We Tested 17 Kitchen Towels to Find the Best All-Purpose Ones

Four dish towels on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The phrase “dish towel” is often used interchangeably with “kitchen towel,” and for good reason: they’re truly multipurpose. Spend a couple hours cooking, and you’ll quickly realize you can use a dish towel for much more than just drying dinner plates. In the Serious Eats test kitchen and at home, we use them not just for drying dishes and hands, but for mopping up spills and grabbing hot handles—they make excellent stand-ins for pot holders. 

Choosing the best dish towel can be tricky: is it worthwhile to spend a small fortune on something that’s arguably (albeit quietly) one of the most important tools in your kitchen? Or should you go for a budget buy, because towels are meant to be heavily used? Of course, there’s aesthetics to consider, too: dish towels are stored “out in the open,” on hooks or draped over oven door handles.

There are great options for both types of cooks, whether you want to spend a lot on a luxurious dish towel that’ll look and feel great, or you’d prefer to save a buck and replace it with greater frequency. It all boils down to how you plan on using it.

To find the best all-around kitchen towel, we tested 17 towels from popular and reputable brands. We chose a variety of towel types, ensuring we included terry cloth, flour sack, flat weave, and waffle weave options. The majority of our samples were made from 100% cotton, which is most widely used for dish towels, but we also included microfiber, linen, and linen-blended towels.

The Winners, at a Glance

These towels look, feel, and function like the ones preferred by most chefs in professional kitchens. They’re sturdy enough to take heavy use and thick enough to wrap around a hot pan handle. They also have a stellar absorbency rate (141%!), and a very attractive price point. These towels are made to be hard workers, and although they aren’t as pretty as some of the other competitors, fans of this style would argue that’s the point.

With a weave that is neither too thick or thin, this 100% cotton towel excelled in every task and looked good doing it (it comes in a set of six neutral-adjacent colors). We appreciated its center-located hanging hook and pliability; it made drying delicate glassware easy and efficient. Although the price tag seems high, these towels come in a set of six and are made from organic cotton.

These 100% cotton towels are woven together in a flat crosshatch pattern that is both absorbent and pliable. They’re sturdy, durable towels that can handle most kitchen tasks. Although they’re not quite as soft as the waffle weave varieties, they’re a solid option—and come in an impressive amount of colors.

With a fuzzy terry cloth weave, Utopia’s bar mop is ideal for tossing over a spill or mess in the kitchen. Having a stack on hand cuts down on paper towel use, and while they’re not the fanciest looking towels we’ve ever used, that’s the point—they’re easy to wash and reuse. Just toss ‘em in the wash with a splash of bleach and they’ll be ready to go for the next kitchen disaster.

We loved drying our hands on these luxuriously thick, absorbent hand towels. Although they weren’t our favorite for drying dishes, the design does offer a smart upgrade over other terry cloth towels: these are reversible. You can use the plush side for hands, then put the basic cotton side to work for other kitchen tasks. Either way, you really can’t beat the thickness of All-Clad’s towels. 

The Tests

A hand pouring water onto a dish cloth
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
  • Absorbency Test: We weighed each towel on a digital scale and recorded the weight in grams. After weighing one cup of water (118 grams), we poured the water onto a sheet pan and covered it with a towel. After waiting two minutes, we then transferred the towel to the scale and recorded the new weight. We consulted Gregory Petrics, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, to come up with the calculation [weight after water/weight before water*100-100] to determine the absorbency percentage of each towel. 
  • Drying Time Test: Once the towels were dampened and weighed, we draped each one over a wooden drying rack, ensuring each towel was laid flat with no wrinkles, and did not overlap any other towel. We checked the towels every 15 minutes to assess for dryness; we recorded the amount of time it took for each towel to feel dry to the touch. 
  • Maneuverability (Ease of Use) Test: Once all the towels were entirely dry, we evaluated how easy they were to use as dish drying towels. For each towel, we washed two wine glasses. After rinsing them, we set them upside-down in a drying rack for 30 seconds to remove excess moisture. Then we dried both glasses using the towel. Here, we took note of thickness, pliability, and whether the towel left behind any streaks or lint on the glass.
  • Staining and Cleaning Test: We tested the towels’ ease of care by smearing 1/2 teaspoon of mustard and 1 tablespoon of ketchup on each towel. After waiting one hour, we washed the towels according to their specific manufacturer’s instructions. We then inspected each towel for signs of staining, as well as shrinking, fraying, wrinkling, and general durability after one wash/dry cycle.
  • General Use Test: After completing the above tests, we chose seven standouts for our final test. We used each winning towel for one week in our kitchen, putting it through a rigorous variety of tasks: we dried dishes and hands, used it to handle hot cookware, wiped spills and messes, and hung it on both wall-mounted hooks and oven door handles. After one week, we washed it again according to the manufacturer’s instructions and took notes on texture, thickness, versatility, durability, and ease of care.

What We Learned

The Best Kitchen Towels Were Multipurpose

Five dish towels on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The best towels were consistently useful at a variety of tasks: drying hands, drying dishes, mopping spills, serving as a potholder or oven mitt, and even acting as cleaning rags. Towels that perform brilliantly in one or two categories weren’t good enough to stand up to the true multipurpose workhorses. To choose a towel that can do it all, look for thick (but not plush) cotton, a flexible texture that can be maneuvered around tight spaces, and a price point low enough to justify buying more than one.

Size Mattered: Bigger Was Not Better

If we were using kitchen towels exclusively to dry our hands, we’d be all for the XXL sizes. But the larger towels—accounting for both dimensions and thickness—were awkward to use for most tasks. Drying a delicate wine glass with a large, thick towel was a nerve-wracking experience, and we found that very large towels were not ideal for using around open flame (for obvious reasons)!

Hanging Loops Were Nice to Have

Not all towels we tested had fabric loops for hanging the towel. Although this wasn’t a deal breaker—you can always drape it over a hook or your oven door handle—a hanging loop was appreciated, especially in kitchens where multiple towels are in use at any given time. We docked points for hanging loops that were too thick to be easily used, and gave commendations for loops situated in the center of the long edge of a towel, rather than in a corner. (Corner loops require the towels to dangle awkwardly long, potentially grazing the countertop or workspace.)

Save the Terry Cloth for Hand Towels

Terry cloth, a weave made from thick, looped cotton, is often used in bath towels, thanks to its plush feeling and impressive capacity to “drink in” a lot of water. It’s understandable to assume they’d make great kitchen towels for these reasons. But our testing revealed they do only one thing—dry hands—very well. They’re not great at drying dishes, because the looped weave leaves behind a lot of fibers, especially on glassware. They’re also slow to dry when saturated: in our dry test, the All Clad Reversible Towel, which has a terry cloth weave on one side, took six hours and 30 minutes (the longest of any towel) to feel dry to the touch. We also found their thickness to be a detractor in many tasks. These hefty towels struggled to slide in between narrow pot lid handles and felt clumsy when used in place of an oven mitt

That said, terry cloth towels are stellar at drying hands quickly and completely. If you prefer to keep separate towels for dishes and hands, it’s worth considering a terry cloth towel or two for whenever your hands are wet.

Waffle Weave Towels Were a Great Choice, Depending on the Depth of the Weave

A wet dish towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The towels that had fibers woven together in a waffle-like pattern were top performers in the absorbency, maneuverability, and general use tests. The waffle pattern makes these towels very flexible and malleable, which means they excel at protecting hands around hot cookware and drying dishes. 

The waffle weave towels we tested were either 100% cotton or a cotton-linen blend, although you can also find 100% linen towels. Overwhelmingly, we preferred the 100% cotton towels, due to their lower price point. Linen fibers, while more durable and less prone to pilling over time, become crinkled and accordion-like around the edges, which reduces their usability—unless ironed.

A waffled towel can be deep or shallow, which is represented by how raised the edges of each individual weave is. Although deep, loose weaves feel luxurious and drink up a lot of moisture—and they tend to be more expensive, which made us hesitant to use them for messy kitchen jobs. These were also more prone to slight unraveling and fraying at the edges and within the exposed fibers. One of our favorites, from Coyuchi, had a short, tight weave that felt easy to control, and stood up well to two cycles of washing and drying.

Flour Sack-Style Towels Were Too Thin to Be Truly Useful

Flour sack towels—sometimes called tea towels—were once made from actual flour sacks. Now, they’re simply super thin, lightweight cotton. Although they dry quickly when wet, they’re too flimsy to be useful as a makeshift pot holder.

When are they nice to have around? Owing to their no-shed texture, they’re super at polishing glassware. Embroidered or pattern options can be a nice “just for decor” option, too. 

It’s Not Worth Buying a Very Expensive Towel

It’s tempting to splurge on a gorgeous towel. After all, they’re decor-adjacent tools. But for most cooks, it’s a better investment to buy towels in a pack, spending less per towel. It’s worth noting too that a high price point doesn’t automatically translate to a better towel. The most expensive towel we tested, the Weston Table Laguna Towel, wasn’t as absorbent as our top picks, and didn’t stand up well to being laundered. Our overall favorite, from Zeppoli, come in a pack of 15 and cost just $1.73 per towel. Your budget will determine what defines an “expensive” towel, but, generally speaking, we’d recommend not spending more than $10 per towel.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Kitchen Towel

multiple dish towels with text points around it
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The best dish towels are multipurpose towels that can be used for more than just drying dishes. Look for towels with a strong, tight weave that can stand up to hot cookware, as well as handle a wash/dry cycle without any fuss (although some shrinking is unavoidable in almost all towels). Cotton is favored over linen for its more affordable price point, and resistance to rumpling around the edges. Low-pile threads are ideal because they leave behind minimal lint, and make for a more maneuverable towel. If aesthetics are important in your kitchen, choose colored and patterned towels which can hide stains. Finally, don’t spend a fortune on any dish towel: the pricier it is, the less likely you are to actually use it.

What we liked: Towels in this style are known as “side towels” in professional kitchens. They’re coveted (and sometimes hoarded) among chefs for good reason: they’re incredibly useful for multiple jobs. They’re a great choice for mopping spills in lieu of paper towels; in our absorbency test, they soaked up 141% of their weight in water. They didn’t leave any lint when used as a dish-drying towel. Best of all, we liked their relatively petite size, which wasn’t unwieldy, and lent itself well to use as a makeshift potholder. These towels are among the least expensive we tested and come in a large pack.

What we didn’t like: These towels are surprisingly thirsty, and do become saturated easily. With drying times that can reach hours (during our test, it took five hours to feel fully dry), you’ll need to have a bunch on hand while cooking. They stain easily, and have a thinner weave than our other top pick, which means they will have to be replaced with greater regularity.

Price at time of publish: $19.

Key Specs

  • Material: 100% cotton
  • Dimensions: 14 x 25 inches
  • Care instructions: Machine wash warm; tumble dry low
  • Hanging hook: No
A blue and white dish towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This towel hit all the marks. It is made with a low-profile waffle weave for maximum flexibility and maneuverability. It has a strong hem around all sides, which helps it resist warping and becoming misshapen when washed and dried. The generously-sized hanging loop is affixed to the center of a side, which makes it easy to hang and keep out of the way when not in use. It dried relatively quickly when wet (three hours and 45 minutes), and hid stains well, thanks to its waffled pattern and neutral-ish color. It also looks nice and is made from organic cotton.

What we didn’t like: It’s on the expensive side, with each towel costing close to $10. There was considerable shrinking when washed (three and four inches from either side). We were slightly hesitant to use it for dirty or messy tasks, to keep the aesthetics intact. 

Price at time of publish: $58.

Key Specs

  • Material: 100% organic cotton
  • Dimensions: 20 x 30 inches
  • Care instructions: Machine wash cold on gentle cycle, non-chlorine bleach; tumble dry low or line dry; cool iron as needed
  • Hanging hook: Yes
A biege dish towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: These towels are simple and, as the name suggests, truly classic. They’ll seamlessly merge into just about any kitchen’s design style, and they’re hardworking towels we don’t feel we have to baby or protect from messes. Although some towels with a flatter weave tend to lag in the absorbency department, the crosshatch stitching here meant these towels could handle liquids, whether it was drying dishes or mopping up a spill. Choosing a color is fun, too—Williams Sonoma currently has a handful of springy hues on offer.

What we didn’t like: In our absorbency tests, it couldn’t compare to the impressive performance of the terry cloth varieties — but it did dry quicker. The texture is a little rough, and not quite as pliable as the Coyuchi. The hanging hook is attached to a corner of the towel.

Price at time of publish: $22, depending on color.

Key Specs

  • Material: 100% cotton
  • Dimensions: 20 x 30 inches
  • Care instructions: Machine wash warm, non-chlorine bleach; tumble dry; warm iron as needed
  • Hanging hook: Yes
A tan and white stripped towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: These towels are incredibly absorbent (with an absorbency rate of 160%). They’re perfect for using instead of paper towels, and they’re made to be tossed around—no need to keep them in pristine condition. They come in a set of a dozen and are a basic, white color (unless you opt for a different hue), and have a “no fuss” vibe that can be brightened with bleach.

What we didn’t like: The looped fibers are relatively loose, and won’t last forever. When saturated, this towel is heavy and takes a long time to air-dry. If used to dry dishes, it will leave behind lint.

Price at time of publish: $18.

Key Specs

  • Material: 100% cotton
  • Dimensions: 16 x 19 inches
  • Care instructions: Use cold water, bleach safe, wash separately from dark colors; dry immediately
  • Hanging hook: No
A blue and white towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: These towels are fantastic for drying hands. They’re soft and thick, and soak up a lot of water. They’re good stand-ins for pot holders when maneuvering sheet pans in and out of the oven. All-Clad’s towels were a strong competitor in our staining and cleaning tests, leading us to believe these sturdy towels will last for years.

What we didn’t like: They’re thick to a fault when confronted with certain tasks. We were hesitant to use them for drying the bowl and stem of delicate glassware, and they were a tight squeeze into narrow lid handles. At $10 a towel, they’re at the top range of expensive.

Price at time of publish: $30.

Key Specs

  • Material: 100% cotton
  • Dimensions: 17 x 30 inches
  • Care instructions: Machine wash warm, non-chlorine bleach; tumble dry; warm iron as needed
  • Hanging hook: No
A red and white dish towel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Competition

  • Sur La Table Washed Waffle Kitchen Towels: We liked this thick and soft towel—and appreciated its durable hanging hook—but its weave was loosely threaded, and started to show signs of wear after two washes.
  • Williams Sonoma All Purpose Pantry Towels: Williams Sonoma’s All Purpose Towels are an average performer without much to hate…or love. They’re a bit rougher than some of our other picks, and just a bit too thick to be our go-to for drying delicate dishes.
  • All-Clad Textiles Kitchen Towels: A decent terry cloth option for drying hands, this towel is moderately priced and quite absorbent. But it left behind a lot of lint on glassware, and began to look disheveled after just one wash.
  • Zeppoli Flour Sack Towels: Although this was our favorite among the flour sack options, it doesn’t lend itself to use as a pot holder, which nixed it early from further rounds of testing.
  • Weston Table Laguna Kitchen Towel: This 100% linen towel is a looker, but at $24 per single towel, we were hesitant to bring it near anything that could stain, tear, burn, or fray it. It’s well-made and pretty, and would work best as a decorative or “hands only” towel.
  • Utopia Towels Dish Towels: At first blush, these look almost indistinguishable from the Zeppoli Classic Kitchen Towels, our winners. But the Utopia towels were less absorbent, and had a stiffer, rougher texture.
  • Now Designs Flour Sack Kitchen Dish Towels: This set of three towels earned smiles for its cheery colors, but the towels were low-performers in every test. They’re so thin, they’re actually see-through—a quality that stopped us from testing them as pot holders for hot cookware.
  • Aunt Martha’s Flour Sack Dish Towels: Although Amazon reviewers love these as a blank canvas for embroidery, we struggled to find their usefulness in the kitchen. They’re supersized to a fault, and many in our package had odd dimensions. They’re also not as absorbent as our other flour sack test subjects.
  • Hyer Kitchen Microfiber Kitchen Dish Towels: We love a towel that leaves no trace (these don’t deposit any lint), but these aren’t great multitaskers, owing to their unique texture and thin composition. We’d keep a stack close by for cleaning and polishing the kitchen, though.
  • Hawkins New York Essential Dish Towel Set: Hands down (and dry), these $14-per towel options smoked the competition in the “looks” category. But their XL length made them awkward to use for most tasks, and we were reluctant to use them for messier tasks.
  • Magic Linen Waffle Kitchen Towel: Although we enjoyed the luxurious feel of this linen-cotton blended towel and its deep, thirsty waffle weave, its $18-per-towel price tag made it impractical for everyday use.
  • Five Two Utility Towels: These simple cotton towels were decently absorbent and almost as versatile as the Zeppoli Classic, our top pick. However, at over $15 more per towel (at the time of testing), it was hard to justify the splurge.


What’s the difference between dish towels and tea towels? 

Tea towels are thin, flexible towels made from cotton or linen—they’re sometimes called flour sack towels, and often printed or embroidered with designs or patterns. Although you can use tea towels for dish towels, they’re less versatile, and often used as decoration. They are, we’ll add, pretty great at drying glassware, due to their lack of lint. (The phrase “tea towel” has its origins in high society; these towels were used to insulate teapots and keep baskets of scones warm).

What are bar mops?

Bar mops are plush, terry cloth-style towels made with high-pile looped cotton. They’re thirsty and absorbent, making them ideal for mopping up spills on wet surfaces. But they become quickly saturated, which makes them far from ideal for use as pot holders. They also leave behind a lot of lint when used as a dish drying towel.

What’s a side towel? 

A side towel is restaurant lingo for a basic, low-cost dish towel that can be used for a variety of kitchen tasks. Our top pick in this review, the Zeppoli Classic Kitchen Towels, are considered a side towel.

What’s the best way to wash dish towels? 

Beyond “according to manufacturer instructions,” you mean? Jokes aside, dish towels should be washed in cold water and tumble-dried on the lowest heat setting to avoid shrinking. All cotton and linen towels will shrink up to four inches after the first wash/dry cycle, although if you’re concerned about that, you can hang-dry them to minimize surface area loss. If your kitchen towels get stained, treat them immediately with a stain remover and wash on cold. If the stain remains, try treating and washing again before putting in the dryer; heat will “set” the stain. Most manufacturers note that if bleach is used, it should be the non-chlorine type.

Are kitchen towels and dish cloths the same? 

Linguistically, yes. Although dish towels are often referred to as kitchen towels and vice-versa, there’s one instance where we wouldn’t swap them out. Terry cloth towels are best reserved for drying hands, because they leave behind lint when used for drying dishes (especially on glassware).

Which material is best for a dish towel?

Our tests revealed that cotton was preferable for dish towels, owing to its high absorbency rate, low cost, and flexibility. Linen is an excellent option as well, although it’s more expensive and prone to wrinkling and rumpling in the dryer. Although microfiber doesn’t leave behind lint, it’s not ideal for drying hands or swapping in as a pot holder.