Cotton is a natural fiber that has been used for towels for centuries. It is known for being soft, absorbent, and durable. Microfiber, on the other hand, is a synthetic material made from polyester and polyamide. It is valued for its superior absorbency, lightweightness, and quick-drying properties.
So if you’re trying to decide between microfiber and cotton bath towels, how do you choose?
One of the most important features of a bath towel is how well it absorbs moisture from your skin after bathing or showering.
Microfiber towels are made up of extremely fine synthetic fibers that are even thinner than silk. This gives microfiber an incredibly high surface area that makes it excel at absorbing water. Microfiber can absorb up to 7 times its weight in liquid.
Cotton, while also absorbent due to its fiber structure, doesn’t compare to the moisture-wicking capabilities of microfiber. Standard cotton absorbs around 3-5 times its weight in water.
Key Takeaway: Microfiber towels are significantly more absorbent than regular cotton towels due to their ultra-fine fiber structure. Premium cotton towels can get close but still fall a bit short of microfiber’s moisture-wicking abilities.
Closely related to absorbency is how quickly a towel can dry after use. The less water a towel retains, the faster it will be ready to use again after washing.
Microfiber towels retain very little moisture; their fine fibers wick away and disperse water efficiently. As a result, microfiber dries extremely fast – up to 5 times faster than cotton. A microfiber towel can be dry in just a couple of hours after washing.
Cotton takes significantly longer to dry in comparison. A standard cotton towel may take 8-12 hours to fully air dry. The extended drying time also makes cotton more prone to mildew if moisture is trapped within the fibers.
Key Takeaway: Microfiber towels dry much faster than cotton towels – they can be ready to use again in only a couple of hours versus 8-12 for cotton. Quicker drying times make microfiber a better choice if you need towels to be reusable faster.
After a nice bath or shower, there’s nothing better than wrapping up in a soft, plush towel. So which fabric makes the softer, more comfortable bath towel – cotton or microfiber?
Cotton is valued for its soft, fluffy texture against the skin. In particular, long-staple Egyptian or Turkish cotton is prized for its extra long fibers that increase softness and also absorbency. These premium cottons create some of the plushest, most luxurious-feeling bath towels.
Microfiber, on the other hand, has an extremely smooth, almost silk-like feel. But the fineness of the strands means that microfiber doesn’t have quite the fluffy loft of high-quality cotton. So while pleasant against the skin, microfiber can’t match the cloud-like coziness of premium cotton towels.
Key Takeaway: For the softest, fluffiest-feeling bath towels, long-staple cottons like Egyptian and Turkish cotton are the gold standard. The very fine strands of microfiber can’t quite compare for plushness.
You don’t want to be replacing your bath towels frequently, so durability is a significant factor when choosing a material. Cotton and microfiber towels have very different lifespans.
Cotton towels, especially those made of long-staple cotton, are extremely durable. With proper care, a good Egyptian or Turkish cotton towel can easily last 5-10 years or longer before needing replacement. Though cotton is a natural fiber, high-end long-fiber cottons create very resilient towels.
Microfiber towels have significantly shorter lifespans in comparison. While microfiber is intrinsically strong due to its synthetic origins, the tiny fibers are prone to breaking down over frequent washing and drying. On average, a microfiber towel may only last 1-3 years with regular use before needing replacement.
Key Takeaway: Premium long-staple cotton easily outlasts microfiber when it comes to towel durability. Expect to get 5-10+ years from a good Egyptian or Turkish cotton towel versus just 1-3 from microfiber before needing a replacement.
Over the longer term, higher upfront costs can be justified if a towel lasts longer before needing replacement. Generally, the more durable cotton towels have higher upfront prices, while cheaper microfiber towels need continual replacing.
An Egyptian or Turkish cotton bath towel can cost $25-$60. While not inexpensive, when properly cared for, one cotton towel can last 5-10 years or more, making them very cost-effective long-term.
Microfiber bath towels have lower upfront prices, typically $10-$30. But their shorter 1-3 year lifespan before replacement means you’ll spend more in the long run continually buying new microfiber towels.
Key Takeaway: Premium long-staple cotton bath towels have higher upfront prices but greater durability resulting in better value over years of use. Cheap microfiber towels don’t last and require frequent replacing.
For eco-conscious consumers, understanding the environmental impacts of cotton versus microfiber towels is important. Both fabrics have very different effects.
Cotton is a natural material that biodegrades fully at the end of its useful life. Organic cotton production also greatly reduces environmental impacts from pesticides and fertilizers. However, cotton in general does require significant water usage for growing.
The main environmental issue with microfiber is that it sheds tiny plastic microfibers into wastewater during washing. These microfibers make their way into waterways and oceans where they accumulate and negatively impact marine life. So microfiber contributes to the growing problem of plastic pollution in water ecosystems.
Key Takeaway: Cotton is biodegradable and has lower impact production options through organic growing standards. But microfiber sheds plastic microfibers that pollute oceans – a significant environmental concern to consider.
Ease of Care
To prolong the life of any bath towel, proper care with washing, drying and storage is essential. Are there differences when it comes to taking care of cotton versus microfiber towels?
Cotton towels are very easy to care for. They can be machine washed and dried on normal settings without any issues. Avoiding excessive heat protects cotton fibers, but in general cotton laundry is hassle-free.
Microfiber towels require more careful washing and drying to prevent damage to the ultra-fine synthetic fibers. Separate machine washing on a gentle cycle is recommended, while machine drying should always be on low heat. Exposing microfiber to high temperatures causes fibers to melt and break down faster.
Key Takeaway: Cotton towels are simple to machine wash and dry without any special care instructions. More delicate microfiber requires gentler washing cycles and air drying or low heat to prevent fiber damage.
While both cotton and microfiber can make decent bath towels, each material excels at some specific uses more than others.
The softness and comfort of premium cotton makes it the top choice for:
- Luxury bath towels in hotels and spas
- Plush bath sheets and robes
The superior absorption of microfiber makes it uniquely suited for:
- Sports towels in gyms and pools
- Washing cars, windows, and other cleaning jobs
Microfiber vs. Cotton Bath Towels Comparison Chart
|Superior – up to 7x weight
|Good (3-5x) to Very Good (premium cotton)
|Extremely fast, 2-5 hours
|Slow, 8-12 hours
|Very high (premium long-staple cotton)
|Low, 1-3 years avg
|Very high, 5-10+ years
|Cheap upfront, expensive long-term
|Expensive upfront, very cost-effective long-term
|Sheds microplastics during washing
|Biodegradable, organic options available
|Ease of Care
|Delicate, requires gentle washing and drying
|Simple care, machine wash and dry
Is microfiber or cotton better for drying hair?
For drying hair, cotton is generally the better choice over microfiber. Cotton’s super-soft and fluffy texture is gentle on hair and more comfortable to wrap hair up in. Microfiber’s fine strands don’t absorb quite as effectively from thick hair either.
Which lasts longer, microfiber or cotton towels?
Cotton bath towels, especially those made from premium long-staple cottons, are significantly more durable than microfiber towels. Properly cared for, a good cotton towel can easily last 5-10 years or longer before needing replacement. Microfiber towels average only 1-3 years before their synthetic fibers show too much breakdown from regular use and washing.
Are microfiber towels safe for skin?
Yes, microfiber towels are safe for most skin types. The ultra-smooth synthetic fibers are gentle without any harsh chemicals. However, people with highly sensitive skin may find microfiber causes some irritation or feelings of roughness compared to soft cotton. It lacks the ultra-plush comfort that cotton can provide.
Why are microfiber towels banned in some places?
Some locales have banned microfiber towels from commercial laundry services. The reason is that standard washing machines aren’t able to capture all the microplastic fibers that microfiber sheds into wastewater. These tiny plastic bits make their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans where they accumulate over time and negatively impact marine ecosystems. So jurisdictions with environmental concerns have prohibited laundry services from cleaning and reselling used microfiber textiles.
Should you get organic cotton towels?
Choosing organic cotton towels is an excellent option for the eco-conscious. Organic cotton farming methods eliminate toxic pesticides and fertilizers, making production more sustainable. As bath towels also sit directly against the skin, reducing chemical residues is a bonus. With proper care, organic cotton towels can last for many years, offsetting the typically higher prices.
Both microfiber and cotton can make decent bath towels, but premium long-staple cotton is superior in many regards. Factors like softness, durability, environmental impact, and ease of care all favor cotton over standard low-cost microfiber.
If absorbency and drying speed are your top priorities for bath towels, microfiber does excel in these areas. The ultra-fine synthetic fibers are engineered for moisture wicking. But for soft, fluffy towels that pamper skin, last for years, and avoid plastic pollution from laundry, high-quality 100% cotton is undoubtedly the better all-around choice.