Stainless steel chef’s knives. Cutting boards. Cast-iron or frying pans. You’ll find these tools in nearly every kitchen. Homeowners use these traditional kitchen workhorses constantly to prep ingredients and whip up a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner for the entire family.
One kitchen workhorse, however, is underrated but incredibly important. It keeps the kitchen clean — and more. This dainty “tool” that pulls a lot of weight is the tea towel.
What is a Tea Towel?
A tea towel is a piece of cloth that comes with a woven design or printed pattern for decoration. These soft-textured fabrics are both an excellent practical gift and a charming keepsake. You’ll usually find tea towel fabrics in other parts of the home, such as the kitchen, the pantry, the powder room and inside cabinet drawers.
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t this the same as a kitchen towel or a dish towel?” Although you can use them to clean kitchens and dishes, they’re different from other types of towels you find at home or on the market.
Unlike your basic and super-absorbent hand or bath towels, the tea towel is made of cotton, linen or a combination of these two materials. When you’re going to serve drinks using fine china, you use these dainty towels to clean them without leaving behind unsightly marks or lint.
The Story Behind the Tea Towel
The origin of the tea towel dates back to 18th-century England. During this period, the tradition of serving tea to valued guests became more popular.
Tea serving, however, was special during this time. Rather than entrust this task to potentially clumsy servants, the lady of the household would be the one handling this responsibility. Teatime in the 18th century required the delivery of the best tea service. This necessitates using a towel of distinctive qualities to clean and dry the finest household crockery.
When these tea towels aren’t drying the fanciest china in the kitchen, the lady servants would create heirlooms by adding beautiful and custom embroidery. This clearly shows how much free time these household servants had during this period.
Fast forward to the early 20th century, housewives in the US would cut up rough cotton animal feed sacks and re-purpose them into dish towels, also known as flour sack towels. These housewives, however, were not content with the unfinished appearance of the fabric. Just like the lady servants of the 18th century, they gave these towels a personal and elegant touch by adding intricate embroidery.
During the 20th century, the tradition of making tea towels more beautiful and using them as a blank canvas became more important than the main purpose, which is to clean and dry chinaware.
Later in the 20th century, however, the tea towel became less popular. Sadly, more households ditched this dainty cloth in favor of paper towels — disposable cleaning supplies that are cheap, visually unappealing and bad for the environment.
The Many Uses of a Tea Towel
These soft-textured little rectangles of fabric are incredibly versatile. They can go beyond cleaning the finest silverware and china in your home.
Here’s a list of ideas for using a tea towel:
Cool Baked Goods
Can’t find a cooling tray in your kitchen? Your tea towel will do just fine. Gently place your hot baked goods on a clean towel to cool them down.
Cover Bowls of Rising Bread Dough
Rather than cover your rising dough with cheap plastic wraps, use a tea towel. This fabric is reusable and better for the environment.
Keep Mugs and Bowls in Place
Whether you’re drinking a cup of brewed coffee or eating breakfast cereal on a bowl, tea towels make a stellar serving accessory. They help hold cups and bowls in place, as well as catch any spills and drips that could stain your kitchen table.
Give Them as a Gift
Need a gift idea that won’t break the bank? Personalized tea towels are a safe bet. They make great presents for weddings, as they carry a practical and meaningful sentiment.
Dry Herbs and Salad Greens
You don’t need to buy a salad spinner. Leave the drying job to your tea towel. Gently wrap your greens with the towel and twirl or spin it around to get rid of the excess water.
Wrap Your Baked Treats
If you’re baking muffins, bread loaves and other tasty baked goods for your friends and family, keep them warm by wrapping a tea towel.
Make a Lunch Box
Instead of putting your small food containers in a plastic bag, wrap them in a tea towel. When lunchtime comes, you could use the towel as your tablecloth.
Cook the Fluffiest Rice
Make fluffy rice for your family or guests by placing the tea towel over the pot, putting the lid on the top of the towel and sealing it as tightly as possible. The fabric will absorb the steam and stop it from condensing and dripping back into the rice, which makes the food soggy.
Hold Hot Pots and Pans with Ease
If you’ve misplaced your oven mitts, you could use a tea towel to hold hot dishes. Fold this fabric over a few times to form an insulated grip. Grab hot pans and pots easily and without burning your hands.
Breathe Life to a Dull Guest Bathroom
Impress your guests and improve the look of your home by hanging decorative tea towels instead of traditional, bland hand towels. Design tip: Choose a tea towel with a symbol or pattern that matches the overall motif of your bathroom.
Decorate the Kitchen Table
Beautify your kitchen by using tea towels in place of the standard cloth napkins or tablemats. Opt for colorful and intricately designed towels that bring energy and life to a lunch or dinner event.
Line the Cabinet Shelves of Your Kitchen
Place clean tea towels inside your kitchen cupboard. They will absorb any excess water from the dishes and silverware. Make sure to wash these towels regularly to keep your cabinets fresh.
Use as a Baby Bib
Sometimes, the guests in your home can show up with kids. Turn your tea towel into a bib, so that the little ones won’t stain their shirt while eating at the dinner table.
Store Greens in the Fridge
You don’t need to reach for plastic wrap to store your herbs and veggies. Use tea towels to store kale, lettuce, thyme and other greens and extend their shelf life.
Get the Excess Fat Out of Fried Foods
The excess oil and grease on fried foods can be too much, especially for people who are trying to stay healthy. Drain the excess fat from these foods by using your tea towel. Make sure you use old towels, though, as this process can make turn fabrics unattractive in the long run.
How to Clean Tea Towels
Tea towels do get dirty.
Cleaning them thoroughly and regularly is an important household task because these fabrics can be a hotbed for bacteria and other organisms that can make you sick.
Here are tips to clean your dainty towels:
Pre-Treat Your Towels
If you come across wine, coffee, ketchup and mustard stains in your tea towels, pre-treat them by applying a stain-removing solution onto the affected area. Then, add oxygen-based and color-safe bleach. Mix the stain remover and the bleach using a tiny amount of hot water, and let these cleaning agents do the work.
Wash Them Regularly
You should wash used tea towels every day. When doing so, avoid throwing in sopping towels into your laundry basket. This could contribute to the development of bacteria and mildew, resulting in a pungent smell that will spread to your clothes. If you’re going to include your towels with the rest of your laundry, wait for them to dry completely.
Dry Your Towels Carefully
You have two options: hang your towels to dry outdoors and or use the dryer on normal setting. If you’re going to use the dryer, don’t stick your tea towels in there while the stains are still present. Heat can permanently set some stains, which can forever ruin the appearance of your fabrics.
Never underestimate the daintiness and usefulness of a tea towel. These elegantly crafted fabrics serve as a perfect addition to any home.