Bath Towel


Bath towels are woven pieces of fabric either cotton or cotton-polyester that are used to absorb moisture on the body after bathing. Bath towels are often sold in a set with face towels and wash cloths and are always the largest of the three towels. Bath towels are generally woven with a loop or pile that is soft and absorbent and is thus used to wick the water away from the body. Special looms called dobby looms are used to make this cotton pile.

Bath towels are generally of a single color but may be decorated with machine-sewn embroidery, woven in fancy jacquard patterns (pre-determined computer program driven designs) or even printed in stripes. Since towels are exposed to much water and are washed on hot-water wash settings more frequently than other textiles, printed towels may not retain their pattern very long. Most towels have a two selvage edges or finished woven edges along the sides and are hemmed (cut and sewn down) at the top and bottom. Some toweling manufacturers produce the yarn used for the toweling, weave the towels, dye them, cut and sew hems, and ready them for distribution. Others purchase the yarn already spun from other wholesalers and only weave the toweling.


Until the early nineteenth century, when the textile industry mechanized, bath toweling could be relatively expensive to purchase or time-consuming to create. There is some question how important these sanitary linens were for the average person—after all, bathing was not nearly as universally popular 200 years ago as it is today! Most nine-teenth century toweling that survives is, indeed, toweling probably used behind or on top of the washstand, the piece of furniture that held the wash basin and pitcher with water in the days before indoor plumbing. Much of this toweling was hand-woven, plain-woven natural linen. Fancy ladies' magazines and mail order catalogs feature fancier jacquard-woven colored linen patterns (particularly red and white) but these were more likely to be hand and face cloths. It wasn't until the 1890s that the more soft and absorbent terry cloth replaced the plain linen toweling.

As the cotton industry mechanized in this country, toweling material could be purchased by the yard as well as in finished goods. By the 1890s, an American house-wife could go to the general store or order through the mail either woven, sewn, and hemmed Turkish toweling (terry cloth) or could purchase terry cloth by the 'y'ard, cut it to the appropriate bath towel size her family liked, and hem it herself. A variety of toweling was available—diaper weaves, huck-abacks, "crash" toweling—primarily in cotton as linen was not commercially woven in this country in great quantity by the 1890s. Weaving factories began mass production of terry cloth towels by the end of the nine-teenth century and have been producing them in similar fashion ever since.

Raw Materials

Raw materials include cotton or cotton and polyester, depending on the composition of the towel in production. Some towel factories purchase the primary raw material, cotton, in 500 lb (227 kg) bales and spin them with synthetics in order to get the type of yarn they need for production. However, some factories purchase the yarn from a supplier. These yarn spools of cotton-polyester blend yarn is purchased in huge quantities in 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) spools of yarn. A single spool of yarn unravels to 66,000 yd (60,324 m) of thread.

Yarn must be coated or sized in order for it to be woven more easily. One such industry coating contains PVA starch, urea, and wax. Bleaches are generally used to whiten a towel before dyeing it (if it is to be dyed). Again, these bleaches vary depending on the manufacturer, but may include as many as 10 ingredients (some of them proprietary) including hydrogen peroxide, a caustic defoamer, or if the towel is to remain white, an optical brightener to make the white look brighter. Synthetic or chemical dyes, of complex composition, which make towels both colorfast and bright, may also be used.


Most towels are not specially designed in complex patterns. The vast majority is simple terry towels woven on dobby looms with loop piles, sewn edges at top and bottom. Sizes vary as do colors depending on the order. Increasingly, white or stock towels are sent to wholesalers or others to decorate with computer-driven embroidery or decorate with applique fabric or decoration. This occurs in a different location and is often done by another company.

The Manufacturing






Cutting, folding, and packaging

Quality Control

Towels are rigorously checked for quality control throughout the production process. If yarn is purchased, it is randomly checked for weight and must be the standard established by the company (lighter yarn spools indicate the yarn is thinner than desired and may not make as sturdy toweling). Bleach and dye vats are periodically checked for appropriate chemical constitution.

During the weaving process, some companies pass the cloth over a lighted inspection table. Here the weavers and quality inspectors monitor the towel for weaving imperfections. Slightly unevenly woven towels may be straightened out and touched up. But those that cannot may be labeled "seconds" or imperfect or completely rejected by the company. As in all aspects of the process, visual checks are a key to quality control—all involved in the process understand minimum standards and monitor the product at all times.


Potentially harmful byproducts are often mixed in the water that is used to bleach, wash, and dye the towel fabric. Particularly, the bleaching process includes ingredients (peroxides and other caustics) that cannot be discharged untreated into any water supply. Many toweling factories run their own water treatment plants to insure that the water the plant discharges meets minimum standards for pH, temperature, etc.

Where to Learn More


Montgomery Ward & Co. Spring and Summer 1895 Catalogue and Buyer's Guide. NY: Dover Publications, Inc. 1969.

Tate, Blair. The Warp: A Weaving Reference. Ashville, NC: Lark Books, 1991.


Fieldcrest Cannon. "The Making of Royal Velvet Towels." Unpublished script for a video on towel production. Kannapolis, NC, 1998.

Nancy EV Bryk

User Contributions:

Vijay Garg
With the upgrade of Technology , it is now possible to produce Polyester filament yarns with low dpf < 0.5. These yarns offers good moisture transport behaviour hence make themselves a good candidate for Towels.

ussama adib
Grace Spoor
Is terry the namesake of someone who named the towels terry cloth, where did the name come from ?
I need help. It doesn't matter what color towel I buy, after a few washings, the dye starts to fade in spots. I wash in cold water and use liquid detergent and I also use dryer sheets. Can anyone tell me what I'm doing wrong?
PS I live in a hard water area.
Hello i want to know about towel making machineries used and second hand or new. Also i need info about yarns for towel.
Neema Martin
i need help i want to know how many quantinty of yarns/ threads i have to start when i need to open my small factory thanks,
M. Sherrill
I have an allergy to cotton/algadon, some products say 100% cotton, but you cannot tell the algadon is a part of the fabric til you open the package, so far I find these are made in other countries. Any suggestions for getting 100% cotton with no algadon?

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