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Towel vs. Flannel: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
A towel is a piece of absorbent fabric for drying, while flannel is a soft woven fabric, often used to make clothing or small washcloths.

Key Differences

A towel is typically made of terrycloth for its high absorbency and is used for drying the body or surfaces. Sizes range from small hand towels to large bath sheets. A flannel, also known as a washcloth in the US, is a small square of soft fabric, often cotton, used for washing the face or body.
Towels are essentials in hygiene routines, found in bathrooms for personal care or in kitchens for drying dishes. Flannel fabric, with its softness, is not only used for gentle cleansing as a washcloth but is also popular in the making of warm clothing, bedding, and more.
The texture of a towel is looped and plush, designed to maximize surface area for moisture absorption. Flannel as a material is napped on one or both sides, providing a soft feel, and in the form of a washcloth, it is also used for gentle exfoliation.
Durability is key in towels, which are made to withstand frequent use and laundering. Flannel clothing, on the other hand, requires careful washing to preserve the raised texture and prevent shrinking due to its usually woolen or cotton make-up.
While towels are universally recognized for their use in drying, the term "flannel" may cause confusion as it refers to both a type of fabric and a specific item (washcloth) depending on regional English variations.

Comparison Chart


Terrycloth or other absorbent fabric
Soft woven fabric, often cotton or wool

Primary Use

Drying body or objects
Making clothing or used as a washcloth for cleansing


Looped and plush
Napped, soft, and slightly raised


Ranging from small to large bath sheets
Typically small squares or used in yardage for garments


Durable, often machine washable
May require gentle wash to avoid shrinking

Towel and Flannel Definitions


Absorbent cloth used for wiping or drying.
He tossed the wet towel into the laundry basket.


A soft, woven fabric often used for warm clothing.
She wore a cozy flannel shirt on the chilly evening.


An item used to absorb moisture after bathing.
She reached for a clean towel to dry off her hands.


A small piece of soft cloth used for washing the face.
He dampened the flannel before gently scrubbing his face.


A fabric piece for drying the body or surfaces.
She wrapped a towel around her hair after the shower.


Cotton or wool fabric with a napped surface.
The baby's blanket was made of the softest flannel.


A piece of terrycloth used in personal hygiene.
The hotel provided a fresh set of towels every morning.


Fabric used for bed sheets in colder weather.
They switched to flannel sheets as winter approached.


A linen or cotton fabric used for drying dishes.
He hung the kitchen towel on the rack to dry.


A term in British English for a washcloth.
She packed a flannel in her overnight bag.


A piece of absorbent cloth or paper used for wiping or drying.


A soft woven cloth of wool or a blend of wool and cotton or synthetics.


To wipe or rub dry with a towel.


Outer clothing, especially pants, made of this cloth.


Can towels be made of flannel?

Rarely, as flannel is not as absorbent as typical towel materials.

Can flannel shrink when washed?

Yes, especially if it’s made of wool or cotton and not pre-shrunk.

Does flannel pill easily?

It can, especially if it's of lower quality or not properly cared for.

Can I use a flannel as a towel?

Small flannels can be used as face towels but are not as absorbent.

Is flannel suitable for summer clothing?

It can be too warm for summer; lightweight flannel might be okay.

Is flannel warm to wear?

Yes, flannel is known for its warmth due to its napped texture.

Are towels only used for drying?

Primarily, though they can also be used for wiping spills or as a mat.

How often should towels be washed?

After every 3-4 uses is commonly recommended.

Are beach towels different from regular towels?

Yes, beach towels are usually larger and more colorful.

Are there hypoallergenic towels?

Yes, towels made of bamboo or microfiber are hypoallergenic.

Are paper towels a type of towel?

They are a disposable alternative for drying hands or cleaning up spills.

Is flannel waterproof?

No, flannel is absorbent and not waterproof.

How is flannel made soft?

Through a process called napping, which raises the ends of the fibers.

What's the best towel for hair?

Microfiber towels are gentle and reduce frizz.

What's a Turkish towel?

A flat-woven, lightweight, and quick-drying towel also known as a peshtemal.

Is flannel vegan-friendly?

Cotton flannel is, but wool flannel is not.

Can flannel fabric be ironed?

Yes, on a low heat setting to avoid damaging the nap.

Do towels come in different weights?

Yes, measured in GSM (grams per square meter), indicating their density.

Can I make a shirt out of a towel?

Technically, but it would be bulky and not very comfortable.

Is flannel good for sensitive skin?

Yes, because of its softness, it's often suitable for sensitive skin.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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