What is the Difference Between a Hand Towel & a Fingertip Towel?

Fingertip towels, hand towels, bath towels or bath sheets: It's all rather confusing if you are attempting to follow the rules of etiquette or impress arriving guests. Knowing the difference between finger towels and hand towels and when to display one or the other is a matter of size and intent.

Vintage drawer with white towels over blurred bathroom and bedroom
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What is the Difference Between a Hand Towel & a Fingertip Towel?

Guest Towel vs. Hand Towel

A guest towel is exactly what the name implies. It is reserved for guests and is laid out before their arrival for their convenience. A guest towel should be fresh and plump, not frayed or worn.

There is more than one type of guest towel. If you have guests who are coming for an afternoon visit, then you should have fresh fingertip guest towels or hand towels in the bathroom for their use. Overnight guests should be offered towels, washcloths and hand towels.

A hand towel hangs on a ring or bar from the wall or can be displayed fanned out on a bathroom countertop, rolled up in a tin or layered on the back of a toilet. Hand towels are for everyday use for family and friends who come in and out of the home and need to dry their hands.

Size and Purpose of Different Towels

A towel is given its name based on its size.

  • Bath sheet – These oversized towels are primarily used for drying off after a long soak or quick shower. They are generally between 35 to 40 inches wide and 60 to 70 inches long. They are generally used in the master bath of the home or in oversized bathrooms.

  • Bath towel – These standard bath towels range from 27 to 30 inches wide and 52 to 58 inches long. They are preferred for guests, small bathrooms and children's bathrooms.

  • Hand towel – Mostly found on the countertop or draped over a ring or bar attached to the wall, these towels are 16 to 18 inches wide and 28 to 30 inches long.

  • Finger towel – When having guests for a dinner party or staying over the weekend, a few finger towels placed in a basket or fanned on a countertop is a nice touch. They are 11 by 18 inches.

  • Washcloth – Washcloths are sometimes put out in place of finger towels, although these 13- by 13-inch squares of cloth should be reserved for showers and baths.

Types of Towel Fabrics

There is a laundry list of fabrics from which towels are made, the most popular and preferred being Egyptian cotton. The long fibers of this luxurious cotton offer a softer touch, as do the shinier Turkish cotton fabrics. They are also more durable than the shorter fibers of basic cotton terrycloth towels.

Cotton is a standard hand- and bath-towel fabric that is affordable. Thick cotton towels are durable and look lush on a countertop awaiting a guest's needs.

Bamboo towels are an eco-friendly choice. They are also naturally antibacterial and resistant to mildew. These types of towels are wonderful in damp areas and can stand up to multiple uses while keeping their shape and structure.

Bath Mat Etiquette

Aside from the towels that take up the counter space, the floor of the bathroom is also important to consider if you plan to have guests. When a guest arrives to stay in your home, a fresh bath mat in the bathroom for their primary use is suggested.

Place towels close to the shower or bathtub so the guest doesn't have to reach far or step out of the tub to grab a towel.

As a guest, do your best not to soak the bath mat after climbing out of the tub or stepping out of the shower stall.


Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.