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What is Terrycloth?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Terrycloth is a type of pile fabric which is famous for its softness and high absorbency. It is often used for towels and bathrobes, and it may be utilized to make athletic warmups and other accessories. Many department stores carry items made from terrycloth, and it is also possible to purchase this fabric by the yard for the purpose of making custom towels, robes, and other objects. Many sewing suppliers carry terrycloth, and it can also be ordered online or directly from manufacturers.

This fabric can be produced through weaving or knitting, with weaving being common for commercially produced terrycloth. In either case, the fabric is characterized by thick, uncut loops which form a soft pile on one or both sides of the fabric. The loops increase the absorbency of the fabric by making more surface area available, and they also tend to make the fabric more heavy, as more thread is required to make the material.

Terrycloth is often used to make towels.
Terrycloth is often used to make towels.

Cotton is a material of choice for terrycloth, since it is highly absorbent and easy to work with. It is also possible to use bamboo or linen, along with artificial fibers which have been designed for absorbency. The level of softness will be determined by the fiber used, and the color can easily be adjusted with dyes. Terrycloth can also be patterned by printing or using multicolored thread, and it can be decoratively embroidered as well.

Industrially, terrycloth is made on a dobby loom, a specialized loom which allows for greater control of the tension of the threads. People can also knit or weave it by hand, using several different techniques, although handmade terrycloth is time consuming to make. Industrial methods of manufacture have been in use since the mid-1800s, which is around the time that this specialized fabric began to achieve widespread popularity.

One of the big problems with terrycloth is that if the loops become caught in something and tear out, they can tear a whole line of loops with them, causing the fabric to become thin and structurally unstable. The fabric can also become ragged with torn ends if it is not cared for properly. The loops are also subject to uneven wear, which can made the fabric stiff or threadbare in some places and perfectly plush in others. Regularly rotating terrycloth products so that they do not see sustained heavy use is a good idea, as is following the care directions on their labels to ensure that the fabric stays in good condition.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


Terrycloth is a really popular kind of fabric for people to use when they need to have water absorbed. That is why you can find terrycloth towels, headbands, jumpers, scooters, robes and bathing suit cover ups.

It is really super absorbent, and that helps with the whole drying thing. It is an added bonus that terrycloth is a very comfy fabric that is soft and even baby friendly.

My kids both have a few terrycloth pieces, as do I. We love to lounge around in them on our lazy days.


It seems that I am in an extremely small minority here, but I really just can’t get into the whole terrycloth thing.

That was okay for a long time, because terrycloth seemed to fall out of style. I know when I was a child, my mother made me wear these terrycloth shorts that the kids at school made fun of.

I think it stuck with me, and I have deep seated aversion to the stuff.

So you can imagine my disdain when here terrycloth comes back again; front of the racks in all of the department stores.

I didn’t buy myself anything made from it, no matter how cute or useful. However, my sister thought I just had to have a cover up made out of it…It is really soft and kind of comfy. (But don’t tell anybody I said that.)

I can still only bring myself to wear it home, though.


My grandmother used terrycloth to make stuffed animals for me as a child. She bought several yards of the material and dyed it herself.

She made me a brown teddy bear, a sea-green seahorse, and a pink unicorn from terrycloth. She sewed on beads for eyes and used embroidery for the nose and mouth. I absolutely loved these animals.

They were the coziest things in the world to snuggle up to, and I know that I showed them preferential treatment over my other toys. I slept next to them every night, and I cuddled up to them when I cried.


My dad bought a bag of terrycloth rags to clean his car with, and I love using them. Maybe it’s because of the piles of fibers that they clean so well. All I know is that when I use an old t-shirt to lather and scrub my car, it leaves a lot more dirt on the car than it removes. However, a terrycloth rag takes up all the dirt I swipe it across.

I have no problem rinsing out the terrycloth rag. I place it on the concrete and spray it with the water hose on high, and the dirt comes right out of the fibers. I reuse these rags until they start to unravel.


My husband and I got a set of terrycloth towels as a wedding gift. They quickly became our favorites.

I love wrapping up in them after a shower. They can hold a lot of moisture, and they keep me warm. I feel a little like I’m wrapping up in a shag carpet!

I also wrap my hair up in a separate terrycloth towel. It really seems to pull the water out of my hair more than a regular towel, so I don’t have to spend as much time blow drying it.

Several hand towels came with the set. All of my guests love using them. They don’t stay wet for long, like some thin towels do.


Ever since I got a white terrycloth robe for Christmas when I was eleven, I have used no other type of robe. This material is the coziest thing on earth!

I love snuggling up in it on a cold night to read a book or watch TV. I put it on when I get out of bed to shield me from the chill, and it does a great job of keeping me warm.

Though some people put them on when they get out of the shower, I prefer to towel off and use mine as a house coat. I want to keep it dry to hopefully make it last longer.


@bluespirit - I fell in love with a terry cloth robe in an upscale hotel I was staying in located in downtown Nashville.

I looked to find an equivalent of this robe and I am not sure it is the same thing, but it feels just as good to me, and it was a Turkish terry cloth robe. And if your sister is not a robe kind of person (I personally love them, but some people feel too much like Hugh Hefner in them) they also have Turkish terry cloth towels.

I am now thinking of extending my terry cloth collection to towels, I thought it would be a nice luxury for my guests who come and stay with us! Now if I could just learn to fold them into all those fun origami like the towel shapes they create on cruise ships.


My sister loves work out style or even pajama style clothes - and just feels these are the most comfortable clothes. She has terry cloth capris that she has had since high school, which makes them at least eight years old. I have jeans that have not lasted that long.

As a present I would love to get her a luxurious terry cloth robe or something of that sort, are there certain brands that pride themselves on their terry cloth quality?


@Kat919 - What I heard is that it takes so much processing to make bamboo into fabric, no, it's not more environmentally friendly to use bamboo terrycloth instead of cotton terrycloth.

If you really want to help the environment, of course, the best thing you can do is to use your towels until they just about fall apart. The impact is less in how they're made, and more in how many are made at all! Not to mention how many are thrown away.

As the loops get worn away, terrycloth does become less absorbent over time, but you might be able to find other uses for your older bath towels, washcloths, etc. Like cleaning and waxing your car, or old washcloths are good for babies because they're not so thick.


I've heard of the towels made from bamboo. Are bamboo towels really more environmentally friendly? I guess the idea is that bamboo is easier to grow than cotton, with fewer pesticides, so it's supposed to be good to replace cotton with bamboo.

But it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I mean, you can get floors made out of bamboo. How can the same plant be a replacement for both trees and cotton?

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    • Terrycloth is often used to make towels.
      By: chonlawit
      Terrycloth is often used to make towels.