Tea towels hold a special place in the heart of every kitchen, offering both practicality and a touch of style. In this ultimate guide, we'll dive into the fascinating world of tea towels, exploring their history, materials, and styles, as well as practical uses, care tips, and even DIY projects. Get ready to become a tea towel connoisseur!

What is a Tea Towel?

A tea towel, a vital player in the kitchen arena, has a history as rich as the tea it was originally designed to accompany. Evolved from the 18th-century English tradition, a tea towel was initially a special linen used to dry precious, delicate china tea sets. Today, it has grown to become a versatile kitchen tool. A tea towel's roles are many - from drying dishes and hands, to covering warm scones fresh from the oven, to acting as a cushion for a hot pot, and even adding a dash of style to the kitchen space. But wait! There's more to a tea towel than meets the eye. As we delve deeper into this guide, you'll discover the remarkable journey of this humble kitchen staple from a simple cloth to a symbol of hospitality and style.

Tea Towel vs. Kitchen Towel: What Makes a Towel a Tea Towel?

The question "is a tea towel the same as a dish towel?" can cause quite a stir in the world of kitchen textiles. While the terms are often used interchangeably, discerning homemakers and chefs know there's a difference. Tea towels are traditionally made from linen, a material known for its strength, absorbency, and smooth, lint-free finish. This made them ideal for drying delicate china without leaving scratches or lint. Over time, cotton has also become a popular material for tea towels due to its softness and durability.
On the other hand, kitchen towels, often made from terrycloth, have a thicker and more absorbent weave. Their primary function is to tackle heavy-duty kitchen tasks such as wiping down counters, absorbing large spills, or as a potholder in a pinch.
So, in essence, while all tea towels could technically be called kitchen towels (since they are towels in the kitchen), not all kitchen towels have the right pedigree to be called tea towels!

The History of Tea Towels

The story of tea towels began in 18th-century England, where they were used by the lady of the house to dry her precious china tea sets. These towels were made of soft linen and were entrusted only to the mistress, reflecting the value placed on tea sets at the time.
As tea became a popular beverage and social activity, the use of tea towels spread across classes and regions. They became more than just drying tools. They were used to cover food, protecting it from dust and flies, and even served as a tray liner to catch drips when serving tea.
With the advent of mass-produced dishware and the gradual shift in societal norms, tea towels took on broader roles and materials. They evolved from being a status symbol of the elite to a workhorse in the kitchen. This journey of tea towels is a testament to their adaptability and enduring relevance, transcending their humble beginnings to become an indispensable part of our daily lives.

Understanding Tea Towel Materials

Tea towels are made from a variety of materials, each offering its own unique benefits. Let's dive a bit deeper into the most commonly used materials and their characteristics:


Originating from the flax plant, linen is a robust, absorbent, and quick-drying material. Its texture and quality improve with every wash, becoming softer over time. Linen tea towels are known for their durability and strength, which is why they have stood the test of time since the 18th century. Their lint-free characteristic makes them ideal for drying delicate dishes and glassware, leaving no residue behind.


Cotton is another widely used material for tea towels. Derived from the cotton plant, this material is loved for its softness, absorbency, and ease of care. While cotton tea towels may not be as lint-free as their linen counterparts, they are excellent for general kitchen use, from drying dishes to wiping hands. Plus, they're typically more affordable, making it easy to keep a good stock in your kitchen.

Cotton-Linen Blend:

Combining the best attributes of both materials, cotton-linen blend tea towels offer the durability and lint-free quality of linen with the softness and affordability of cotton. These tea towels are highly absorbent, making them perfect for a wide range of kitchen tasks. Plus, the blend of fibers often results in a lovely texture that adds a touch of sophistication to any kitchen decor.
The material of your tea towel can affect its performance and longevity, so it's essential to choose the right one based on your needs. For those looking to invest in a bulk purchase or sew their own, you can find cotton fabric for tea towels or linen, sold as tea towel fabric by the metre or the yard in various fabric stores or online shops.

What is the Standard Size of a Kitchen Towel?

a tea towel argument between 2 menAh, I remember this one time when I was at a home ware store. I overheard the most hilarious argument between two shoppers. They were arguing about what the standard size of a kitchen towel is. I kid you not... it was as heated as a Master Chef finale!
There they were, in the middle of the aisle, voices escalating.  They may have been brothers or cousins or something.
The first shopper, let's call him Tom, was adamant that the typical kitchen towel was about the size of a tabloid newspaper - 18 x 28 inches (or approximately 45 x 70 cm). He was holding up his pack of towels like a flag, stating that anything smaller would be as useful as using a postage stamp to clean up a puddle.
Meanwhile, the second shopper, who we'll name (yes… let’s do name him) Jerry, was insistent that a smaller size is absolutely acceptable. Jerry's pack was indeed smaller, probably around 14 x 22 inches (35 x 55 cm). He argued that these 'small tea towel size' options were perfect for more delicate tasks, such as drying fine china or as a tray liner. According to Jerry, using Tom's gigantic tea towels for such tasks was like "using a beach towel to dry a teacup."
The argument was attracting quite the crowd. Other shoppers were forming a semi-circle around them, some even munching on popcorn they'd found on the nearby snack aisle. It was like watching a live sitcom!
In the end, it turns out they were both correct. That’s because the standard size of a tea towel can indeed vary.
While Tom's tea towels were the more traditional size, perfect for tackling larger tasks or even acting as a temporary apron, Jerry's smaller towels were ideal for those finer tasks where precision and care are key.
So, whether you're team Tom or team Jerry, rest assured that when it comes to tea towels, there is no one-size-fits-all.
The beauty lies in their versatility, and the variety of sizes is a testament to that!

How Many Yards of Fabric Do I Need for a Tea Towel?

To make Tom’s larger-sized tea towel from the previous example (which we’re using because it’s the larger of the two), you will need about one yard (0.9 meters) of fabric. This allows for hemming and seam allowances. Be sure to choose a suitable fabric such as linen, cotton, or a cotton-linen blend, available as tea towel fabric by the meter or by the yard. (And of course, if you’re still Team Jerry or want anything smaller than one of those Team Tom people, you’ll also be good to go with one yard of fabric.)

Styles and Designs of Towels

Tea towels truly are the chameleons of the kitchen world. They come in an array of styles, designs, and colors that can suit any kitchen aesthetic or personal taste. Let's take a closer look at the diverse range of styles available:

Classic Patterns:

Stripes, checks, and plaid never go out of style. They bring a sense of order and symmetry, instantly adding a traditional touch to your kitchen. If you're a fan of the classic countryside kitchen or favor a minimalist approach, these patterns are a perfect choice.

Floral Designs:

For those who love a dash of romance and charm in their kitchen, floral tea towels can bring a breath of fresh air. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, from delicate roses to bold, tropical prints. They can truly transform your kitchen into a botanical haven.

Whimsical Illustrations:

Tea towels with fun illustrations or quirky quotes can add a playful vibe to your kitchen. These can range from cute animals to food-themed drawings, humorous sayings, or even caricatures of famous chefs. They're sure to bring a smile to your face every time you reach for one.

Seasonal Themes:

Tea towels can also celebrate different seasons or holidays. Think vibrant colors for spring, beach-themed designs for summer, rich, warm hues for autumn, and festive motifs for winter. They can be a fun way to keep your kitchen decor fresh and up-to-date.

Abstract and Geometric Designs:

If you lean towards a modern or contemporary aesthetic, tea towels with abstract patterns or geometric shapes can complement your kitchen perfectly. They offer a clean, sleek look while adding a touch of visual interest.

Artistic Styles:

Some tea towels feature famous artworks or are designed by notable artists. They can be a great way to incorporate some artistic flair into your kitchen space.
Remember, tea towels are not just utilitarian objects, but also an extension of your kitchen's personality. Whether you prefer a harmonious look with tea towels that blend seamlessly into your decor, or love a pop of contrast with bold and vibrant designs, the right tea towel can significantly enhance your kitchen's aesthetic appeal. So go ahead and express your style, your way!

Practical Uses of Tea Towels

Tea towels are a versatile kitchen essential, serving numerous practical uses that go beyond their original purpose of drying delicate tea sets. Let's delve into some of these uses in greater detail.

Drying dishes and glassware:

The primary function of a tea towel is to dry dishes and glassware. Its soft, lint-free fabric ensures that your dishware is dried without leaving any residue or causing scratches. After washing, gently wipe your dishes or glassware with the tea towel for a spotless finish.

Wiping hands:

A clean tea towel can serve as an excellent hand towel. It's always handy to have a tea towel nearby when you're cooking or baking, as you'll frequently need to dry your hands. Its high absorbency ensures your hands are dried quickly and effectively.

Covering warm baked goods:

Tea towels are perfect for covering freshly baked goods. If you've baked bread, rolls, or pastries, covering them with a tea towel keeps them warm and prevents them from drying out. The towel creates a barrier that holds in moisture and heat, ensuring your baked goods stay fresh and delicious.

Lining bread baskets:

A tea towel can be used to line a bread basket, adding a touch of elegance to your dining table. Simply place the tea towel in the basket before adding the bread. This not only makes your bread presentation more appealing, but it also keeps the bread warm throughout the meal.

Using as a makeshift pot holder:

In a pinch, a folded tea towel can be used as a makeshift pot holder. Its thickness offers some protection against heat, making it useful for handling hot pots and pans. However, this should only be a temporary solution, as tea towels are not designed to withstand high temperatures like conventional pot holders.
Tea towels can also be used in decorative and unconventional ways. One popular idea is folding tea towels into flowers to create an attractive centerpiece or unique kitchen decor.

What to do with a Decorative Tea Towel?

Decorative tea towels often feature beautiful designs, intricate embroidery, or eye-catching colors. It would be a shame to limit these beauties to just drying dishes, wouldn't it? So let's explore some creative ways to showcase them:

Oven Door or Towel Rack:

The simplest way to display a decorative tea towel is by draping it over the oven door handle or hanging it on a kitchen towel rack. It serves as an instant kitchen facelift, adding color and personality to your cooking space.

Table Runner:

Who says table runners have to be boring? Fold a couple of matching or coordinating tea towels lengthwise and arrange them down the center of your dining table. This can bring a delightful pop of color and pattern to your dining area, creating a rustic or eclectic look.

Framed Kitchen Art:

Consider framing your decorative tea towel for an inexpensive and unique kitchen art piece. This works particularly well with tea towels that feature artistic designs or those with sentimental value. Just be sure to choose a frame that complements both the towel and your kitchen decor.

Cabinet Door Curtain:

For a charming, country-style touch, use a decorative tea towel as a mini curtain for your kitchen cabinet. This not only adds visual interest but also cleverly conceals less-than-pretty pots and pans.

Coffee Table Cover:

Give your coffee table a facelift by using a tea towel as a chic cover. This can help protect the surface and add a stylish touch to your living room.

Gift Wrap:

In a pinch, a decorative tea towel can double as a creative gift wrap. It's an eco-friendly alternative to paper and provides an extra gift for the recipient. Just tie it up with a pretty ribbon, and you've got a beautifully wrapped present.

Bread Basket Liner:

Line a bread basket with a decorative tea towel for a delightful touch at your next dinner party. It's a simple way to make your table setting feel more special and inviting.
Remember, the only limit to using your decorative tea towel is your creativity. These versatile pieces can elevate your space, adding charm and personality. So go ahead and let your tea towels shine in ways that reflect your unique style!

Tea Towel Gift Ideas

Tea towels can make surprisingly thoughtful and versatile gifts. Their practicality combined with their aesthetic appeal makes them a hit for various occasions. Here are some creative tea towel gift ideas to inspire your next gift-giving venture:

Baked Goods Wrapped in a Tea Towel:

There's something heartwarming about receiving homemade goods. Wrap a fresh loaf of bread or a batch of cookies in a beautiful tea towel for a gift that appeals to both the taste buds and the eyes. The recipient gets a tasty treat and a lovely kitchen accessory!

Kitchen Gift Basket:

Create a themed gift basket featuring a set of curated tea towels and other kitchen essentials. Include items like wooden spatulas, gourmet spices, artisanal olive oil, or a cookbook. It's a fantastic housewarming gift or for someone just starting their culinary journey.

Cookbook and Tea Towel Pair:

For the foodie in your life, pair a tea towel with a cookbook from a favorite chef or a specific cuisine they love. The tea towel becomes a handy kitchen companion as they try out new recipes.

Care and Maintenance of Tea Towels

Tea towels, like any kitchen textile, require proper care to maintain their function and appearance. Here are some tips for ensuring your tea towels remain in top shape:


Tea towels should be washed in warm or hot water to kill bacteria. Be sure to separate them from other laundry items to avoid contamination. Use a mild detergent and avoid using fabric softeners, as they can reduce the absorbency of the towels.


Line drying is the preferred method as it helps to maintain the fabric's integrity and can also act as a natural disinfectant. However, if necessary, tea towels can be tumble-dried on a low-heat setting.


Despite your best efforts, tea towels won't last forever. If your tea towels are looking worn out, or they're no longer as absorbent as they used to be, it's time to replace them.

DIY and Crafts with Tea Towels

Tea towels can serve as a fantastic canvas for various DIY projects and crafts. From cushion covers to aprons, there are countless ways to upcycle your old tea towels or put your unique touch on plain ones:

Cushion Covers:

With their beautiful designs and sturdy fabric, tea towels can be transformed into unique cushion covers.
[caption id="attachment_19812" align="alignleft" width="266"]apron made from old tea towels apron made from old tea towels[/caption]


A tea towel can be easily turned into a simple cooking apron, perfect for children or for light cooking tasks.

Reusable Bags:

[caption id="attachment_19811" align="alignright" width="247"]tea towel grocery bags. Reusable, DIY tea towel grocery bags[/caption]
Sew a couple of tea towels together, add a handle, and voila! You've got yourself a reusable shopping bag.
There are numerous free tea towel patterns available online to guide you in creating something new and unique from your tea towels.

Where to Buy Tea Towels

Tea towels can be found in various retail settings, both physical and online. Here are some places to consider when shopping for your next tea towel:

Home ware Stores:

These are the most obvious places to find tea towels. They usually have a range of options in terms of materials, designs, and sizes.


Larger supermarkets often carry home goods, including tea towels. While the selection might not be as vast, you can find good basic options here.

Online Marketplaces and individual online sellers

Websites like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay have a wide variety of tea towels, from handmade artisan options to commercial brands.

Craft Fairs and Farmers Markets:

These local events often feature handmade goods, including tea towels. Here, you can find unique, one-of-a-kind designs and support local artisans at the same time.

Department Stores:

Larger department stores usually have a home section where you can find a variety of tea towels, often from higher-end brands.

Specialty Kitchen Stores:

These stores offer a range of kitchenware, including tea towels. They often carry premium quality items and can offer a variety of unique designs and materials.
When choosing where to buy your tea towels, consider your specific needs and preferences. Are you after a unique, artisan design or are you more focused on functionality? Your answers will guide you to the right place to purchase your tea towels.
Remember, no matter where you purchase them, tea towels are a small but mighty addition to your kitchen. They not only serve numerous practical uses but also bring personality and warmth into the heart of your home. So whether you choose a tea towel for its absorbency, its design, or its versatility, you're making a valuable addition to your kitchen.
Tea towels are more than just a kitchen essential. They are a testament to the fact that functionality and style can go hand in hand. Whether you're choosing a tea towel for its absorbency, aesthetic appeal, or both, understanding its history, materials, and care can enhance your appreciation of this humble kitchen hero. So, the next time you reach for your tea towel, remember - you're not just holding a piece of fabric, but a piece of history, a work of art, and a practical tool, all rolled into one.


And now, a fictional story about tea towels.
It may as well be true, because it's often what people do when they receive tea towels and they don't know what to do with them, other than re purpose them.

The Tea Towel Turnaround: Beauty Found Behind The Scenes

Once upon a time in the small, charming town of Earl Grey, a quirky artist named Camellia received an unexpected parcel. It was her birthday, and the package was from her eccentric aunt Mabel who lived halfway across the world. With an excited flutter in her heart, Camellia unwrapped the brown paper to reveal a tea towel. But not just any tea towel. This was the most hideous tea towel Camellia had ever laid her eyes on. It was a riotous explosion of clashing colors and bizarre patterns, a wild mismatch of floral and geometric prints that made it an aesthetic nightmare.
Ugly tea towel. Clashing colors and patterns.
Camellia grimaced at the sight of it, but a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.
She appreciated Aunt Mabel's... unique... sense of style.
Tucking the offending item away in her art studio, Camellia decided to find a creative way to use the garish tea towel, a challenge that her artistic soul could not resist.
Days turned into weeks, and every time Camellia entered her studio, the 'ugly' tea towel peered at her from its corner, waiting for its fate. One bright Sunday morning, as Camellia sipped her tea, the sunlight streamed through the window and cast a warm, golden light on the towel. To her surprise, she noticed that the riot of colors in the towel seemed less jarring in the morning light; they seemed, in fact, almost... charming?
An idea began to bloom in Camellia's mind. She began to see beyond the towel's immediate ugliness, beyond its ostensible function, and instead viewed it as a canvas that carried the potential for something beautiful. The clashing patterns could be deconstructed, the bright colors muted, and each fragment could tell a story.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Camellia got to work. She carefully cut the tea towel into smaller pieces, each carrying a snippet of the audacious patterns. Then she dipped the pieces into a concoction of tea and coffee, staining them into softer hues. The once jarring colors were now a pleasant palette of pastel shades.
Next, she rummaged through her collection of vintage buttons, colorful threads, and fabric scraps. One by one, she began to stitch the fragments of the tea towel onto a plain, linen background, using her collection of trinkets to add texture and dimension. She didn't plan her design. Instead, she let the pieces dictate where they wanted to be. What was once an ugly tea towel slowly transformed into a charming, vintage-style wall hanging. The unruly patterns, now muted and separated, added a whimsical charm to the artwork.
When she finally finished, Camellia took a step back and looked at her creation. The ugly tea towel had been reborn into a piece of art that was both endearing and captivating, a testament to her artistic ability and vision.
Camellia's story spread through Earl Grey, and soon enough, she started receiving 'ugly' tea towels from all over town. Her art became a symbol of transformation and creativity, proving that sometimes, beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. All it takes is a dash of imagination, a splash of creativity, and, in this case, an ugly tea towel.