Best bath towels for the money?

vera want towels at kohlsI have done numerous stories on bathroom towels with retro style. I usually focus on the towels’ design. But anyone who has ever used and washed a bath towel a gazillion times knows that how the towel wears — or doesn’t — is even more important, in terms of making it a household favorite, not to mention a wise expenditure. We’ve had plenty of pretty towels start to unravel, or get pilly, or rough, way too soon. I am most definitely not the princess & the pea, so this doesn’t tend to bother me. But, other family members are *sensitive* types. Which means they are constantly, and annoyingly, wanting to try other towels every year or so. This is expensive! Towels should last a lot longer than a year! So now we get to the recommendation: 

The recommendation: Simply Vera Vera Wang Simply Soft towels… but…

BUT, UPDATE Oct. 23 — The family now has washed the towels and bad news, some of the towels did not hold their color. They got that blotchy rusty look in spots. Dear Husband went online and found complaints. Although, there also seems to be info that these spots are caused by face care products. For this reason — and for other key reasons — recommendation: WITHDRAWN.

Where to find the best bath towels: Buy them vintage on or ebay or at estate sales or thrift shops

Read through all the comments and maybe like me, you will come to the conclusion that the best value in bath towels is to buy them VINTAGE. That’s right. The bath towels made in th 50s, 60s, 70s — maybe even into the 80s — seem to have been much better made. They last forever. They may be “thinner” than the plush towels today — but *plushy comfort* aside, they seem to be more absorbent. They don’t pill… again, they seem to last on and on.

Where to find them: Search — where I usually can find a good selection, including New Old Stock. Check ebay, too. These sellers probably found these towels at estate sales and thrift shops like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Also check with family — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles — they might have extras (including New Old Stock they never opened) that they would be happy to give you, once you admired them.

What about you, readers?
Any FANTASTIC bath towels, quality for the money,
that you would recommend?

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  1. Nancy says

    Towels! How I long for Martex Patrician towels of yore….made in America, soft and fluffy when machine dried, fabulously rough when air dried, absorbent and long lived. Of course, next to nothing is made in the USA now and the “zero twist” options available from China, Pakistan and India are super soft but like rubbing down with a piece of polyester. I’m thinking I might try a set made in Turkey or Portugal next and would be delighted to hear any other suggestions from your readers that share my pain! And don’t get me started on bed linens!

    So enjoy your blog….

    • weed30 says

      Nancy – you must try Kohl’s Luxury Collection 600 Thread Count Sateen Sheet Set ! Here is a link:

      They are the only sheets I have purchased in years. Sort of a brushed cotton, so they are soft right out of the package – I hate how most sheets need to be broken in. They are also what I call ‘temperature neutral’ – they don’t feel cold in the winter! You could buy just a couple pillow cases if you want to test them out.

      They really are great sheets. The down side is they don’t come in the greatest colors. I have white and pale blue, but I don’t see pale blue in their current offerings.

      • weed30 says

        YIKES! I just saw the current pricing! No way did I pay $180 for sheets!! I think at the time I bought them, they were $149 full price, on sale for 30% off, and I had an additional coupon. That is one thing I am irritated about with Kohl’s – about 2 or so years ago they really jacked up the prices on everything. 20% or 30% off these days seems to get you down to the old full retail price. Hmph.

  2. gsciencechick says

    I’ve always used JCPenney towels, but I don’t think they even have the same quality as we bought 5 years ago when we got married, that they have changed their line. However, they do have an excellent color selection. Our main bath towels are yellow and azure blue, which I can’t really find the azure anymore to replace them.

    Target seems to have a good variety of colors, but I don’t know anything about quality. Same thing for Bed Bath & Beyond.

    • katie a.a.w. says

      we have some great hand towels in our bathroom (i had to get white, though, because i couldn’t find the right color blur or green to go with our retro crane fixtures and vintage wallpaper) from target. they are sort of ribbed and the tag only says “home” with the target bullseye. i recollect that they had a specific name for the line, but the tag isn’t giving me anything.

      anyway, have absolutely loved these towels. i just bought them a quick freshen-up for the bathroom, but would absolutely buy again. very durable, yet the softest towels we own.

      • JefferyK says

        I believe the ribbed towels from Target are the Spa Home line — they are 25% bamboo rayon. Not super absorbent, but soft and, most importantly, NO LINT. I bought other towels from Target that were a little cheaper and 100% cotton, and they never stopped linting (is “to lint” a verb?). I mean, after 10 washings they were still leaving lint everywhere: me, the floor, the walls. I hated them.

  3. gavin hastings says

    I have had pretty good luck with the Ralph Lauren line. 3 years and still ok.

    I think the secret is buying ALOT of a towels- so that you are constantly rotating the stock. An extra 50 bucks might buy you a few more years……
    There are 2 people here in the house. !0 bath and 12 hand towels.

  4. katie a.a.w. says

    when registering for my wedding in 2008, i stumbled upon “suite collection” towels at bed, bath, & beyond. i haven’t bought any since, so i can’t speak to the (often inevitable) reduction in quality that some manufacturers do to a trusted product as the years go on, but a quick glance at their website finds that the wide range of colors is gone, the price is reduced, and they have been phased out. overall, we absolutely love these towels and it was the #1 reason that we registered at BB&B., but i guess we will have to find a substitute. :(

  5. Katey says

    I was a big fan of the KMart Martha Stewart Egyptian Cotton towels… but they’ve been discontinued. My biggest towel-wear peeve is when the stripe shrinks and puckers up. So in general I look for towels with no stripes- just bound edges- and I don’t wash them after every use! I also dry almost all my laundry on LOW heat, which seems to make everything last longer.

    My idiot male roommate is notorious for taking my neutral colored towels so in response to that I bought a set of screamingly salmon pink towels at Walmart that he can’t mistake for his own. I bought them just for the color, at a rediculous low price, but they’re already feeling worn- they’re just not well constructed.

  6. Natalie says

    I LOVE my Pottery Barn towels! I have washed them every week for over two years and they are just as thick, plush, and vibrantly colored as ever.

    • alice says

      We too have some Pottery Barn towels for our original pink bathroom and they have held up well and stay fluffy and colorful. Some of their patterns work well with the retro theme.

      I also agree with Gavin, more towels, more rotation helps.

  7. effika says

    I’m still using JC Penney towels that I bought 9 years ago. They’ve faded (of course) but remain soft and thick and absorbent. We recently got another set as a wedding present. I don’t know what the quality will be like with these new towels, but they are very soft and absorbent!

  8. Peggy says

    I discovered a brand I love carried by J.C. Penney called Linden Street. They are made in India. These are advertised as being eco friendly because they dry very fast which cuts down on dryer energy usage. My old towels used to take a 50 minute cycle on high and these totally dry in 30 minutes on the high setting. They aren’t thick and fluffy, but I like the interesting thread twist design and the thickness is suitable. I use a new towel each time I shower, so these are all washed once a week and I have had them over two years and they look new. I buy only white towels, so I can’t vouch for the color fastness of them.

  9. Bryan says

    Restoration Hardware’s Turkish Cotton Terry cloth towels. In 28 colors. They are just simply amazing towels. They changed the “Silver Sage” color a year or so ago, so I ended up having to buy different complimentary color. I was ticked off, but the quality of the towels speaks for themselves. If you have one near you, I would definitely give them a look.

  10. chris says

    Here’s a story to prove the old “they don’t make ’em like they used to” expression.

    I have some of my parents old towels — gifts from their wedding in 1964!

    These towels are gorgeous and fluffy. I started using them about 20 years ago.

    So — these towels are going on 50 years old — still lovely and not all puckered at the end or frayed.

    The ones I got for my wedding in ’98 are like little rags.

  11. gavin hastings says

    One other thing:

    Towels are the one household item that I put on a charge card. Why? Because I would never stand in a department store and shell out over $300/400 for this item.
    By charging it…I can play “Mr Big”, spend more than I really should, and pay in digestible bites.

    You pay more in the end- but it is the one expense that I think is outside the rule.

  12. Kate H says

    I have Ralph Lauren towels now and they are fine, but they didn’t change my life or anything. I don’t use dryer sheets or Downey, as those both affect absorbency.

    • kitty says

      I bought Lands End towels in 1984 that I still use. The ones I bought last year were awful and I sent them back. Don’t know what I’ll do when the old ones are really gone.

  13. says

    I don’t have any towel recommendations, but I discovered a way to really reduce my weekly laundry. I bought 3 towels for each my kids, each kid has a different color and/or pattern. They’re not allowed to leave their towels lying in the bathroom, they must stay in their room and they’re not allowed to use any towels but their own. This way, they reuse towels without having to worry about being infected with sibling cooties plus, if they leave a towel lying around so it doesn’t dry properly between showers, they’re stuck drying off with a damp towel since they aren’t allowed to use any towels but their own. I don’t even keep towels stored in the bathroom anymore, taking away the temptation of ‘borrowing’ someone else’s. I’ve gone from washing 4 or 5 loads of towels a week to 1 or 2, which is pretty good considering I’m living with 3 teenagers.

  14. Patty says

    I hate really thick towels or any towel like a velour. I especially like thin towels for my hair. The ones I use for my hair now are 20 years old and getting thread bare but I doubt I could find suitable replacements. I probably bought them at a discount store.

    Towel preferences vary widely.

    • Kitty says

      Patty, my daughter didn’t (she grew up and moved out) like thick towels either. K-Mart still carries a line of thin, but seemingly durable, small sized bath towels.

  15. KittenPoker says

    Regardless of the towel, make sure you DON’T use a dryer sheet. The sheet coats the fibers for softness but makes the towel less absorbent.

    We have also have Restoration Hardware towels. I snagged them on sale in 2006 and they’re still pretty awesome. I’ll have to check out the Kohl’s/Vera Wang for my guest bathroom!

  16. Beverly says

    “Magnificence” by 1888 Mills. They’re a good, sturdy quality, finished well, not too thick and not too thin. I haven’t bought any towels yet, but did order several wash cloths and hand towels. A lovely bed and breakfast we stayed in in Asheville, NC, The Queen Anne”, stocked the rooms with this brand. I loved them! And they’re made in the USA – a plus for me.

          • Andrew says

            You can also find these on My wife and I have been looking for better towels and we’ve went through 1 full set of towels and just bought another full set (both full sets were bought at JCPenney and the latest set was one of the few brands that weren’t actually made by JCPenney themselves) and we’ve only been using our own towels for 1 year and 3 months. This latest set we’ve only had for 2 months and 1 of them is already starting to fall apart. We will give a long hard look at these 1888 towels. They look to be really good quality. Thanks

  17. Laurie Johnson says

    We went with the Fieldcrest from Target, chocolate brown and white with brown detail. Have not been disappointed in the look or the quality.

    • pam kueber says

      I love my 450 thread count sheets from Fieldcrest from Target. I was just in the store the other day and noticed there now are 600 thread count… Might have to put that on the Christmas list…

  18. says

    Good to know about the Vera Wang towels (the update). Not that I can afford them anyway. lol

    When we were married we were given a set of JC Penny towels, and they lasted nearly ten years (they were still good when I tired of them actually lol)! The cotton didn’t ‘rough’ up, and the color didn’t fade. During that time, because we were young marrieds and on a tight budget, I bought some extra towels at Kmart, the Martha Stewart line. They were pretty good, but didn’t stand up to the Penny’s towels in the long run.

    I eventually headed for the Penny’s rack. The new towels were not nearly of the same quality as our gift towels, and didn’t last as long, but, the quality was still pretty good for the money. The last batch I bought, the towels weren’t as thick as previous purchases, and though they didn’t fade, they did rough up after only a year. I believe because of a lesser quality of cotton. No more Penny’s towels. The price went up, the quality went down.

    We can’t afford Ralph Lauren and other ‘name’ brand towels, and with quality a real factor with anything these days, I’d be cautious in buying anyway. For right now we’re buying towels from IKEA. The quality may not be up to par with some of the high end brands, but they’re affordable, and are working out well for us right now.

  19. ReneeK says

    I love my WalMart towels. They are also the type made to dry faster. They are soft and fluffy and not too heavy. Soft Indulgence, 100% cotton.

    I, too, have some of my parent’s wedding towels. 1956, frayed but still going strong. Let’s face it, we’re all here because we know they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

  20. Tressa says

    When we moved to our new house in June, we bought new bath towels. I don’t remember the brand, but we got them at Bed, Bath & Beyond and they’re embroidered with an initial. They are like new after many washings. Who knows what they’ll look like in a year, but I’ve found that you can tell the quality of a towel after four or five washings (sometimes even just one). So we’re happy with them.

    I got married 12 years ago and the towels I put on my gift list are still going strong today. I got them at Macy’s or Penny’s or some such mall store as that.

  21. Ima Pam says

    Replaced BB&B Suite Collection towels. They held up alright (5+ years) substance-wise, but the stripe puckered terribly and colors faded quickly. Purchased Jaclyn Smith Traditions from KMart for a vintage violet colored bath. Right colors, right price. So far, so good…minimal fading, no puckering. These are not super plushy. For a pink and green bath I bought Katie Brown 100% Pima cotton towels from Meijer. These towels are of the thick plushy variety and richly colored. So far so good on those too, but currently out of stock on the website.

    I use Gavin’s strategy: LOTS of towels. Also dry on medium low heat and teens use theirs twice. I gotta say-some Charisma towels by Fieldcrest Cannon-are over 20 years old and still presentable. No towels purchased in the last 15 compare.

  22. Karen Day says

    Thanks for the update on the VW towels! After your initial recommendation I went to Kohl’s website, read the mixed reviews, and thought “hmmmm, they don’t sound so great….but Pam usually knows what she’s talking about”. Thought I still might try them next time they went on sale at 50% off, now I won’t bother.

  23. nicole says

    A few years back I picked up some towels at the thrift store to use for the gym. These are the nicest towels ever (Cannon made in the U.S.) They were in beautiful shape but bright gold, yellow and cream. Same thrift trip I picked percale sheets in a hippy flower print. Great sheets!

    I say try thrift stores!

  24. vee says

    I worked for Cannon Mills in their NY office in the ’70’s. I still have towels from that job that are in excellent condition without fading. They were demoted to my weekend house 15 years ago becuase all the browns and oranges of the era looked better in the more country style of the house. All the deep tones of these
    towels are still intact 35 years later.

    I gave away so many towels and sheet sets because I just got tired of looking at them which I now regret . Nothing is comparable in quality (unless you spend a fortune) to the towels that were manufactured for their so called value/low end line, Monticello, much less their luxury line Royal Cannon.

    I still have a few terry distowels from that era that are still going strong and unfaded despite hot water bleach and hot dryers.

    One of the things I look at when I hit a tag sale are towels, if they were made in the US, I will buy them if they are in decent shape.

    I have bought some very expensive sheets over the last 5-10 years, mostly made in portugal and they don’t hold up to use. I have multiple sets so they are rotated and a set I bought about 3 years ago (400 threat count) had so many
    holes, they went to the recycling center in the rag, not donate bin.

  25. wendy says

    I miss Mervyn’s! I bought a bunch of their store brand towels in the mid-late 1990s that i’m still using. Their Celebration line had oodles of colors and they’ve held up really well. Now, I wish I’d stocked up when they were going out of business. Seems everytime I try a new towel, it disappoints. sigh.

  26. Nanne says

    Hello, all! By far, the best towel I’ve ever used (and I’ve bought too many others at all price points to count over the years) are Espalma Seven Hundred 100% Cotton/Algodon. Mine say Made in Brazil on the tag. I bought the regular size, as I can’t stand unnecessarily huge towels that take forever to dry. I still have the original set purchased at steep discount over 8 years ago and they remain beautiful, dry quickly and fluff right up with their relatively short pile. They also have a great mid-century minimal banding design. In fact, I’m still grieving the loss of the one towel that my mother in law mistakenly filched while visiting us in their motorhome a couple of years ago, leaving behind a similar color towel that was hers. That’s how much I love my Espalma!

  27. Sara says

    The best towels I’ve ever experienced are Macy’s Hotel collection towels. They are so durable, soft, fluffy and well-made. Can’t say enough good things about them. I think they are completely worth the price. No other department store, including higher-end ones, seems to compete.

  28. Kate says

    I still have a few of the JC Penny towels that I got for my 1st wedding in 1980!!! The edges are frayed and they are a little thinner but the best I’ve ever had. Not too soft and dry us off fast.
    I tried going to Pennys last year to get new ones, I told the person what I wanted and the ones he recommended as a equal replacement sucked. (And it wasn’t water). I gave them away.
    So I keep using my orignals for me.
    There’s just times you can’t replace “vintage”!!

  29. Debra Raver says

    I know the kind of spots you have noted on your Vera Wang towels on other towels , some quite expensive brands ruined after just a short use. After some investigation, I read time after time that an ingredient in many acne medicines–benzoyl peroxide–may be the culprit. If you have teens or young adults using the towels, this might be bleaching the color. I also noted that the use of some bathroom cleaning products can mist in the air and land on towels, leaving rust-colored permanent blotches on my dark towels. Expensive lesson learned.

  30. Barbara Kightlinger says

    My Favorite Towel which I bought over 20 years ago and still holding up is Martex Algodon 100% cotton made in USA. Got them at Mervyn’s and they are still thick and don’t leave lint on your body. I hate that.
    I recently bought Linden Street and Pure Perfection brand at JC Pennys to try them out. They both left lint on body and I took them back. Penny’s is very good at letting you bring back items. I had purchased two shower curtains from their catalog which I liked and decided to try the towels. I was going to try the American Living Hamilton Towels (last type they have) if that don’t work I’ m on to try to find the Martex Algodon again. I have a feeling they don’t make them anymore and you can’t find anything made in the USA anymore either. What is our country coming to, this is why so many American’s are out of work. I live in AZ and Mervyn’s is gone, Target is still there but don’t know if they carry Martex. Towel hunting really is a pain.

  31. Chris says

    Who knew the search for affordable quality towels would be so exhausting! Years ago, I demoted towels to the camping supply box and have recently retrieved them since they look, feel, and perform better than towels I have purchased in recent years. Royal Velvet, Martex, and Cannon towels decades later still look and perform well.

    I heard the Hotel collection at Macys was worth the cost, but a former sales person told me Macys pushes Hotel because they make the most money on them. He told me Charter Club is superior and of course, they cost less. I have yet to make a choice.

    Martha Stewart’s towels, I’ve heard from friends, shed and unravel.

    I think I will start combing through the estate sales. Somewhere a woman “held back” a set of quality towels to use for “good.” Maybe one of us will be lucky enough to discover her treasure.

    • pam kueber says

      Chris, it’s not too hard to find vintage. I show them on my blog whenever I see them on ebay. Also watch etsy, and estate sales. They are out there.

  32. spring says

    Instead of buying more and more towels you can take two simple steps.
    Here are two little tips all the way from Israel.

    1. Do not use fabric softener when washing towels (or clothes for that matter, it contributes nothing to the clothes).
    It’s just another way to get money out of consumers’ pockets.
    Try a few times without softener and you will notice that voila, your clothes are still soft without it.
    Fabric softeners make towels lose their fluffiness over time.
    In addition, fabric softener is just one more thing that adds to the pollution of the environment. So why use it ?

    2. Every now and then wash your towels with 1 cup of natural apple cider vinegar. It keeps them fluffy and eliminates smells.
    By the way, apple cider vinegar is good for many other house hold chores. Do a little google search.

    Wishing you all a wonderful day.

    Shalom from Israel.

  33. Sarah says

    Just a little tip… if you wash your body or face with some sort of alcohol in it, even some shampoos, DO NOT use your brand new COLORED towels. Have a junky towel lying around whenever you wash your hair or face. What I find is that this is one of the reasons why your towels become blotchy and bleached. Proactiv has ruined many towels, so if I don’t already use something old, I use something white.

  34. Olde Tom says

    I have been told by my grandmother back in 1985 that I should buy quality stuff such as bath towels Made in USA. She was noticing that junk overseas was not durable at all. She even gave me her old sets to get me started when I moved out on my own. Admittedly, being young and dumb, I abused these gifts. Since they didn’t wear out and looked very dated, I donated them. Now I look back in fondness as she died in 1990 of the care that she has shown me with her sage advice and thoughtful gift. I delayed buying towels until 1992 when I bought JPStevens, Made in USA, from Bed & Bath. Since I couldn’t afford much, I just bought ONE each for my wife & I. It is now 2013 and we are still using these exact same towels! Yes, you read that right, THE SAME TWO TOWELS USED DAILY FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS! These two started out as “Beach towels” but ended up being used as bath towels since nothing else seemed to last at for more than a year or two.
    These two started to get a little frayed recently, and the color has faded but are wonderfully soft and absorbent! Any other towels that we had bought through the years to add to our linen closet simply didn’t hold up. So when I was ready to buy “Made in USA” towels again, I couldn’t find them anywhere! Now I see that the “1888 Mills” is selling at a few places, I am definitely buying several for my house as well as for my child’s “hope chest”!

  35. Olde Tom says

    Just thought to add that the new “1888 Mills” Made in USA towels that I’m going to buy might last me long enough until my grave.

    I have mixed feelings about buying them from Walmart. On one hand, I’m disgusted since that company single handed forced the old Cannon Mills demise by buying overseas instead of buying from them.

    On one hand it is great that they might have seen the errors of their ways and start promoting “Made in USA” again.

    Guess I’ll head over these websites to get instead…

    Highly recommend that you invest in good quality! Well worth the price!

    BTW, we NEVER use fabric softener! Low to Medium heat while they dry, about 30-45 mins. Who cares how long it may take tumbling around when your doing something else such as watching a movie on TV. Tumbling uses less electricity than the electric heaters. Low heat, less shrinkage!
    We have also found that if you go to a laundry mat with a large diameter dryer, they take about half of the time to dry!

  36. Olde Tom says

    Just went through my closet. I found a small variety of hand towels that were used over the years. All but two were made from 1980 to about 1995 by Cannon Mills. Even found a “bachelor hand towel” hiding in the back. The lone survivor from my grandmother’s gift mentioned earlier. Yeah the varied brown toned stripes look dated, but brought back a flood of memories.

    I have a few “Car wash cloths” that were Made in USA. Very badly abused getting a little stained doing their jobs, but work wonderfully and still in good condition.

    Only two are from overseas. A wash cloth that feels very slimy. Made in Pakistan by Calaphon. It is about two years old and very disliked by the family. Too nice to discard, so it is kept to wash our dog.
    The other was a very large beach towel bought while on vacation that is about five years old. Surprisingly decent quality, being it was Made in China. It is the towel that we use to dry our greyhound after a walk in the rain or after baths. She also likes to use it like a blanket on cold winter nights.
    Speaking of dogs, I read a blog where someone mentioned donating old towels to animal shelters. What a great idea!

  37. Deb says

    Many of the comments aren’t about towels purchased TODAY. Most towels now are “Made in India”. I have to buy new ones now and after purchasing 2 sets, one from Target and one from Sears, both sets have fallen apart… unstitched on the ends… within 2 months time. I was able to return them to Target. Sears wouldn’t take them back. So now I’m on the hunt for better made towels, but it seems all reviews say the same… unstitching occurs. I haven’t been able to find any Made in the USA, except one from Walmart and they were not soft at all. I cannot afford Macy’s. Are the ones made in Turkey or China any good? The sets I had in the past lasted many many years, but today’s merchandise is all imported and crap. I don’t know what I am going to do. I currently have borrowed 4 towels from my parents until I find something.

      • Deb says

        I saw that site listed and will, but I also want to check return policy because I currently have $50 of worthless towels at home. I have really had a bad time with this. The first set pilled and left dust for months as well and return any that do that again. Thank you for the tip!!!

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