Toweling: The Basic Kitchen Towel

When you think of a kitchen towel, what do you think of?  A soft fluffy towel used to dry dishes?  The thin linen towel your grandmother used when making bread?  Or something different?  I think of an essential tool I use in my kitchen every day for everything from wiping my hands to a substitute for a potholder and more.  The basic kitchen towel should be the first purchase when setting up your kitchen because of its great versatility.  The basic kitchen towel, as discussed in the previous installment of this series (read here), is a towel made of tightly woven and/or looped fabric.  The loops are small and can even make different decorative patterns that can help with heat distribution when being used as a potholder or oven mitt.

So let’s talk about what you should be looking for when choosing the perfect towels for your kitchen.

Prints and Patterns:

You never want vinyl prints or patterns since they can melt when exposed to heat and hinder the drying process when the towel gets wet.  If you are looking for a design, look for woven patches or patterns (see picture below for examples).  You can also get a more sophisticated look by using kitchen towels with textured patterns and designs.

Fabric Types:

When choosing the perfect basic kitchen towel, there are several factors to keep in mind when it comes to the type of fabrics you want.  You can get them made from re-purposed or recycled materials, new materials, cotton, hemp or bamboo fibers and more.  It all depends on what you are ethically looking for.  Also, keep in mind that the prices can vary greatly between the types of fabrics depending on their source and quality.  If you are a person who is looking to setup a sustainable kitchen based on environmental impact, maybe look for woven bamboo or recycled materials.  If you are trying to keep your impact as low processed as possible, maybe look into a hemp fiber.  Or if you are like I was back in the day and don’t know or really care about any of that and just want something cute for your kitchen, look at all of them.  The only fabric to avoid when looking to purchase your base kitchen toweling is microfiber or synthetic fibers as they don’t hold up to the heat of the kitchen well at all…trust me on this one; I learned the hard way for you.  Let’s dig into each fabric type a little more to give you as much info as possible:

  1. Re-purposed/Recycled Materials: This is one that I didn’t really think about until I received a set of recycled cotton towels for my birthday in college.  I loved them and still use them today (see below.  Thanks Ashleigh!).  They are the softest and most wonderful towels I have in my kitchen and made me look at what could be used to make a kitchen towel a little differently.  These ones are woven from recycled cotton yarn and the pattern is made from a natural dye that was printed on.  I would totally recommend checking this out as an option, even if you aren’t looking at them for the ethical reasons, they are just amazing towels.

  • Hemp Fiber: Hemp has been used for thousands of years and praised for its softness and durability.  Sailors in the old days used hemp fibers for everything from packing to fix their ships to softened fibers to make their clothing and sails.  Hemp is one of the oldest known fibers used to create woven cloth and is still used today.  It is extremely absorbent and soft and can stand up to almost any heat you may need it to in the kitchen.  I don’t currently own any hemp toweling, but I have used it at my friend’s house and they are amazing.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo is somewhere between cotton and hemp.  It is soft and strong and will last you a very long time, but is more eco-friendly than cotton as it takes less acreage and water to grow.  Bamboo also has a shorter grow time than cotton, allowing you to get more bang for your buck as a grower/producer.  For countries like China and other Asian nations, bamboo fiber has been a huge part of their economy for millennia and is still a widely used fiber today.  I mean, all those generations can’t be wrong, right?  *HERE* is my pick from Amazon for the Bamboo kitchen towels, just to give you a better idea.  I love the gray color and they have a great texture for use as your basic kitchen towel.
  • Cotton: Cotton fiber toweling is what most Americans are used to and know it as the luxuriously soft fiber we seek out for everything from bedding to clothing and just about everything you can make from cloth.  I mean, even our TreadlingHome Aprons are made from 100% cotton due to its durability and reputation.  Cotton is the most widely known fiber in the USA today, largely because of some amazing marketing back in the day by some plantation owners and then freed slaves who worked as share croppers.  When Whitney came out with the cotton gin, it allowed everyday people to gain access to a fabric that was previously reserved for the upper echelon of society due to the labor intensity of the crop and manufacturing process.  Cotton no doubt makes an amazing kitchen towel and makes up almost the entirety of my current collection, including my cotton linen tea towels.  *HERE* is my pick for cotton kitchen towels on Amazon for your convenience.  The patterns are SO cute and they meet all of the requirements for the perfect cotton kitchen towel.  Let me know what you think in the comments.
    kitchen towels
  • Microfiber Cloth: DO NOT USE AS A KITCHEN TOWEL.  Microfiber cloths are made from poly-synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester.  The fibers are usually made from plastics, giving them an extremely low melting temperature, making them not only a menace to a hot kitchen, but also a danger to your cookware and/or cooking surfaces as they can, and will melt when exposed to high temperatures found in an average home kitchen.  While these cloths are great for other things, like drying and mopping, they are not made to withstand heat of any type, so please…learn from my mistake and keep these things out of your kitchen and away from your cookware.  I almost ruined a cast iron skillet by not realizing that I grabbed one of these instead of the towel I meant to grab out of the draw and it immediately started to melt when it came in contact with the skillet.  I managed to remove the cloth before any damage was done to the skillet, but the rather expensive “kitchen cloth”, as it was labeled, was ruined and had to be made into a rag.  You have been warned.  We will talk more about the microfiber cloths in the next article on dish toweling as they are not all bad.  Keep an eye out for that one coming next week 🙂
  • Style Options

    There are several styles of kitchen towels out there, and this can be almost as overwhelming as choosing the fabric types.  Let’s take a look at the different styles and what they are used for to help you find what’s right for you.

    1. Bar Mop: The Bar Mop style is shorter than the average kitchen towel and generally has a larger looped terry cloth pattern to them.  These towels, as the name implies, were developed for the bar industry and are made to be extremely absorbent and sturdy for continued wash and use.  I love these towels due to their absorbency and insulating properties.  This is why we use Bar Mop towels to make our Attachable Towels to accompany our Traditional and Men’s aprons here at TreadlingHome.  They are amazing and I would highly recommend this style for anyone starting out and building their working kitchen towel collection.   As with all kitchen towels, the Bar Mop comes in several textures ranging from large loops to a tightly woven waffle pattern.  It’s up to you what you prefer.  I find that the waffle pattern isn’t as absorbent as its looped terry counterpart; so if you’re looking for something that can multitask a little better for you, I would suggest keeping with the terry options.
    2. Basic: The basic kitchen towel is your best friend next to the Bar Mop for general kitchen use.  It can be used for everything from drying dishes and cleaning up spills to acting as a substitute for a potholder that you only need one of to get a larger pan out of the oven or off the stove.  The basic kitchen towel comes in 2 major categories:
      1. Terry cloth: The looped fabric we are most familiar with in the US and associate with toweling.  It makes toweling more absorbent and helps to distribute the heat well.  It can come in single or double sided versions as well as woven to make patterns.

  • Woven: The second most common version of the basic kitchen towel.  The woven towel is made from almost any fiber and can be used for just about anything as well.  Woven toweling tends to be less absorbent, so if you are looking for something that can help if you spill that oil or lemon juice on the counter or cook top as well as clean your hands and protect them from heat as a potholder, I would suggest sticking with the terry; but if you are looking for something to simply clean your hands and work as a heat protector, then woven should work just fine.  Many professional chefs use woven towels in their kitchens due to their versatility when working in a busy kitchen.  My Amazon selection for the Woven category?  Check out the amazingly beautiful classic and classy colors of this 3 set from Patch.

  • Dish: The dish towel is the thick, fluffy terry cloth towel that we associate with drying dishes.  They can be used for wiping up spills and pretty much anything you need to mop up.  They work well as multitaskers, but the large terry loops don’t lend themselves well to heat distribution for use as a potholder, so they get hotter much quicker than the more tightly looped ones specifically for general kitchen use.
  • Tea/Flour Sack: The tea towel can be used for just about anything.  They are specifically made from woven fibers, most often cotton/linen, and tend to be thinner than other kitchen toweling.  They can work well as dish towels, but I would not suggest them for anything other than taking a kettle or pot off the stove as their thinner nature allows them to heat up at a much faster rate than even the dish towel.  We will talk more about the appropriate uses of the tea towel in a future post.
  • When You’re Shopping:

    When you’re shopping for your kitchen towels, keep these 3 tips in mind:

    1. No vinyl prints/designs/wording.  Keep it embroidered or printed.
    2. Choose the type of fabric that works best with your ethics and style.
    3. Choose a style of towel that works best for your needs.

    I know!  Who knew there was so much to that thing you grab when you make a mess or want to take something out of the oven or off the stove?  Well now you do.  I hope that this was helpful for you and that you can go forth with confidence when purchasing your next kitchen towel.

    Thanks for visiting the TreadlingHome Kitchen and we hope to see you back soon 🙂


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