Tea Towel vs Dish Towel: Which One Should You Use?

When it comes to kitchen essentials, tea towels and dish towels are two unsung heroes. These versatile pieces of fabric serve multiple purposes, yet their specific roles and characteristics can sometimes blur. In this article, we’ll explore the distinctions between both towels, dive into their sizes, and help you decide which one emerges victorious in the kitchen battle.


What is a Tea Towel?

A tea towel, as the name suggests, is primarily associated with tea-related activities. These towels are traditionally used to dry tea-related items, such as teacups, saucers, and teapots, after washing them. They come in various sizes, with the standard dimensions ranging from 18 inches by 28 inches to 24 inches by 36 inches. They are usually made from absorbent materials like cotton or linen, which aid in quick drying.

What is a Dish Towel?

Dish towels, often referred to as kitchen towels or simply “towels” are the unsung heroes of your kitchen. They come in various sizes, with the most common being 16 inches by 28 inches. Unlike tea towels, which are designed with aesthetics in mind, dish towels prioritize functionality. They are typically made from absorbent materials like cotton or microfiber and are essential for various kitchen tasks.

Key Differences

AspectTea TowelDish Towel
MaterialTypically made of lighter, finer materialsGenerally made of thicker, more absorbent fabric
Absorption CapacityModerate absorption capacityHigh absorption capacity
PurposeOften used for drying delicate dishesPrimarily used for drying hands, utensils, and larger items
Decorative ElementOften adorned with patterns and designsUsually plain or simple patterns

Explaining the Size Difference:

Not only do they vary in use, but also in size for tea towels and dishtowels. Tea towels are smaller, approximately 18 inches by 28 inches, while dish towels are generally larger, approximately 20 inches by 30 inches. A significant factor affecting their function in the kitchen is this size difference.

History of Tea Towels

Tea towels have a long history, dating back to the 18th century when tea drinking became popular in England. These towels were originally used to dry teacups and saucers after they were washed. They were typically made from lightweight, absorbent fabrics like cotton or linen. Over time, tea towels became increasingly decorative, and they are now often used to add a touch of style to the kitchen.

Tea Towels on Amazon

History of Dish Towels

Dish towels have been used for centuries to dry dishes and clean hands in the kitchen. They were originally made from rough fabrics like hemp or burlap, but by the 19th century, cotton and linen towels were more common. Dish towels became increasingly popular during the Industrial Revolution, as more people began to move to cities and live in apartments with smaller kitchens. Today, dish towels are an essential part of any kitchen, and they come in a variety of materials, colors, and patterns.

Dish Towels on Amazon

Choosing the Right Towel for Your Kitchen

Now that you have a clear understanding of the roles these kitchen linens play, how do you decide which one is right for your kitchen? It all comes down to your specific needs and preferences.

When to Choose Tea Towels:

  • If you’re an avid tea enthusiast and enjoy the ritual of tea preparation, investing in quality tea towels is a great idea.
  • They are also an excellent choice if you often host tea parties and want to add an elegant touch to your table settings.
  • Their larger size can make them suitable for covering rising dough or lining serving baskets for freshly baked goods.

When to Choose Dish Towels:

  • If your primary concern is functionality and versatility in the kitchen, dish towels are the way to go.
  • They are essential for everyday kitchen tasks like drying dishes, cleaning spills, and handling hot cookware.
  • Dish towels are the workhorses that keep your kitchen running smoothly.
Tea Towel vs Dish Towel

Caring for Your Kitchen Towels

Proper care and maintenance are essential to ensure the longevity and hygiene of your kitchen towels, regardless of whether they are tea towels or dish towels.

General Tips:

  • Wash your towels regularly, ideally after every use, to prevent the buildup of food residue and odors.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners as they can reduce the towels’ absorbency.
  • Consider using color-safe bleach or vinegar during wash cycles to maintain freshness and color.
  • Dry your towels completely to prevent mildew growth.

Tea Towel-Specific Tips:

  • If your tea towels have intricate designs, turn them inside out before washing to preserve the patterns.
  • Avoid using these towels for handling hot items or heavy-duty cleaning to prevent damage.

Dish Towel-Specific Tips:

  • For dish towels used to handle hot cookware, inspect them regularly for signs of wear and tear. Replace damaged towels promptly.
  • Use separate dish towels for different tasks to maintain hygiene. Designate specific towels for drying dishes, cleaning surfaces, and hand drying.


In conclusion, tea towels and dish towels are both essential kitchen essentials, but they serve different purposes. Tea towels are ideal for drying delicate dishes and glassware, while dish towels are better suited for heavy-duty tasks like drying hands and cleaning spills. When choosing the right towel for your kitchen, consider your specific needs and preferences. If you’re unsure which type of towel to choose, it’s a good idea to have both on hand to ensure that you’re prepared for any kitchen challenge.


What is the difference between a tea towel and a dish towel?

A tea towel is typically a thinner and more decorative cloth used for drying dishes, while a dish towel is thicker and more absorbent, designed for general kitchen tasks like drying hands and cleaning surfaces.

Is a tea towel a kitchen towel?

Yes, a tea towel is a type of kitchen towel. It serves various kitchen-related purposes, including drying dishes, covering food, or adding a decorative touch to the kitchen.

Is it good to dry dishes with a tea towel?

Tea towels can be used for drying dishes, but they are generally less absorbent than dish towels. If you prefer quick drying, a thicker dish towel might be more effective.

Can you use a kitchen towel instead of a tea towel?

Yes, you can use a kitchen towel in place of a tea towel. Kitchen towels are versatile and can perform similar functions as tea towels, including drying dishes or hands.

Why were dish towels called tea towels?

The name “tea towel” likely originated from their historical use during tea time, where they were used to dry fine china and delicate tea sets. Over time, their use expanded to other kitchen tasks.

Read More Articles:

What are Tea Towels Used For

What is a Tea Towel and Why Every Kitchen Needs One


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