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Napkin vs. Towel — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on January 28, 2024
A napkin is a small piece of cloth or paper for cleaning the hands and face during meals, while a towel is a larger fabric used for drying the body or objects.
Napkin vs. Towel — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Napkin and Towel


Key Differences

Napkins are typically smaller pieces of cloth or paper used at dining tables to wipe the mouth and hands during or after eating. They are an integral part of table settings in both casual and formal dining. Towels, on the other hand, are larger fabrics designed for drying the body after bathing, drying hands, or in the kitchen for drying dishes. Their size and absorbency are tailored for more extensive drying tasks.
In terms of material, napkins are usually made of lightweight cloth like cotton or linen, or disposable materials like paper for one-time use. Towels are made from thicker, more absorbent materials such as terry cloth, cotton, or microfiber, enabling them to absorb more moisture and provide more effective drying.
Napkins are often a part of the table décor, coming in various designs and colors to match the aesthetic of the dining setup. They can be folded into decorative shapes for formal events. Towels, while available in different colors and designs, are more functional in nature and are selected for their absorbency and durability, with aesthetics being secondary.
The use of napkins is generally limited to personal hygiene during dining. They are smaller and not suitable for drying large surfaces or absorbing large amounts of liquid. Towels, however, have a broader range of uses, including in bathrooms for drying the body, in kitchens for drying dishes, and in sports for wiping sweat.
Lastly, the care and maintenance of napkins and towels differ due to their usage and material. Cloth napkins require regular washing but are less prone to wear and tear due to their limited use. Towels require frequent laundering and can wear out faster due to their regular and extensive use in absorbing water and other liquids.

Comparison Chart


Small, for personal hygiene at dining tables
Larger, for drying body or objects


Lightweight cloth or disposable paper
Thicker, absorbent materials like terry cloth or cotton


Cleaning hands and face during meals
Drying the body, hands, dishes, etc.

Design and Aesthetics

Part of table décor, various designs for dining settings
Functional, selected for absorbency, available in various designs


Regular washing, less wear and tear
Frequent laundering, more prone to wear and tear

Compare with Definitions


A small piece of cloth or paper for cleaning hands and face during meals.
She neatly placed the napkin on her lap before starting to eat.


A fabric used for drying the body or objects.
She grabbed a towel to dry off after her shower.


Often used as part of table settings.
The silk napkins added elegance to the dinner table.


Larger and made from absorbent materials.
The fluffy cotton towels absorbed the water quickly.


Made from lightweight materials.
Disposable paper napkins are convenient for picnics.


Requires frequent laundering.
She added the used towels to the laundry pile.


Can be decorative, matching dining aesthetics.
The napkins were folded into swans for the formal event.


Essential in bathrooms and kitchens.
He hung the kitchen towel near the sink for easy access.


A piece of cloth or absorbent paper used at table to protect the clothes or wipe the lips and fingers.


Functional and durable for regular use.
The gym towels are sturdy enough for daily use.


A cloth or towel.


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


A sanitary napkin.


To wipe or rub dry with a towel.


Chiefly British A diaper.


To dry oneself with a towel.


A serviette; a (usually rectangular) piece of cloth or paper used at the table for wiping the mouth and hands for cleanliness while eating.


A cloth used for wiping, especially one used for drying anything wet, such as a person after a bath.


A nappy (UK), a diaper (American).


To hit with a towel.


A small scarf worn on the head by Christian women (chiefly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) when entering a church, as a token of modesty.


To dry by using a towel.
He got out of the shower and toweled himself dry.


A little towel, made of cloth or paper, esp. one for wiping the fingers and mouth at table.


(transitive) To block up (a door, etc.) with a towel, to conceal the fumes of a recreational drug.


A handkerchief.


To beat with a stick, or "oaken towel".


To protect clothing; wipe mouth


A cloth used for wiping, especially one used for drying anything wet, as the person after a bath.


Garment consisting of a folded cloth drawn up between the legs and fastened at the waist; worn by infants to catch excrement


To beat with a stick.


Limited to personal hygiene during dining.
He used a napkin to dab his mouth after the meal.


A rectangular piece of absorbent cloth (or paper) for drying or wiping


Wipe with a towel;
Towel your hair dry

Common Curiosities

Are napkins reusable?

Cloth napkins are reusable, but paper napkins are disposable.

What materials are towels typically made from?

Usually cotton, terry cloth, or microfiber.

Can napkins be decorative?

Yes, especially in formal dining settings.

What is a napkin primarily used for?

For cleaning hands and face during meals.

How big is a typical napkin?

Small enough for individual use at a dining table.

Are towels used in dining settings?

No, towels are more for bathrooms, kitchens, and gyms.

Do napkins absorb as much as towels?

No, towels are more absorbent.

What is the main use of a towel?

For drying the body, hands, or objects like dishes.

How often should towels be washed?

Regularly, depending on usage frequency.

Are there different types of towels for different uses?

Yes, like bath towels, hand towels, and kitchen towels.

Are towels bigger than napkins?

Yes, towels are generally larger.

What's the difference in maintenance between napkins and towels?

Napkins require less frequent washing, while towels need regular laundering.

Do both napkins and towels come in various designs?

Yes, but napkins are more decorative for dining, while towels are more functional.

Can napkins be made of paper?

Yes, paper napkins are common for casual use.

Can a towel be used as a napkin?

Not typically, as they serve different purposes.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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