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Are the claims for cooling towels all wet?

Towel-snapping has been taken to a whole new level with a variety of new cooling towels that promise to beat the heat when dampened and draped around your neck. You may have seen the colorful towels used by such athletes as Serena Williams, Dwayne Wade, and Sergio Garcia. Consumer Reports compared two, the EnduraCool and Chill-its, to an ordinary towel and found that some of the claims were all wet.

The instructions for EnduraCool, $22, which the company claims “cools instantly” and has been “field tested,” by Serena Williams, tell you to wet the towel, wring it out and then snap it. Doing so, the packaging claims, cools the towel to 30°  F below the average body temperature. The so-called “proprietary performance fabric” is 90 percent polyester and 10 percent nylon and soft to the touch when wet or dry.

Chill-its, $12, are a little rougher around the edges and so are its ads, which feature construction workers on a hot day. Made of polyvinyl acetate, the towels feel like a soft chamois when wet but when dry look and feel like cardboard. We compared both to a typical smooth-weave dish towel (not terry cloth) that’s 100 percent cotton.

In our tests, Pat Slaven, our resident textile expert, wet all three towels with tap water then wrung them out and snapped them in the air to “activate” them as instructed. Using an infrared thermometer, she measured the surface temperature of the towels and also recorded the temperature of the air and the outdoor humidity.  In multiple tests at various temperatures and differing levels of humidity, all three towels cooled to within one to two degrees of each other.

“It’s the power of evaporative cooling,” Slaven said. “People have been doing this for millennia. It’s not new. It’s science”

Bottom line. All three towels cooled down when wet and can help you cool off on a hot day when relative humidity is low to moderate. They do not work as well when the humidity is high. As our tests show, a common kitchen towel will cool you just as quick but if you want to chill out like your favorite sports star, give a cooling towel a try.

—Izabela Rutkowski

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