100 Essentials: Turkish Bath Towel

{This series is based on my latest book, 100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home. In it, you’ll find the full list of my personal possessions, with detailed explanations and 100 color photos—including my 35-item kitchen, 35-item wardrobe, and more. I hope this series will start some interesting discussions on what you can’t live without!}

Shall we talk about towels? They may seem a trivial item, but they often commandeer a good chunk of our storage space. They’re big, fluffy, and seem to multiply of their own accord. I remember, in my pre-minimalist days, struggling to extract (and return) bath sheets to a jam-packed linen closet. And if they weren’t folded just so, the entire stack would look a mess.

As I minimized, I tackled this issue from two directions: downsizing our number of towels, and downsizing the towels themselves.

And guess what I discovered in the process? Towels don’t have to be big and fluffy to get you dry.

It’s a common assumption that the towels par excellence are the lofty, luxurious, spa-like variety. I once subscribed to that view, too, and devoted far too much closet space to housing them. And then I discovered the pestemal.

Pestemals are flat woven towels of a special Turkish cotton. They’re soft, lightweight, and absorbent, but best of all, take up about a quarter of the space of a traditional plush towel. (In other words, a stack of four Turkish towels is roughly equivalent to one “fluffy” towel.) They also dry more quickly, both by air and machine. Truly, they’re the stuff of dreams for those in tiny houses, boats, RVs, and micro apartments.

I’m so enamored with Turkish towels that our family uses them exclusively. Each of us has one in a different color/pattern (my daughter was particularly excited to pick out her lilac one). Yes, one towel per person is living on the edge—but as your minimalist guide, I had to see if it could be done. I’m happy to say that yes, it can, and so far we’ve never been inconvenienced by a lack of bath towels. They go straight from the dryer to the towel rack, so no storage necessary.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, we also keep two towels for guests, as we usually have friends and family for weeklong stays every 2-3 months.)

I do have some advice for anyone tempted to take the plunge: be patient with your pestemal. The first few times you use it, you probably won’t be impressed. My husband would joke about drying off with his “Turkish paper towel.” We couldn’t understand why our brand new pestemals were so inferior to the “used” ones in our Istanbul hotel. But that turned out to be the key—pestemals get better (that is, softer and more absorbent) with each trip through the washing machine. By the sixth wash or so, they were performing acceptably and have only improved since. If you’re initially disappointed, do give it at least a dozen launders before you throw in the towel. ;-)

So please, tell me about your towels! Does anyone else use pestemal, or something similar? I’d love to hear about your bath towel of choice, and learn about other textile marvels from around the world.

{If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love 100 Essentials. It contains all the super-versatile, high-performing items that have helped me streamline my life.}

39 comments to 100 Essentials: Turkish Bath Towel

  • Thank you for this post. I never knew about Turkish towels. I just looked them up on amazon and they have rave reviews. I’m definitely going to try them. Not sure I will get my family on board, but I will start with one and see how it goes. I love that they save space. I remember giving up my Pfaltzgraff stoneware dishes and replacing them with Corelle dishes. They are much thinner, lighter and take up a fraction of the space.

  • Cara

    Yes I use them exclusively and they are amazing.I was given one as a gift and loved it so much I bought one for my partner and child. One towel per person in a different design each. There is no fluff on us or the bathroom floor, it dries us way better than an ordinary towel and dries out so quickly even in Winter no more wetbtowels making the bathroom smell funny. Love them!

  • Lia

    I’ve heard great things about Turkish towels before, so glad to see you’re a fan too. When I’m ready to replace my current set, I’ll likely take the plunge. One thing is I hate fringe haha. I know it’s traditional, but I just can’t get into it.

  • Adele

    Love them also, though we use them mostly when we travel. It’s hard to break the “fluffy towel” habit, though I don’t really like them all that fluffy. It’s hard to let go of childhood memories of a well-stocked towel closet! I’ve also found there’s a lot of variability in peshtemal styles. Our daughter gave us one that she had been given at work and it’s kind of thin and rough. The ones I purchased online — very similar to the one in your photo — are much more comfortable.

  • Alix

    I use linen towels exclusively. Yes, they’re pricey, but they’re thin, quick-drying, naturally resistant to mildew, and last forever.

  • Annette

    I, too, have switched to a Turkish bath towel and love it. I can’t quite get my family on board with the bath towels but they all love their Turkish beach towels. They dry so fast in the summer sun instead of being wet and soggy and the sand shakes right out of them at the beach. I let the kids pick their own colors too and they love that they are bright and cheery and an added bonus: I can fit all five beach towels in a bag that would normally take up the room of one traditional towel! Also, for years, we have been a family with one set of towels, one set of sheets. They get washed and get hung right back up or put on the bed. I don’t why people feel the need for an extra set of anything except for guests!

    • edj3

      Your kids probably didn’t puke much, if any. Alas, mine did so having only one set of sheets would have meant no sheets for a couple of hours multiple times a day. They were not so great at getting to the bathroom on time, or even in hitting the trash can at the side of the bed.

      Now? Easy peasy to go with a single set.

  • The right towel, and fewer of them makes our home the perfect LBD too!-Laurel Bledsoe

  • Sara

    For some reason these towels don’t appeal to me personally. I don’t know why, they seem great in many ways. Good subject, since linens usually take up so much room.

    We use regular towels, but they’re not very fluffy or anything and they work fine for us. There’s four of us and we each have two towels and a couple for guest use. If I had to rethink this, I’d go for linen ones, but I’m not sure the hubs would like that at all. :) But it’s working out fine, so far, so no need for that now.

  • Betsy

    I use Ikea bath towels. They aren’t supper thick and they dry us off fast. They also dry fast in the dryer. I have two sets that I rotate. They have a loop sewn on them in case you want to put them on a hook. The price point can’t be beat. When they ware out after a few years I cut them up for scrub clothes.

  • Barbara

    I use Turkish Towels for my travel towel and beach towel. When we move to our tiny home, those will be the towels we bring with us.

  • Jeanne

    Love your blog and have followed it for a long time. Recently, after minimizing my hair to a pixie cut, I decided that a bath size towel was unnecessary. It turns out that a hand towel is enough after a shower. Really love the way it’s lightened my laundry and life.

  • I also love Turkish towels. Easy to fit several on a bar, and they take up almost no space (though I do have several, for the sake of guests and beaches). I also have a slightly thicker one in a different pattern that I use as a lightweight/not itchy blanket.

  • Patrice

    I never thought to try a hand towel to dry off with, but it is a great idea. I never wrap my body in a bath towel, so the extra yardage is not necessary. I would also like to try these Pestemals towels, is there a specific brand I should look for? Can you purchase them through Amazon?

  • I LOVE Turkish towels! I’ve gave my two microfibre bath towels to my dog and replaced them with Turkish towels, and there’s no going back. The Turkish towels take up less space but are every bit as efficient as microfibre towels. And they are prettier, too! :-D

  • Susan

    These towels are great for lugging in your gym bag to work out, because they are so light. The only problem I have with them is that I live in the northeast, and for most of the year you want a warmer, fluffier towel when you get out of the shower and into a coldish interior environment. When I use the Turkish bath towel, it makes me feel chilly, except in the summer.
    I’m really liking this series of 100 essentials!

  • Brinstar

    I have a few of these towels which I purchased when I was on holiday in Turkey, but a smaller size that we use as hand towels. I really like them. They perform as well as the thick cotton ones, but dry faster. I have one larger one as well that I intend to use as a camping/beach towel.

  • Mark

    I use a linen towel as my one towel. I got it from Outlier, and it quickly became one of my favorite things. It is very absorbent, and dries you off quickly; yet it doesn’t start to smell like the micro fiber towels that I had used in the past. I don’t have a hand towel in the bathroom because I use this one towel for both.

  • Karen

    We use linen towels that I bought from a small shop on etsy. They are super thin so storage is easy. Linen dries very quickly and apparently is anti-microbial-unlike fluffy cotton towels- so they do not get smelly.

  • Sue

    I got some at Kmart – I don’t know how “authentic” they are but the same qualities of being absorbent, thin, easy to dry. I love how long they are too, plenty of wrappage! They don’t always stock them so I grab a couple every time they do – they’re also way cheaper than other brands of Turkish towels here (NZ).

  • Charlene

    My husband and I use Turkish towels and love them. I have some big ones that we use at the beach and that’s when I really appreciate them most. They’re lightweight, dry quickly, and the sand shakes right out. The last ones I bought were from The Riviera Towel Company (sold through Amazon) and I like them the best of any I’ve gotten. They were softer and are a little bigger and don’t seem to shrink as much when you first wash them.

  • sarah

    I use white flour sack”dish” towels- 4 at Walmart for a little over $4. love them. i even use them to take off my makeup (residue), throw them in the washer with all of the other laundry. no bleach. they come out clean/crisp white.

  • Apple

    2 adults + 2 children have 8 (exactly the same, Ikea) towels. Simple, easy, and enough for guests too.

  • Randall

    Love my Turkish towels. I got mine from Indigo Traders in Portland. Excellent. I have 2 for myself and 2 hand towels. While that is living on the heavier side of minimalism they do last forever. I rotate each hand and regular towel each week. I also use mine for beach towels. They wash and dry easily.

  • NicolaB

    If we ever need to replace towels (which I doubt will be soon as when we moved into our house 7 years ago we were given several good quality secondhand towels and they don’t seem to have aged!) I will look into a lightweight towel like this- love the idea of quick drying towels that don’t take up much space!

  • Pauline

    Hello

    I use Cloth honeycomb and they are even lighter than the Turskish ones
    it is really impressive.
    i’m leaving for a world tour soon and can only take 1 towel. it will be a small Honeycomb one. they dry super fast and don’t take any room.

  • Cindy

    Thanks for the info on Turkish towels – I’ve never heard of them! I will continue to use the towels I have, but will certainly replace them with these!

  • Aurora

    I bought a set of turkish towels a few years ago and they’re my gym towels. I will probably replace my other towels with them down the line, but the older ones are still good so I’m not going to toss them. I much prefer my turkish towels for carrying around, the others are way too bulky for my bag.

  • Mike

    Over the years, I’ve found that my sig other and I use only 3 towels at a time: we use them after a shower or bath and hang them up to dry afterwards. We usually go weeks, if not more, between launderings. We do have more than three towels; I can’t even remember how many we have. I think that our linen closet is due for some minimizing…

  • aleta h.

    Of course I use Turkish towels (pestemal).. I lived in Turkiye for 12 years and i wouldn’t use anything else.. I agree they take up less storage space, are absorbent dry fast and I love them!

  • Kathy

    I bought one from Amazon after reading your book. I’m still trying to get used to it though. It’s been washed several times but doesn’t seem much softer yet. I’ll keep trying it though just to see. I like the fact that it takes up less room. Pretty sure my hubby won’t be switching though.

  • fairy8i8

    Thanks so much for providing the Cacala link! When I first read the heading, my heart did a little jump (for good and bad)- I have always wanted a Turkish bath towel, but never felt I could justify the $70+ cost. I decided to read the post anyway and followed your link. That is such a great price, and I love that they are all in the same design but different colors so that each family member can have their own towel. It really does help me when you provide links to items that you love. I may or may not get the same thing, but it keeps me from wondering where all these great finds come from! We will be providing foster care soon, and I think these will be great towels for the children that join our family – plus something beautiful they can take when them when they return home.

  • Hilary

    I use the towels you get in camping stores. They work a treat. Dry super quick – good in our tiny apartment. It’s a different feel from the fluffy ones but you grt used to it. Also they are very good for drying hair as they don’t cause much friction or breakage. Oh and topass on a tip from a hairdresser- don’t wrap a towel tight on your r head especially a heavy bathtowel as it pulls and breaks the hair by your forehead!

  • Suki

    Question for those who use Turkish Towels and have a front loading washer/dryer. Do you have tangle problems with the fringe? Has anyone cut off the fringe and does it work out okay?

    thank you for this idea and a link

  • Meg

    I just ordered my first linen towel on Etsy! My current towel situation resembles your pre-minimalist days. I’m working on it :)

  • After decades of using nothing but fluffy, thick towels, I didn’t stop to think there was an alternative. (I had actually never HEARD the word “pestemal” before.) Thanks for pointing out an alternative. Commenter Alix’s linen towels sound intriguing, too.

  • You should definitely try Bersuse towels on Amazon. They offer great towels with vey reason prices. Even they are a new company, they have very good reviews. I am also impressed by the quality of their Organic towels. On top of that, they have two models with hidden zipper pocket which fits your mini iPad. Moreover, their customer service is great!

    Their link: bit.ly/bersuse

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