What is a Beach Towel – A Brief Overview

Beach towels are a must-have for anyone heading to the beach. But what makes a towel a beach towel, and how is it different from the towels you use at home?

This article will cover what beach towels are, their background, characteristics, different types, materials, how to use them, and how to take care of them.


A beach towel is a big, light towel made for the beach and pool. Unlike regular bath towels, beach towels are usually bigger, soak up water better, dry quickly, and are made from materials that resist sand. They are mainly used to dry off people who have been swimming or sunbathing and to keep beach accessories dry, while also creating a barrier between your body and the sand.

someone lounging on a beach towel at the beach

Brief History of Beach Towels

In the early 1920s, beach towels became popular because more people started swimming and sunbathing. The first beach towels took inspiration from the cloaks worn while swimming during the Victorian era. These towels featured geometric patterns and a cape-like design.

Beach towels as we know them today have a history that goes back to a cloth called “pestemal” used in Turkish hammams since the 18th century. An Englishman named Henry Christy was really impressed by how well pestemal absorbed water during his travels, so he introduced the concept to England in 1850.

This led to the creation of looped terry cloth, which is great for drying the body. These terry cloth towels eventually made their way to the United States and transformed into the bath and beach towels we use now.

Key Features

1. Absorbency

A beach towel is designed to soak up water. It’s made with layers of cotton terry or synthetic microfiber, which quickly takes moisture from your skin and into the towel. This also helps the towel to dry fast after you use it.

2. Quick-Dry Capabilities

They are made from materials that dry much faster than regular cotton towels. The addition of polyester to the cotton helps speed up the drying process. This keeps the towel from staying wet for too long in the hot sun.

3. Sand Resistant

Although no towel can completely stop sand from sticking, beach towels use tightly woven fabrics to reduce how much sand gets through. Some special coatings also assist in keeping sand away. This prevents the towel from feeling too rough.

4. Oversized

They are big enough for comfortable lounging and help keep sand away. They are spacious, allowing two people to use them together. The large size also makes it easy to wrap around yourself when changing clothes.

5. Lightweight

They are designed to be lightweight and easy to transport in beach bags or luggage. The fabrics and open weave structure help limit excess weight and bulk.

6. Stylish Designs

From bold graphic prints, to stripes and tie dye, beach towels feature bright, colorful patterns perfect for the vibrant beach landscape. The casual designs evoke a sense of fun.

7. Soft & Plush Pile

Quality beach towels maintain a soft, plush pile that feels gentle against the skin, even when damp. The lush texture increases the luxury factor.

Different Types of Beach Towels

There are a few common varieties of beach towels available:

1. Standard beach towels

The most popular type, made of either 100% cotton or microfiber blend. Features a rectangular shape in dimensions averaging 30″ x 60″. Provides sufficient size for adults without being cumbersome.

Standard beach towel
Image by awesomecontent on Freepik

2. Oversized beach towels 

Offers more generously sized surface area, with dimensions around 35″ x 70″. Enables two people to share or provides full body coverage for taller individuals.

someone lounging on an oversized beach towel at the beach
Image by cookie_studio on Freepik

3. Round beach towels

These circular towels measuring about 60″ in diameter allow beachgoers to sit in a central location, with the towel radiating outward. Round towels work well for group seating.

a round towel lies on the sand by the sea

4. Hooded beach towels

Designed with a built-in hood to provide privacy while changing out of swimwear. Average dimensions are 24″ x 50″. Popular for children who need quick cover ups. The hoods usually have playful designs.

hooded beach towel for kids

Beach Towel Materials


Cotton, especially cotton terry, is the most popular beach towel fabric given its super soft texture and excellent water absorption capabilities. High quality cotton offers durability and maintains its lush feel even after machine washing. The main downside is that cotton takes longer to dry than synthetic fabrics.


Microfiber beach towels have become a trendy choice instead of cotton. These towels are made from very tiny fibers. Microfiber is great at soaking up water, and it dries quickly without becoming heavy. It doesn’t lose color or get wrinkled easily. The fine weave of microfiber stops sand from getting through the towel. However, it may not feel as luxuriously soft as cotton.

How to Use a Beach Towel

  • Lay the beach towel completely flat on the sand or lounge chair, smoothing out any wrinkles or creases. Make sure your whole body will fit on the towel.
  • Sit or lay down with your entire body on top of the towel to prevent sand from clinging to damp skin. Avoid dangling limbs off the edges.
  • After swimming, dry off by blotting skin with the towel. Don’t aggressively rub.
  • Use a corner of the towel to delicately pat dry your face, hands, feet and other sensitive areas.
  • Once finished sunbathing, fold up the beach towel neatly into a compact square or rectangle for transport. Shake excess sand off first.
  • Carry the folded beach towel over your shoulder or pack into a tote bag. The lightweight fabric makes beach towels highly portable.

Maintenance and Care

A person putting new towels into washing machine for washing

  • Always shake them vigorously to remove lingering sand before machine washing. This prevents abrasion damage to fabrics.
  • Wash in cold water and tumble dry on low to preserve the colors and integrity of the fibers.
  • Avoid using bleach or other harsh detergents that may degrade fabric quality faster.
  • Store them in a dry place when not in use.
  • During summer beach season, wash them at least once a week to prevent mildew smells.


With their oversized design, quick-drying fabric, and sand-resistant weave, beach towels are the ultimate accessory for maximizing your beach-going experience. Their absorbency keeps you dry while special materials and construction methods help limit sand cling. Just don’t forget to shake out your beach towel before packing it up!

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a beach towel used for?

Beach towels are designed for drying off after swimming or sunbathing at the beach or pool. They also serve to keep beach accessories dry and create a barrier between your body and the sand.

Can I use a beach towel as a regular towel?

While you can technically use a beach towel as a regular towel, it’s specifically designed for the beach. Beach towels are larger, more absorbent, and dry quickly. However, they may be bulkier than regular towels, so it’s a personal preference.

Can any towel be a beach towel?

Technically, any towel can be used at the beach, but beach towels are optimized for the environment. They are larger, more absorbent, quick-drying, and often sand-resistant, making them ideal for beach use.

What’s the difference between a beach towel and a regular towel?

The main differences lie in size, absorbency, and design. Beach towels are larger, designed to dry off multiple people comfortably. They have better water absorbency, quick-dry capabilities, and are often made with materials resistant to sand. Regular towels may be smaller and lack these specific beach-friendly features.


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