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6 options for absorbent, durable dish towels

Dec. 29, 2022 Updated Thu., Dec. 29, 2022 at 3:24 p.m.

Sur La Table offers towels with a waffle texture that’s incredibly absorbent so users can quickly dry dishes or wipe up spills.  (Sur La Table)
Sur La Table offers towels with a waffle texture that’s incredibly absorbent so users can quickly dry dishes or wipe up spills. (Sur La Table)
By Lindsey M. Roberts Washington Post

Dish towels are the quiet workhorses of any kitchen. It’s easy to assume any cute towel will do the job – until you need to mop up a spill and the towel doesn’t absorb well. Or it leaves a dusting of lint on a glass. Or it comes out of the wash a wrinkled mess that won’t fold neatly. If you put a little thought and care into choosing them, though, you can avoid these pitfalls.

Towels made of natural fibers are the most absorbent, according to experts. Cotton waffle blends are soft and strong and can stand up to sopping-wet dishes. All-cotton flour-sack towels are larger than standard dish towels, so there’s more surface area for drying, but they can also be used to cover a dish until it’s time to eat, line a bread basket, dry greens and preserve herbs. Durable and absorbent linen dish towels last for years; you can find antique linen cloths in French markets or on Etsy that still work beautifully.

When choosing towels, it’s best to “avoid additives other than cotton,” said Peter Miller, a Seattle shop owner who wrote the book on cleaning dishes. (Really. It’s called “How to Wash the Dishes.”) Make sure the towels are 100% of their inherent fiber, rather than a blend. It’s also worth noting that towels that have been dyed may lose some of their ability to absorb. Katie Workman, the New York-based author of “Dinner Solved!,” also avoids synthetic materials, including microfiber, because they often don’t absorb well.

Sometimes you don’t know how well a towel will work until you try it. To avoid trial and error, we asked Miller, Workman and others to share their favorite dish towels. Here are their picks.

Miller, who runs Peter Miller Architectural & Design Books and Supplies in Seattle, likes a waffle-weave towel for its ability to wick moisture away from surfaces. Sur La Table’s waffle kitchen towels, made of Turkish cotton, are a go-to for him ($21.95 for two, He likes that the lightweight waffle weave dries quickly.

Toya Boudy, a New Orleans chef and the author of the upcoming cookbook “Cooking for the Culture,” said not all towels are capable of standing up to big messes. “You can run through bad kitchen towels like they’re a roll of paper towels,” she said. One that measures up for her is Crate & Barrel’s 100% cotton textured terry indigo dish towels ($14.95 for two, On one side, they have a flat weave that dries delicate dishes well; the other side features terry cloth.

Ted Kennedy Watson, owner of the Seattle home stores Watson Kennedy, said that, although some people prefer to have different towels for different tasks (i.e., a pile of well-worn towels you don’t mind getting pasta sauce on and a pile of pretty, light towels for drying clean dishes), he prefers all-in-one towels. He and Workman both like Le Jacquard Français’ tea towels ($27 each, as a higher-end option. Made of absorbent, smooth and soft long-staple combed cotton in multiple patterns, they make a great gift.

Workman said Thieffry’s monogramme linen dish towel ($28 each, is another high-quality option. The Belgian natural linen will only get softer with washing and use. “A good dish towel will last for years and years and give you daily pleasure as you go about life in the kitchen,” she said. “And linen is lint-free, so it won’t leave a trail of fluff on your glasses.”

Flour-sack towels also make quick, clean work with glasses, Kennedy Watson said. Opt for white ones, such as Williams-Sonoma’s flour-sack towels ($21.95 for four,, Workman said, so “you can bleach them and keep them stain-free.” An added bonus: Crisp, clean ones can be used at the table as basket liners or to hold a hot dish, said Kennedy Watson, author of “Ted Kennedy Watson’s Guide to Stylish Entertaining.”

Most towels should be washed in warm water, then dried according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be sure to pretreat any stains, Kennedy Watson said, and wash anything with excessive stains in hot water. Or choose towels that come in stain-hiding colors, he said, such as Hawkins New York’s essential waffle dish towels ($28 for two,

Lindsey M. Roberts is a freelance writer in North Carolina.

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