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Turkish Towel Fail

At the top of my Christmas wish list was a stack of new towels. Not just any towels. Turkish towels.

towels

Ryan thought I was crazy. What’s wrong with our regular white terry cloth towels? 

I didn’t have a great answer other than these three mildly unconvincing responses:

  1. I have heard great things about the size, the softness, the absorbency of turkish cotton towels
  2. After a while, terry cloth towels start to smell … sort of like … used towels.
  3. I like how they look.

I mean, just look at this gorgeous bathroom with the big, fringed towels!

towelsblacktub
Granted, our bathroom is not quite so pretty (as seen in this video). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting pretty things to try to make my not-so-pretty space prettier.

Surprise of all surprises, Ryan bought me a set of four glorious black and white herringbone towels for Christmas. I washed them, dried them, folded them in a happy stack and tried one out for the first time last week.

turkishtowelsstacked

It was a major, major letdown.

There was zero absorbency, which is my biggest towel pet peeve. Come on, towel! Your job is to absorb water!

Also, my body was covered in lint.

Boo.

So now I have a pretty stack of towels that are completely useless.

Did I choose the wrong ones? Are there fake turkish towels and real turkish towels? Do I need to try washing them again? Any Turkish towel fans out there that could help this girl out?!

Your suggestions are much appreciated.

P.S. That pretty soap and oil is from Nash + Jones. Their packaging is spot on.

(source for bathroom photo unknown)

82 thoughts on “Turkish Towel Fail”

  1. Modern day Turkey uses these types of towels mostly for beach towels – they’re super light for packing and dry quickly, I love mine for this purpose!

    1. What most people are buying as Turkish towels these days are not the real peştemal that is found in hammams in Turkey. They may be MADE in turkey, but they are made for this current trend. The real Turkish towel that you find in the baths is very durable, soaks up all the water on your body, and usually shrink up at the corners after being washed and dried. They are perfectly functional, but not super fancy. And another thing… if you paid more than ten dollars for it, you probably are getting ripped off ;)

  2. I had been wanting Turkish towels/pesthemals for years; ever since an episode of Dear Genevieve where she used them in a bathroom remodel. I loved the look, simplicity and versatility of them. And, being in FL, the idea of a quick drying towel was enticing. Not to mention, space saving! Six Turkish towels fold down to the thickness of one folded regular towel. So, I finally broke down and bought one (did you think they were kind of pricey?). Anyway, my towel did the same as you’ve mentioned. I only washed and used less than a handful of times before giving up; so perhaps, with everyone’s suggestions here, I’ll try again. Thanks for the post. And, please keep us/me updated. I’d love to find the perfect one and replace my towels (again)!

    1. So funny Cynthia! ME TOO! I saw that Genevieve episode and have always wanted some. Bought my first one from a guy named Merve in Turkey off Etsy and I love it. Although what I bought is a peshtamel and it sounds like from one of the posts below… turkish towels are something different???

  3. I did the same thing! Mine have now become pool/beach towels – nice because they dry quickly and are easy to tie around my waste. I’m back to my terry cloth in the bathroom; good ol’ reliable terry cloth.

  4. Hi, I actually wanted to comment on your blog about your favourite blogs, but your click box has taken me here. Anyway, I was wondering if you new of any blogs written for the southern hemisphere. I would like to read blogs about summer weather lifestyle when I am having summer and winter warm ups when our weather has turned. All the well known blogs are from the northern hemisphere. I would be interested in your suggestions.
    thanks
    natalie

  5. I purchased Turkish style towels that are a flat weave on one side and terrycloth on the other and they are great. I have had difficulty with absorption with the type that is a flat weave on both sides, too.

  6. I bought my Turkish towels in Turkey and they said you had to soak them first. The longer the better. She suggested soaking them in the bathtub for 8 hours. And as several people have mentioned, the absorbency improves with use. They are beautiful!

  7. Whoa, all the comments! I’ve seen several bloggers over the years who love them so there has to be something about them. I saw one on deep red-sticker clearance at Homegoods I was tempted to grab to try it out but didn’t. I wish I had. But you are going to have to post an update if you end up falling in love.

  8. My experience is that Turkish Towels are a vast improvement over traditional terry towels. Have three kinds now and there are three different thicknesses. All are very absorbent. Wrapping freshly washed hair in a Turkish Towel for 10 minutes gets the excess water out and makes drying hair way faster! Try different products till you get the ones you love. A good source for variety is One Kings Lane.

  9. Emily, First, I want to give Full Disclosure. I own web based luxury linen business. I am also one of your many fans & follow your blogs with great interest. So your frustration with your pretty new towels caught my attention & I want to try to help. First regarding the smell issue. The problem is not the cotton terry, it is almost always a laundering issue. Too much detergent will cause a smell. Inadequate rinsing will cause a smell. And you may be surprised to hear that fabric softeners coat the fibers, & not only reduce absorbency but will lead to a smelly towel. Bleach will break down fibers & cause a smell. You may be able to correct the odor problem with a white distilled vinegar wash which will help remove excess detergent and fabric softener. To recap: use a minimal amount of non bleach detergent, rinse well and avoid the temptation to add fabric softener. A properly washed & rinsed soft towel should remain soft after washing. Second is the towel itself. The greater the “surface area of a towel, the greater the absorbency. The main drivers of absorbency include, the number of loops and the length of the loops. The higher each of these characteristics are the greater the surface area. The number of loops may be the most important. In order to increase the loops you must use finer (thinner) yarns & the weave must be very dense. Just as with Egyptian Cotton not all Turkish Cotton is the same It is important that the higher quality (longer staple) cotton be used. I have not seen your gorgeous towels in person but from the photos it appears they may have minimal loops. In which case they have minimal surface area. Does this make sense so far? Plus the shrinkage of the fringe in your photo is a concern, either it is an inferior cotton or was washed &/or dried at a high temperature, which is never good for a luxury fabric. I could go on & on, I love fine linens :-) in closure,I do not want to use your blog to promote the towels I offer, but I do encourage you to search for the perfect towel now that you have a little extra information. they are out there & once you find them you will love them! Love your blogs.

    1. Thank you Sandra for your expertise! I am not a great laundry-doer, so I’m sure much of the issues is due to my laundry-doing. I think I bought an inferior product, though and look forward to giving this turkish towel thing another try with a better quality towel.

    2. We have been using turkish towels for almost 2 years now and I needed new ones, so for christmas we chose these EXACT SAME TOWELS!! haha! I have had to wash and dry mine at least 6 or 7 times and they are finally not shedding black on us and they are absorbing. Don’t give up on them! We are huge fans of turkish towels, these are a little different from our old ones thought because they are thicker. Not sure why. Also, don’t use fabric softener of any kind.

      Side note…I have been following you for about 6 years now and this may be the first time I have commented. I was so excited to see I chose something that you also chose.haha! weird huh?

        1. haha! yes keep going! I was getting annoyed at them too a few weeks ago b/c I kept feeling like they weren’t absorbing as well as our old ones, but I can honestly say I am loving them now. They are no longer wicking any water. Hope you’re enjoying them too!

      1. In turkey they use the same towels as we do, they used to use these back in the day and upgraded for obvious reasons, but they do look pretty.

      2. My cousin is a textile engineer and she says that the best thing to preserve the cotton clothes is to put them for at least 2 hours in cold water before washing them for the first time.

        For towels do not use any softener, instead of it you can use white vinegar – just put it in the washing machine instead of softener – after drying it doesn’t smells at all. You can also put some drops of essential oil, my favourite is lavender.

        My favourite towels are linen towels, they are very expensive here in Slovenia, so I have just one of them. A birthday present. The first year I used it as a summer blanket. I have it almost 10 years and wash after wash it’s more absorbent and softer.

      3. Well I see you got the idea. You have to wash them first more often. It’s like with all other towels: you have to wash them 5-10 times before they get really absorbent. And also don’t use softeners! Don’t use softeners with any kind of towel (also blanket and sheets for bed) because they won’t absorb with the softener on.(blankets and sheets have also to be absorbent when you’re sleeping, and softeners mostly are perfumed and that can cause headache. Use white vinegar instead. that’s all you need as a softener and is neutral.)

        Hope this helped with all the other help here ;)

        Greetings from Germany!

      4. I’ve spent a lot of time in Turkey and your towels sound as if they are what are called ‘pestemal’. They are the Turkish equivalent of a sarong and are used to wrap round you when you go to a hammam. I have a friend who uses them as ordinary towels but I never found them very satisfactory as towels, they are better for pool or beach wear.

      5. I have a few turkish towels, and use them for everything from a lightweight blanket, scarf/shawl, picnic blanket, beach towel, bath towel, and lap blanket. The trick is to wash them a few times, and don’t use any fabric softener or dryer sheets or anything. They’ll never be plush like terrycloth towels, but they’ll become more absorbent after a few washes. I always used mine as other things (blanket, etc.) first until I washed them a handful of times.

      6. I use mine as scarves and they are PERFECT! I get so many compliments. I’ve also used them as a blanket of sorts at the beach. In addition, I do love how they look hanging in my entry way. Funnily enough, I’ve never even tried using them in the bath.

      7. I don’t actually own any of these kind of towels but I did use them in a hotel in Italy and I wasn’t impressed. Like you said, no absorbency. I felt like I was drying off with a bed sheet. I can’t see the point. I was interested in your review because I thought maybe I was missing something…

      8. Your experience with your turkish towels echoes mine exactly. The lint was horrific and I felt like I was trying to dry off with a tea towel. Not to be deterred, I got my other white towels back out to use and every time I washed them,( about twice a week), I washed the turkish towels as well. I thought with enough washings and dryings they would fluff up and become more absorbent. WRONG! After a month of washing, I tried one again. There wasn’t as much lint, but they were still slick as sheets.
        I bought themat a shop I’d been to out of town, so I wasn’t going to return them. I just chalked it off as a bad experience.
        Then I started wondering if there was a special cotton, like maybe “turkish cotton” that towels and robes were made from. I thought about my Mother’s glorious after bath robe that says on the label, “turkish cotton”. Maybe that was the difference? I paid quite a bit for the turkish towels I bought, but maybe they just were poor quality. I never tried any further to find out what the problem may have been, I just went out and bought some more fluffy white terry towels and decided to love them because they felt so good after a shower.

      9. I have some Turkish towels (including a few that are exactly like yours) and I love them. They do get much more absorbent with several washings, so wash, wash away. I love love love all of mine.

      10. We have Restoration Hardware towels – they’re not as pretty as the stripe fringe but they are Turkish and we love them. We’ve rubbed-a-dub-tubbed with them for almost 12 years now, which is unbelievable since they are white. They still look great after all this time.

        1. I felt the same way about Turkish towels and have been arguing with myself about purchasing some. I am sick about your description, since I like thin towels, and I assumed these would be absorbent, a preference of mine, as well. I did tell myself that if I bought them and I didn’t like them I would use them for table cloths, summer throws, or just to look cute hanging somewhere. So if I find some at the right price point, I think I’ll still buy a few for beach sitting, or picnic cloths, or…

      11. I hate to hear that about your towels! I got some from West Elm and they are great! Really big, and very absorbent (and pretty) ?

      12. I can only reiterate what others have said, to avoid softener and dryer sheets, and throw a cup of vinegar in when you wash. The vinegar works for the old-towel smell too – if you have a top-load washer you can try filling it up with water, adding vinegar, letting your towels soak for a bit and then adding your detergent and running the load.

        Jo’s comment about her linens freezing makes me think of raw denim, which you don’t wash but keep in the freezer to kill bacteria! (Really makes me wonder who figured that out…)

      13. Don’t give up on your Turkish towels… We just moved back from Morocco last year, a country that also shares in the tradition of Hamams, or bathhouses, and I fell in love with the towels. We visited Istanbul and as anything you buy overseas there are good quality and then the less desired ingredients or materials/fabrics used quality. When buying the towels I went to stores that only carried the towels and listed the fabrics used. Some are 100% Cotton, linen, and some are blends of both with bamboo.

        I washed mine in the “sanitize” setting in my washer and then tumble dried them on a regular dryer cycle and they fluffed folded beautifully. That’s how you can tell the quality is good. They also absorb incredibly well and dry by lunchtime if I shower in the morning. Don’t give up on them !! Yours are especially beautiful !

      14. We actually live in Turkey right now, and I absolutely LOVE the Turkish towels I’ve gotten here. I’m planning to get a big stack before we leave to take back home & use as guest towels. They’re great to take to the pool, the lake, or the beach, because four or five of them take up about the same room in your bag as a regular beach towel. They dry super fast, and honestly I think they really do absorb just as much water (or more) than a regular beach towel. My husband doesn’t see the difference, but he hasn’t used his nearly as much as the kids & I have used ours. :D I also don’t recall the typical lint all over the body issue like I’ve had with regular towels. That said, I used cloth diapers (prefolds) when I had two under age two, and I learned that with the kind I used I needed to wash them 3-4 times whenever I bought the next size up, so they would be at their maximum absorbency. You could try washing your towels a few times before using them again to see if that helps. If not, let me know. I can send you a few from here to compare. :D With the exchange rate right now, they’re a great deal. :D

      15. I had the same experience {and let down} with the towels. It looks like I may have given up on them too soon though judging by the comments here. Please let us know what you think after several washes. Happy Friday!

      16. Hi Emily,

        I love Nash + Jones’ branding also! Been following them for awhile on instagram but haven’t purchased anything yet. Do you have a favorite? Good luck with your towels… they are super pretty!

        k~

      17. Emily – my girlfriends are selling them like crazy doing in home shows and sales. They have neutrals and colorful ones too. And robes. I have bought several…..TO WEAR AS SHAWLS AND SCARVES….! And the robes are the absolutely softest ever. They get softer with every wash!

      18. Turkish T brand has never done as you describe. They are a little pricier but they hold up and still look lovely after many washings

        I didn’t realize Turkish towels were a thing. We have been using this style, bath sheets, for over a decade. It’s my personal preference for post shower.

      19. I had same problem with towels I got for each kid. And they aren’t cheap! What I did is wash them 5 times on double rinse and used vinegar 2 times. Finally the lint issue resolved.

      20. I know this information might not help much now, but I buy towels from a Danish company and they have to soak for 24 hours in cold water before you wash them. The soak helps the fabric gather and knots to tighten, those two things hightens the fabric absorbency. You might still be able to do it, and then no softer and hang dry :)

      21. I too love the look…. If all else fails, use them as a table cloth or table runner… I’ve done that with scarves (big blanket ones in the fall), an old bed coverlet, etc. Good luck!

      22. I wash ALL towels several times to get them to be both absorbent and lint-free (or at least close). Some clothing is the same way with products on the fibers to make them smoother and easier to manage during production.

      23. I purchased the Turkish towels from an Amazon link you posted when you were heading to Maui. I bought it to try as my towel in our airstream to save on space (and so I wasn’t taking our white PB towels camping). I loved it! I did wash it 4 times as the directions say. It was very absorbant and dried really fast. The only downfall was the tassels are all tangled up from using it a lot.

      24. Hi
        Have you used softner? The first time I wash my towels I don´t use too much detergente. Idon´t use fabric softener or products with clorine. You can use vinegar .

      25. I have had the same experience with them! Reading the comments from your post makes me want to give them another try! They are so lovely to look at! Thanks for sharing. Xo

      26. I’m going to echo what so many others have said… Definitely no fabric softener or dryer sheets of any kind and it’ll prob take several washes for them to reach full absorbency.

      27. Sorry about your towel fail!! :( About 5 years ago my husband convinced me that thick white terry cloth towels were “all we are using from now on.” On a visit to Ca. I went to Costco (sadly we don’t have one here) and bought a dozen. Smartest thing I have EVER done. I am still using them. They aren’t even starting to show wear. And with bleach used in every load, they smell fresh and clean every wash. I initially was skeptical since my husband only knows manual labor and gets very dirty! No problem! They are still white as ever. My brother in law gave me great advice at the same time I bought them. NEVER use softner on towels. They quickly soak up chemicals and are no longer absorbent. Which was another thing that had always bugged me. I stopped using softner and they are sooooo absorbent! After years of hating every towel I ever bought, I now love using them. Kind of like my Shark vacuum. No more telling my old ones every time I used them “you SUCK! and not in a good way.” lol

      28. I bought those same ones the day you posted them! I have had them for a little while now, and they become more absorbent as you wash them. (and the lint went away after the 2nd wash) I read somewhere in what came with them or on the website, that it takes 4-5 washes to reach full absorbancy. Mine haven’t been washed that many times (I only wash towels once a week) but they are getting better. I LOVE that they dry so quickly. As a nurse I often shower late at night when I get home, (to get clean) and again early in the morning (to wake up) and with normal terry cloth towels they were always still damp in the morning, these are always dry! So don’t give up! And thanks for sharing them!

      29. We just converted to the Turkish towel and right off the bat we loved them. We have a different kind from the ones you show. Ours are thin, but very absorbent and dry fast. I love them! Love them so much I set all the thick bath towels free!

        We live on a boat. Everything gets damp except these Turkish towels and sand shakes out nice.

      30. I’m so sorry for this experience Emily… I live in Istanbul. I have a suggestion. Before use you should wash the towels once. So it can absorb water better. if you agree I would like to gift you this far better than a towel. sincerely..

      31. I received a Turkish towel for beach use this Christmas too!! Mine came with instructions to wash the towel and then iron it before using. I am guessing that the heat from the iron helps remove any type of protectant on it. I have not tried it yet, as it is not quite beach season in Dan Diego. :)

        I am sure that you can still do the same to yours and hopefully it works!

      32. I would try washing them a few times with white vinegar. I imagine whatever is on those beautiful things would probably be shaken loose with the vinegar. I have heard only good things about Turkish towels so I hope you don’t give up on them yet!!

      33. Shelley | Crazy Wonderful

        I switched out our terry cloth hand towels for Turkish one’s from West Elm. At first I was super let down too (not adsorbent and lots of lint). But, after a few more washings and no fabric softener, they’re AMAZING. They dry quickly so there’s not that old towel smell and they’re pretty to look at! Just takes a bit of time to get used to them :)

      34. I have no experience with Turkish towels; however, I had some beautiful cotton tea towels that remained water resistant no matter what I did. Continued laundering did not seem to make any difference and I dried without fabric softener sheets. In the end, I put them in the donation box because it was so frustrating to try to dry anything with them. Good luck with your towels! Please update us if you find a solution.

      35. Serena and Lily have the Fouta Beach Towel with terry on one side and they’re wonderful. I have a set for pool/beach and another for bath. I’m not sure if it qualifies as a true “turkish” towel, though!

      36. bridget b. | 623designs

        Those towels look lovely! If all else fails, they’ll be nice eye candy!

        I was also going to mention not using fabric softener (makes fabric water resistant). I love Turkish towels. I’ve had luck with ones from Marshall’s and Amazon. On Amazon, I usually read the reviews before trying a new brand of them.

      37. I bought two and had the same experience, but my husband didn’t seem to care so he uses them and I wash them and I’ve noticed they are getting softer with every wash. I do know that even new terry cloth towels take a few washes before they get absorbent to a decent level…which is probably why all of our towels are so old they’re practically falling apart and I’m loathe to replace them. I’ll give the turkish towels another shot when it’s a little less chilly in the morning! (BTW – the blogger at No Big Dill, Katy, has turkish towels in rainbow colors for her children and I’m curious what her experience was – she only has photos up!)

        Keep us posted, please! :-)

      38. They take some washing (no fabric softener) and some getting used to, as they feel very different from the terry cloth towels. Sometimes folding them in half at first as you dry helps. I like ours because they dry so quickly and don’t take up much space in our teeny bathroom. Our bathroom is poorly vented so that’s a big deal. Ours our very absorbent now, we’ve had them for years. They never feel the same as a huge terry towel though.

      39. I have zero experience with Turkish towels, but lots of experience with organic cotton diapers, and I know with cotton diapers you have to wash at least 5 times for them to really become absorbent, and they can continue to gain absorbency for up to 10 washes. So I’d say just keep washing them, use hot water, dry them at least slightly between washes. Avoid fabric softener and plant/soap based detergents as they typically contain ingredients that will coat the fibers making them loose absorbency. I bet after several more washes – which will also de-lint them, you will love them just like you thought you would!

      40. They are really pretty, but I know what you mean. There is nothing worse than non-absorbent towels! I’m old, so you young women probably don’t agree with me, but the ONLY way to launder bath towels is to hang them outside to dry. I live in Minnesota, and I hang mine out all year long. I can tell you that sometimes they are frozen before I even get them on the line. If they are still slightly damp when I bring them in I drape then on chairs to dry fully. Yes, they are stiff, yes, they are a bit scratchy (I pretend they are huge loofahs!) but they are super absorbent and they smell divine. This might help yours, but I’d wash them a few more times too before you use them. Good luck. PS – if nothing else, they will look pretty in photographs!

      41. I bought several as beach/pool towels and have had a similar experience (minus the lint). My boys hate when I bring them instead of their big fluffy beach towels. So now we use them as light weight blankets in the summer at the pool when it can get chilly.

      42. I agree with Taylor – there’s likely a fabric protectant on the towels that hasn’t yet washed out (from the manufacturer), and definitely don’t use fabric softener or a dryer sheet – it will leave a layer on the fibers of the towel that will inhibit water absorption. (The same goes for dry-fit exercise clothing, by the way.)

        I hope they work out for you!

      43. I had the same experience so unfortunately I’m no help but if you find out the secret please share! I went back to my regular towels.

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