Ditch the Disposables: How to Stop Using Paper Towels

4 out of 5 leaves

4 out of 5 leaves

Paper Towels are disposable sheets of soft, absorbent paper that are great for cleaning up wet messes at home, most often in the kitchen.  They are super convenient and can be recycled or composted depending on the type of mess they were used to clean.  Americans lead the way in paper towel usage, followed by Europeans, but Asians and Africans barely use them at all!  So are paper towels really necessary?  How hard it is to get by in a Western kitchen without them?

The Good

  • Better for the Earth – paper making is super polluting to the environment.  No paper towels = less air and water pollution.
  • Better for the Earth (part 2) –  – while they could be recycled, or composted, most paper towels just end up in the landfill with the other household trash
  • Saves money – a nice stack of microfiber towels cost about the same amount as a large multi-pack of high quality paper towels, but can be reused over and over
  • Easy – if you can get the paper towels out of your house, making the switch is pretty painless

The Bad

  • Must get everyone in the house on board: paper towels are so convenient that it’s almost impossible to stop using them if they are still handy.

My Experience

Ditch the paper – use the towels!

“We should stop using paper towels.  We would save a lot of money”, I said to my husband.  His response was something like this: “Impossible.”  “No.”  “Where do you come up with these silly ideas?”  (He’s not as far along on his green journey as I am).  Then he went away on a business trip for a month.  And I put the paper towels way up in a  cabinet where I couldn’t reach them.

Not using paper towels was a little tricky for the first couple of days while I was getting used to them not being around.  But I quickly adjusted.  I have a drawer handy in my kitchen with a random mix of standard dish towels, matching wash cloths, and microfiber clothes that were great for cleaning up messes.  I could quickly grab one whenever needed, and use wet or dry as necessary.  My washing machine is also in my kitchen, making it easy to put the dirty towels in their place.

Here’s a list of tips and tricks I learned that might help as YOU transition away from paper towels:

  1. Real towels and washcloths are easy to rinse out and reuse – you really don’t need more than one or two a day.
  2. Having an assortment of towels makes it easy to always have the right size and absorbency for the job.
  3. Always rinse out the towels before tossing in the wash for an easier to clean load, especially if you are not planning to run the load right away.
  4. Leave the damp cloths out overnight to dry before tossing in the wash so they don’t get moldy or stinky.
  5. If your washer is not close, you can keep a mesh or cloth bag on the back of a doorknob to collect the dirty towels until wash day.
  6. Paper bags from the grocery store are great at absorbing bacon grease, popcorn oil, or to use as draining paper for any other type of fried food.  Just cut into the size necessary, or dump your food in the bag for a couple minutes.
  7. You can use towels to absorb any grease as well, and it will wash out in a hot water load with standard detergent.
  8. Fingers work great too!  For little messes like a blob of yogurt on the floor, or drip of sauce on the counter, just wipe it away with your fingers and wash your hands.  Super simple!

I found that a small washer load each week was all I needed to keep up with the towels I was using.  I typically washed them hot with the super dirty kid things – bibs, snot rags, muddy socks and the like.

When my husband returned home, I proudly announced that I had not used a single paper towel for the whole month he had been gone.  He kind of rolled his eyes.  Then he asked how he was supposed to wipe up the next kitchen mess.  I demonstrated with a wet cloth from the handy drawer.  The next day, while I was at work, he found the paper towels and placed a roll back on the counter.

You know what?  Can you believe it?  I started using those paper towels again!  After a month of not even missing them, I found it was just way too easy in the middle of a messy moment to reach for a paper towel and toss it out.  Even with the guilt burning in my chest, my mind helped me make excuses: “I’m tired.  I’m pregnant.  Our washing machine is on the fritz.  We might as well use up the paper towels we have.  I’ll start back with the regular towels tomorrow.”  It’s amazing how insidious the grip of convenience can be!

Overall, it was pretty easy to ditch the paper towels when they weren’t there.  Regular towels worked just as well, or better in all situations.  BUT, when paper towels were within reach, it is very, very difficult to not use them.  My advice is to make sure everyone in the house is on board, and then banish them from your home!

And if you need them, here are some great microfiber cloths that are great for small and big, and dried stuck on messes (affiliate link).

Have you ever given up paper towels, or tried to?  Do you have any advice for getting the whole household on board?

This Review was featured at:

Natural Living Mamma


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27 Responses to Ditch the Disposables: How to Stop Using Paper Towels

  1. Ed says:

    My whole life I’ve rarely use paper towels. A roll probably lasts 6 months at *least*.

    A sponge works well to wipe down counters, too.

    Sometimes you need to use paper towels to dry salad (they’re more absorbent than cloth towels), and I just lay those out to dry and reuse them for mopping up grease.

    Another thing I do (don’t laugh) is to save the *used* non-dirty paper napkins I get when we eat out. I don’t take extras, cause that would be stealing, but often the paper napkins are only slightly smudged. I throw those in a small box under the sink and use those for greasy messes. I hate gooping up my cloths with grease.

    • Victoria says:

      Great ideas – thanks for sharing Ed!

    • I do the same thing! We don’t eat out often but when we grab a quick meal out we almost always end up with an extra napkin or two. Instead of throwing away the unused napkin(s) I fold it & bring it home and when we really need something paper I’ll use one of those. It doesn’t take long to get a small supply of them tucked away. We haven’t bought paper towels in about 5 years and opt for rags instead. Our rags go through four phases: 1) Kitchen, 2) Household Cleaning, 3) Garage for greasy messes and 4) trash.

      ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
      Wolfe City, Texas

  2. Jutta says:

    I haven’t used paper towels or paper napkins at home in probably 7 years. At Costco, they have a package of white terry cloths, cost about $17.00 for 60 cloths. It took a while until I had hubby on board and friends all look kinda funny when they get gleaming white terry napkins, but it works great for me. I wait until I have a full load to wash, and boil it all in a large laundry pot. Then into the washer and they are a clean as any paper towel, if not more so.

  3. Kathy says:

    I so need to do this. Am so thankful you provided a realistic view of it too. The challenge will definitely be getting the hubby on board. I’d love to have you link this us to Titus 2 Tuesday this week on Cornerstone Confessions.. I hope to see you there.


  4. Anne Kimball says:

    Hi, I’m Anne from Life on the Funny Farm (http://annesfunnyfarm.blogspot.com), and I’m visiting from the Barn Hop.

    I think I really want to try this. Paper towels are so expensive, and like you said, no good for the environment. I think I would still want them for things like animal messes, but I could def switch to towels and sponges for kitchen messes, which is waht we mostly use them for.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. If you’ve never visited yet, I hope you can pop by my blog sometime to say hi…

  5. I ditched paper towels many many years ago. I have tons of kitchen towels and dishcloths as well. They work great. For the messes on the floor that need to be cleaned up I have rags that I use and wash rather than use paper or disposable things to clean them up. The rags, usually used to be my kitchen towel or dishcloth. It got old and is now used as a rag. Works fantastically. I have learned to cut and sew one corner of the rags so everyone can tell which is which (did a blog post about that too!).
    Enjoy your new more eco friendly paper toweless week!

  6. Dee says:

    I only use paper towels every great once in awhile. I mainly use old t-shirts (cut into squares/rags and sewn together two-ply with a simple decorative stitch) or I use diaper cloth material (two-ply and sewn together with overcast stitch). I will NEVER go back to using papertowels like I use to. I also made cloth napkins from diaper cloth-love them!!

  7. Claudine says:

    Hi Victoria,
    I just wanted to say thanks for spreading the word! I too stopped using papertowels several months ago, and instead use old t-shirts and old dish towels. I have to say at first it was tough having the papertowels out in the open because force of habit made me grab the papertowel first. I have since pushed the papertowels back in the corner and put all of my cut pieces of material up front–no more grabbing for the paper!
    I have also ditched my paper napkins and created cloth napkins. You can view my blog on this at http://simplygrowin.blogspot.com/2012/07/made-with-love-by-mom.html
    My Mom and I had such a great time creating these, and I’m having even more fun using them. I always feel like we are having this elegant meal when I reach for the cloth! There are several times during a meal that my husband and myself do not even hardly dirty the cloth napkin, so we will reuse it again. I have not used paper napkins since I have made these and do not miss the paper at all. I used old sheets for these napkins…..
    Keep on encouraging your husband to switch…..mine was a little hesitant, but when I explained the money we would save…….he jumped on board.

  8. Lori says:

    I simply stocked up on cotton bar mop towels and stopped buying paper towels. When my kids and husband asked for paper towels, I handed them a cloth and told them I am not buying them anymore. And I didn’t. It didn’t take us long before we realized we didn’t need the paper towels or paper napkins anymore. And it is nice to not have to go out and buy them. Using paper towels is a habit that was easily broken in our house, by just stopping, cold turkey.

  9. Tulip says:

    I would love to get on board with this. I got some really nice anti-bac dish cloths to use instead of paper napkins. It is just really hard with a home preschool and lots of messes! I will definitely try this in the summer when I have more time. Thanks for sharing! Hope to see you at True Aim.

  10. Yolanda says:

    This made me think of my mother. She was born in 1916 and lived through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. When other folks were using paper napkins, she would take a paper towel and tear it in half, and we each had a half to use for a meal. She was very frugal. I have never been one to consider paper towels to be necessary, but I usually have some on hand. They are awfully nice if the new puppy has a poopy accident, for instance and I Really Don’t want to have to deal with it in a very personal way, and I also use just a small piece to drain our bacon on. But for everything else I use cloths. And most of the time we use cloth napkins too.

  11. Sherry says:

    I am trying to ‘cut down’ on using paper towels. More from a frugal perspective but I guess that is ok too. I have been really successful but I use cloth napkins anyway. Unfortunately we fry alot and I use paper towels to drain but I am using less. I have kicked arond the idea of using certain color towels or clothes for certain jobs.
    I think about getting the whole family on board just may not be practical I’ve learned to you kind of have to pick your battles. Maybe just really making a conscious effort yourself will be a start.
    I really enjoyed your post.
    Have a Blessed Friday,

  12. 'Becca says:

    We have been very successful at cutting down on paper towel use even though we have a huge number of paper towels in the house because we bought a case of recycled, unbleached ones. I don’t remember anymore what year we got them, but it was before Seventh Generation changed their logo…. We use 1-2 rolls per year.

    One thing that helped us get away from paper towels was that our paper towel holder broke off the wall, and when we put it back, it kept breaking off again. We don’t have the counter space to leave a roll of towels sitting on the counter, so they HAVE to be up on an inconvenient shelf! Also, when the roll is not in a holder, it’s harder to tear off a towel, esp. if you have messy stuff all over your hands–easier to rinse those hands in the sink, then grab a towel from the drawer to wipe up the rest of the mess.

  13. We use hand towels instead of paper towels but it drives my in-laws CRAZY that we don’t use paper towels. “Un Paper Towels” are a cute, reusable option as well.

    Thank you for sharing on ! You were featured! I am excited to see what you have to share this week.

  14. Hi Victoria,
    These are great suggestions and ideas. I like going paperless. Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday’s Adorned From Above Blog Hop. This weeks party starts at 12:01AM on Wednesday and runs through Sunday night. Have a great week.
    Debi, Joye and Myrna (The Busy Bee’s), Linda (Two Succulent Sisters)

  15. We gave up paper towels a few years ago. To make these kind of choices easier, I keep the mantra in my head, “Trees die and the climate worsens for my children when I put convenience ahead of conservation.” This works for me for many things.

    This is a great post! So great, it will be featured on Small Footprint Fridays this week! I hope you will link up again this week, cause I can’t wait to see what you try next. 🙂

  16. Heidi says:

    We don’t use paper towels or napkins either. Instead, messes are cleaned up with dishcloths, hands are dried with tea towels (we keep one on a towel rod on our island for drying hands throughout the day) and we have a stack of fabric napkins that we use. Dishcloths don’t need to be washed daily – they are lays in soapy wate, after all, tea towels don’t need to be washed daily either (they are being used to dry clean hands and dishes) and napkins can be reused at not her meal if they aren’t badly soiled. Even better, we hang them all to dry, avoiding dryer use and no need to iron.

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  18. xesia says:

    Which towel’s are best for throwing away after so many uses, microfiber or cotton? talking about using around 10 0r 20 times and that would be biodegradable.

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