I Tried Dozens of Different Kitchen Towels — And These Are the Ones Every Home Cook Needs

published Aug 24, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Someone placing glass onto kitchen towel.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Considering the dish towel is an everyday kitchen item, you’d think people would pay more attention to it. But towels mostly seem to be an afterthought. My dish towel collection, for example, is mostly an old, stained pile of rags — and only some of them actually get the job done. 

Recently, I decided it was finally time to give my dish towels the same thought as other kitchen essentials. I was ready to jettison my cruddy, old rags and get new ones that actually absorb water instead of spreading it around. So, I spent days combing through the web, looking for towels of all types and gathering them up for the ultimate test.

How I Tested the Dish Towels

I machine-washed and machine-dried each towel before using (except for the Swedish cloths, which are not supposed to be washed before use) to remove any manufacturing residue or coatings and to see how much they shrunk and/or wrinkled in the process. I used each one to dry a range of dishes and glassware, noting how quickly it absorbed water and how easy it was to use. Was it too big and bulky? Too small and ineffective? The favorites quickly rose to the top. Here are the best of the bunch, categorized by their ideal uses.

Best Paper Towel Replacement: Swedish Dishcloths

Swedish dishcloths aren’t meant for drying dishes in the same way a traditional dish towel is, but these biodegradable cotton and cellulose fiber cloths are highly absorbent and do a great job mopping up spills. Unlike a paper towel, they don’t tear easily and can be tossed in the washing machine when they get smelly (which they tend to do after about three or four days of constant use). When dry, they’re flat, stiff, and easily stackable, so you can keep a big pile on hand. And when they’ve become too stained, torn, and worn out, you can just toss them in the compost. I love that these sustainable cloths are also incredibly versatile, and this inexpensive bulk pack is a great bargain. They don’t have cute designs like others I’ve tried, but they are bigger and a little bit thinner and more flexible, which makes them even better for washing dishes. No wonder they have more than 25,000 glowing reviews on Amazon. A pack of 10 assorted colors is $20 and, according to the manufacturer, each one can be reused after washing at least 50 times. 

Best for Cleaning and Polishing: Amazon Basics Microfiber Cloths

Nothing dusts and polishes like microfiber cloths. The tiny fibers are great at picking up and trapping tons of dust and dirt. Plus, they can polish stainless steel to a glowing shine. I tried several brands, from the super-fluffy to the low-profile, and all worked great, but the inexpensive Amazon Basics brand stole the show. At 12 by 16 inches, they’re a bit bigger than the others, but not so big that they’re unwieldy. They’re not as plush, but they absorbed the same amount of liquid just as quickly, and did a better job cleaning and polishing sticky fingerprints from my fridge doors without the need for a cleanser. And you can’t beat the price: You get a stack of 24 for under $13!

Best for Drying: Williams-Sonoma All-Purpose Pantry Towels 

I am absolutely besotted with these pantry towels. They look and feel as good as they perform, and they’re just $5 each. (No wonder they’re a Wirecutter favorite.) Thick and generously sized at 20 by 30 inches with a hanging loop on one corner, the towels have a soft, plush, terry side, and a textural flat weave on the other. They don’t shrink and get wrinkly when you wash them and come in nine classic, solid colors that go with any kitchen. But aside from their good looks, these towels blow away the competition when it comes to absorption. The other thick towels I tried would move the water around before absorbing, but these towels soaked it up instantly and left no lint behind. And they’re so thick they didn’t feel soggy after drying a full sink of dishes. Made of Turkish cotton, which is known for being highly absorbent, and certified free of harmful substances by OEKO-TEX, they’re a surprisingly affordable option for such a posh brand.

Best Bargain: Zeppoli Classic Kitchen Towels

I always loop a dish towel through my apron ties so I always have one to grab a hot pan off the stove, clean my hands, or wipe down a messy surface while I’m cooking. But those towels really take a beating and end up mottled with stains. That’s definitely not the fate I want for my nice plush drying towels, which is why these cheap all-purpose ones will be my new go-to for cooking. The 100% cotton towels are a modest 14 by 25 inches — not too big or too small — and are as absorbent and lint-free as a thick flour sack towel. At $20 for a big stack of 15, they’re not a big investment, so you won’t worry if they end up stained or wrapped around a kitchen gift and given away. You can use them as napkins, too.

Best Flour Sack: Utopia Kitchen Flour Sack Towels

Flour sack towels are a wonder. They can dry dishes super fast, spotless, and lint-free, and since they’re thin, they can do double duty as a cheesecloth alternative. The only downside is they tend to get soaked when drying a lot of dishes. Still, they’re a kitchen workhorse, and these Utopia Kitchen flour sack towels are huge at 28 by 28 inches, which makes them extra versatile. They’re thin enough that the large size doesn’t end up bulky, and since they’re so big, they can easily hold a batch of yogurt for straining with plenty of fabric to tie a sturdy knot for hanging. A pack of 12 towels is just $16.

Best for Gifting: Thieffry French Linen Dish Towels

I don’t know a single home cook that doesn’t love getting dish towels as a host gift. But that doesn’t mean you can pass off your bargain finds. A gift should feel special, even if it is something utilitarian — and linen definitely fits the bill. It looks elegant, lasts forever, resists stains, and absorbs water quickly. These French towels made of Belgian linen are so thick, you can tell they will last a lifetime, which makes their $28 price tag a lot easier to swallow. Although the robust woven texture feels rougher than other linen dish towels I’ve tried (even after several washings), they performed a lot better, absorbing water lickety-split, instead of smearing it around, leaving my glassware sparkling in an instant. They’re generously sized too, at 28 by 20.5 inches. 

Did your favorite kitchen towel make the cut? Tell us in the comments below.