What is a Dish Towel?

S. Gonzales

Dish towels are used to clean, wash and dry dishes. Absorbency and softness are usually two of the biggest factors that influence a dish towel purchase. Both help ensure that moisture is lifted off of dishes and that the dishes remain as close to their original form as possible. For instance, scratchy or hard dish towels may contribute to wear and tear, devaluing dishes and requiring the purchase of new ones sooner than later.

Bleach can be used to disinfect dish towels.
Bleach can be used to disinfect dish towels.

A dish towel can be made out of virtually any material. Cotton, terrycloth, linen, microfiber and even hemp are all viable materials from which to make dish towels. While cotton dish towels are the standby for most households, microfiber is an increasingly popular alternative. The special fibers in microfiber material are designed to absorb as much moisture as possible and leave dishes looking spotless. Microfiber can also tackle anything from glassware to chrome. Its multi-purpose function makes it especially attractive to the do-it-yourselfer.

Dish towels are typically smaller than regular towels.
Dish towels are typically smaller than regular towels.

Colors and shapes of dish towels are often chosen to compliment the interior of a kitchen, serve as accents or match dishware. Some are used purely for decoration purposes, while others are purchased more for utility than show. Home owners may opt to save money on dish towel purchases by simply reusing old cloths that they have at home made of the same or similar material.

As dish towels come into regular contact with kitchen sinks and food particles, they should be cared for properly. The germs and organic material from both these areas threaten to nest in the dish towel material and lead to bacteria growth, which can later lead to disease. Thorough and regular washings of dish towels should be a part of any home owner's regime. Disinfecting dish towels by washing them with bleach or another cleaning agent and letting them dry out in the sun may also help keep bacteria and other unwanted germs at bay.

Despite their many uses around the home, dish towels can also serve as housewarming or wedding presents. Domestic gifts such as these often make a new home owner feel welcome in neighborhoods or give a newly married couple a practical item with which to start to their new life. Dish towels come in a wide variety of styles and colors, but for a more personal touch, customization options are available. A monogrammed dish towel is not unheard of and can even help document a special event, day or celebration.

Dish towels are usually available in colors and patterns that compliment most kitchen designs.
Dish towels are usually available in colors and patterns that compliment most kitchen designs.

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Discussion Comments


I think the best dish towels I've ever had are the crocheted types you can get on Etsy, or make yourself. I plan to learn how to make them eventually.

They are usually made from very thick cotton thread that's been crocheted into a dense dish towel fabric. Because it's such a chunky thread, more like a strand of yarn, the clothes can also be used like a scrubbing sponge when you are washing the dishes.

And they can just be chucked into the washing machine when they need to be cleaned.

The best part is, if you got them on Etsy or made them yourself, you know where they came from, and you know you were supporting a home crafts person, rather than putting money in corporate pockets.


One of my fondest memories of my grandmother involves her dishtowels. Even though I never thought of my family as being sexist, I guess they were a little bit, because it always ended up being the women out washing the dishes after a family meal.

I think it was because my granny would go to do them and her daughters in law felt guilty and tried to help her, while her sons and daughters didn't feel so guilty!

Anyway, she had these lovely Irish kitchen dish towels with maps and sayings on them and she would tell me about them while she washed, and I dried and my aunts helped with other chores.

It was a lovely way to talk. It makes me not want a dishwasher, so I can do this with my own grandkids (boys *and* girls).

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