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Dish Towels

Seeking: an absorbent, tough, and versatile towel. Must be handy, flexible, attractive, and willing to tackle multiple tasks.


Published Feb. 1, 2014. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 8: Pasta for Every Palate

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

When we last scrutinized dish towels, the Now Designs Ripple Towel aced our tests. But at $8, it seemed a little expensive to use on the toughest tasks. Worse, readers complained that its seams sometimes unraveled after several washes. So we went back to the drawing board and bought new towels in a broad selection of sizes and textures from a kitchenware shop and low-priced restaurant suppliers. We even tested a new cloth diaper—one of our editors swears by them—and while we focused on cotton, which was strongly preferred in previous tests, we threw in one synthetic microfiber towel (the fabric is known for wicking moisture). With eight towels (priced from $2 to $8 per towel), including our old favorite, we went to work.

Whether we’re using it to dry a dish or soak up a spill, first and foremost, a dish towel must be absorbent. To quantify absorbency, we dangled an inch of every towel into a tub of water for 15 minutes, weighing towels before and after. We did it again, this time dropping each towel on the surface of a tub of water to mimic wiping up a big spill. Microfiber excelled, while cotton towels ran the gamut. The worst towels seemed to almost repel water, floating lazily and taking a full minute to submerge. In the dangling test, we watched weaves acting like channels: Water zigzagged along herringbone, stepped up horizontal ribbing in fits and starts, traveled steadily up flat weaves, and stayed put in thick terry. The best towels had thinner areas that quickly transported water and thicker spongelike zones that held on to it.

We repeated our dangling test after putting the towels through 10 laundry cycles. Good news: All became dramatically more absorbent. Why? New textiles often contain leftover “sizing,” a protective treatment that repels water. Two formerly middling towels became 100 percent more absorbent, taking in more than the former winner did when new. Nevertheless, the microfiber towel, as well as cotton towels with mixed textures, still held a clear advantage.

We often use dish towels as kitchen tools, enlisting them to squeeze out excess liquid from watery vegetables before cooking or to fill in for potholders, among other tasks. We put 10 ounces of defrosted frozen spinach into each towel and wrung the towels firmly. A few narrower towels were barely broad enough to contain even that modest amount of food. Thicker towels were harder to squeeze than thin-to-medium-weight towels. We also used each towel to remove hot baking dishes filled with pie weights from a 450-degree oven. Bigger, thicker towels were harder to control, but the thinnest, smallest towels felt inadequate. (Warning: Microfib...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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Reviews you can trust

Reviews you can trust

The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Kate Shannon

Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.