What do we call the small towel that we use only on our hands (not the big one that we use on our body after a shower)? It usually hangs beside the basin.

A picture of a bathroom with a red arrow pointing to a towel

  • 6
    There is also the smaller "towel" that is wetted and used to wash one's face. I'd call that a "flannel" (but I think that may be a British use)
    – James K
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:29
  • 6
    I think the US term for the smaller towel for face washing is a "washcloth". Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:19
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    To the best of my knowledge, that's face towel or simply facecloth (UK).
    – flith
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 11:23
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    @nigel222, I would never consider using a bath robe as a method of drying myself, instead only using one as "loungewear". I have heard of bath sheet to mean a very large towel, however. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 13:49
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    In AmE a flannel is a shirt made from flannel, usually with a plaid pattern. AmE towels (absorbent rectangles made from terry cloth), from largest to smallest, are: beach towel, bath towel or just towel, hand towel, washcloth. Sometimes other terms are used for towels in the kitchen, like bar towel. In AmE a bath robe is not a towel at all. It is an absorbent robe made from terry cloth that has sleeves and a belt you can tie around your waist. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:00

7 Answers 7


It is called a "hand towel" if used for drying the hands or face.

A similar but smaller towel is called a "wash cloth" (AmE) or a "flannel" (BrE) if used for washing the hands, face, or body.

  • 4
    There is also a fingertip towel. Hand towels are typically a bit bigger and less fancy than fingertip towels.
    – Cat
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:44
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    @Cat: ...I thought you were joking. That's actually a thing?
    – user42899
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:35
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    We New Zealanders call the latter a "face cloth" (for washing, not drying). Older kiwis may call it a "flannel"; but that also refers to the type of cloth it's made from. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:40
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    Yes, coming from California and living in Massachusetts, the latter (towel for washing or drying the face) is either a "face cloth" (alt. "facecloth") or "face towel"; referring to the small ones about 1ft x 1ft (or 25cm x 25cm for metric folks).
    – Doktor J
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 23:40

It is called, not surprisingly, a hand towel. Here's an example of the phrase in live usage: Macy's hand towels.

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    I used to call it, not surprisingly, a small towel :) , now I can use the right name. thank you
    – Shannak
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:55
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    @Andrew Duvet and comforter are not interchangeable; a comforter (which, FWIW, I learned as bedspread) is used as an outer layer, and colored or patterned. A duvet is plain and usually covered with a duvet cover (like a giant pillowcase).
    – choster
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:38
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    @Andrew I'd argue that if enough people call a duvet a comforter, then it is, in fact, a comforter. It is also a duvet. That's how language works.
    – user428517
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:07
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    @Andrew Huh? Duvets in the US are generally feather-filled and require a "duvet cover" (usually washable and decorative.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 19:55
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    A snickerdoodle is a piece of art that looks terrible because the artist drawing it couldn't stop laughing.
    – aslum
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:39

There are five sizes of towel that I've heard people refer to commonly:

washcloth : the smallest, usually used for cleaning/scrubbing, not drying (there is no distinction made between a washcloth for cleaning the body or, for instance, a kitchen, but they would still be different items in a real house)

hand towel: small towel, for drying hands, usually next to a sink

bath towel: similar to hand towel in function, but slightly larger

towel: larger, this is the type you dry with after a shower

beach towel: the largest, intended for use on a sandy beach, often has a more colorful design that the bathroom version

  • 7
    Also "bath sheet" -- bigger than a bath towel, but not meant for the beach. Maybe that's a UK term for your "bath towel" and our "bath towels" are smaller. I notice from "washcloth" as opposed to "flannel" tha your English isn't British
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 10:46
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    Yes. In British English we use a flannel in the bathroom for washing ourselves, and a dishcloth in the kitchen for cleaning things. It appears that American English uses "washcloth" for both. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 16:00
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    @MartinBonner In the kitchen it wouldn't be called a "wash cloth" but rather a "dish rag", and usually out of different material. Personally I prefer using a "scrub brush".
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:36
  • 1
    You should add bath sheet. I hate using bath towels. There usually to small to really dry off on. A bath sheet however is an amazing thing that can both dry you off, and have lots of room to do the towel wast band wrap around thing, while still being warm and dry.
    – coteyr
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 12:36
  • 3
    So - tea towels are unknown to you?
    – Magoo
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 15:29

I would call that a flannel. Often used for washing your face whilst in the bath.


Flannel actually refers to an even smaller cloth - see Dog Lover's comment.

  • 5
    Welcome to StackExchange! Please add a description of where you hear this used. Flannel is a plausible word, and I believe you, but I have never heard it used for a hand towel before. Geographic/demographic context would be useful.
    – Adam
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 21:04
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    Actually, a flannel is an even smaller towel used to wash your face or body in the shower or bath. It's what Americans would call a wash cloth or face towel.
    – Dog Lover
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 22:05

We always just called it a Handtowel (South and Midwest), Bathtowel, (the big one for drying the body after the bath) washcloth (the smallest of them all)

  • 2
    South and Midwest where? Lots of countries have a South and a Midwest. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 19:57

In Australian usage, at least: the small cloth for washing one's face is a washer, or face washer; the small towel for drying hands and face is a hand towel; the standard sized towel is a bath towel; and a larger towel is a beach towel.


Two other terms I have heard would be "face cloth" or "wash rag." I do not know how widespread these terms are.

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