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You Probably Don’t Own Enough Bath Towels, According to an Expert

Town and Country logo Town and Country 2/22/2019 Liz Krieger
a close up of a towel: The right number and style of bath linens to own, according to one home expert, including whether you should use a bath towel or a bath sheet. © tashka2000 - Getty Images The right number and style of bath linens to own, according to one home expert, including whether you should use a bath towel or a bath sheet.

First went the cloth napkins, flung aside in favor of paper towels. Next, came the tangle over abandoning top sheets. Now, the confusion over basic housekeeping etiquette has migrated to the bathroom towel rack-and it’s clear that these days, when it comes to how to set up house, the rules of engagement have become fuzzier than ever.

#Towelgate

It all started with a Twitter dust-up involving 20 washcloths. Yes, that’s the double-digit opinion that journalist Yashar Ali espoused--in a tweet that was read far and wide--as his preferred stockpile of washcloths.

As for the other kinds of cotton, Ali contended that, “As a couple, you should own a minimum of the following: 10 Bath sheets, 10 Bath towels, 10 Hand towels. Preferably more.”

10,000 likes and more than 1,000 retweets later, it seemed that Ali’s comment had sparked a torrent of towel content, which quickly earned its own hashtag: #towelgate.

Much of the initial response was merely questioning what the heck a bath sheet even is. For the record: It’s a bath towel, just delightfully bigger! Think beach towel, but way more absorbent and usually a lot less gaudy.

Need a visual aid? Ali’s next tweet included a handy-dandy chart, replete with measurements.

Then there are those 20 washcloths, which seems excessive, but only because it’s missing context. Are these daily, shower-use cloths? Are these for side-of-the-sink occasional use? Makeup removal? Before Ali threw his first punch, Ella Cerón on The Cut chalked her beautiful skin up to her abundance of washcloths--24 are in her home. (She cites recent research about just how germ-infested towels are for her one-use policy.)

So how many towels do you really need?

All humor and Twitter one-upmanship aside, how many towels does one need to own? Is the count influenced by how many times you use them before washing? And what of the guest towel vs hand towel debate?

For answers, we turned to a doyenne of the domestic arts--Suzanne Pollak, who runs the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits--and asked for her thoughts on Ali’s bathroom arithmetic.

“This is not a math equation and there is no perfect formula. The Academy calls BS on any dictated number,” says Pollak. Instead, she says, you need to get personal: “Assess your needs. Account for the number of people in your house. Obviously, the more dwellers under one roof, the more towels necessary.” Also consider storage space. "The number and size of your closets dictate the number and size of your towel collection."

a close up of a towel: Stack of bath towels © tashka2000 - Getty Images Stack of bath towels

As for bath sheets, Pollak is an avowed dissenter: “They are behemoths, in general better suited for pools and the beach. They take up too much space and are awkward for most people, with the exception my three 6’7” sons."

She also has a sneaking suspicion that manufacturers created the extra-large towel purely to make money, forming a new “set” consisting of a bath sheet, bath towel, hand towel, and a washcloth. “Our grandparents never heard of a bath sheet. They were fine with a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth; a true set,” says Pollak.

[Editor's note: My fellow T&C contributors firmly disagreed with Pollak's assessment of bath sheets, arguing "Our grandparents never heard of, like... a lot of very good and necessary things." Others insisted, "I've never been like, 'man, this towel was too big'," and, "I demand a towel cocoon," so it's safe to conclude there is room for debate on this point.]

When it comes to properly stocking your linen closet, there’s also the laundry issue: How often you feel like doing it? Do you need a new towel every time you bathe? Or can you save time and energy and use one bath towel, one hair towel, and one hand towel for a week? Your choice.

Another consideration: how many bathrooms do you have? Every bathroom needs a few sets, says Pollak.

Of course, a powder room--or the guest bath--is different and here’s where it gets fraught for some people who prefer simplicity, or just don’t care for quite so much bed, bath, and beyond. “This bathroom can use a mixture of small towels,” says Pollak. "Hand towels, fingertip towels, and linens are all appropriate; either one type or all of them.”

That's right, fingertip towels. Nary a shout-out on Twitter for them.

“The fingertip towel is between a hand towel and a washcloth in size,” says Pollak. “Linens” are literally made of linen, and are often embroidered, monogrammed, or antique. (And um, not that effective for anything… except looking nice. Which is most definitely A Thing.) Oh, and those linens need to be ironed after each washing.

Speaking of ironing, back on Twitter, Ali also suggested that pressing your towels was an optimal practice--“you’ll enjoy the difference!”--and realized he was basically asking for a digital beatdown with this opinion.

After unleashing #towelgate, Ali went silent on the matter, but perhaps in the end we all owe him a debt of gratitude for opening up the floor for healthy home-related debate, and domestic education.

Bath sheets--or fingertip towels--for all!

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