A tea towel is a cloth which is intended for the specific use of drying dishes and cutlery after they have been washed. In addition, clean tea towels may be spread over a tea tray before tea things are put onto it, or used to cover warm scones or a teapot to prevent heat loss. Many kitchen supply stores sell tea towels. They are also readily obtainable in England and Ireland, two nations well known for their tea. For people outside of these nations, numerous mail order company are happy to supply genuine Irish and English tea towels.
Linen is the traditional fiber for tea towels, since it can be used to dry delicate plates and silverware without the risk of scratching. In general, tea towels are made with a simple weave, rather than a looped terry, and they are made in a hand towel size. Tea towels made from cotton are not uncommon, and a cotton tea towel tends to be much less costly, making it suitable for daily use. In some cases, a tea towel is woven in a pattern, while in other instances, it may be decorated with paint or embroidery.
Some people confuse the tea towel with the dish rag. A tea towel is kept spotlessly clean, because it is used on freshly washed dishes and as a cover for food intended for consumption. When the tea towel becomes damp, it is hung up to dry, and it will also be periodically washed for better sanitation. A dish rag, on the other hand, is a small rag used to wash dishes and wipe down counters. Some people prefer dish rags to sponges, since they can be frequently washed to cut down on bacteria.
In England and Ireland, decorative tea towels are sold as souvenirs, and they are sometimes designed to be hung on a wall or displayed in a frame. These tea towels run the gamut from old fashioned hand embroidered linen tea towels to plain cotton tea towels with garish paintings of famous landmarks. As a general rule, while these tea towels are perfectly usable for their intended purpose, they are kept for ornamental rather than practical reasons. Travelers may bring back stacks of these tea towels for friends, or keep them as a reminder of the trip.
In addition to being available in kitchen stores, a tea towel is also relatively easy to make. Absorbent cotton or linen can be cut down to size and hemmed to prevent stray threads. Ambitious sewers can embroider the resulting tea towel, or leave it plain. Whether you buy them or make them, a stack of fresh tea towels is a useful thing to have in a kitchen, since they can be used to cover hot foods, dry dishes, and perform other kitchen tasks.