Terrible Towels

Lately Kish and I have experienced a weird phenomenon:  every time we go out to buy towels, the towels we bring home don’t work very well.  In fact, you might say they suck — except that “sucking” suggests a moisture absorbency that these towels totally lack.

Rosie, the waitress from the old Bounty TV commercials, would tell you that the key quality of towels — paper or cloth — is their ability to soak up fluids.  That’s why she was always accosting customers, butting into their conversations to yammer on about the “quicker picker-upper,” and sticking Bounty towels into half-filled glasses of water to show how much water the towels could absorb without dissolving into wet paper nubs. 

But modern towel manufacturers seem to have forgotten — or perhaps they never learned — this essential lesson about what a towel should be.  They make towels that look delightfully warm and fluffy and soft, but that don’t actually soak up water.  It’s as if the cloth has a kind of coating on it that prevents it from sucking up fluids.  So when you use the fluffy towel after taking a shower, you’re just smearing water around on your arms and legs, and your hair stays wet.  The difference between the old towels in our house and the new breed is like night and day — or, most aptly, dry and wet.

It’s absurd.  It’s like buying a pillow that is hard and jagged, ordering a drink that is so brackish it  doesn’t quench your thirst, or purchasing a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t actually suck up dust and dirt.  Modern towel manufacturers consistently produce a product that doesn’t even perform its principal purpose.  How in the world did this happen?

Bad Towels

We bought some bath towels a while ago.  They look nice, I suppose, with their fancy raised pattern, but when you consider their essential purpose as towels . . . well, they suck.  Actually, now that I think of it, they don’t suck, and that’s the problem.  These towels have no apparent absorbency, and just kind of smear the water around.  We hoped that, with a few washings, the biers might loosen up somehow and they might actually function properly, but our hopes have been dashed.  These towels are a lost cause.

This is irksome.  Of course, you can’t test towels for absorbency when you buy them, but it’s only fair for a consumer to assume that a product that is supposed to sop up water will, in fact, have a reasonable amount of absorbency.  After all, that’s the whole point of a towel.  And how would you check out a towel, anyway?  It’s not like you can give it a test run to see whether it does the trick when you step out of the shower.

towel with crappy absorbency is like a raincoat that isn’t water-resistant.  And you don’t get to test raincoats before you buy them, either.  But be assured of one thing:  we will never again buy a towel made by this manufacturer.

Smell Test

How often should you run the towels in the bathroom at your house through the washer and dryer?  The experts say to pay attention to your nose.

img_3625It’s kind of disgusting to think about, but microbiologists will tell you that once you use a towel, you’re leaving a deposit of all kinds of materials that microscopic organisms crave on that nice, warm, fluffy, cottony cloth.  That includes not only the water, dead skin cells, bacteria, grime, and other substances that you’re swabbing away as you dry off — that’s what a towel is for, after all — but also tiny droplets that may get thrust into the air when you flush your toilet, as well as other germ life lingering in your bathroom.  By providing such moist, fertile territory, your towel can quickly become a teeming petri dish for mass microbial breeding.


But we also know that washing towels after one use is inconvenient and not particularly environmentally sensitive.  If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen the little signs asking you to consider whether, to help protect the environment, you can hang up that towel and use it a second time.

So what’s the appropriate balance?  Experts say that, if you hang up and can completely dry your towel, you should use it no more than three times before washing it again.  And be sure to give it a sniff, too.  If your towel smells, that means the microbes are at it in force, and it’s time for a trip to the washer.

Who says science isn’t useful?  Now we can officially confirm that a smelly towel should be washed.  I wonder what science says about smelly socks?