Consumer Reports' towel-buying shopping guide

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Bath towels are something you and your family rely on every day and an important item for the off-to-college student. You want towels to look nice, feel soft and do a good job of drying you off. So Consumer Reports studied how to buy towels that will hold up.

Picking from a huge selection can be daunting, so here is what you need to know.

Thick and heavy towels will dry you off better, and Egyptian or Pima cotton are the best quality because their longer fibers are stronger and less likely to pill. But shop carefully.

"There are a lot of towels out there that are labeled Pima or Egyptian but aren't," Consumer Reports textile engineer Pat Slaven said. "If their price is too good to be true, they're probably not the real thing."

Another option is to look for cotton-rayon blends. They absorb a little bit better, although they won't wear as well. And be aware that those towels that are so soft in the store won't stay that way because they're treated with a special finish that will wash out.

"Using liquid fabric softener will make your towels feel soft, but we've found it decreases absorbency significantly," Slaven said.

An occasional dryer sheet is a better option.

Overdrying towels can shrink them, so instead of the timer setting, use the machine's moisture sensor. And if you have a teen at home, colored towels can be ruined by benzoyl peroxide in acne medications that can leave bleach spots. Some manufactures claim their towels resist these bleach stains, so Consumer Reports bought several brands.

B's were painted on thickly with benzoyl peroxide gel, then washed, and both the Real Simple and the Sonoma towel from Kohl's came through the wash just fine. L.L.Bean's showed some bleaching, although when retested with a smaller amount of benzoyl peroxide, they didn't bleach.

Consumer Reports also tested regular white towels, and they all came through the benzoyl peroxide test unscathed. So white towels are a great option for teens.

Consumer Reports suggests when you buy colored towels, buy a matching washcloth and store it away. If your towels fade, the washcloth will be good evidence when you ask for your money back.
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