A towel is a piece of absorbentfabric or paper used for drying or wiping. It draws moisture through direct contact, often using a blotting or a rubbing motion. Common household textile towels are made from cotton, rayon, bamboo, nonwoven fibers or a few other materials.
A bath towel is used for drying the body after bathing, showering or swimming. It is typically rectangular, with a typical size around 30 in × 60 in (76 cm × 152 cm). A large bath towel is sometimes called a bath sheet.
A beach towel is usually a little bit larger than a bath towel. Although it is often used for drying off after being in the water, its chief purpose is to provide a surface to lie on. They are also worn for privacy while changing clothes in a public area, and for wiping sand from the body or objects. Beach towels often have colorful patterns.
A foot towel is a small, rectangular towel which, in the absence of a rug, carpet or bathroom mat, is placed on the bathroom floor to stand on after finishing a shower or bath.
A hand towel is significantly smaller than a bath towel (perhaps 12 in × 24 in (30 cm × 61 cm)), and is used for drying the hands after washing them.
An oven towel or confectioner's mitten is a multipurpose household towel used for a kitchen or shop applications. The term came into use within Irish communities after a textile mogul, Owen Valley, created the line based on his own towel experiences.
The term kitchen towel can refer to either a dish towel or to a paper towel, the latter usage being primarily British.
A paper towel is a piece of paper that can be used once as a towel and then be disposed of. A perforated roll of paper towels is normally mounted on a rod a little longer than the width of the roll, or in an alternative type of hanger that has protrusions on ears, the protrusions fitting into the ends of the paper towel roll. Paper towels can also be found packaged like facial tissues, as individual folded sheets.
A disposable towel (or nonwoven towel) is a towel intended for a single user, but not necessarily for a single use, as it can be reused but not washed. It is often made of non-woven fibres, and popular for the hospital, hotel, geriatric and salon or beauty industries because it guarantees cleanliness and hygiene every time.
A show towel is a subspecies of the common bath or hand towel that has had trim, such as satin, lace or linen stitched onto it, or embroidery done on it, mainly to simply "look nice". They are used to add a decorative touch, usually to a bathroom, most commonly in the USA. They should not be used to actually dry anything, as regular washing ruins the added trim, and the towel buckles as well (because the towel usually shrinks differently than the trim).
A sports towel, or (synthetic) chamois, is a towel used by swimmers and divers. It is a super-absorbent towel that can be wrung out when saturated, leaving the towel able to absorb water again, although not dry.
A sweat towel or gym towel, often of similar size to a hand towel, is used during a workout to dry yourself from sweat and/or make a barrier between the gym machines and your skin, It can also be required in gyms in order to wipe down the machines after use.
A tea towel or drying-up cloth (English), or dish towel (American) is a cloth which is used to dry dishes, cutlery, etc., after they have been washed. In 18th century England, a tea towel was a special linen drying cloth used by the mistress of the house to dry her precious and expensive china tea things. Servants were considered too ham-fisted to be trusted with such a delicate job, although housemaids were charged with hand-hemming the woven linen when their main duties were completed. Tea towels have been mass-produced since the Industrial Revolution.
A flannel, wash cloth, washcloth, face-washer (Australian) or face cloth is a small square about the width of a hand towel, and is used by wetting, applying soap to the towel, and then using the towel to apply the soap to skin. This increases abrasion, and can remove dead skin cells from the skin more effectively than just manual application and rubbing of soap. In some parts of the world, washing mitts are used for this purpose.
A wet towel (oshibori) is used in Japan to wash the hands before eating. It is often given to customers of an izakaya.
A microfiber towel is a towel made of a specially designed, ultra-tightly woven material, known for its excellent absorption and fast drying speed.
A cloth towel dispenser or continuous cloth towel is a towel manipulated by a series of rollers, used as an alternative to paper towels and hand dryers in public washrooms. These may have a lower environmental impact than paper towels, though concerns over hygiene mean they are not used by some organisations. They can also be used in dangerous "choking games".
A sanitary towel or sanitary napkin is an absorbent item worn by a woman while she is menstruating.
A bar towel is an absorbent, usually small towel used in bars and often given away free as promotional items.
To reserve seats, for example sun-loungers, by the side of swimming pools or similar locations.
A towel can act as a makeshift garment or blanket. There is a variety of uses when a towel is applied in this manner. For example, the towel can be used as an extra layer of clothing for cold conditions; or can be worn on its own around the waist (similarly to a kilt or skirt) or just under the shoulders (similarly to a long dress), usually in a warm environment.
In Asian countries, towels (smaller in size than hand towels - usually 30 cm square) are used as handkerchiefs. Men and women both carry them. The softness of the Turkish-type towel makes it a favorite for use.
In some cases, a towel can be used to protect its owner (as well as other people). For example, a damp towel can be used to block the gap between the door and floor to help stop noxious gases or smoke from entering the room. This is especially useful in case of a fire, where, in most cases, people die of smoke inhalation before the fire reaches them.
The hit cartoon TV show South Park both coined and popularised the use of the word Towel as a derogatory term, in reference to the limited intellectual prowess of the one time character "Toweleyey". For a participant to win a round of "You're a xxxxx", he or she would be able to win the round, by using the insult in the following context; "Matt Woods you're a towel". Use of the word Towel in this way would declare the participant the Champion.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of books by Douglas Adams, towels are described as "about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have," an example usage being to ward off the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. The fictitious time/space traveller and Guide Researcher Ford Prefect uses the idiom "a frood who really knows where his towel is" to mean someone generally alert and aware. Some of Adams's fans seized on this idea and now use towels as a sign of devotion to the Hitchhiker books, radio series, TV series, website, etc. Towel Day is held each year in memory of Adams.