What’s a tea towel

Table of Contents

A tea towel is a soft cloth made of linen, cotton or a combination of the two, and usually has an imprinted or woven design for decoration. Tea towels, which are approximately the size of a hand towel, date back to the 18th century, when they were originally used at tea ceremonies and to dry expensive fine china. Today, tea towels are found in kitchens and homes across the globe. They’re used for a variety of purposes, from keeping leafy greens crisp to covering warm baked goods.

To personalize a tea towel for your home or the home of a loved one, browse our collection of tea towel designs. These soft-textured towels are both a beautiful keepsake and practical gift.

10 Creative Uses for Tea Towels

If you think a towel is only meant for drying dishes, think again. The tea towel is incredibly versatile, offering a range of uses both in and outside of the kitchen.

1. Enjoy with breakfast


Whether it’s a bowl of oatmeal or a warm cup of coffee, tea towels make for a superb serving accessory. They help keep bowls and mugs in place, and also catch any drips or spills. Tea towels also bring a beautiful and uplifting design to any table.

2. Give as a momento

Since the 18th century, tea towels have been passed down to generations as heirlooms. Ideal for a bridal, wedding or a housewarming gift, a personalized tea towel carries both a meaningful and practical sentiment.

3. Wrap your baked goods


Keep your cinnamon rolls, muffins and bread warm by wrapping them in a tea towel. If you’re giving away your baked goods as a gift, tea towels make for personal and eco-friendly wrapping.

4. Personalize your guest bathroom

Hang tea towels in place of traditional hand towels to add a splash of style and decor to your guest bathroom. Pick a pattern or symbol that matches the general theme of your bathroom.

5. Use as a hot pad


A tea towel, especially when folded, acts as an effective hot pad. Place your warm dishes or baked goods on the tea towel to let it cool down.

6. Line your serving tray

To catch drips and spills, line your serving tray with a tea towel. After all, this was the original purpose for the delightful little towel.

7. Keep your greens crisp


When you rinse leafy greens, they need a clean place to dry. Tuck them in a tea towel and carefully pat them dry. They’ll stay crispy and extra fresh.

8. Decorate the table

A tea towel can add some festivity to your table by using it as a placement or cloth napkin. Choose designs that bring extra life and energy to the dinner party.

9. Store your clean, wet dishes


Exchange your bulky drying rack for a beautiful linen. Lay a tea towel on your counter, and rest clean dishes and utensils there to dry.

10. Line your cabinet shelves

Take clean tea towels and place them flat inside your kitchen cabinets. They’ll absorb excess water from dishware and glasses—plus add a decorative look. You’ll want to periodically wash your tea towels so your cupboards stay fresh.

With their versatility and beautifully-crafted material, tea towels make for exceptional additions to any home. Customize a tea towel for a simple touch that will last for years to come.

History of the Tea Towel

Since we humans first emerged from the primeval swamps we’ve needed to keep our cooking utensils dry. Tea towel history goes back a long way.

Given that knives, forks, pots and pans have barely changed since Roman times, there’s a good chance that some kind of drying tool goes back thousands of years with them too. The Romans might have been smart, but they didn’t invent the dishwasher.

Given its clearly useful and day-to-day function, it’s no wonder we’ve developed such a fascination with that most fundamental of kitchen accessories, the tea towel – or dish towel as it’s sometimes called in the US.

But it was only later, with the increasing availability of textiles and sewing material in 18th century Britain, that tea towels progressed beyond being merely a functional item to dry the dishes – and developed into something far more creative.

Posh 18th Century Tea Towel Ladies

From man’s earliest beginnings, let’s now fast forward to the 18th century. This was when tea towels reached the height of their class and fame (not to be matched until the arrival on the scene of the Radical Tea Towel Company in the 21st century!).

Tea towels graced the highest tables of the land and were made of linen, a fibre derived from the flax of linseed plants. The soft texture of the fabric made them ideal for drying the expensive bone china preferred by the English upper classes, and tea towels were flourished with pride by the grand ladies of the time who were more than happy to do the drying up, not trusting their prized plates to their clumsy servants.

When not drying their fancy crockery, these ladies would embroider the towels, creating beautiful heirlooms to be passed down through the generations. With all those servants, they did have plenty of time on their hands.

True to its name, the tea towel was in its element as an ingredient in the great British tea ceremony. There it rubbed shoulders with the finest crystal and chinaware and was designed to match the rest of the table linen.

Tea towels developed other uses: they were wrapped around a tea pot to insulate it, used to prevent drips or gracefully draped over bread and cakes to keep them fresh.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the 19th century that the tea towel became a more widely available consumer item, and manufacturers turned to durable fibres such as cotton.

20th and 21st Century Tea Towels

In the early 20th century, American housewives – in good democratic tradition – would often reuse rough cotton animal feed sacks by cutting them up into dish towels (also known as ‘flour sack towels’). Not content with their unfinished appearance, however, they embroidered them with intricate patterns, despite the difficulty of working with the coarse weave of the sacks.

This tradition of decorating tea towels and using them for creative expression arguably become more important to many people than their obvious functional utility. When materials are brought into the home, we often want them to say something about our tastes – whether items of clothing or kitchen accessories (what are tea towels and apron really but clothing for the kitchen?).

Sadly, later in the 20th century many households moved away from tea towels and began using more paper towels instead. Cheap, disposable, bad for the environment – and thoroughly boring.

In modern times, tea towels can be made of cotton, linen union (a mixture of linen and cotton) or terrycloth, a thick cotton pile.

Still an object of fascination in the 21st century, the tea towel is established as a canvas on which we can paint not just pretty designs, but our feelings, our thoughts and our beliefs.

At Radical Tea Towel, we decided this tradition was worth embracing – and building upon. In today’s more democratic times, we’ve been pleased to bring fine tea towels to the masses with bold but timeless social and political commentary!

Your certainly don’t get that with paper towels.

Van Gogh’s Canvas & 101 Uses for a Tea Towel

The tea towel (or dish towel) must be one of the most flexible items there is. No doubt your first thought is “here’s something to dry the dishes with”. But that would overlook the huge range of other uses to which tea towels have been put over the years.

The most unusual and distinguished of these must be as a canvas by none other than the great artist, Vincent Van Gogh.

Late in his career, the impoverished genius often ran out of conventional canvas, which was in any case quite expensive. He would write to his brother, Theo, imploring him to send more, but in the meantime painted on whatever came to hand.

And if that was a tea towel, so be it.

In fact, research has shown that ‘The Large Plane Trees’ and ‘Wheatfields in a Mountainous Landscape’ were painted on table cloths, or tea towels.

Some of Van Gogh’s works seem to be painted on tea towels with a red border – perhaps they came from the kitchen of the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers where he was staying at the time?

A still life with flowers by Van Gogh, painted on a tea towel, fetched £2.1m at auction in the year 2000. So keep hold of your kitchen tea towels – you never know, it could pay you back handsomely one day.

Not all of us can aspire to be great painters, of course but we can still be imaginative in putting our tea towels to new uses… Several of our customers at Radical Tea Towel have said our tea towels are too good for drying the dishes and so they’ve hung them on the wall instead.

Other wackier suggestions are: A shepherd’s head dress in your child’s Nativity play? Or peg one to a stick and wave it on your next demonstration? Knotted at each corner, a tea towel should offer a lot more protection from the sun than a mere handkerchief.

Forget the pillow fight, why not have a tea towel fight? Or fold one in two, sew up two sides and put some handles on – you’ve got a handy little ‘bag-for-life’.

And speaking of environmentalism: don’t just throw your old tea towels away. Why not cut them up into dish cloths or floor cloths?

The possibilities and fun are endless. Please let us know if you dream up a particularly radical use!

Of course, you could always use a tea towel as originally intended – as a kitchen accessory. Something creative that will bring a breath dash of color to one of the most important rooms in the house.

And something, we hope, that will spark more than a few interesting conversations.

Check out our blog for the incredible stories behind our radical tea towels

Tea Towels Can Cause Food Poisoning & Here’s What You Need To Know

When’s the last time you washed your kitchen towels? It usually doesn’t rank high on a chore list, especially since they’re just going to get dirty anyway, but your kitchen linens are extremely susceptible to germ buildup, according to a new study. There’s no easy way to break the news to you, so I’ll just get right to it: Your dish towels are disgusting, and they probably have fecal contamination. Tea towels can cause food poisoning, but there’s more to the story. Yes, there are poop particles in your kitchen, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely get sick.

The American Society for Microbiology shared a press release about the study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Mauritius. Researchers analyzed 100 towels that had been used for 30 days. About half of the kitchen towels showed bacterial growth, and homes with children or extended family members had more germs. The study points out that we often use dish towels for a range of things — drying our hands and dishes, picking up hot dishes, wiping down our counters — and it all adds up. Thirty-six percent of the towels tested positive for E. Coli, and another 36 percent tested positive for Enterococcus, which is usually associated with urinary tract infections. Worst of all, nearly 15 percent tested positive for S. aureus, which is usually associated with food poisoning.

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E. Coli can also cause sickness, but it’s usually referenced when we’re talking about poop. Essentially, people probably aren’t washing their hands very well before they decide to wash dishes, which leads to inadvertently spreading germs all over the kitchen. You’re also facing higher risk if you’re not a vegetarian, according to the study results. Meat-eating families were more likely to have bacteria-filled tea towels.

Study lead author Dr. Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal says in the press release that the study shows that hygiene in the kitchen has real-world implications. “We also found that diet, type of use and moist kitchen towels could be very important in promoting the growth of potential pathogens responsible for food poisoning,” says Biranjia-Hurdoyal, a health sciences lecturer at the University of Mauritius.

Popular Science says, however, that we shouldn’t panic just yet — even though the bacteria collected from the towels isn’t stuff you necessarily want in your home, we’re surrounded by bacteria in our day-to-day lives, and we’re able to stay relatively healthy. Additionally, half of the towels studied didn’t have any bacteria, so there’s a chance your home is one of the really clean ones. But if you don’t have great kitchen habits, this study is a reminder to clean up on a regular basis.

The American Society for Microbiology recommends getting rid of multipurpose dish towels. Instead of using one towel for everything, use separate towels for cleaning, drying hands, and cooking. You should also make sure your dish towels are dry after you’re done in the kitchen, because damp towels are a breeding ground for bacteria.

Additionally, if you eat meat and cook it in the kitchen, you need to make sure you’re washing your dish towels on a regular basis. HuffPost reports that you should wash dish towels after each use, although that is probably not a realistic goal for most of us. HuffPost says you can also clean them with a diluted bleach solution if you don’t want to do laundry every day. At minimum, towels need to be washed every week.

Food poisoning by tea towel sounds pretty silly, but if you’ve ever suffered from food poisoning, you know that it can be pretty much the worst, and you’ll want to do anything possible to avoid it. If you stay vigilant about the towels in your kitchen, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Most homeowners have a drawer in their kitchen stuffed to the brim with tea towels of different shapes, sizes, and patterns. There’s a good reason why: When your kid leaves a few (too many) stray crumbs on the counter or you’re in search for last-minute dining room décor, these do-it-all kitchen cloths come in handy to wipe up any spills, dry dishes, and add a touch of elegance to your dining room table.

Okay, but exactly is a tea towel?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a tea towel as “a cloth for drying dishes.” Often made of linen, cloth, or a combination of the two, tea towels date back to England in the 18th century, when they were used to insulate tea pots at tea ceremonies (hence the name), dry fine china, and cover baked goods. During this time, people also used tea towels to practice embroidery, often gifting friends and family tea towels stitched with flowers, initials, or other designs. As the times changed, so have tea towels: By the 19th and 20th centuries, most tea towels were reportedly made with striped or checked cloth for a more decorative touch.

What’s the difference between a tea towel and a dish towel?

Call ’em tea towels, call ’em dish towels: The only time that you shouldn’t use the names interchangeably is when you’re using a towel made of terry cloth. By definition, tea towels are only made of linen or cotton, whereas dish towels can also be made of terry cloth. Both types of towels, however, are roughly the size of a hand towel, ranging from 16″ x 28″ to 18″ x 30″.

Best-Selling Tea Towels You Can Buy on Amazon

Striped Tea Towels Harringdons amazon.com $25.45 Rose Garden Tea Towels Maison d’ Hermine amazon.com $22.99 Colmar Tea Towels Maison d’ Hermine amazon.com $16.99 Linen Tea Towel Ulster Weavers amazon.com $10.99

Even though tea towels aren’t quite as absorbent as other options (paper towels or terry cloth, especially), they have several purposes beyond the kitchen. When you’re not using tea towels as way to protect your countertops from hot pots, dry leafy greens, or line cabinet shelves, they can be used to dress up your home or as a substitute for traditional gift wrap.

Unique Ways to Use Tea Towels

Napkin or Placemat

ALISON GOOTEE

If you’re hosting a holiday or dinner party, personalize your tablescape by using a mix of different tea towels. Choose cloths in similar color palettes with small, repeated patterns. When setting the table, flatten each towel and use it as a napkin, or fold it in half and sew around the edges for a DIY placemat.

Candle Holder

ALISON GOOTEE

When gifting a pillar candle, don’t just stick it in another boring gift bag. Take a bold printed tea towel and fold it in half, then in half again, to equal the candle’s height. Wrap the towel around the candle, secure it with a satin ribbon, and dress it up with an long-stemmed match. Just remind the recipients to remove the tea towel before they light their new candle.

Bread Bundle

ALISON GOOTEE

For a last-minute hostess gift, cut a baguette in half and wrap it in a towel. Attach a jar of your favorite jam for extra sweetness. But really you can wrap up just about anything — chocolates, flowers, you name it — in a tea towel to add a homemade touch (or if you run out of wrapping paper).

Pillow

ALISON GOOTEE

It’s easy to turn a patterned tea towel into a customized pillow. To make, simply fold the towel in half lengthwise, keeping the crease at the top. Sew two of the towel’s open sides shut at the edges, then stuff with batting or a pre-made insert. Sew the towel’s remaining open side shut to finish it off.

Get Your Tea Towels Ready

Over the years and around the world, people have used a variety of tools to help cook, clean and decorate their kitchens. Among these, the most useful and versatile tool, the towel has helped to keep families healthy and happy by allowing us to do simple but vital tasks. Whether it is for cleaning, drying dishes, polishing fine china, printing or embroidery, there is a type of kitchen towel that is right for the job.

What is a Kitchen Towel?

A kitchen towel is quite simply any towel meant for tasks done primarily in the kitchen. They are more durable than other towels and made for absorbing. Kitchen towels are also hemmed with thick stitching around the edges for reinforcement, better keeping the towel intact over time. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing and accenting your kitchen’s décor, kitchen towels are functional and one of the most versatile items you can have in your kitchen. They can accommodate a wide variety of tasks such as:

  • Drying dishes quickly and effectively
  • Drying hands
  • Wiping up spills and liquids
  • Disinfecting counter tops
  • Holding hot dishes (pot holders)
  • Improvised mitt when folded up into layers
  • Sweeping off a messy cutting board
  • Drying off herbs and vegetables

Today there are a variety of types of kitchen towels coming in all sorts of colors, patterns, materials, weights and sizes all suited for different tasks around the kitchen. Clean spares of kitchen towels are often kept on hand so that a fresh towel is always on stand-by ready to come to the next spill’s rescue. It’s also recommended to have multiple kitchen towels in-stock to ensure that every time you clean, do dishes or cook, you always have a fresh, clean towel ready to no matter how messy the situation.

What Materials are Used for Kitchen Towels?

Kitchen towels can be found in a variety of materials such as linen, cotton and terry cloth.

  • Linen – More traditional tea towels are made from linen. The soft fibers that make up linen are great for polishing delicate dishes and fine china without leaving any lint or risk of damage. Meaning they do not make any fluff after repeated use, dry quickly, and absorb instantly.
  • Terrycloth – A cloth constructed of piles of loops tightly sewn together with the perfect space-to-fabric ratio for soaking up and retaining moisture.
  • Cotton – The best kitchen towels are made from tightly-woven cotton because they are absorbent, soft, and capable of soaking up large amounts and withstanding hundreds of wash cycles without losing its strength or durability. Soft cotton also prevents smudging and watermarks with little effort. Cotton towels are soft enough to absorb, but durable enough to withstand repeated uses and washings.

What’s the Most Absorbent Kitchen Towel Material?

The most absorbent kitchen towels are made from looped terrycloth material that’s great for drying hands and wiping counter tops. However, the lint that terry towels can sometimes leave behind means that, despite how most people use them, terry towels actually shouldn’t be used around food or to dry dishes at all. Tightly woven cotton materials like those use for flour sack towels, are also quite absorbent yet they do not leave behind lint.

Kitchen Towels vs. Tea Towels

What is a Tea Towel?

Tea towel is an English term used to describe types of kitchen towels like dish or flour sack towels. Traditionally, tea towels were made from a soft thin linen material. Historically, they were mainly used as décor, embroidered with beautifully intricate designs and made to match the rest of the kitchen’s lavish linen set.

Tea towels were also used to dry and polish fragile dishes too precious to trust in the hands of clumsy housemaids and in tea service, both as tray liners, as well as to cover scones or a teapot to keep them warm. Traditionally, tea towels are found in abundance in Ireland and England, countries where tea is a daily ritual.

Tea Towel Uses

A tea towel, on the other hand, is a kitchen workhorse with dozens of uses, including many DIY projects that take the simple tea towel out of the kitchen and give it life anywhere else you live, work, play or entertain. Tea towels come in a variety of sizes, materials, and colors and are used to accent kitchen décor in a number of ways. For example, they can be displayed neatly folded over oven door handles or hung on a designated hook to add a splash of color. They can be simply folded and stored neatly away in a kitchen drawer ready to come in handy one day.

Aside from décor, tea towels can also serve functional purposes such as dusting wooden surfaces and polishing fine china, jewelry, furniture and other kitchenware. Tea towels can also be used when serving things like scones and muffins, thoughtfully placed in a dish or covering a tea pot, adding the perfect touch to tea and breakfast setups. Other uses for tea towels include:

  • As a napkin
  • As a buffer between pots & pans
  • Liners for trays, baskets, refrigerator door, etc.
  • To dry fresh fruits and vegetables
  • To cover food and keep it warm
  • As a slip grip under cutting boards

What’s the best way to wash tea towels?

It is recommended that tea towels be soaked in warm water right after they are purchased in order to get rid of any extra oil left over from the manufacturing process and to activate the towel’s absorbency. If they are colored tea towels, they should be washed separately from other laundry to avoid running colors. Just like all towels, over time tea towels get stains and build-up bacteria if they are not washed carefully. Use detergent instead of fabric cleaner when you wash your tea towels to keep them durable for longer. This is because fabric conditioners and fabric softeners leave oily, water-resistant layer on the towel making it harder to soak up moisture. It is better to hang-dry tea towels instead of using a dryer to avoid deteriorating delicate fabric commonly used for them. Hanging tea towels, like on a washing line or clothes rack, should get them dry pretty quickly since they are usually smaller and thinner than other towels.

Tea Towel vs. Dish Towel

Tea towels and dish towels are both types of kitchen towels. Originally an accessory for the upper class in 18th century England, tea towels are usually much thinner and are traditionally made from linen. They can be used to polish delicate china, furniture, jewelry, etc. and are also often used as décor. Dish towels on the other hand, originated in the early 20th century America when the Great Depression forced housewives to get creative with the rough cotton from their animal feed sacks and reuse the material for towels, clothing and other household textiles. Dish towels are used exclusively for washing and drying dishes and should be kept separate from other towels to prevent the spread of bacteria. They are generally made from a more durable, absorbent cotton material.

The distinction between tea towels and dish towels can also depend on the language used in any given place and how they refer to a cloth used for drying dishes. A quick check of Google Trends reveals that many people from the UK, Australia and New Zealand have searched for ‘tea towels’ online but almost none have searched for ‘dish towels’. On the other hand, the U.S. and Canada have had many searched for ‘dish towel’ with much fewer results for ‘tea towels’. Apparently, Google treats ‘tea towels’ and ‘dish towels’ the same way, both showing about the same search results.

Kitchen Towels vs. Dish Towels

Dish towels, or towels used solely for washing and drying dishware, are probably the most limited type of kitchen towel. These absorbent towels are great for hand-washing dishes, speeding up the drying process without leaving any lint and preventing water spots. They should be constantly rotated, kept clean and be separated from other kitchen towels to prevent spreading bacteria. Dish towels can come in a variety of materials but, unlike looped terrycloth towels, flour sack towels made from 100% cotton like the ones from Cotton Creations are able to dry dishes quickly and effectively without leaving behind any streaks or lint. This tight-woven, sturdy hemmed cotton material is soft and durable. Flour sack towels make great dish towels because they will hill hold up nicely through repeated uses and washes.

Tea Towels vs. Flour Sack Towels

Tea and flour sack towels are interchangeable terms, both characterized as flat-woven towels used for drying without leaving any traces of lint. Originally, a tea towel was thin linen cloth used in the 18th century by wealthy English ladies to polish delicate dishware and it evolved into what is now known as flour sack towels (a.k.a. dish towels) in America during the Great Depression when desperate housewives cleverly cut up and embroidered cotton flour sacks to use as tea towels as well as many other things. Tea towels are known for being a fairly thin towel used for tasks such as drying and polishing delicate things or as decoration for the kitchen. Whereas flour sack towels are typically a thicker, sturdier material that’s also more absorbent and versatile.

Why Choose Flour Sack Towels by Cotton Creations?

If you’re looking for a type of kitchen towel that’s soft yet durable and versatile yet effective, flour sack towels are your best option. Cotton Creation’s flour sack towels are made from 100% cotton material that is soft to the touch but also capable of withstanding consistent use with tough kitchen tasks and re-washing in full load wash cycles. Our flour sack towels’ high-quality material and durable thread count gives them a very long lifetime. Flour sack towels are also lint-free! So you won’t have to worry about unwanted fluff getting left behind after drying your dishes or wiping your windows. They are capable of a wide range of possible applications including:

  • Drying or polishing dishes
  • Straining food
  • Embroidery, DTG Printing, & Screen-printing
  • Hand Towel
  • Dusting & Window Cleaning
  • Gift Wrap
  • Makeshift Diaper, Bib or Burp Cloth
  • Cleaning Cloth for your car

Shop Flour Sack Towels

Brief History of Kitchen Towels

Tea towels originated in 18th -century England as an accessory for the rich made from soft, lint-free linen, a fiber derived from the flax of linseed plants. The soft linen texture of the fabric made them a versatile tool for the lady of the household to dry her bone china, delicate tea sets and other prized possessions too precious to trust their servants with. They also came in handy during tea tome when they were seen wrapped around tea pots for insulation and preventing inelegant drips or draped over a plate of freshly baked pastries just before serving time. Not only did tea towels serve a variety of functional purposes, they were also a way for ladies to create art and show off their embroidery skills, designing each towel to match the rest of their kitchen’s table linens and creating a beautiful heirlooms to be passed down generation after generation.

Over time, with increasing availability of textiles and sewing material, factories began mass producing these towels along with many other household linens during the Industrial Revolution. The tea towels progressed through this process and became available for consumer purchase in a wide variety of fashionable styles and colors that easily coordinated with any kitchen’s décor. It was at this time in the 19th century that tea towel manufacturers began using cotton materials for it’s softness, durability and absorbency.

Housewives were not the only ones who saw the artistic potential in tea towels. According to an article from textile trade magazine, WeavingToday, the ever-famous artist Vincent van Gogh actually used these kinds of towels, as well as whatever other materials he could find a the time, to create his paintings on when he was low on supplies and money. One of these paintings includes a still life piece of flowers in a vase from the end of his career. Believe it or not, that painting, which started out a mere tea towel, sold in action for about 3.5 million dollars!

The Great Depression was a desperate time when money for frivolous things like fancy tea towels was scarce. Yet, women were resourceful and able to re-purpose rough cotton sacks by cutting them up and turning them into dish towels (flour sack towels), clothing and other household textiles! Cotton flour sacks were turned into everything from linens to underwear by frugal housewives and homesteaders. Today, most flour comes in paper packaging, which means you have to purchase flour sack towels from unique stores like Cotton Creations.

Women at this time would also use these flour sack towels to create beautiful works of embroidered art with intricate patterns, despite the roughness of the material’s weave. They would then trade their work with other women in the community for other supplies, resources and money. Soon after realizing what their customers were doing with their product’s packaging, flour sack companies began designing the cloth sacks with decorative floral elements and nice patterns designs on them. Doing this served as a great incentive for women to buy their product, not only for it’s aesthetically pleasing quality but also for it utilitarian purpose. They would save these sacks and use them to create clothing as well as other household textiles for themselves and for their families. The crafty women at this time helped to pioneer a tradition in America of transforming the materials we already have into creative yet functional works of art. Thanks ladies!

What is a tea towel?

Tea towel : (also known as a dish towel) a cloth used mainly for drying dishes. Our tea towels are made of cotton, include a hanging loop, and are about 19 inches by 27.5 inches in size.

Tea towels were apparently first used by 18th century old English ladies to dry their fragile bone china.

The English, Australians and New Zealanders prefer the term ‘tea towel’. North Americans, meanwhile, normally use the term ‘dish towel’ – but those of Italian descent may be familiar with the word ‘mappina’, which actually means map (apparently because maps were originally drawn on cloth).

Above: Google trends map of searches for ‘tea towels’. Dark blue areas represent countries with the highest searches

Why do we see this difference in the English-speaking world? Maybe because in 18th-century England, the tea towel was originally conceived of as an accessory for the rich, to wrap around tea pots or food, or clean delicate English china. The idea and term were then spread in the 19th century to countries that were still part of the British Empire.

Dish towels, meanwhile, evolved independently of Britain – just like the United States as a country! They supposedly took off in the US in the early 20th century, when housewives cut up rough cotton animal feed sacks and reused the material. This is also where the name ‘flour sack towels’ comes from.

Let’s just say that tea towels have come a long way since then.

Today you can wave a tea towel at a demonstration.

Tea towels can be used to cover warm muffins.

To wrap a bottle of wine.

Van Gogh painted on tea towels when he ran out of canvas.

Hang one on the wall in your living room.

Send someone a message on a tea towel.

Here’s what happened when President Trump encountered one of our tea towels:

A tea towel is an idea.

Tea Towel vs Dish Towel | Everything You need To Know

What are Tea Towels? What are Dish Towels? Are they the same? What are the differences between Tea Towel vs Dish Towel? Read on to find out.

Both tea towels and dish towels are types of Kitchen Towels. Kitchen towels have many uses, but some of the distinct uses classify the different types of cloths into different names. Kitchen towels come in various forms and are useful all around the kitchen for wiping up spills, cleaning off cutting boards and drying hands and dishes – even holding hot plates.

These kitchen towels are sturdier than your bathing towels as they are more absorbent and durable for repeated washings and uses. People generally pick out kitchen towels that match the decor of their homes. Some people even prefer having multiple kitchen towels so as to quickly replace them after heavy use.

Let us look at the differences between Tea Towel vs Dish Towel:

Dish Towel

Like their namesake, Dish Towels are useful for washing and drying off dishes. They prevent water spots from forming on your cookware. Dish Towels are generally very absorbent and leave no trace of any lint.

It becomes important to keep the Dish Towels washed and cleaned between cleaning sessions, otherwise, they might end up making the dishes dirtier instead of cleaning them. You should also keep them away from other towels to prevent the spread of any bacteria.

A separate clean Dish Cloth can also insulate the heat from your hands when you use it as a potholder.

Dish towels are made from a rough cotton material that is durable between heavy washing and wringing. Dish Towels are meant for rough use – more like a rag, than a towel.

Tea Towel

Tea towels, on the other hand, are more of a decor item. Smaller than Dish Towels, these were originally accessories for Victorian-era England (18th century). Housewives of old would demonstrate their embroidery skills on Tea Towels and practice their craft. Made from linen or soft cotton, Tea Towels are more delicate than other kitchen towels.

They are useful in cleaning brittle cutlery, delicate china, furniture, and jewelry. That’s why Tea Towels are also known as “Glass Towels”. Avoid wiping off trays and dirty surfaces with Glass Towels. Instead, you could dry your herbs and vegetables with Tea Towels after rinsing them.

Tea towels are presented with dessert courses and Tea servings, as a napkin or a placemat to prevent drips and spills.

You should be gentle with cleaning Tea Towels as they’re not as durable as their other kitchen towel counterparts. Even while drying, you could just hang them on a drying rack as they can be wrinkle resistant. Avoid iron pressing as it might damage the delicate cloth.

Although the terms Tea Towel and Dish Towels are often interchangeable, it is important to demarcate the differences between them for a better understanding of their different functions.

10 ways to use a tea towel and a chance to win 4 hand silkscreened organic cotton tea towels for your own kitchen.

Sharp knives, a sturdy cutting board and good quality pots and pans are just a few of the items that top the list of kitchen tools you probably reach for everyday in your kitchen; but what about a tea towel?

A stack of clean tea towels can do so much more than just dry dishes. An old fashioned tea towel is more than just a pretty accent; this practical and versatile piece can pull its weight around the kitchen.

Since moving away from using paper products like paper towels and napkins in my kitchen, I now always have plenty of dish rags, microfiber cloths and tea towels on hand. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use tea towels:

  1. To line a serving basket or tray.
  2. To cover and keep food warm like scones, biscuits and rolls.
  3. As napkins or casual placemats.
  4. Placed between pots and pans to protect from scratches when stored.
  5. To dry and store salad greens.
  6. To line the crisper drawers in the fridge.
  7. Dampened and placed under a cutting board to prevent it from slipping when chopping.
  8. As a tea pot cozy to keep tea or coffee warm.
  9. To create a tight seal on pots when steaming.
  10. To make oven baked eggs.

And because I think everyone should have a few tea towels in their kitchen I’ve teamed up with my friend Beth from Tasty Yummies who has just launched a new line organic cotton tea towels to give you a chance to win a set of 4 for your own kitchen.

Each are designed and illustrated by Beth and her husband Mark who hand silkscreen print them themselves with non-toxic water based inks. She has generously offered to provide one Gourmande in the Kitchen reader a set of 4 organic tea towels of their choice from their design studio (I have the proud gluten-free kitchen, proud real food kitchen and people who love to eat tea towels hanging in my own kitchen.) Just enter below for a chance to win!

The humble tea towel has had a far more extravagant history than you might believe. While some kind of drying instrument is likely to have been around since Roman times given knives and forks have barely changed since then, decorative tea towels as we know them today originated in 18th century England as absorbent towels used to dry fine household crockery.

Since then, the tea towel has lived through many moments in our radical history, from wars and the civil rights fight to the Suffragette movement and political change. Today tea towels assist us in the home but radicals and protestors have also used them as banners during demonstrations.

Tea towels are a staple item in your kitchen. Imagine what would happen if you tried to run your culinary escapades without them? No way of drying dishes or glasses, nothing to wipe kitchen surfaces with when they get wet, no chance of using tea towels to transport hot dishes.

There are a lot of ways tea towels help us, so it’s understandable that you might want to put time and even money into choosing a good set. Whether you want vintage tea towels or ones with modern designs, tea towels which match the colour scheme of your kitchen or tea towels with personality there is so much out there to choose from.

Yet the journey doesn’t end when you buy the tea towels. In fact, buying is really just the beginning of what could be a long, loving relationship, on the condition you look after your tea towels properly.

It’s important to know exactly how to wash your tea towels properly, and separately, how to keep them in good condition, so we’re bringing you all the advice you need on getting it right.

Why should you wash tea towels?

Not to gross you out, but tea towels can be a party destination for bacteria , including those which cause food poisoning, if not kept clean.

Tea towels which are left soggy or not washed often enough could make you ill if you start drying your hands or your dishes with them.

It’s especially important to wash tea towels if you have been handling raw meat while cooking.

How regularly should you wash them?

Experts recommend households wash their tea towels every day, unless they haven’t been used. As long as you have a good set of at least three or four, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Health-wise it’s important not to throw sopping tea towels into a laundry basket because they could develop mildew and bacteria, leading to them smelling and spreading this to your clothes. Wait for them to dry then put them in the laundry or, even better, wash them immediately.

Before you wash your tea towels

As pretty as they may look, new tea towels are not very absorbent because of the excess dye and oils left over from the manufacturing process.

To combat this, wash your lovely new tea towels with warm water before you first use them. You’ll be thanking us when they are less prone to sogginess!

There are couple of rules you should follow when doing this first wash. Unless you want your favourite white jeans to be stained with blobs of colour, avoid washing colourful tea towels with your other items in that first wash as the colours could run.

For an extra savvy tip, use diluted white vinegar in that first wash as this helps improve the absorbency of you tea towel even more.

Above: Our resident designer Tim giving some love to one of our Einstein Aprons


How should I machine wash my tea towels

Your best bet, according to tests by the Consumers’ Association published in Which? magazine, is to use biological detergents. They clean in the same way as non-biological powders, just with added effects from enzymes which can break down protein, fats, and starches in food stains.

You can also clean at lower temperatures than with normal detergents, no hotter than 50 degrees centigrade is the recommendation. White cotton or linen tea towels are fine at this higher temperature while coloured ones should be washed at 30 or 40 degrees centigrade.

Do you sometimes find your tea towel still smells even after washing it? It’s a common problem, and if it happens to you, try adding white vinegar or baking soda to your wash as well as detergent. For the best results, pause your wash half way through, let it soak for as long as possible (preferably overnight), then restart the cycle.

Removing stains from my tea towels

Stains are annoying even if you expect them on something like a tea towel, which often wipes up the worst of spillages, including red wine.

Your normal detergent should actually work for the majority of stains, so you can continue washing your tea towels with your clothes in these cases. If you do have a particularly bad stain, like coffee, grease or Ketchup, you should treat your tea towel with a clothing stain remover before washing it as normal.

Why you shouldn’t use fabric conditioner

Unfortunately fabric conditioner can make your tea towels less absorbent by coating them in a layer of water-resistant oil so it’s best to only use detergent when washing them.

If you’ve already used fabric softener, don’t panic! Remove it in your next wash by adding baking soda to your washing powder and some vinegar to the conditioner section.

There’s more than just dish drying to our tea Towels – check out our good causes page

How to stop my tea towels from fading

In love with the design of your tea towel? Desperately trying to stop the colour from fading? It’s a sad reality that all colour in fabric fades eventually, but you can prevent it from happening too soon.To give your tea towel the best chance of having a long life, it’s worth avoiding buying cheap ones, which will fade fast. Instead, choose tea towels which use reactive inks, meaning there will be far less colour loss compared to the cheaper alternatives.

Then maximise your tea towel’s colour longevity by adding some salt and baking soda to your washes and white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Just make sure you don’t put vinegar in the same cycle as the washing powder or baking soda as they will neutralise each other and not work.

For optimum protection, always use laundry products like Ecover, as these don’t contain colour-fading ingredients like oxygen bleach or optical brighteners, the latter of which is bad for your skin and the environment.

Drying and ironing my tea towels

Drying your tea towels on a line or clothes horse is much better for them than a tumble dryer. Just make sure you face the printed side away from the sun, as the light will cause fading.

Ideally you should steam iron your towels while they are still damp and ensure you iron them on the reverse.

Storing your tea towels

You’re nearly there! You’ve shown your tea towels so much love up until this point, so take the one, final step and fold them up neatly before storing them in a drawer.

Try to get into the habit of hanging your tea towels up in between uses on a cupboard or the radiator, so they don’t lie in a crumpled heap allowing bacteria to build up.

Now you’re an extremely smug tea towel owner, as you should be, why not consider the condition of your current tea towels? Is it time for a change? Why not explore where you can buy new tea towels to brighten your kitchen and test your newfound knowledge? You now have the chance to inject your personality and interests into the tea towels you display in your kitchen with these incredible range of radical tea towels .