Monday, November 05, 2007

The Economics of Towels: Getting Extra Mileage from Terry Cloth

Warm, fluffy towels provide instant comfort and freshen up the decor in a powder room. Unfortunately, after being wrung out and spun dry, my towels often resemble a rag collection. However, there are a few tricks to lengthening their shelf life, according to Stephen Treffinger, resident product tester and technology geek at Domino magazine.

Treffinger tested about 40 brands of towels. He washed each about 12 times, used masking tape to measure lint production and dunked the towels into water to test absorbency. Based on his informal lab, Treffinger developed these rules for washing and drying towels:

No bleach. ''Heat and bleach both break down a towel and make it meet its end sooner,'' he says. If you're addicted to bleach-whitened towels, only use bleach every few washes.

Reduce heat. To increase longevity, wash towels in cold or warm water. Then dry at the lowest setting possible.

Use mild detergents. The owner of a high-end linen store shared this trade secret with Treffinger: For a longer-linen shelf life, wash towels in mild detergents recommended for baby diapers and newborn clothing. Dreft is a baby clothing detergent favored by some textile pros.

Skip fabric softener. It coats the fibers of the cloth, which makes a towel less absorbent.

Price isn't everything. Some inexpensive towels are ineffective, stiff or ''linty,'' he says. Meanwhile, some expensive brands are simply overpriced.

''You're not guaranteed that the cheap one will fall apart or the expensive one will last for years,'' Treffinger says. His favorite bargain towel: Thomas O'Brien $9.99 from Target, which was plush and large. The Martha Stewart Everyday (Kmart $3.99 to $7.99) was a runner-up in that category. His favorite plush towel: Abyss & Habidecor ''Super-Pile'' for $68.
Kathryn Finney of the Budget Fashionista ( buys high-end towels at deep discounts at Marshalls. Ralph Lauren bath sheets that cost $30 each at department stores are $10 at Marshalls, which carries the overstock of that brand.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.



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