Bacteria and fungi are everywhere. And for the most part they are beneficial to us, or at least they don’t cause us any harm. Most people would guess that the most bacteria rich part of their house is the toilet. But if you clean your toilet regularly with a strong disinfectant like bleach, your toilet is likely to have fewer bacteria than most areas of your house (your phone is probably much dirtier).
One bacterial haven that people often ignore is their towels. People often reuse their towels many times before washing them, and for good reasons: reusing your towel saves time (i.e. less time spent on the laundry) and the environment (i.e. less soap, water, and electricity usage). But a towel is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi; towels are full of skin cells, which provide bacteria a good food source. And most importantly, towels remain wet for a long time, and water is essential for the growth of almost all living organisms (this is why NASA and astronomers always look for water on planets they think may have once had life).
These bacterial and yeast microbes are why towels become musty and grow mildew after awhile. If you use a musty towel, you are spreading potentially harmful amounts of bacteria all over your body. By harmful, I don’t mean you’re likely to die, rather you might have a case of diarrhea or a stomach ache and just never find out why - not to mention you spend your day smelling like a musty towel. So if you want to help the environment, lessen your own workload, and not coat yourself with musty bacteria, what can you do? Buy a towel that dries faster.
Fast drying towels are primarily marketed to outdoorsy, camping types. They are extremely lightweight towels and they dry in a couple of hours rather than 12-24 hrs like you have with a cotton towel (outside in the wind you can cut those times by a fourth). The fast drying towel I’m going to discuss here is the PackTowl from MSR (Mountain Safety Research). I bought the towel from the Walkabout Travel Gear website (a cool website for travelers). Neither MSR or Walkabout give me any money or free stuff, so I should be an unbiased reviewer as far as that goes. I bought the towel as a birthday present for my girlfriend, who likes to travel a lot. Sometimes we rough-it a little when we travel, and we need to bring our own towel. Sticking a wet cotton towel in a suitcase is one of my least favorite things to do in the world - instant stink.
I tried out the PackTowl the day it arrived, and I’ve been using it as my only towel ever since.
I was initially surprised at how different the material of this towel feels. It is extremely porous and lightweight; it is more like a smooth new fleece blanket than a fluffy cotton towel. I bought the large towel. If I had it to do over again, I’d buy the extra large.
I got out of the shower excited to try this thing out for the first time, but my first impression was “hmm, this thing doesn’t make me warm, and it isn’t taking the water off of me” (I live in Boston, and the towel arrived in the middle of winter). But after a longer than normal towel drying process, I was dry enough to call it quits, and I figured I’d bought a piece of junk.
The directions also said the towel would wring out 90% of the water. I tried wringing it - nothing. Not a drop of water came out. Despite this, the towel was dry in only a couple of hours, whereas normally my cotton towel takes more like 16 hours to dry in the winter.
The next day I forgot to grab a proper cotton towel, so I had to give the PackTowl a second chance. Based on my experience the previous day, I knew this thing didn’t work like a normal towel. So this time rather than vigorously rubbing the towel all over like a cotton towel, I applied a constant slight pressure and slowly pushed the towel around me - pretty much like using a cotton towel in slow motion. That slow-movement was the secret. I still didn’t feel as dry as I get with a cotton towel, but I was dry (kinda like magic).
Now that I know how to use the quick-drying PackTowl, I don’t use the old cotton towels anymore. The PackTowl dries fast enough (assuming you hang it up rather than balling it up), that mine has never smelled musty - even after 2 weeks of use. With the PackTowl, I can save the environment, save my time, and not smell like a musty rag all day. Plus, my girlfriend and I can take it on vacation and camping, which was its original purpose.
One last bit of advice… If you buy the PackTowl, don’t put it in the dryer. I think the reason mine is so small is because I put it in the dryer after I washed it the first time. This towel dries so fast, there’s really no reason to have a dryer speed up the process.