Tea Towel Definition

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Tea Towel Definition
Ladies used tea towels to clean fine china. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Karen)

A tea towel is about the size of a hand towel and its intended use is for drying dishes. Tea towels are different today from when they were first named, as some are decorative wall hangings while others are just mundane utility cloths with a new name.

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The name "tea towel," originating in mid-19th century England, referred to the linen towel used by the lady of the house to clean her china teapot and serving ware. She trusted only herself with the task of cleaning and taking care of these delicate and important pieces.


Tea towels were made from linen, a natural fibre that was soft and lint free, perfect to thoroughly dry the tea service and not leave any lint behind.


Tea towels are still made from linen but also cotton and some synthetic fibres that are less expensive to produce.

Decorative Wall Hanging

In Great Britain, tea towels have become popular souvenirs. They're printed with pictures or images of scenery, poems, tourist attractions, calendars, and so on, which people hang up as wall decorations.

Mundane Utility Cloth

While sometimes still called a tea towel, they're more commonly known as dish towels and do not see a teapot as often as they used to.

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