What is a Terry Cloth Towel?

If you’ve ever used a towel or bathrobe, chances are it was made from terry cloth.

What is a Terry Cloth Towel

Terry cloth is a type of fabric that has lots of little loops on the surface, which make it very soft and absorbent.

This looped texture helps the fabric soak up water quickly, which is why terry cloth is perfect for making towels, robes and other items designed to dry you off.

What Is Terry Cloth?

Terry cloth, sometimes called terrycloth or terry cotton, is a woven fabric with lots of little thread loops that stand up from the base of the fabric. These uncut loops are called pile, and they give terry cloth its signature soft, fluffy texture. The more loops and the taller the pile is, the more absorbent and plush the terry cloth.

Terry cloth has been used for towels and robes since around 1850, when English manufacturers figured out how make it using mechanized looms. Before that, a similar looped fabric was woven by hand in places like Turkey and Peru. The word “terry” might come from the French word “tirer” meaning “to pull”, which refers to the loops being pulled up as the fabric is woven.

Key Takeaway: Terry cloth is a woven fabric with lots of little loops that make it soft and very absorbent. It’s perfect for towels and robes.

Types of Terry Cloth

Towel Terry

This is the most common type of terry cloth that people think of for bath towels. Towel terry has loops on both sides of the fabric. The loops are usually longer to soak up more water.

Terry Velour

Terry velour has loops on only one side. The other side is a smooth velvety texture. This style is often used for plush bathrobes.

French Terry

French terry also has loops on only one side, with the other being flat. It’s commonly used to make sweatshirts and other casual sportswear.

So in summary:

  • Towel terry: Looped on both sides
  • Terry velour: Looped on one side, smooth velvet on the other
  • French terry: Looped on one side, flat on the other

The looped side is what makes the terry cloth highly water absorbent.

What is Terry Cloth Made Of?

The vast majority of terry cloth is made from cotton. This is because cotton actually gets stronger when wet, and can absorb 20-30 times its weight in water. So it can stand up to repeated washing and plenty of wringing out without falling apart.

Sometimes terry cloth contains small amounts of materials like silk, linen or polyester blended into the cotton. But cotton is best for absorbency and durability. Specific types of cotton like Turkish, Egyptian and Pima cotton are prized for making extra soft and luxurious towels.

Terry Cloth Towel Sizes

Terry cloth towels come in a range of sizes for different uses:

  • Washcloths – 12″ to 13″ square for washing hands and face
  • Hand towels – 16″ x 28″ for drying hands and face
  • Bath towels – Typically 27″ to 30″ wide x 48″ to 58″ long for drying your body
  • Bath sheets – Extra large towels up to 40″ x 70″ for bigger people or wrapping hair
  • Bath mats – 20″ to 24″ wide x 31″ to 36″ long to step onto after bathing

So in general, the bigger and longer the towel, the more fabric it contains to absorb water. But larger towels are also heavier when wet, and take longer to launder and dry. Consider what you’ll use each towel for to decide what size suits your needs.

Key Takeaway: Terry cloth towels range from small 12″ washcloths up to huge 40″ x 70″ bath sheets. Pick your size based on your intended use.

Understanding GSM for Terry Cloth Towels

GSM stands for grams per square meter, and it tells you the weight of the terry cloth fabric. A higher GSM number means a denser, thicker and more absorbent towel. Low GSM towels will be thinner and lighter in weight.

For bath towels, GSM ratings typically range from 300 GSM on the thinner side, up to 900 GSM for the thickest, plushest towels. Brazilian and Turkish cotton towels advertised as “luxury” or “premium” quality are usually 700 GSM and above.

However, GSM doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to quality. You also need to consider:

  • Fiber length – Towels made with longer cotton fibers feel softer and last longer.
  • Weave – Terry cloth construction affects longevity and absorbency.
  • Finishing – How the loops are treated impacts the handfeel.

So don’t choose towels just based on the highest GSM number. The fiber quality, construction and finishing all contribute to the overall quality and performance.

How to Choose the Best Terry Cloth Towels

When shopping for terry cloth towels, here are the key things to evaluate:


100% cotton towels will be most absorbent and durable over years of use. Turkish, Egyptian or American Pima cotton are ideal choices. Bamboo and microfiber are soft but less absorbent synthetics.


Heavier, denser towels (700+ GSM) feel more luxurious, while lightweight 300-400 GSM towels are quicker to dry. Choose your preference.


Bigger towels like bath sheets wrap better but are bulkier. Washcloths and hand towels have handy everyday uses. Get a mix based on your needs.


The more loops and higher the pile, the more moisture terry cloth can contain. Touch various towels in person and see which seem most thirsty.


Longer cotton fibers feel gentler on skin. Zero-twist piles are fluffier. Washcloths let you touch-test comfort.

Care Needs

Natural fibers like cotton and linen are easiest to clean. See if towels are machine washable or must be dry cleaned.


More expensive doesn’t always mean better quality. But very cheap towels won’t last. Set a budget per towel based on regular use estimates.

Look and Feel

Absorbency matters most, but also pick terry cloth you enjoy the aesthetics of. Bold colors? Simple patterns? Get what you love.


Other buyers can highlight real-world benefits or issues. See what existing owners say before you decide.

By keeping all those aspects in mind as you shop, you can zero in on the perfect terry cloth towels for your needs. The softest, most water-loving towels for you might not be the same as for someone else.

How to Care for Terry Cloth Towels

Caring for terry cloth towels is pretty straightforward:

  • Before first use, wash towels on their own to maximize softness and absorbency. Hot water removes excess lint and cotton oils.
  • Wash with similar colors and weights for even cleansing. Avoid overloading the machine.
  • Use a gentle detergent suitable for cottons. Don’t use bleach unless the label specifies chlorine bleach is safe.
  • Select a cool wash temperature and use the gentle machine cycle to preserve the loops and save energy.
  • Skip the fabric softener so residues don’t reduce moisture absorption. Consider wool dryer balls to soften instead.
  • Line dry when possible to limit heat exposure that degrades fibers over time. Or low dryer heat.
  • To restore dingy or less-absorbent towels, wash with baking soda. Then soak in vinegar water before a fresh wash cycle.

With the proper regular care, high quality terry cloth towels can last for many years, maintaining their luxurious softness and thirsty nature wash after wash.


What’s the benefit of terry cloth over regular fabric?

The looped pile structure makes terry cloth highly absorbent and quick to dry. The loops also cushion the skin for comfort.

Is terry cloth good for making clothes?

The French terry variation works well for casual clothes like sweatshirts that benefit from softness and moisture wicking.

Should I get cotton or bamboo towels?

100% cotton absorbs the most moisture and withstands vigorous, frequent use over decades. But bamboo isVERY sustainability produced if you don’t need maximum absorbency.

What GSM is best for bath towels?

700-900 GSM towels will feel the most luxuriously plush and thirsty. Lightweight 300-400 GSM towels offer quicker drying for more frequent use. Choose based on your preferences.

How do I wash terry cloth?

Wash terry cloth using your machine’s gentle cycle in cool water, with a small amount of gentle detergent safe for cotton fabrics. Skip the fabric softener. Tumble dry low if needed, and avoid over-drying.

Why does my white towel get dingy?

Over time, minerals in water and residues from skin, hair products and detergent causes buildup that makes white towels appear grayish. Wash with baking soda, then soak in vinegar solution occasionally to dissolve gunk and restore brightness.

Should I buy bigger bath sheets?

If you prefer to wrap up more fully in a towel, enjoy the luxury feel or have a large body frame to cover, bath sheets are great. Just expect them to be heavier when wet, and bulkier to wash and store.


Terry cloth is the perfect material for ultra-absorbent, comforting towels and robes.

With care and laundering best practices, high quality terry cloth lasts for years, just getting softer over time.

Pay attention to the fabric content, construction quality, weight and dimensions when shopping for terry cloth towels best suited to your priorities.

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.