft, lint-free fabric polished the delicate tea wares without scratching.

Today, tea towels are still valued for their versatility. Common uses for tea towels include:

  • Lining bread baskets, plates, and trays
  • Covering rising dough, baked goods, and produce
  • Drying glassware and utensils
  • Polishing smooth surfaces
  • Straining foods or cheeses
  • Wrapping gifts
  • Displaying as decorative kitchen linens

Tea towels often have pretty embroidered or printed designs. They can add a pop of color and style to the kitchen. Many people enjoy collecting tea towels from different places as souvenirs.

Key Takeaway: Tea towels are a type of thin, lightweight towel traditionally used to protect fine china during English tea ceremonies. Today they are used for drying, lining, straining, and decorating.

Difference Between Kitchen Towels and Tea Towels

While kitchen towels and tea towels can overlap in their functionality, there are some notable differences between the two:

  • Materials – Kitchen towels can be made of cotton, linen, or terry cloth. Tea towels are specifically cotton or linen.
  • Texture – Tea towels have a thinner, flatter weave and feel smoother. Kitchen towels tend to be thicker and can have looped terry cloth texture.
  • Absorbency – The piles and loops in terry kitchen towels make them very absorbent. Tea towels are less absorbent by comparison.
  • Lint – Terry cloth kitchen towels can leave lint behind. Tea towels are lint-free.
  • Durability – Kitchen towels are designed to withstand frequent use and laundering. The lighter tea towel fabric is more delicate.
  • Size – Tea towels are typically smaller than multi-purpose kitchen towels. Standard tea towel sizes include 16″x26″ or 13″x18″.
  • Patterns – Tea towels commonly feature decorative embroidered or printed designs. Kitchen towels may be solid color or have simple patterned details.

So in summary: kitchen towels are your rugged, high-absorbency linens suitable for heavy-duty kitchen tasks. Tea towels are lighter-weight lint-free towels ideal for delicate drying, lining, and decorative charm.

Key Takeaway: Kitchen towels tend to be larger, thicker, and more densely woven than tea towels. Tea towels are lightweight, lint-free, and often decorated with embroidery or prints.

Choosing the Best Kitchen and Tea Towels

When selecting kitchen and tea towels, consider how you will use them and how often they will be laundered.

For kitchen towels:

  • Cotton is soft, absorbent, durable, and inexpensive. It’s a great all-purpose kitchen towel material.
  • Linen has a luxurious look and feel. It’s very durable and gets softer over time.
  • Terry cloth is super absorbent. But the lint can be problematic for some uses.
  • Opt for oversized towels at least 30″ x 30″ for versatility.
  • Look for heavily stitched edges that won’t fray.
  • Thicker weight cotton holds up better to repeated machine washing.

For tea towels:

  • Cotton is common and affordable. It’s soft and absorbent against breakables.
  • Linen has elegant drape and sheen. It dries glassware without streaks.
  • Make sure towels are lint-free if using with dishes.
  • Choose pretty embroidered or printed towels to decorate the kitchen.
  • Look for high thread count for smooth fine fabric.
  • Select smaller sizes like 16″ x 26″ for versatility.

Consider having at least a half dozen each of kitchen towels and tea towels on hand to cycle through. This ensures you always have a clean towel ready to tackle any kitchen need!

Key Takeaway: For kitchen towels, look for sturdy, absorbent cotton or linen. For tea towels, choose lint-free cotton or linen with attractive decorative details. Have multiples of both towel types available.

Caring for Kitchen and Tea Towels

Proper laundry and storage habits keep kitchen and tea towels fresh and ready for use. Here are some care tips:

  • Wash frequently – kitchen towels should be washed at least weekly or anytime they get dirty.
  • Use hot water to fully sanitize towels and remove grease.
  • Skip fabric softener since it leaves an coating that reduces absorbency.
  • Avoid bleaching tea towels to preserve decorative designs.
  • Line or tumble dry towels to prevent musty odors. Don’t let them stay damp.
  • Fold or roll up towels for organized storage in a kitchen drawer or cabinet.
  • Store separately from cleaning rags to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Wash new towels before first use to maximize absorbency.
  • Mend any tears right away to maintain integrity and longevity.

With frequent washing and proper care, high quality cotton and linen kitchen and tea towels can last for many years! Replace towels at the first sign of thinning fabric or fraying edges.

Key Takeaway: Kitchen and tea towels should be washed weekly in hot water without fabric softener. Line or machine drying prevents musty odors. Store folded or rolled in a clean, dry place.


Are kitchen towels and tea towels the same thing?

Kitchen towels and tea towels are not exactly the same. Tea towels are a specific type of kitchen towel traditionally used for more delicate tasks like drying glassware and lining baskets. All tea towels are kitchen towels, but not vice versa.

What’s the best material for kitchen towels?

For kitchen towels, cotton is generally the best choice. Cotton is affordable, soft, and absorbent while still being durable to withstand frequent use and machine washing. Linen is also very durable for kitchen towels but is more expensive than cotton.

What should you not use tea towels for?

Avoid using decorative tea towels for heavy-duty kitchen jobs as they can become stained, worn out, and damaged. Do not use tea towels to clean up messes, wipe greasy hands, or grab hot pans from the oven.

How do you wash kitchen and tea towels?

Wash kitchen and tea towels separately from other household linens in hot water. Skip the fabric softener or bleach. Tumble dry on low or hang dry. This preserves their absorbency and lifespan. Wash new towels before first use.

How often should you wash kitchen towels?

Kitchen towels that are used daily for cleaning, drying, and cooking should be washed at least once per week. Wash immediately if towels become soiled with raw meat juices or other contaminants. Having multiple towels allows you to use a fresh one each day.


Kitchen towels and tea towels are both indispensible linens in the kitchen, but they serve different primary purposes.

Kitchen towels are designed to be durable workhorses for drying dishes, wiping up spills, handling hot pans, and more heavy-duty tasks. They are typically made of sturdy cotton or terry cloth.

Tea towels are specially intended for delicate jobs like polishing stemware, covering rising dough, lining baskets, and adding decorative flair.

Towels Edition
Towels Edition