What is a Tea Towel?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tea towel is “a cloth for drying dishes”. A tea towel can be described as a multipurpose cloth made from absorbent materials such as cotton or linen. It is specifically designed for use in the kitchen for people who spend most of their time in the cookhouse.

Please keep reading to understand what is a tea towel and learn easy ways to use flour sack towels in the cookhouse.

What is the Purpose of a Tea Towel?

As described above, a tea towel is a versatile cloth, which is why it has multiple purposes in the kitchen. Common uses for this hand towel include drying dishes, wipe your hands, and glassware. You can also use it as a barrier when handling hot cookware.

You can also add value to your kitchen with decorative tea towels because these towels are beyond just practical purposes. Overall, it is a charming and versatile tool for your daily kitchen routine.

Purpose of tea towels

History of Tea Towels

Learning the history of tea towels helps you properly understand what is a tea towel. The origin of tea towels dates back centuries rooted in cultural customs. The term “tea towel” first emerged in Britain during the 18th century, where it referred to a cloth specifically used for drying tea trays and covering baked foods during tea ceremonies.

In those days, the absorbent material linen was easily accessible. That is why these flour sacks were commonly crafted from linen.

During the 20th century, the increase in number of textiles manufacturing resulted in the increased availability of tea towels in different materials, colors, and patterns.

Nowadays, tea towels remain an essential element of kitchen culture, valued for their functionality and visual charm.

Unique Characteristics of Tea Towels

Tea towels have unique characteristics that make them ideal for people to use in the kitchen. However, to completely understand what is a tea towel, you should know about its unique characteristics:

  • Highly Absorbent
  • Suitable Size
  • Design and Patterns
  • Absorbency and durability

Highly Absorbent

Tea towels are ideal for kitchen cleaning due to their unique property of quickly absorbing stains and moisture. If your kitchen looks tidy due to moisture and you know how to make tea towels work for removing the stains you can have a clean environment in your kitchen.

By using it you can make your kitchen countertops, sinks, and dishes look visually appealing.

Cleaning Kitchen Countertops with tea towel

Suitable Size

Tea towels commonly come in normal sizes i.e. easy to use for anyone but you can have variations in sizes according to your intended use. Don’t worry if you are confused about what size is a tea towel because we give you normal size ranges of tea towels.

Normally, a typical tea towel ranges from 18 to 20 inches long and 28 to 30 inches wide. This is an ideal size that offers a good equilibrium between coverage and easy moving of these towels.

Design and Patterns

Your kitchen reflects both functionality and aesthetic appeal if you use decorative tea towels in your kitchen because these towels come in an array of designs and patterns. You can have tea towels in all kinds of styles, from cute pictures to simple stripes or fancy styles.

Decorative tea towels have flowers, animals, or different shapes on them that give your kitchen a stylish touch.

Absorbency and Durability

Tea towels have high-absorbent characteristics because they are crafted from cotton and linen. These materials are excellent at holding onto moisture.

Additionally, tea towels are so durable that they can handle lots of drying in your kitchen without falling apart. Their durability allows us to use them for drying countertops and dishes. You can say that a tea towel is your reliable and long-lasting helper in the cookhouse.

Different Ways to Use Tea Towels

Different people use tea towels for different intended uses as it is a multi-purpose kitchen cloth. But the answer to the query “What is a tea towel” is incomplete if you don’t know what is a tea towel used for.

Let us discuss the different uses of tea towels:

1. Cleaning Surfaces

Tea towels are made from highly absorbent material therefore you can use them for drying dishes, hands, and glassware. Due to their absorbent characteristic, these towels soak up moisture and pills from the surface and provide a spotless kitchen environment for you.

Tea towels for cleaning

2. Handling Hot Items

In addition, you can use these towels as a protective shield for handling hotpots, dishes, or pans to prevent burns. Their versatility is limitless as you can also use these towels as table mats, potholders, and ornamental accents. Their versatility provides you with both functionality and elegance in your kitchen.

tea towels for handling hot items

3. Decorative Purposes

For enhancing the visual aesthetic of your kitchen you can use tea towels as a decorative addition having a variety of colors and designs. Altogether, these kitchen essentials are not just pieces of fabric but also help people in cooking activities by blending functionality with aesthetic charm.

Moreover, you can also use a tea towel as a replacement for decorative wrapping paper. I give you a guarantee that the receiver will love it if it is used in this way.

tea towels for decorative purposes

4. To keep Food Warm

You can put a linen tea towel in a basket of fresh foods because it will help you keep your fresh baked goods like muffins and bread warm.

Moreover, if you don’t have have basket just wrap the goods in the tea towel (2 in 1!).

tea towels for keeping food warm

5. As a Dinner Napkin

If you are in the kitchen for dinner and don’t want your clothes to get pills, you can wear a tea towel as a dinner napkin. Just wrap the tea towel around your neck as a dinner napkin and you can have both a clean and stylish look.

tea towels for dinner napkins

6. For Wrapping Vegetables:

Before placing your clean and slightly wet vegetables in the refrigerator, you can wrap them in a linen tea towel to keep them fresh. Your veggies will stay fresh as tea towels absorb the excess water.

vegetables wrapped in tea towel

7. Eco-friendly Use

Moreover, you can use reusable tea towels instead of disposable paper towels because it not only helps you reduce waste but also gives you a sense of adopting eco-friendly habits.

Difference between Tea Towels and Dish Towels

Nowadays, people need to know what is a tea towel because in many kitchens people use the terms “tea towels” and “dish towels” interchangeably and choose one of them according to their intended use and preferences. But there are some significant differences between them:

  • Size
  • Material
  • Texture
  • History


If we talk about the size of tea towels, they are larger than dish towels.


As previously described, tea towels are usually made from cotton or linen i.e. highly absorbent materials. On the other hand, dish towels are crafted from terry cloth.


If you use tea towels, they have a very slim, flattened, and woven texture. At times, they are crafted with decorative elements. On the other hand, dish towels are available in an array of designs and textures.


Moreover, during the 18th century, tea towels were used by upper-class English ladies as fancy towels. Whereas, dish towels being industrial in form are used for drying hands and cleaning kitchen countertops.

Tea Towels vs. Dish Towels

How to Choose the Right Tea Towel?

After understanding what is a tea towel, the next step is to choose the right one. The following are some factors you should consider when purchasing tea towels:


Tea towels come in an array of materials like cotton, linen, or a blend of both for you to use in the kitchen. Choose the one that is absorbent, durable, and feels comfortable against your skin.


When purchasing tea towels, remember that you have to use them for drying hands, dishes, and glassware. So, choose the one with high absorbency to soak up spills and moisture quickly.


You should choose the size of tea towels based on your intended use. However, the typical size is around 18 x 28 inches.


The tea towel is a versatile cloth that has multiple purposes including decoration. Choose the tea towels that add value to your kitchen decor and personal style.

Recommended Brands of Tea Towels 

After reading this article, we hope you will properly understand what is a tea towel. And if you want to make a purchase we recommend you some of our own-tested brands for high quality kitchen towels:

Tips for Care and Maintenance of Tea Towels

We have described above what is tea towel for. It is for different purposes but is commonly used for drying dishes and soaking up spills and moisture. As these towels are made from absorbent materials, the following are some tips to look after your tea towels:

  • Store your tea towels in a dry place
  • Do not store them in damp areas because they become colorless and moldy in damp areas.
  • Avoid placing your tea towels in direct sunlight.

Washing and Drying Instructions

For easy maintenance of tea towels, you should read the care instructions before choosing. Consider choosing towels that are washable in the machine and can withstand without shrinking or fading in your laundry.

washing tea towel in machine

The following are some washing and drying instructions for preserving the lifespan of tea towels :

  • Wash your tea towels in warm water on the regular cycle with like colors.
  • Avoid using dryer sheets or fabric softeners as they can affect the absorbency of tea towels.
  • Do not wash your tea towels with chlorine bleach.
  • If you want your tea towels to dry quickly, you can tumble dry them on low heat.
  • You can hang your tea towels to dry and then iron them on the reverse side when they are a bit damp.

pressing tea towels with iron

Hope after reading this article from Home of Towels, you will get a complete answer to your question “What is a tea towel“. If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends or on social media and give your thoughts in the comment section.

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