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

Both fingertip towels and hand towels are used for the same main purpose -- drying off hands and fingers after washing them -- but the two are not identical. Fingertip towels are a bit smaller than hand towels and aren't always included in towel sets.

towel on the rack
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A fingertip towel is narrower and shorter than a hand towel.

Size Matters

To identify the kind of towel, checking the size is often the simplest way. A hand towel, on average, measures 16 inches across and 28 to 30 inches long. At 11 inches wide, 18 inches long, a fingertip towel is noticeably smaller. Both types of towels are rectangular, so even with the smaller size, a fingertip towel is still easy to distinguish from the typically square washcloth.

Hand Towel: Always Hanging Around

A hand towel is the go-to towel next to the bathroom sink that you use to dry off your hands after washing them. In a typical department store, you may be able to find sets that include both hand towels and bath towels, possibly even washcloths. When picking out hand towels, opt for durability; a hand towel may be used far more often than your bath towels, with each hand towel receiving numerous uses throughout a day spent at home, especially if others wash their hands in the same sink.

Fingertip Towels: Function and Decor

A fingertip towel comes in handy in a guest bathroom or in the main bathroom while entertaining, offering guests a way to wipe their hands off without requiring the presence of your usual day-to-day hand towels. They may also be used atop hand or bath towels on a towel rack to create a layered look when entertaining visitors. Since these towels aren't usually part of a larger bath towel set, they are available in a wide variety of materials, including linen. Since linen leaves behind no lint, a linen fingertip towel also comes in handy for drying delicate dishware or drinkware without scratching your prized pieces.

Fingertip Towels: A Curious History

While fingertips towels are most often used in a guest bathroom nowadays, that wasn't always the case. These towels were originally offered during formal meals in homes or restaurants, paired with finger bowls that contained water. These towels let diners rinse and dry their fingers between courses without leaving the table. Finger bowls, common for several centuries, became less during World War I, when excessive accouterments at the table were frowned upon by the U.S. Food Administration.