Whether you’re a firm washing up type or you leap at the chance to dry up after every supper (no, us neither), chances are your tired old stack of tea towels could do with a solid refresh. The good news is that there’s a small mountain of hardworking tea towels out there to suit every possible need, budget and style preference.
These days, tea towels are used as workday canvases for artists and designers to make a splash. They brighten up our kitchen stoves, serve as excellent gifts and, well, make the perennial job of drying up just that little bit more fun.
Heaps of smaller businesses and independent retailers have some really imaginative options that are usually pegged around £10 – ideal for injecting some colour into the home or using as stocking fillers for the friend that has everything. Homeware brands tend to offer plainer towels for a cheaper price, usually as part of multi-pack or bulk buy deals.
It’s worth remembering that although a rustic tea towel may look nice hanging on the AGA, it’s advisable to wash your tea towels on a regular basis to prevent the spread of bacteria. Make sure you allow the towel to dry fully in between uses and avoid using the same tea towel you’ve polished the cutlery with for a quick hand dry, especially when preparing food in the kitchen.
How we tested
We tested our tea towels over a two-week period, rotating between towels several times a day for drying up duty and putting them all through the wash three or four times to check for durability, colour retention and lack of shrinkage.
We were looking for strong, hard-working tea towels that left our kitchenware dry, lint-free and evenly polished. We also made sure to cover a range of affordable price points. And, it helped if they could make us smile.
The best tea towels for 2021 are:
Best for ethical drying up – Liga organic tea towel: £10, Loveliga.co.uk
Best bulk buy – Eono 100% cotton terry tea towels: £18.40, Amazon.co.uk
Best for special occasion gifting – M.M Linen Marlie tea towel: £9, Mmlinen.com
Best value for money – Wilko cream hearts tea towel, set of 3: £5, Wilko.com
Best for Scandi kitchen vibes – OYOY Living Design gobi tea towel, set of 2: £15, Oyoylivingdesign.co.uk
Best value and cheer – Homescapes embroidered waffle cotton tea towels, set of 2: £5.99, Homescapesonline.com
Best for 90’s nostalgia – Happy Stuff Studio Clarissa’s curtains tea towel: £12.50, Happystuffstudio.co.uk
Best for kitchen charm – Dog and Dome handsome horse tea towel: £15, Doganddome.com
Best for kitchen sink history – Radical Tea Towel Kinder trespass tea towel: £13, Radicalteatowel.co.uk
Best for bold design – Katie Cardew pheasant tea towel: £11, Katiecardew.com
Best for substance and style – Staub blue striped tea towel: £9.95, Zwilling-shop.com
Best for a polished finish – E-cloth microfibre tea towel: £4.99, Lakeland.co.uk
Liga organic tea towel
Best: For ethical drying up
Amid the fast and furious world of tea towel production, Liga feels like a literal breath of fresh air. Its range of 100 per cent organic cotton tea towels, hand printed in Cornwall, are made solely with renewable green energy from wind and solar power and certified “climate neutral” by EarthPositive. Strong and slim in length at 70cm x 50cm, we love the bold and timeless designs which also include lobsters, leopard print, wildflowers, fish and wild swimmers.
The tea towel ticked all the boxes for us amid countless rounds of drying up: soft but hard-wearing, naturally absorbent and pretty as a picture. An affordable, ethical, stylish tea towel that stands out from the crowd.
Buy now £10.00, Loveliga.co.uk
Eono 100% cotton terry tea towels
Best: Bulk buy
The beauty of terry towelling is that the fabric is woven with long loops, allowing the material to soak up more water – ideal when you have a bottomless stack of pots to dry.
This bumper pack from Amazon’s house range Eono, really impressed at the kitchen sink; measuring at 40cm x 64cm the towels were robust, super absorbent and the simple design – in both blue and white reversed checks – would look just as at home in a country kitchen as it would in a boutique café.
Working out at just over £1.50 per tea towel, this felt like excellent value for money – perfect for large families, catering events or if you want to keep a stash of fresh cloths to hand for everyday use.
Buy now £18.40, Amazon.co.uk
M.M Linen Marlie tea towel
Best: For special occasion gifting
After launching in New Zealand over six years ago, MM Linen has now reached UK shores offering a refined collection of bed linen and kitchen textiles with sustainability at the core. The Marlie is one of over 10 designs in its tea towel range starring botanical and floral prints which are hand painted by artists before being digitally transferred onto a cotton and linen mix drying cloth.
Not just a pretty face, the tea towel came up trumps in the dry-offs. Perhaps a little stiffer than its pure cotton counterparts, the 50cm x 70cm size feels elegantly slim and the fabric held moisture well, withstanding several spins in the wash without any colour fade. For added reassurance, M.M Linen is committed to offsetting any carbon emissions formed in production, processing and delivery by investing in clean energy. A super gift for flower-loving home types.
Buy now £9.00, Mmlinen.com
Wilko cream hearts tea towel, set of 3
Best: Value for money
Don’t let the no-frills price point deceive you – this heart-patterned trio of tea towels saw off the drying up with ease. Made from 100 per cent cotton and measuring 45cm x 65cm, the towels did absorb the water quicker than other contenders, but the slightly thinner cotton weight meant they dried within the hour, hung by handy cotton hooks.
After several washes all three towels retained their shape, especially the waffle cotton design which felt especially durable. If you want a cheap, cheerful and hard-wearing addition to your tea towel collection, look no further.
Buy now £5.00, Wilko.com
OYOY Living Design gobi tea towel, set of 2
Best: For Scandi kitchen vibes
OYOY Living Design was founded in 2012 by Danish designer Lotte Fynboe, who wanted to recreate childhood memories through simple and playful aesthetics. The brand’s soft, organic cotton tea towels take the everyday domestic rag to another level.
Fringed with beautiful tassels, the minty/rose tea towel duo (50cm x 70cm) were stylish enough to be mistaken for rustic, cotton scarves. Not only did they bring an instant thwack of Scandi chic to our kitchen, the organic cotton stood up to a carousel of plates, cups and cutlery hot from the washing up bowl. As per instructions, we soaked the tea towels in a bowl of cold water before the first machine wash (40 degrees) which really helped the towels to absorb more water at drying up time.
Blending on-trend design with functionality, these felt like a slice of Scandi-luxe without a hefty price tag.
Buy now £15.00, Oyoylivingdesign.co.uk
Homescapes embroidered waffle cotton tea towels, set of 2
Best: For value and cheer
There’s something about the weight and feel of a waffle cotton tea towel that means business when it comes to getting the pots dry. The ribbed pattern on this duo (40cm x 60cm) allowed for a plentiful amount of water and they washed up a breeze in a 40C spin. After drying up dinner plates quickly and efficiently they rose to the second challenge when we put some heavy duty pans their way.
Great value for money, we loved the bumble bee embroidery detail on the white tea towel, complimented by its bright yellow counterpart bringing a welcome dash of sunshine to the domestic grind.
Buy now £5.99, Homescapesonline.com
Happy Stuff Studio Clarissa’s curtains tea towel
Best: For 90’s nostalgia
Listen up, children of the Eighties, illustrator Victoria Tejeiro has created a small yet vibrant collection of tea towels that will bring a certified whizz, pop, zing to the thankless task of drying up. In homage to her favourite Nineties TV shows, (namely “Saved by the Bell”) she’s designed towels ranging from the hot pink of “Clarissa’s curtains” to “Zack Morris” bedspread designs – and a load of cheeky, nearly sweary-word prints in between. Plus, all of Victoria’s tea towels are made from 100 per cent cotton right here in the UK.
Our tea towel held up well to several 15-minute bouts of drying bowls, cups and plates, and after a wash at 40C dried without many creases, something to consider if ironing tea towels isn’t your bag. For anyone old (or young) enough to remember Principal Belding, these tea towels would make a brilliant stocking filler or a gift by post.
Buy now £12.50, Happystuffstudio.co.uk
Dog and Dome handsome horse tea towel
Best: For kitchen charm
Best in show, from a visual point of view, goes to Dog and Dome. Based on original artwork by artist Catriona Hall with designs by Flora Woodruff, the duo’s range of characterful country animals also features animated hares and a pack of Staffordshire spaniels. Crafted from a mix of linen and cotton, the screen-printed tea towels (46cm x 71cm) are made in the UK and feel perfectly made to compliment an AGA or a country-style kitchen.
At the testing stage, we had to work harder to get a good, dry finish on our pots compared to others in the line-up, but the tea towel still looked dapper after several washes.
Buy now £15.00, Doganddome.com
Radical Tea Towel Kinder trespass tea towel
Best: For kitchen sink history
Rebels, authors, philosophers and suffragettes; if they’ve gone down in the history books, the chances are they’ve made it on to a Radical Tea Towel. This small family business has built up a loyal following around the globe for their statement wares which bring a slice of social history straight into the heart of the home.
Made from heavyweight, unbleached organic cotton (48cm x 70cm), these are designed in Wales and ethically printed, cut and sewn in England. Design wise, you’ll find everyone from Robert the Bruce to Karl Marx on one of these. Some even feature ground-breaking historical events, such as the Kinder Mass Trespass (pictured) when a group of ramblers fought for the “right to roam” in 1932 in the English Peak District.
Since launching over ten years ago, the owners have donated over £50,000 to good causes in the UK including food banks, museums and memorial projects. A truly radical way to dry the pots and one for history fans everywhere.
Buy now £13.00, Radicalteatowel.co.uk
Katie Cardew pheasant tea towel
Best: For bold design
We love this strong, sturdy tea towel which springs to life with artist Katie Cardew’s bright, bold illustration of “Mr Pheasant” doing his thing. British made, from 100 per cent premium cotton with a generous hanging loop, drying up with this was like water off a duck’s, or rather a pheasant’s, back.
Its pretty design belied its durability; glasses, cups and cutlery were dried to a smear-free finish without a jot of elbow grease. Plus, the tea towel held its shape well after several washes in a standard cycle.
Buy now £11.00, Katiecardew.com
Staub blue striped tea towel
Best: For substance and style
If you’re willing to spend a tad more on your tea towels but don’t want bold and busy patterns, Staub’s signature 100 per cent cotton tea towel (50cm x 70cm) is a great investment. Its French design roots lend it the classic utilitarian-meets-bistro look but it proved an everyday workhorse when it came to drying the dishes. Strong, durable and super absorbent. A classic.
Buy now £9.95, Zwilling-shop.com
E-cloth microfibre tea towel
Best: For a polished finish
Lightweight and quick drying, this tea towel dried up our glasses to a super shiny finish. Microfibre can traditionally soak up four times the amount of moisture than cotton. Add on an estimated life span of 300 spins in the wash and this feels like excellent value for money.
It’s available in blue, green and black check, and Lakeland also offers a three-year guarantee – a rare bonus on the tea towel market. Check out the buy one get one half price offer for further savings.
Buy now £4.99, Lakeland.co.uk
The verdict: Tea towels
Every tea towel in the category did a sterling job, but first place goes to Liga for its planet-kind, functional and Cornish-cool tea towel range. Gobi organic cotton tea towels kept coming to the top of the pile for its chic Danish aesthetics, and for a hardworking and affordable kitchen grafter we found Homescapes’ bumble bee waffle duo immensely user-friendly.
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